Key European group mulls status of Hungary’s ruling party

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President of the European Council Donald Tusk speaks during the European Peoples Party (EPP) congress in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Tusk was in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, for a meeting of the European People’s Party, the main center-right bloc in the European Parliament.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — The new president of the European People’s Party on Thursday denounced Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “illiberal” policies and said the status of Orban’s populist party within the influential group will be decided early next year.

Donald Tusk said a decision on whether Orban’s Fidesz party will be allowed to stay in the group will be made in January after EPP finishes an internal investigation. Tusk, the outgoing European Council president, was elected the new president of the pan-European party Wednesday at a two-day congress in Zagreb, Croatia.

The center-right EPP is the dominant group at the European Parliament, an umbrella party for many national parties. Fidesz’s membership was temporarily suspended in March before the EU elections in May due to alleged violations of the rule of law. Orban is widely seen as an autocrat who has rolled back democracy in his country.

“This is not the first time when I expressed my opinion about illiberal democracy and this is, if I understand, the new main idea of Viktor Orban,” Tusk said. “I think we have to be very determined in fighting against this kind of idea.”

During his opening statement at the EPP congress on Wednesday, Tusk launched a scathing attack against “political populists, manipulators and autocrats” within the group’s ranks.

However, not everyone in the EPP agrees with Tusk’s position.

Slovenia’s former Prime Minister Janez Jansa defended the membership of Orban’s party, saying he believes it will remain in the EPP after the investigation.

“Punishing the most successful party in the group would not make any sense,” Jansa said at the meeting.

The EPP has been the largest party in the European Parliament for over 20 years, although it lost many seats, mostly to right-wing populists and Green party candidates, in the 2019 EU election.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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