AP NEWS

Hungary’s governing party wants to stay with EU center-right

March 7, 2019
A poster from a Hungarian government campaign showing EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American financier George Soros with the caption "You, too, have a right to know what Brussels is preparing to do" is displayed on a phone booth in Budapest, March 4, 2019. Hungarian officials said the campaign claiming that EU leaders like Juncker, backed by Soros, want to bring mass migration into Europe, would end by March 15. (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s governing Fidesz party said Thursday it wants to remain in the main center-right group in the European Parliament, even as several members of the European People’s Party are seeking its suspension or ouster from the group.

Fidesz vice chairman Gergely Gulyas said that a government-sponsored ad campaign criticizing EU leaders over migration would end by March 15, meeting one of the conditions set by EPP officials for Fidesz to stay in the group.

“I hope — and this is an absolutely realistic alternative — that Fidesz will contend in the European elections as a member of the People’s Party,” Gulyas said at a government news briefing. “We believe more things unite us with the People’s Party than divide us.”

Expelling Fidesz would “clearly” be political suicide on the EPP’s part in terms of its popularity, but would not really affect Fidesz, Gulyas said.

One of the reasons why Fidesz has faced opposition from its erstwhile partners relates to a series of ads and posters featuring European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. Below a picture of the two is the caption “You, too, have the right to know what Brussels is preparing to do.” Soros and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have been feuding for years over multiple issues.

Gulyas, who is also Orban’s chief of staff, said that starting next week the government would replace the anti-EU ads with a campaign to highlight the government’s “family protection action plan,” which seeks to increase Hungary’s birth rate by offering tax breaks, favorable loans and other financial incentives to mothers and families.

Gulyas did not rule out another version of the anti-EU ads in the future. Orban said recently that it would target European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists to succeed Juncker after May’s European Parliament election.

“The campaign is long and I can only talk about next week,” Gulyas said. “We understand Timmermans to be the biggest rival of the People’s Party and Manfred Weber.”

Weber, the EPP’s candidate to succeed Juncker, welcomed the end of the disputed campaign.

“It is a good signal they are pulling down their posters there,” Weber said during a visit to Warsaw to meet with the two Polish opposition parties that belong to the EPP group. “It was one of the requests I made this week.”

Weber has also called for Orban to apologize for the anti-EU ads and for the Soros-founded Central European University to remain in Budapest. The university has announced that from September it will move its U.S.-accredited programs — the majority of its courses — to Vienna, after the Hungarian government refused to sign an agreement guaranteeing its activities.

Weber said that a final decision on Fidesz’s status would be made on March 20.

Gulyas confirmed that Orban was in talks with EPP leaders, but denied reports that Fidesz was having discussions about joining the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom group in the European Parliament if it’s expelled.

“We would like to remain in the People’s Party so we have not had any discussions with anyone about what would happen if we’re no longer in the People’s Party,” Gulyas said.

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Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.