Hungary's Jobbik supports EU deepening with voters' blessing

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s main opposition Jobbik party could support deeper European integration, its chairman said on Friday, in a shift apparently aimed at bringing the far-right group closer to the political mainstream.

Jobbik, which used to burn EU flags and was widely accused of racism and anti-Semitism, has tried over the past few years to convince voters it has become a more moderate conservative party that supports democratic institutions and civil rights.

Chairman Gabor Vona told foreign journalists Jobbik does not want a two-speed EU, in which some member states would enjoy a lesser level of cooperation than others.

Instead, it favored waiting until Europe’s integration plans became clearer and then holding referendums across the EU to see which countries want to stay in.

He also said Jobbik would be willing to join the euro zone as fast as economically sensible, which he called an economic issue, rather than a political one.

Jobbik is a distant second behind the ruling Fidesz party in opinion polls ahead of elections due in April 2018, but it says poll results might be misleading with many voters hiding their preferences.

Its policy proposals have often been echoed by Fidesz, which is also a right-wing party with strong anti-immigration views, but which has been seen as closer to the European conservative mainstream than more explicitly nationalist Jobbik.

Vona said Europe was likely to transform in the next few years. Countries should wait for the bloc’s trajectory to become clearer, and then all EU states should hold referendums on whether to remain members.

“A referendum about membership would be legitimate but not now,” he said. “What would we vote about? The Juncker plan? The Merkel plan? The Macron plan? We have no idea what the EU means at this moment. We should clarify this together first.”

“Once we have that we should ask everywhere, not only in Hungary, whether people want whatever Brussels leaders cooked up or not.”

Hungarians have warmed considerably to the EU in recent months. According to Eurobarometer, 56 percent of them now say EU membership is a “good thing”, up 8 percentage points since March. That is the steepest rise in the EU.

Vona said Hungary should join the euro currency as soon as possible, once public debt and competitiveness are appropriate.

Ostracised in Brussels even by other far-right groups, Jobbik says it seeks to transcend traditional left-right political divisions and find new allies in the European Parliament after elections to the body in 2019.

“We would be happy to see... a regional alliance of central European politicians who can look past left and right and embody common Eastern issues,” he said.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Peter Graff