BUDAPEST/WARSAW—Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said his nationalist Fidesz party may leave Europe’s main conservative group over a dispute about anti-EU election campaigning.
On March 5 the head of the group, the European People’s Party (EPP), German politician Manfred Weber, demanded Fidesz take down billboards attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, part of its campaign for European Parliament elections in May, in which populists and euroskeptics are well positioned to make gains.
Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said Fidesz wanted to stay in the EPP, the most powerful conservative group in the European Parliament, and the posters would be replaced by others touting Orban’s plans to increase Hungary’s birth rate.
Orban told public radio he wanted to move the pro-EU EPP toward a more anti-immigration platform, and raised the prospect of Fidesz quitting the group, which will meet on March 20 to discuss the matter.
“The debate may end up with [Fidesz] finding its place not within, but outside the People’s Party,” Orban said.
Weber, a member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told Bild newspaper he expected Fidesz to apologize to EPP members and called for Orban to end his anti-EU campaigns.
Orban didn’t apologize. He said he had talked with both Juncker and Weber and planned to visit Poland, a regional ally governed by the Law and Justice party, which isn’t in the EPP.
“If we need to start something new … then obviously the first place to hold talks will be in Poland,” Orban said.
Weber said it was up to Orban to decide which political family he wants to be in.
“Viktor Orban in the last years and months and days always was clearly committed that he wants to stay inside the European People’s Party,” Weber said.
“We are a political family of values, we are a political family that has common ideas, and everybody who is based on these common ideas can stay … others can leave or must be kicked out if this is not accepted anymore.”
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is running for the European Parliament, said expelling Fidesz would play into the hands of the EPP’s opponents.
By Gergely Szakacs and Alan Charlish