January 29, 2020 / 2:20 PM / 20 days ago

EU conservatives to extend suspension of Hungary's Fidesz

BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party will remain suspended from the European People’s Party, the EU’s conservative umbrella group, EPP chairman Donald Tusk said on Wednesday, extending a year-long standoff with the populist right-wing party.

Fidesz’s leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has locked horns with his EU peers over issues such as democratic freedoms and the rule of law in Hungary, leading to the suspension of his party last March.

Tusk, who was elected EPP president late last year, met earlier this month with three envoys who had visited Hungary to assess the situation.

“I have received an oral report from the evaluation committee with the conclusion that there has not been sufficient progress in Budapest. Therefore I will not propose to vote or even discuss Fidesz,” Tusk told the EPP’s European Parliament group, according to an aide who was present.

“We will continue the suspension as long as the situation is as it is... I don’t intend to start my presidency by revolution or large divisions, but I won’t compromise about values. How can one even do that? We must find a practical solution.”

Orban has several times threatened to leave the EPP, saying it has lost touch with conservative voters and demanding a return to a tougher stance on issues like migration and cultural identity.

Asked about the EPP issue before Tusk’s remarks, Fidesz Vice Chair Katalin Novak told Reuters the party was growing impatient about the limbo.

“We feel our shared interest is to decide this issue one way or another,” said Novak, who is responsible for the party’s foreign politics. “We are ready to make a call on that.”

Asked if it might move unilaterally, she said: “Fidesz... is an inch from quitting the EPP. Soon after the premier meets the leaders he planned to, Fidesz will make a decision, regardless of the EPP.”

MEP Tamas Deutsch said Fidesz would quit the EPP if forced, adding that he believed it would exert a growing gravitational pull now that EPP parties have lost elections in France, Spain, Italy and Poland.

“Four of the seven largest EU nations have replaced conservative governments and the UK is leaving the bloc,” he said.

“Something is off here, for Pete’s sake. The EPP has lost the confidence of the citizens.”

Reporting by Marton Dunai and Kriszina Than in BUDAPEST and Marine Strauss in BRUSSELS; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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