Manfred Weber, the leader of the European Peopleʼs Party (EPP) in the European Parliament and its candidate for European Commission (EC) president in Mayʼs elections, arrived in Budapest Tuesday to negotiate with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán regarding possible solutions to avoid Fideszʼs expulsion from the EPP.
As reported last week, the EPP, the group of conservative and Christian Democrat parties in the European Parliament which includes Hungaryʼs governing Fidesz, will meet on March 20 for a vote on the latterʼs possible suspension or expulsion, after 12 member parties from nine countries requested action.
Growing concerns have been expressed in recent times within the EPP with respect to the rule of law in Hungary, but the tipping point appears to be the Hungarian regimeʼs latest taxpayer-funded political ad campaign, which displays Hungarian-born investor George Soros side by side with EC President Jean-Claude Juncker (whose party is also an EPP member), implying the two are co-conspirators in an alleged plan to flood Europe with migrants.
EPP President Joseph Daul was cited last week as saying that Orbán crossed a “red line” when his government targeted Juncker in the “impermissible” campaign.
Hungarian news site 444.hu reported today that billboards depicting Juncker and Soros were removed or covered up along Weberʼs planned route into the city from Ferenc Liszt International Airport.
Earlier, Weber - a member of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria - issued a three-point ultimatum requiring the Hungarian government to publicly apologize for its ads targeted at Juncker; to halt its anti-Brussels campaign altogether; and to ensure the continued operation of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. CEU was compelled to move its U.S.-accredited courses to Vienna last December after the government missed the deadline to sign an agreement with the institution.
If Hungary fails to satisfy these requirements by March 20, Fidesz is at risk of expulsion or suspension from the EPP, reported TheLocal.de, the German edition of multi-regional English-language digital news publisher The Local.
Meanwhile, 444.hu reported that 58 EPP delegates of the total 262 are set to vote against Fidesz on March 20, while 48 will support Orbán. Others are said to be still undecided.
While the government has already stated that it would remove the billboards attacking Juncker after the March 15 holiday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó refused to apologize for the campaign.
“Only those have to apologize who stated untruths about others. Our aim is the creation of an anti-migration majority in the European Parliament,” said Szijjártó, according to a report by Hungarian news site 24.hu.
The minister also denied forcing CEU out of Budapest, contrary to the universityʼs claims that the government had made its position in Budapest entirely untenable.
According to current affairs website hvg.hu, Weber himself has become involved in the negotiations, and is set to discuss an offer of financial help from Bavaria with CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff.
Index.hu reported that one of Weberʼs first ports of call on arrival in Budapest was CEU, where he was pictured arriving around 10.30 a.m. It also reported that the EPP leader plans to visit the synagogue on Dohány utca in the afternoon and hold talks with András Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz).