The European People's Party group (EPP Group) in the European parliament has suspended Tamas Deutsch after the Hungarian MEP’s recent comments comparing the group’s German leader, Manfred Weber, to the Gestapo.
The remarks caused an outcry and a meeting of the centre-right group decided to strip Deutsch of all his group rights.
They stopped short, though, of ejecting him from the group, instead asking him to “reflect” on whether his “fundamental political convictions are still compatible with the values and core content of the EPP.”
Weber had said that Hungary and Poland’s veto of the EU budget was “irresponsible” and, responding, Deutsch, an MEP from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party, told Weber: "If you have nothing to hide, you don't have to be afraid. I well remember that the Gestapo and the ÁVO [AVH] had the same motto.”
This is thought to be a reference to Hungary’s secret police during the Communist era.
In a letter to the group’s leadership, 30 EPP MEPs had called for Deutsch’s expulsion, stating that comparing support for rule of law, “with Gestapo and Stalinist methods is an insult to all of us in the EPP Group.”
Among those signing the letter were former EU commissioner Danuta Hübner and Othmar Karas.
“As stated in the letter sent by Othmar Karas and several other members, such behaviour has no place in our family. This letter remains on the table” EPP Group statement
After meeting to discuss the affair, the EPP issued a statement which said it “strongly condemns the statements made by Deutsch, which are in clear contradiction to European Christian democracy and to EPP values.”
“As stated in the letter sent by Othmar Karas and several other members, such behaviour has no place in our family. This letter remains on the table.”
The strongly worded statement added that the group, the European Parliament’s biggest, “considers that the frequent attacks by Fidesz’ representatives towards the EU and its values are not in line with the core beliefs of the EPP, namely European integration, rule of law, independent judiciary, media free of political intervention, support of civil society, protection of human rights and protection of all minorities.”
The statement continues, “We therefore decided to withdraw, with immediate effect, from Tamas Deutsch all rights to speaking time in plenary on behalf of the group, to nominations as a (shadow) rapporteur or other formal positions on behalf of the group as well as to any position or post belonging to the EPP group according to Parliament's d'Hondt system until further decisions are made.”
The group also said it would call on all Fidesz MEPs “to reflect on whether their fundamental political convictions still are compatible with the values and core content of the EPP and to act consistently with these EPP core values or draw the necessary conclusions.”
It has asked the pan-EU EPP party, a separate body to the group in parliament, “to take a final decision on the membership of Fidesz immediately when health conditions allow this to happen.”
“We therefore decided to withdraw, with immediate effect, from Tamas Deutsch all rights to speaking time in plenary on behalf of the group, to nominations as a (shadow) rapporteur or other formal positions on behalf of the group as well as to any position or post belonging to the EPP group according to Parliament's d'Hondt system until further decisions are made” EPP Group statement
The statement, issued after Wednesday’s meeting, added that the group’s “pro-European, values-based principles are non-negotiable, and we expect all EPP members to respect them.”
It said it supports EPP leaders Jean Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Ursula von der Leyen and Manfred Weber “in their defence of EPP values and particularly, in their defence of the rule of law conditionality.
“The rule of law mechanism is an historic agreement that we all should be proud of.”
Deutsch is a vice chair of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control committee.
He was a member of the Hungarian Parliament between 1990 and 2009 and Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports between 1999 and 2002. He was not immediately available for comment, but he told Hungarian media that any attempt to expel him was evidence that Hungary “must use all means” to oppose the rule of law mechanism.
Deutsch, a founding member of the Fidesz party, is not the only Hungarian official who has caused controversy over his comments on Germany.
Szilárd Demeter, an Orbán confidante and head of the Petofi Literary Museum in Budapest, recently reportedly likened international financier and philanthropist George Soros to Adolf Hitler”.
The row comes after Hungarian MEP József Szájer recently resigned after he was caught at a sex party in Brussels, violating Belgium’s coronavirus measures. He resigned from the EPP and Fidesz party after the incident came to light.