French conservative SLAMS move to expel Viktor Orban's party from European parliament bloc

Hungarian leader Viktor Orban has been at loggerheads with Brussels over his tough stance on immigration and accusations – which he fiercely denies – that his policies undermine the rule of law. Mr Bellamy, the head of the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) party’s campaign for the European parliamentary elections, told France Inter radio: “I deeply regret the divisions within the PPE. We cannot get rid of a party that has been a member of the PPE since 2001 with a wave of the hand.”  Hungary’s leader has recently stepped up his anti-immigration rhetoric with billboards and inserts in state media vilifying the EU’s outgoing Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, whom he accuses of being in cahoots to bring large numbers of immigrants into Europe.

The controversial campaign frames the bloc’s parliamentary elections in May as a choice between forces backing and opposing mass immigration.

EU leaders were outraged by the “fake news” campaign, which accelerated the renewed calls to expel Mr Orban and other Fidesz lawmakers from the EPP.

Mr Juncker said on Tuesday he thought Fidesz no longer had a place in the parliamentary group.

The party will vote on March 20 on whether to suspend or exclude Fidesz. To pass, it requires a simple majority of those of the EPP’s 260 delegates who will be present.

Mr Bellamy, however, warned that kicking Fidesz out of the EPP could lead to a political “fragmentation” between eastern and western Europe, as he called on the party to “achieve unity”.

“This dialectic continues to fracture Europe,” he insisted, as he said a split within the European centre-right would be “very dangerous”. Mr Bellamy also warned that shunned Fidesz MEPs would rapidly form a new populist group within the EU parliament. 

In a separate interview on French television channel LCI on Sunday, the right-winger said that while he considered Mr Orban to be a full-fledged member of the PPE, he disagreed with his “strategy of tension”.

Mr Orban, a vocal nationalist, wants to remain in the EPP, a Fidesz spokesman said on Tuesday.

“Fidesz does not want to leave the European People’s Party, our goal is for anti-immigration forces to gain strength within the EPP,” Fidesz said in an emailed statement. 

The Hungarian leader has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over his hardline stance on immigration and accusations that he is eroding the rule of law. 

The feud is escalating ahead of the parliamentary elections, which are to be held on May 23-26.

“Mr Orban must immediately and permanently end his government’s anti-Brussels campaigns,” Manfred Weber, a German conservative and the EPP’s candidate to replace Mr Juncker as Commission chief, told Bild newspaper on Tuesday. 

Speaking to reporters in the German town of Rottersdorf, he said that “Mr Orban and the Fidesz have crossed again red lines” and added that all options were on the table, “especially the option of expulsion, and for us to go our future way without Fidesz.”  

Mr Orban, for his part, told the German Welt am Sonntag weekly that those seeking the expulsion of Fidesz were “useful idiots” playing into the hands of the EPP’s left-wing rivals.

The EPP has 217 lawmakers in the 750-strong EU legislature, 12 of them from Fidesz.

It is expected to remain the biggest faction in the new EU parliament but will most likely be weakened, opinion polls show. 

Far-right, populist parties are widely expected to expand their power and influence in the wake of the May vote.

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