Hungary's National Day celebrations in Budapest
By Marton Dunai
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday that he wanted European Parliament elections in May to give Europe "strong leaders" who would strengthen nation states "so that Europe once again belongs to Europeans".
Orban, a nationalist with a strongly anti-immigrant platform, has been threatened with expulsion from the mainstream conservative EPP bloc in the European Union's parliament, at the risk of eroding their current majority.
"We want a strong Europe, strong nation states, and strong leaders at the helm of Europe, who don't bring trouble here but take the help there," Orban told a pro-government rally in Budapest - a reference to his determination to prevent migrants coming to Europe in search of a better life.
"We want a fresh start, so we can stop Europe's demise, the nightmares of a 'United States of Europe', so that Europe once again belongs to Europeans."
European People's Party leader Manfred Weber has demanded an immediate end to Orban's anti-EU and anti-immigrant campaigning - and an apology to fellow EPP members.
But talks this week made no progress, and the EPP will vote next week on whether to expel Orban's Fidesz party for failing to support its values of civil liberties and the rule of law.
The EPP groups around 80 parties. If it remains the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, it will be able to name the next president of the executive European Commission. But losing Fidesz could endanger this goal.
However, Orban, for his part, continues to support Weber as the EPP's candidate to lead the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, after the elections.
Fidesz's success at home and in defying Brussels on immigration and governance has given encouragement to many other nationalist and far-right movements across Europe.
"If we don’t defend Christianity, we will lose Europe, which will no longer belong to Europeans," Orban told the rally. "In a European 'liberal empire', we will all lose our liberties."
Some of those present feared that Orban would veer even further from the mainstream if Fidesz was ejected from the EPP, but others backed him to the hilt.
"We'll back anything he decides to do," said Gabriella Lengyel, a 65-year-old pensioner. "He wants to stay in (the EPP) but represents the Europe we like, not this neo-liberal madness."
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Kevin Liffey)