Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Orban rejects Weber's plea to stop anti-EU posters

  • Hungary's Viktor Orban (c) urged Manfred Weber to shift to the right on migration (Photo: European Parliament)

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has pledged to put up new anti-migrant posters, despite hopes in his centre-right EU family that he might "apologise and put an end" to the campaign.

"In the next phase our party campaign will begin and then you will find someone else on the posters: Mr Timmermans. We will send Mr Juncker into retirement and Mr Timmermans will replace him on our posters," Orban told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview on Saturday (2 March).

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"The role of Soros in European politics cannot be disregarded, and everyone has the right to know that Timmermans professedly is his ally," Orban added.

His current billboards feature European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker next to US philanthropist George Soros, saying they are in on a global conspiracy to flood Europe with Muslim migrants.

Juncker and Orban both belong to the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), but Juncker has urged the group to expel Orban due to his violations of EU values and rule of law.

Frans Timmermans, Juncker's right hand man, is the Socialist & Democrats (S&D) group's top candidate to replace Juncker after the European Parliament elections in May.

The poster campaign was widely seen as antisemitic due to its depiction of Soros, who is Jewish, as a vampire.

It was the straw that broke the camel's back in the EPP, with seven of the group's parties from Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Sweden triggering a procedure, last week, that could see Orban's Fidesz party expelled from the group.

They were joined by a Greek party, New Democracy, over the weekend, which also called for expulsion.

But Orban denied that his posters were antisemitic in his remarks to the German newspaper.

"It's not my doing that the Hungarian citizen Soros is of Jewish origin. That lies with God. But it happens to be that in Hungary Soros incarnates the ugly face of globalism," he said.

He defended his anti-migrant policy and his judicial reforms at home, depicting Hungary as a defender of Europe from hordes of Arabs and Africans.

"Everything that we experienced in 2015 will happen again, and it will be bigger," he said, referring to the year when 1m mostly Muslim refugees came to Europe.

"And I haven't mentioned Africa yet, where soon there will be more people than can be fed. In that respect Hungary is a frontier country ... We have many thousands of soldiers and policemen at our southern border," he said.

Hungary's new judicial "rules have been taken word by word from the corresponding law in Austria ... the Hungarian justice system conforms to European standards," Orban added.

Weber advice

He said he forgave Manfred Weber, the EPP's top candidate to replace Juncker after May, for having voted to trigger a sanctions procedure against Hungary last year on rule of law.

But he warned Weber to shift to the right on migration if he wanted to get the EU top job.

"If the EPP wants to win in central Europe, it must say: Mr Juncker is the past. Mr Weber is the future," Orban said.

He described those in the EPP calling for his expulsion as "useful idiots" whose views would help the centre-left to gain power.

But he said he would "support Weber until the end" and that he had no plans to join with far-right French or Italian parties even if the EPP booted him out.

"We are in the EPP and we remain there. There is no plan B", Orban said.

Weber himself spoke in less friendly terms in an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel on Friday.

"I expect him [Orban] to apologise and put an end to the poster campaign. Beyond that, we cannot simply return to business as usual," Weber said.

"The developments across Europe are shocking. Antisemitism is returning with a bang," he added, referring to the anti-Soros "scaremongering".

'Enough is enough'

Weber defended his decision to trigger the sanctions procedure on Orban's abuse of rule of law.

"There has been a fundamental change in the handling of Orban. Enough is enough," he said.

He declined to say if he would back Orban's expulsion from the EPP, but added: "We will take concrete steps very soon ... all options are on the table".

He also distanced himself from the Hungarian prime minister's advice.

"I am the EPP lead candidate and it is up to me ... to determine our campaign strategy, not Orban," he said.

"Orban is following the wrong political path ... he exhibits similarities with League head [Matteo] Salvini and PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. That isn't a path I pursue, nor does the EPP," Weber said, referring to leading right-wing politicians in Italy and Poland.

Orban, in his interview, had called for a new EU body composed of the interior ministers of countries who are members of Europe's Schengen free-movement zone, in order to crack down on migration.

But Weber said the EU needed a new body to crack down on people like Orban, Kaczynski, and others instead.

Malta and Romania

"I am thinking of a panel that can expertly and neutrally determine where there are problems with the rule of law ... I will be presenting a draft for such an instrument ahead of the European election," he said.

"It's about Poland, Romania, Malta, and, yes, Hungary," he added, referring to accusations of abuse of rule of law by Malta and Romania's left-wing governments, who sit in Timmermans' S&D group.

"I would like to see the Social Democrats and the Liberals do the same [help trigger EU sanctions procedures], for example, when it comes to the corruption-plagued social-liberal government in Romania," Weber said.

EPP hits threshold to trigger Orban expulsion probe

At least seven national parties from Europe's biggest political alliance, the centre-right European People's Party, want the group's 'enfant terrible', Hungary's nationalist and authoritarian Fidesz kicked out - following Budapest's latest anti-EU campaign.

Analysis

Germany's CSU eyes centre-stage in Europe

Bavaria's Manfred Weber is running to take over the EU Commission presidency from fellow EPP member, Jean-Claude Juncker. His CSU party has lined up behind him, after last year's failed move to the right to compete with the populists.

Orban says 'sorry', EPP says 'not enough'

As the European People's Party braces itself to decide next week whether to expel its Hungarian member, prime minister Viktor Orban says sorry for calling his critics "useful idiots".

EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party

In a compromise decision, Europe's centre-right grouping stops short of expelling Hungary's ruling party - which has been accused of rolling back democracy and the rule of law.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

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