Leader of EU conservative bloc seeks talks with Hungary’s Orban over party row

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FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) – The leader of the main center-right party in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, said he aims to talk to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban soon to warn him he is on course to be excluded from the grouping.

Orban said on Friday his nationalist Fidesz party may leave the conservative group, the European People’s Party (EPP), over a row about anti-EU election campaigning.

Weber has demanded Fidesz take down billboards attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, part of its campaign for May’s European Parliament elections in which populists and eurosceptics are well positioned to make gains.

“In the coming days, I will again try to talk personally to Viktor Orban in Budapest, because I want to try to make clear to him that at the moment he is on the way out of the EPP,” Weber told German weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

On Monday, the EPP said it had received motions from 12 member parties in nine EU countries and would discuss suspending or excluding Fidesz on March 20.

Orban has long been at loggerheads with Brussels over his hardline stance on immigration and accusations – which he denies – that he is undermining the rule of law. The feud is escalating ahead of the European elections.

Fidesz has made its anti-immigration stance the main plank of its campaign for the European elections in May, putting up billboards accusing Juncker and U.S. billionaire George Soros of plotting to destroy European civilization through immigration.

Weber told Welt am Sonntag the dispute was not “about an East-West conflict (in the EU), or about migration policy, as is claimed, but rather about which values the EPP and the EU represent.”

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Ros Russell

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