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European elections: Hungary withdraws support to Weber after his 'insult'

Devdiscourse News Desk
Updated: 06-05-2019 22:18 IST
European elections: Hungary withdraws support to Weber after his 'insult'

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Hungary's ruling party no longer supports Manfred Weber, the leading centre-right candidate for President of the European Commission, because the German politician made remarks insulting to Hungarians, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Monday.

In a March 29 interview, Weber said he would not accept office as Commission head if he needed the votes of Orban's Fidesz party to do so, telling German ZDF television he wanted votes from across the spectrum to advance a centrist agenda. The European Parliament's main centre-right grouping, the European People's Party (EPP), suspended Fidesz in March amid concerns that it had broken EU principles on the rule of law.

Orban, a nationalist who has often clashed with the European Union over his anti-immigration campaigns and judicial reforms, has since made overtures towards Europe's far right, distancing himself from the EPP group. "Weber has said he does not want to be Commission President with the votes of the Hungarians," Orban said, adding that this meant he could no longer support Weber, who hopes to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker after May's European Parliament election.

Weber's remarks, which were described by a Hungarian junior minister as an "insult to Hungarian voters" and widely reported in Hungarian media the day they were made, were described by Orban on Monday as an insult to the Hungarian people as a whole. Even five days after the interview, on May 3, Orban had described Weber in an interview with Germany's Die Welt as an "outstanding man... We will support him to the end."

Weber's campaign team did not immediately comment. But Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder, head of Weber's party, said he was unsurprised. "Meeting right extremists every week sends a clear signal," he told Muenchner Merkur newspaper. "The person of EU Commission President is of utmost significance," Orban said. "Looking at the campaigns of the leading candidates, these campaigns have convinced me that none of them are fit for the job of leading the Commission."

MASS IMMIGRATION Orban, who has cast the impending election as a choice between forces opposed to and supporting mass immigration to Europe, has urged mainstream conservatives to forge an alliance with populist, nationalist groups after the vote.

But German conservative leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, has said that if Orban chooses to move further away from the EPP "there is no way back to the EPP for him and Fidesz." "We cannot see our place in a people's party where pro-immigration forces are in a majority," Orban said, deflecting questions on whether Fidesz would join a possible new nationalist party grouping after the election.

The EPP has 217 lawmakers in the 750-strong EU legislature, 12 of them from Fidesz. It is expected to remain the biggest parliamentary group, although likely weakened, polls show. Far-right, populist parties are expected to perform well.

"Loyalty is an important political category," Orban said. "We would like to stick with the community where we have lived and worked so far. "Unless this community tells us that our presence is no longer required," Orban said. "In that case, we will have to face that reality. But all of these questions will come on the agenda only after the EP election." (Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin)

(With inputs from agencies.)

COUNTRY : Hungary