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Orbán refuses to meet EPP’s ‘wise men’ before EP vote

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has refused to meet the three “wise men” sent by the European Peopleʼs Partyʼs (EPP) to investigate whether his governmentʼs operation conforms to the democratic values of the EPP, at least until after the European parliamentary elections, reported the online version of daily Népszava.

Orbán pictured at a press conference after the EPP political assembly in Brussels on March 20, 2019, at which Fidesz was suspended from the bloc (photo: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.com).

The membership of Hungaryʼs governing Fidesz in the center-right EPP, currently the biggest political grouping in the European Parliament, was suspended in March in an almost unanimous vote due to multiple concerns over the functioning of the rule of law in Hungary and the governmentʼs defiance of EU and EPP values.

Earlier, Orbán had announced that Fidesz would assemble its own committee of wise heads, who he said would negotiate with the EPPʼs three “wise men”; however, the relationship with the EPP has since turned increasingly frosty as the European elections near, with the Hungarian prime minister publicly withdrawing his support for Manfred Weber as the EPPʼs Spitzenkandidat, or candidate for president of the European Commission.

Orbán called Weber “unsuitable” for the position of EC president, pulling his support right after meeting with the strongly anti-immigrant populist Matteo Salvini, Italyʼs Minister of the Interior and head of the Lega party. He also held discussions with Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria.

The EPP suspension bars Fidesz from party meetings, as well as rescinding its voting rights and the right to propose candidates for posts, and many observers now believe Fidesz will depart the bloc to join a new Salvini-led right-wing bloc after the elections.

The three investigators - former European Council president Herman van Rompuy, former European Parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering, and former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel - wanted to start a dialogue with Orbán in the near future, with at least one of the three planning to personally travel to Hungary before the end of May, according to Népszava. However, the visit has no confirmed date, and the unwillingness of the prime minister has cast doubts on whether the visit will occur at all.