FG defends decision of European grouping not to expel Orban
Mark Durkan says MEPs should have shown discomfort with Hungarian leader’s policies
Mark Durkan said the sitting Fine Gael MEPs should have shown their discomfort with Hungarian leader Viktor Orban’s policies. Photograph: Alan Betson
Fine Gael European election candidates, including former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, have defended the decision of the party’s European grouping not to expel Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban from its ranks.
The European People’s Party (EPP) this week reached an “agreed suspension” with Mr Orban’s Fidesz. The centre-right EPP voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to suspend – but not kick out – Mr Orban’s party amid concern over its increasingly radical policies and nationalist rhetoric.
Mr Orban had threatened to leave the EPP if it was suspended or expelled, but he emerged after the vote to declare that Fidesz had in fact decided to pause its membership, pending a report on the party’s behaviour.
The move not to expel Mr Orban led to criticism from other European political groupings.
Mr Durkan, who suspended his membership of the SDLP, which is aligned with the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES), while he stands in the Dublin European Parliament constituency for Fine Gael, was asked at Fine Gael’s national conference in Wexford if he would be comfortable sharing a grouping with Mr Orban’s party.
Mr Durkan said the sitting Fine Gael MEPs should have shown their discomfort with the Hungarian leader’s policies.
“They have been quite straight about the reservations and the objections they have had to some of what Viktor Orban and his party have said and what they have done,” Mr Durkan said at a press conference with his fellow European election candidates.
“And it is not just what they have said about the European Union. A marker has been clearly now been laid down.”
All other Fine Gael MEPs or European Parliament candidates – Seán Kelly, Deirdre Clune, Andrew Doyle, Frances Fitzgerald, Maria Walsh and Mairéad McGuinness – also said the EPP had been correct to suspend but not expel Mr Orban.
“As leader of the delegation in the European Parliament, I have raised the issue of Viktor Orban on behalf of the delegation several times,” Mr Kelly said. “And Manfred Weber went away and he looked at it and he spoke to Viktor Orban and others and he came back last Wednesday and recommended we would have an indefinite suspension rather than kicking him out permanently. He is being told now he is put on notice: you get your act together, you accept the values of the European Union or the suspension will become an expulsion.”
Ms Fitzgerald said: “I think it is important that the process is under way and it is a strong statement that we have to defend European values, that we have to defend democracy and press freedom and the rule of law. There have been huge problems within Hungary and I think it is very important that this process is under way.”
EPP leader Manfred Weber, tipped to be the next president of the European Commission, will attend the Fine Gael spring conference today.
Other guests at the conference will include Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP, the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long and Claire Hanna of the SDLP, who will all take part in a discussion on North-South relations. Party sources had expected Verona Murphy of the Irish Road Haulage Association to be announced as a running mate for Ministers of State Paul Kehoe and Michael D’Arcy, but this has been delayed.