Ex-Trump strategist Bannon says to work with Hungary PM Orban: media

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s former political strategist, Steve Bannon, plans to work with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the run-up to European Parliament elections next year, Bannon told private broadcaster RTL in an interview.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Bannon, a former chairman of the right-wing website and an architect of Trump’s 2016 election win, has set up a movement to elect right-wing nationalist and populist members in European Parliament elections in May.

Bannon, who had held a public lecture in Budapest last May, said he has already visited Budapest a couple of times and met Orban and his aides - meetings, which have not been made public.

A government spokesman could not comment immediately.

Orban has welcomed the idea of Bannon’s group, called The Movement, saying it was time that someone from the United States came to Europe to spread conservative thinking instead of liberal values.

“If I could, we would headquarter the movement in Budapest. I love it so much there. But obviously it is not practical. We will spend a lot of time in Hungary between now and election day,” Bannon told RTL in an interview published late on Friday.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban, once a campaigner against Hungary’s Soviet Communist overlords, has used his parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups in ways his opponents say breach EU rules.

The European Parliament voted in September to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption in an unprecedented step.

Orban has also led opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others who want Europe to take in more Muslim refugees.

“Hopefully when we get the Movement fully up and running we’ll engage,” Bannon told RTL.

“John McLaughlin who is my pollster in the United States is going to run this overall polling effort in Europe, he is also the pollster for Orban in Hungary.”

Bannon said next year’s European elections would bring a clash between forces led by core EU members such as Germany and France, who want more integration and euroskeptic nations like Hungary, which seek an alliance of strong member states.

Bannon said he would visit Budapest again in late November.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Robert Birsel