Hungary's ruling Fidesz could quit European conservative bloc: Orban

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party may leave the European Union’s umbrella centre-right bloc after receiving mixed signals about its intentions following Fidesz’s suspension from the group, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

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The European People’s Party suspended Fidesz’s membership in March over concern about Orban’s populist anti-immigration campaigns and erosion of the rule of law, freedom of the press and minority rights under his tenure. Fidesz was not invited to a two-day EPP gathering in Croatia this week.

The EPP has said it will send a group of “wise men” to investigate conditions in Hungary and decide whether to keep Fidesz among its ranks, a process that new EPP Chairman Donald Tusk expects to close by the end of January.

The nationalist Orban was defiant in remarks to Hungarian state radio on Friday. ”We keep our membership suspended. We are waiting for the EPP to come clean about its views and plans, and then we will make up our minds,” he said.

“The question is whether the (EPP’s) new chairman can stop its drift to the left. If he can, we have a common future. If not, we will have to build another political community.”

In a speech to the EPP congress in Zagreb, Tusk did not name Orban but made clear the mainstream conservative party group would not change to accommodate right-wing populism.

“We must put a stop to this,” said Tusk, the outgoing president of the European Council. “In a political fight, truth and decency cannot be completely helpless against fake news, manipulation and hate.”

“We will not sacrifice values like civic liberties, the rule of law, and decency in public life on the altar of security and order,” Tusk said. “Whoever is unable to accept it, is de facto placing himself outside our (EPP) family.”

Orban is a self-proclaimed “illiberal” whose signature policies have included a double razor-wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia to keep out migrants, billboard campaigns and constant anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Tusk is a former centre-right premier of Poland from the Civic Platform party. He stepped down in 2014 to become European Council chairman and Civic Platform was defeated a year later by the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party, an Orban ally that has governed Poland since.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich