Orban orders MEPs to quit centre-right EU faction ahead of vote to oust Hungarian nationalist party

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<p>The Hungarian PM’s administration has faced criticism over human rights</p> (AFP via Getty Images)

The Hungarian PM’s administration has faced criticism over human rights

(AFP via Getty Images)

Hungary’s nationalist ruling Fidesz party has announced it will leave the largest grouping of MEPs in the European Parliament amid a struggle to hold the Eastern European state’s government accountable for its domestic policies.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban announced in a letter to the European People’s Party’s (EPP) parliamentary grouping that his politicians would no longer sit alongside the coalition of centre-right factions, which includes Angela Merkel’s CDU and France’s Les Republicains.

Officials both within the EPP and the EU at large have criticised the Hungarian ruling party for perceived backsliding on the rule of law and human rights – charges Mr Orban and his supporters have vocally opposed.

However, the latest flashpoint emerged after EPP politicians voted with overwhelming support to allow for the easier suspension and ejection of member parties, a measure expected to precede a separate motion to lock Fidesz out of the grouping.

“I hereby inform you that Fidesz MEPs resign their membership in the EPP group,” Mr Orban wrote to its parliamentary leader Manfred Weber in a letter that accused the party of “trying to mute and disable our democratically elected MEPs”.

Hungarian families minister Katilin Novak, who shared the letter on Twitter, added: “We will not let our MEPs be silenced or limited in their capacity to represent our voters.”

Critics of the Hungarian ruling party in the EU point to Mr Orban’s tightening of government controls over courts, the media, academics and non-governmental organisations as contrary to the founding principles of the bloc.

Věra Jourová, the EU Commission’s vice president on the rule of law in europe, told Der Spiegel in 2020: “I am afraid that people in Hungary could one day realise that their last election was also the country’s last free election.”

Mr Weber meanwhile has said the decision by Fidesz to force a university founded by liberal billionaire George Soros to leave the country, as well as Budapest’s opposition to the conditions it is required to meet to receive EU funds, were “fundamental” problems.

While Fidesz has been suspended from the central EPP party since 2019, its members had so far remained part of its faction within the European Parliament.

Led by former European Council president Donald Tusk, the EPP party will vote on the formal exclusion of Fidesz once an in-person vote is possible. Without the 12 Hungarian members, it will have 175 EU lawmakers and remain the largest in the 705-strong chamber.

Mujtaba Rahman, of the Eurasia Group think tank, said the development was “a big strategic loss for Orban in Europe, who will now lose both the influence and protection that the EPP afforded him”.

“His departure from the EPP will lead to him adopting more extreme positions towards Brussels and escalating tensions between the two,” he said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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