May 23, 2019 / 3:05 PM / 5 months ago

Migration will dictate Hungary ruling party ties to EU centre right - foreign minister

PARIS (Reuters) - Migration policy will determine whether Hungary’s ruling party remains in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) grouping after the bloc’s parliamentary elections, the foreign minister said on Thursday.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto speaks to Reuters days before the European elections at the OECD headquarters in Paris, France, May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party was suspended by the EPP, the parliament’s main centre-right grouping, in March amid concerns that it has violated EU principles on the rule of law, and either side could pull the plug on their association.

Orban, who has flirted with far-right leaders from across the continent while professing loyalty to the EPP, has launched a media campaign that frames this week’s bloc-wide votes as a choice between forces backing and opposing mass immigration.

Leaving the biggest grouping in the EU assembly would likely mean a loss of influence for Orban’s party over top EU jobs and legislation.

But the decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose party holds a prominent place in the EPP, to open Germany’s doors to migrants in 2015, has split the grouping between pro- and anti-immigration camps.

Hungary’s Peter Szijjarto said the split was due to the influence of pro-migration Socialists, liberals and greens, and that the EPP striking an alliance with them to reach a majority in the EU parliament would prompt Fidesz to rethink its membership.

“We hope the EPP will move back to the place where it used to be when we joined ... if the EPP makes an alliance with pro-migration parties that is definitely a red line for us,” Szijjarto, a Fidesz lawmaker, told Reuters.

Far-right and populist parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Matteo Salvini’s Northern League in Italy are expected to perform well in the elections, with speculation mounting that Orban could join their grouping.

The EPP currently has 217 lawmakers in the 750-strong EU legislature, 12 of them from Fidesz. Polls suggest the EPP will remain the biggest group, albeit with fewer seats.

Szijjarto said Fidesz would see the direction the EPP would take before making any decision, although he did not rule out the possibility of cooperating with Le Pen and Salvini.

“If the EPP moves towards migration, it is not a direction we can follow for sure but it doesn’t mean automatically we will work together with a, b, x y or z,” he said.

Szijjarto said the vote was the most significant the 28 states had held because it offered two distinct visions of its future.

“In order to make (Europe) strong again we need strong member states and we absolutely dislike the concept of a so-called United States of Europe,” he said on the sidelines of an OECD ministerial summit in Paris.

“We would rather represent a sovereignist approach and would like to end up with an EU based on strong member states, that stick to their religious and cultural history.”

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Michel Rose and Alison Williams

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