January 30, 2019 / 5:05 PM / 5 months ago

Hungary to shun Italian-led eurosceptic alliance, stick with allies: official

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party will not join a eurosceptic alliance spearheaded by Italy in the run-up to European Parliament elections despite their common hard line on immigration, a government official said on Wednesday.

Szabolcs Takacs, Hungarian State Secretary in charge of European Union affairs, poses for a picture during an interview in Budapest, Hungary January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Gergely Szakacs

Early this month, Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini proposed that Italy and Poland join forces to reshape Europe, trying to drum up support for a eurosceptic alliance ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

Orban gave his support to the initiative, saying he wanted anti-immigration parties to gain a majority at the vote. But a senior aide told Reuters that Fidesz would work on bolstering the poll showing of Hungarian candidates for the European People’s Party.

“There is no hidden agenda here. The only thing is that these two politicians Mr. Salvini and Mr. Orban have a very similar if not identical approach on how we should tackle the migration challenge,” state secretary Szabolcs Takacs said.

He said to his knowledge, no meeting was planned between Salvini and Orban, two hard-liners against mass immigration into Europe, in the foreseeable future.

“Both PiS in Poland and the League in Italy are not EPP members, whereas Fidesz is a member of the EPP. This very clearly defines our place and our position,” Takacs said. “Hungary is not participating in this cooperation in the European Parliament campaign.”

“What we would like to see is that the EPP remains where it should be remaining, the original values, ideas, Christian democracy.”

Takacs also said Hungary firmly backed Manfred Weber’s candidacy to be the next European Commission President.

Hungary has been in conflict with European institutions over what critics say is Budapest’s backsliding on democratic norms, with some controversial reforms affecting the independence of the judiciary and the media.

The European Parliament voted last September to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption in an unprecedented step that left Prime Minister Viktor Orban isolated from powerful allies.

Takacs said he hoped the number of conflict points between Hungary and European institutions could decrease after the election, saying the next European Commission should take a less political role.

“What we would like to see is a completely different European Commission, which (guards) European law. Nothing more and nothing less,” he said

“Unlike the current President, the European Commission should not declare itself to be a political player in the next institutional cycle.”

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs

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