Viktor Orban party and Dutch centrists sever links in ‘values’ row

Dutch claim growing unease in EPP at alleged anti-Semitic tone of Orban campaign

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban addresses supporters after the announcement of  partial results of parliamentary elections in Budapest, Hungary, in April. File photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban addresses supporters after the announcement of partial results of parliamentary elections in Budapest, Hungary, in April. File photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

 

A row over “European values” has led to a severing of links between the Fidesz party of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and the centrist Christian Democrats, part of prime minister Mark Rutte’s Dutch coalition – both of which belong to the same group in the European Parliament.

The row reflects what the Dutch claim is growing unease in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) – the largest group in the Strasbourg parliament – at what was widely criticised as the anti-Semitic tone of the campaign that returned Mr Orban to power in April for a third term.

The war of words began last weekend when the Christian Democrats adopted a resolution at their annual conference seeking to have Fidesz expelled from the EPP if it continued to stray over “red lines” that reflect the group’s commitment to “European norms and values”.

The resolution was prompted by Mr Orban’s post-election pledge to introduce new legislation incorporating stiff penalties for aid organisations that help illegal immigrants.

Such organisations will be obliged to register with the Hungarian courts if they receive more than half their funding from abroad, and will be subject to a 25 per cent tax. In addition, their foreign staff will face expulsion if they are found to have breached any of the new regulations.

‘Stop Soros Plan’

The proposals – being debated in parliament in Budapest this week – are part of Mr Orban’s so-called “Stop Soros Plan”, which blames Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist George Soros for helping to “flood Europe with illegal immigrants”, while offering no evidence to support the claim.

However, a Hungarian government spokesman stressed that mainstream aid organisations such as the Red Cross, or others distributing food or clothes, would not be affected by the legislation.

A carnival float depicting leader of the ruling party Law and Justice in Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the traditional Rosenmontag carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, in February 2018. File photograph: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters
A carnival float depicting leader of the ruling party Law and Justice in Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the traditional Rosenmontag carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, in February 2018. File photograph: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters

“Giving that type of assistance is not the same as actively taking part in helping people to cross borders illegally,” said Zoltan Kovacs.

The threat of expulsion from the EPP tabled by the Christian Democrats prompted an angry written response within 48 hours from Fidesz – which said it was severing all contact with the Dutch until they revoked the resolution and stopped “lying” about Fidesz and its intentions.

Specifically, Fidesz said it was not true that it had deployed “fake news and facts” in its election campaign, that it opposed European co-operation or that it had promised to take revenge on opposition parties.

Nor was it true that its proposed legislation would be detrimental to the rule of law and democracy.

Fidesz deputy president Katalin Novak claimed that at a recent meeting between Mr Orban and Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma, not one of those concerns had been raised by Mr Buma.

As to the Dutch call for expulsion from the EPP, the group’s spokesman, Pedro Lopez de Pablo, responded: “If Orban pushes too far, we will call him out. So far he has modified his views as a result.

“We saw that recently with the row over the Soros-funded Central European University, which would have been closed now but for EPP intervention.”