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Hungary’s Orban told: Win back trust to stay in EU centre-right bloc

BRUSSELS (Reuters): Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban still needs to do more to avoid the expulsion of his anti-immigration Fidesz party from the main European conservative group, its leader was quoted on Friday as saying.

Thirteen conservative parties have demanded Fidesz be expelled from the European People’s Party (EPP) over an anti-immigration and anti-EU campaign that attacked European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a fellow EPP member, and U.S. philanthropist George Soros.

Orban, a strident nationalist, has written letters of apology to EPP politicians but Manfred Weber, the German who leads the grouping in the European Parliament, said the Hungarian prime minister had to do more.

“If Viktor Orban doesn’t manage to create trust in coming days among the EPP parties and his critics, then things will be difficult,” Weber told Der Spiegel, according to extracts of an interview published on Friday.

Tearing down the posters “is a start, but no more”, he said, referring to Orban’s move to take down posters that suggest Juncker and Soros are conspiring to flood Europe with illegal immigrants from Muslim countries. The EPP, made up of the main centre-right parties from across Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, is the largest grouping in the European Parliament.

With the EPP preparing now for EU elections in May, Weber – accused by some of having been too conciliatory towards Orban and Fidesz – hopes to replace Juncker later this year as president of the Commission, the EU executive.

The EPP gains from an electorally successful central European party like Fidesz in its ranks, while Orban benefits from having a large group in the European Parliament to shield him from censure there.

However, his anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric has infuriated many moderate conservatives around Europe. The EPP will hold a secret ballot next Wednesday to decide whether to expel Fidesz from the grouping.

The EU has long criticised Fidesz over policies it says threaten the rule of law by imposing party control over the judiciary, media and other institutions. Fidesz rejects this.

Some European politicians also condemn Orban’s attacks on Soros, who is Jewish, as anti-Semitic, which Fidesz also rejects.