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6th Jun 2020

New push to kick Orban's party out of centre-right EPP

  • Prime minister Viktor Orban (r) at an EPP leaders' meeting when Fidesz was still a full member. In his second spell as PM, since 2010, he has become increasingly authoritarian - and now been given almost absolute power in Budapest (Photo: European People's Party - Flickr)

Thirteen centre-right parties, from 11 countries, from Europe' largest political alliance - the European People's Party (EPP) - on Thursday (2 April) called for Hungary's ruling Fidesz party to be kicked out of the centre-right family.

The letter signifies a new push by parties for an expulsion, after on Monday the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban's government was granted extraordinary powers to rule by decree for an indefinite time.

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On the initiative of Sweden's Moderate party, centre-right party leaders from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Norway said the new measures are a "clear violation of the founding principles of liberal democracy and European values".

"The virus cannot be used as a pretext to extend the state of emergency indefinitely," they added.

"The recent developments have confirmed our conviction that Fidesz, with its current policies, cannot enjoy full membership in the EPP," the letter said.

In March 2019, a number of EPP parties called for the expulsion or suspension of Fidesz.

This time, signatories for Czech and Slovak parties joined too - undermining the sentiment, which Orban had played on, that any criticism of Hungary was a political attack by liberal-minded western centre-right parties.

They also include two heads of government, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Norwegian premier Erna Solberg.

Other parties are also expected to join the call, a source said.

"Enough is enough," Moderate party MEP Tobias Tobe said in a tweet.

Missing In Action

However, some heavyweights are missing from the signatories, such as the German chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) - which would probably be decisive for Fidesz's fate.

Orban's party so far could count on the support of the Bavarian CSU, and EPP's larger members from France, Italy and Spain.

EPP president Donald Tusk, himself the previous EU Council president, has written his own letter to EPP party leaders on Wednesday calling Hungary's emergency measures "disproportionate and inadequate".

Orban meanwhile reached out in a letter to CDU leader Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer, accusing Tusk of sowing seeds of division within the political family and pursuing domestic "political games", AFP reported.

The last push for expelling Fidesz resulted in the party merely being suspended from EPP.

It meant that Orban cannot participate in the meetings of EPP leaders ahead of European summits, and Fidesz members cannot take part in the all-important political assembly of the party, which decides on the expulsion.

However, Fidesz MEPs have remained an integral part of the party's group in the EU parliament, and one of their MEPs serves as the vice-president of the assembly.

According to EPP's internal rules, at least seven parties from five member states have to initiate the procedure to expel or suspend a member party.

The next political assembly is scheduled for 24 April, but lockdown measures could interfere.

Meanwhile, the majority of EU parliamentary groups on Thursday asked parliament president David Sassoli to send a letter to the commission, asking it to consider activating the Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary. The parliament has already triggered the process in its own capacity.

'Witch-hunt'

Meanwhile, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Slovakia joined a call for respect of rule of law and democracy in times of the pandemic.

Earlier, 13 member states signed a joint statement criticising Orban's power grab in Hungary - without mentioning the country by name.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday did mention Hungary, however, saying: "I am concerned that certain measures go too far, and I'm particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary."

Hungary's government spokesperson retorted in a tweet and video message, urging Von der Leyen "to avoid applying double standards" and he wanted to "assure her there is no cause for concern".

Zoltan Kovacs claimed that the new measures Orban now has are equivalent to the rights and powers a French president has in normal times.

Kovacs said Hungary is subject to a "political witch-hunt" and a "coordinated smear campaign in the media".

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