A top member of the European Union’s largest political bloc met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and organizations critical of his policies in what may have been one of the premier’s last chances to avoid expulsion from the continent’s political mainstream.
Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party’s candidate to lead the EU executive, said several issues remained outstanding after face-to-face talks with the illiberal Hungarian leader in Budapest. He repeated an earlier ultimatum to Orban to avert his party’s ejection later this month.
“Today my talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orban had a constructive atmosphere but the problems are not yet solved,” Weber told reporters.
The conflict between Orban and his political allies in Europe is boiling over just as Europe’s mainstream parties prepare to clash with resurgent nationalist forces in European Parliament elections in May. Orban, a four-term premier, has been a thorn in the side of his political allies for retaining his place in the center-right group while becoming a standard-bearer for nationalists due to his anti-immigrant views and his curtailment of liberal democracy at home.
Time is running out as the group is scheduled to discuss on March 20 a motion to suspend or eject Fidesz, after enough members of the group demanded it.
Weber has called on Orban to end an anti-EU campaign and apologize to members of the political group for skewering their colleague and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on billboards. He has also demanded legal guarantees for the George Soros-founded Central European University, which was forced to move most of its academic programs from Budapest to Vienna after a government crackdown.