Hungary to replace anti-Brussels billboards next week: PM aide

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party will replace its anti-Brussels billboards after the European Parliament’s main center-right group threatened to expel it from its ranks, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

A government poster is seen in Budapest, Hungary, February 21, 2019. The poster reads, "You also have the right to know what Brussels is up to", accusing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of pushing migration plans encouraged by U.S.-Hungarian businessman George Soros, in a media campaign rebuked by the commission. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

On Tuesday European People’s Party (EPP) group leader Manfred Weber demanded that Orban’s Fidesz party take down billboards attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which were part of its campaign ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.

Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said the posters would be replaced next week by others touting Orban’s plans to increase the birth rate and that Fidesz wanted to stay in the EPP.

“The government has approved the plan about the protection of families, so from next week, these billboards will be on display,” Gulyas said.

He declined to respond to repeated questions about later stages of the campaign, saying “I can only inform you about next week”.

Weber told Bild newspaper he expected an apology to EPP member parties, an immediate and permanent end to Orban’s anti-EU campaigns and renewed government support for Central European University (CEU) to stay in Budapest.

“It is a good signal, taking down the posters there, that was one of the requests I made this week,” Weber said, adding however that “criteria are criteria” when asked whether all three of his requests would have to be met.

Gulyas did not say whether Orban planned to apologize but did add that Budapest considered the matter of the CEU closed. The university has accused Orban of trying to kick it out of Hungary. He said Fidesz wanted to stay in the EPP.

Fidesz has made its anti-immigration stance the main plank of its campaign for the European elections in May, putting up billboards accusing Juncker and U.S. billionaire George Soros of plotting to destroy European civilization through immigration.

Hungary’s main pro-government Magyar Nemzet daily has urged Orban’s Fidesz to quit the EPP, saying it had abandoned its formative values and “could not be differentiated from the socialists or liberals”.

“The time has come for Fidesz to stop the humiliating haggling with the European People’s Party,” the paper said in an editorial titled ‘A new alliance!’ on Thursday, suggesting Fidesz should join forces with European nationalists instead.

Orban himself was quoted by the government’s website as saying that the debate about immigration might even lead to a breakup of the EU if one part of it forces other parts to accept pro-immigration policies.

The website quoted a December interview given by Orban published in a new book by French politician Philippe de Villiers.

“If we are let alone and they do not force islamisation on us, Europe can continue to live as the club of free nations,” Orban said.

“But if they force us to accept the UN migration pact or the European Commission’s decisions so as to make us fit their own Western policies, a breakup (of the EU) cannot be ruled out,” he added.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Sandor Peto; Additional reporting by Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Catherine Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky