Orban Nears End of Road in His European Political Alliance

(Bloomberg) -- Europe’s main political family moved closer to a showdown with its most troublesome member, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, over his increasingly euroskeptic behavior.

Signaling a greater determination to confront populist forces in the run-up to the European Union’s legislative elections in May, the EU Christian Democrats are set to discuss expelling or suspending Orban’s Fidesz party from their ranks after enough petitions were gathered for such a move.

Orban Nears End of Road in His European Political Alliance

“All options are on the table,” Manfred Weber, leader of the group in the European Parliament and an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Der Spiegel magazine in an interview published on Friday. “We will take concrete action very soon.”

The latest rumblings peel back years of efforts by Europe’s Christian Democrats, also known as the European People’s Party, or EPP, to paper over unhappiness with Orban as a result of his erosion of democratic standards, opposition to immigration and criticism of EU institutions and personalities.

Orban, who has boasted about creating an “illiberal” state, riled the EPP last month with an anti-immigration poster campaign in Hungary that targets European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a fellow Christian Democrat. Weber demanded an apology from the nationalist Hungarian leader for an anti-EU campaign.

Eight national parties in the EPP from six countries -- Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden -- so far have reportedly said they’re seeking the suspension or expulsion of Fidesz. That surpasses the threshold needed to trigger such a discussion. The alliance’s next assembly meeting is scheduled for March 20.

The growing tensions over Orban within the EPP come at a sensitive time.

The Christian Democrats will see their share of seats in the EU Parliament fall to 26 percent after the May 23-26 elections from 29 percent at the moment, according to forecasts released on Friday by the assembly.

While the group is slated to remain the biggest in the European assembly, the faction’s projected seat total of 181 would shrink further were a Fidesz contingent of as many as 13 members forced out.

Furthermore, such a move could lead the Fidesz members to seek an alliance with other euroskeptic forces such as the League party of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. The League’s number of EU Parliament members will more than quadruple to 28, according to the latest projection by the assembly.

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