“Useful idiots”? Orban rows back – a little

The pressure on hungary’s prime minister viktor orban had recently become increasingly coarse. For the first time, the exclusion of his right-wing nationalist fidesz party from the european people’s party is a realistic option.

First orban poured oil on the fire – then he rowed back on thursday. At least a little bit.

In a letter to members of the party alliance, which also includes the CDU and CSU, orban apologizes for calling them "useless idiots". "I would like to express my apologies if you felt personally offended by my quote," reads the letter, obtained by the german press agency.

At the same time, orban made it clear that he would not change his policy in any way. Critics have accused him for years of undermining democracy and the rule of law in hungary.

Most recently, orban’s anti-brussels campaign caused massive displeasure. On posters he had hung up in hungary, EU commission president jean-claude juncker, who is a member of the EPP party, and the liberal US billionaire of hungarian origin george soros could be seen in an unflattering pose. Both were also vilified with false claims about EU immigration policy.

A good dozen EPP parties then called for the right-wing nationalist fidesz to be expelled or at least suspended temporarily. And orban? In an interview with "welt am sonntag," orban derided his critics as "useless idiots" who were running the business of the left and the liberals. Next wednesday, the EPP executive committee is to decide on the further course of action with the fidesz party. The end could be expulsion.

Dpa has the letters from orban, who is also head of fidesz, to the chairman of the flamish CD&V and to the EPP member from luxembourg CSV. It is no secret that there are serious differences of opinion between fidesz and the addressed parties on the issues of migration, the protection of christian culture and the future of europe, writes orban. "It is also no secret that we do not want to change our position on these issues."But it is not a sensible solution to exclude fidesz from the EPP, it continues. "Therefore, i would respectfully ask you to reconsider your motion of expulsion, if possible."

Can orban avert the fidesz expulsion with it?? Juncker, in any case, maintains that orban no longer has any place in the EPP, as he announced through his spokesman on thursday.

Manfred weber (CSU), who is running as the EPP’s top candidate in the election campaign for the european elections in may, described orban’s apology on thursday as a "first signal" but called for further steps to be taken.

CSU leader markus soder expressed similar sentiments: "apologizing for formulations is an important signal."But the EPP is a family of values. "And values are not negotiable."Orban must decide in the long term where his path will take him. "It makes no sense for us to have new debates about this every week."New and lasting trust must also grow among the other EPP partners. The federal CDU initially refused to comment on orban’s letter.

Trust is the point – and the hamish posters are just the tip of a massive iceberg standing on broken trust. An experienced european diplomat said in budapest on thursday that in his decades-long career he had never seen an eu state block uncontroversial eu decisions, as hungary does time and again. Most recently, when it objected to a joint EU-arab league paper because it contained wording that vaguely alluded to the UN migration pact, which hungary rejected.

But hungary’s blockade attitude in NATO against ukraine, which is beset by russian aggression, also falls into this category of the unprecedented, according to the diplomat. Regarding the conflict with the EPP, he said: "many bridges have been built for the hungarians, but so far none of them has crossed them."

Weber, who likes to see himself as a "bridge builder" and who wants to succeed juncker as head of the commission in the fall, had recently tied fidesz’s EPP membership to three conditions: orban should stop the recent campaign against juncker, he must apologize to the other EPP parties, and the central european university (CEU) must remain permanently in budapest. In addition, the university must once again be able to issue U.S. Diplomas. On tuesday, weber himself traveled to budapest for talks with orban – without subsequently presenting a solution.

The apology is now available. The posters were supposed to be taken down in mid march anyway and are already gradually disappearing from the cityscape. And weber himself had proposed a solution for the CEU: partial financing by bavarian authorities should save its continued existence.

For some orban critics in the EPP, however, the one-sided writing is too little. The chairman of the flemish CD&V, wouter beke, accepted the letter, according to information from group circles. This is what others write with regard to fidesz nothing about his attitude.

The leader of the finnish national rally party wrote on twitter that his party will not withdraw its application for exclusion. And luxembourg party leader frank engel also criticized orban for not apologizing for his policies. "That’s why this apology is worth nothing."

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