Manfred Weber, one of the leaders of the European People's Party (EPP), set three conditions for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to avert the expulsion of his Fidesz party from the EPP in an interview that appeared in Bild on March 6.
The leader of the centre-right EPP faction in the European Parliament and the EPP’s top candidate for the upcoming European Parliament election, said he wanted to make one last attempt to keep the Hungarian premier in his European party family as Europe’s conservatives are due to debate a possible exclusion on March 20. The values of Christian Democracy, however, are non-negotiable, he added.
Some 13 smaller parties from 10 countries within the EPP initiated the debate that will take place at the party's assembly. The future of Fidesz will depend on Germany's governing conservatives, the CDU-CSU, the leading force behind the EPP, local media said, adding that Orban's replies to the latest ultimatum will be decisive.
The first condition is that the government must immediately and definitely stop the campaign against Brussels, Weber said, adding that Orban needed to apologise to other EPP member parties and ensure the existence of the Central European University in Budapest.
Weber has been criticised for not standing up firmly to Orban’s illiberal rule. Critics blame the CSU politician for failing to act soon enough to expel Fidesz when it crossed red lines set earlier by EPP leaders. These include the crackdown on NGOs, the narrowing of the free press, the relentless campaign against Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros and the expulsion of the CEU from Budapest.
Orban has come under pressure from member parties and senior leaders of the EPP for the latest taxpayer-funded campaign, which claims that Brussels plans to simplify immigration, impose mandatory resettlement quotas and weaken members states' right to border protection.
Billboards featuring outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Soros are all over the country. The European Commission has called claims in the campaign misinformation and issued a formal rebuttal.
Although Hungary's self-proclaimed illiberal leader has repeatedly used Brussels as a target for his political gain, it was the first time attacks were launched directly at an EPP senior politician, such as Juncker.
In a Sunday interview with Die Welt, Orban pledged to end his poster campaign. "In the next phase our party campaign will begin and then you will find someone else on the posters: [First Vice-President of the European Commission] Mr. [Franz] Timmermans. We will send Mr. Juncker into retirement and Mr. Timmermans will replace him on our posters," he told the German newspaper.
In another interview, he called critics of his party and his government within the EPP “useful idiots”. Orban insisted that the attack against the government's campaign had been launched by Europe's left wing, which aims to weaken the EPP.