EU center-right group to mull kicking out Orban’s party

BERLIN (AP) — The European Parliament’s main center-right group will discuss later this month whether Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party should remain a member amid anger over the anti-migration leader’s latest campaign against European Union leaders.

The European People’s Party said Tuesday that it has received letters from 12 member parties in nine countries seeking the exclusion or suspension of Orban’s Fidesz party from the group, the biggest in the outgoing EU legislature. That’s considerably more than the seven parties in five countries that were needed.

The issue has now been added to the agenda for a March 20 meeting of EPP’s political assembly, which brings together representatives of member parties. Whether there will be a decision is unclear, but the body could decide to kick out or suspend Fidesz, which will be given an opportunity to defend itself.

The matter is coming to a head a little over two months before the May 23-26 European Parliament election.

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Orban has been strongly identified for years with anti-migrant rhetoric. In recent weeks, he angered many in the European People’s Party with a campaign of government ads accusing European Union leaders of promoting mass migration. They depict European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a fellow EPP member, and Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

“The European People’s Party is a big family that can have its differences,” EPP president Joseph Daul told Tuesday’s edition of German daily Die Welt. “But there is a limit and Viktor Orban has crossed the red line.”

The parties that have called for action against Fidesz are from Belgium, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.

They do not, at least so far, include German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union; its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, which includes Manfred Weber, the EPP candidate to succeed Juncker; or Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party. Leaders of those parties have criticized Orban’s campaign but stopped short of calling for Fidesz’ removal.

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