Manfred Weber blasts Viktor Orbán over nationalist-populist approach and culture war

The controversial Hungarian Prime Minister has been accused by the EPP group leader of wanting to "destroy" the EU in a scathing interview.
Source: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

05 Jan 2021

In a highly critical verbal attack on Viktor Orbán, EPP group leader Manfred Weber said that “dismantling the rule of law, nationalism and fomenting division are not the right tools to deal with immense economic, social and societal upheavals.” The criticism, which comes after Orbán likened the EU to the regime of the Soviet Union, marks the latest spat in the ongoing dispute between the EPP and Orbán’s Fidesz party.

In December, the pan-European EPP sanctioned, but did not expel Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch, a close Orbán ally, after Deutsch's comments likening Weber to the Gestapo. The EPP suspended Orbán's Fidesz party in November 2019 over concerns about backsliding on the rule of law in Hungary as well as attacks against the European Commission. The suspension, which has since been extended indefinitely, means that Fidesz is no longer present at the grouping's meetings and its voting rights have been stripped.

Weber, a German MEP, makes his comments in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. He criticises Orbán’s “nationalist-populist approach and culture war”, saying that "Immense economic, social, and societal upheavals cannot be mastered with a national-populist political approach or a cultural war, as demanded by Hungary's Prime Minister Orbán.”

Weber, who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament, says, “Anyone who equates the European Union with the authoritarian regime of the Soviet communists wants to destroy the Europe that was built by Helmut Kohl's generation of politicians.”

“Anyone who equates the European Union with the authoritarian regime of the Soviet communists wants to destroy the Europe that was built by Helmut Kohl's generation of politicians” Manfred Weber, EPP group leader

The EU is not a "milk cow" for handouts but a community with a shared fate and values, Weber said.
 "The values are primarily about the dignity of the individual, regardless of whether you are in Europe's vibrant regions or in the refugee camp on Lesbos, regardless of whether you are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim."

Orbán, who has often styled his policies as a fight against Brussels, in response accused Weber of resenting Hungary. He said, “He blames us for his failure to become the President of the European Commission. This is true.” Weber, Orbán continued, “has joined the elite club of the Left, where an absurd European political geometry is currently in fashion.”

Meanwhile, recent polling has suggested that support for the Fidesz party is waning, with a poll by research institute Republikon measuring support for a newly formed opposition alliance at 35 percent. Fidesz meanwhile polled at 30 percent.

A pro-government pollster in mid-December saw the opposition narrowing the gap with Fidesz to two percentage points. The Orbán government in December approved changes to the electoral law, which have forced the opposition to form a joint party list for the 2022 parliamentary elections.

The amendments also introduced a narrower definition of public funds, which observers see as a potential way for the government to retain influence at key institutions even if Fidesz loses power in the next elections.

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