Bavarian, Austrian conservatives reject Orban's call to work with populists

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VIENNA (Reuters) - The leaders of Austria and Bavaria rejected on Friday a call by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for their center-right group in the European Parliament to ally with populist, nationalist parties ahead of EU elections later this month.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder both head parties that are part of the European People’s Party (EPP), the main conservative bloc in the European assembly.

In March the EPP suspended Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party over accusations it had violated EU principles on the rule of law, freedom of the press and minorities’ rights.

In the run-up to the European Parliament elections on May 23-26, Orban has called for the EPP to drop its aversion to the far right and forge an alliance after the vote.

“No cooperation in Europe with right-wing populists, of course,” Soeder, who heads the Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told a joint news conference with Kurz after meeting in Vienna.

“Nothing good would come of it,” he added.

Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s far-right League, is trying to put together a Europe-wide alliance of nationalist, anti-immigration parties including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France.

“I think nothing of cooperating with parties such as the AfD and Le Pen, which want to leave the European Union,” Kurz said. “These parties have long ruled themselves out through their anti-European position.”

He added, however, that one would have to see what alliances were possible after the European Parliament election later this month and that the priority for now was for the EPP to do as well as it can.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky