Fine Gael’s seven MEP candidates have said they were to the fore in seeking the suspension of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban from their European party grouping. The European People’s Party (EPP) this week agreed to an indefinite suspension on Mr Orban’s Fidesz party after a succession of infringements of constitutional principles and attacks on media freedom and academic independence.
Fine Gael has come under attack for the fact that the decision was done in agreement with Mr Orban, rather than imposing it on him. Speaking at the party’s national conference in Wexford yesterday, the party’s sitting MEPs and new candidates insisted they led the charge to oust Mr Orban in order to give him an opportunity to mend his ways.
Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly said that, as leader of the delegation in the European Parliament, he raised the issue of Mr Orban on behalf of the grouping several times, especially at the bureau meetings.
“I outlined we were very unhappy with the direction he was taking, that action needed to be taken, and they undertook to listen to us,” said Mr Kelly. “And Manfred Weber [EPP leader] went away and he looked at it and he spoke to Viktor Orban and others and he came back last Wednesday and recommended we would have an indefinite suspension rather than kicking him out permanently.
“He is being told now he is put on notice, ‘you get your act together, you accept the values of the European Union or the suspension will become an expulsion’.”
Mark Durkan, the former SDLP leader who is standing in Dublin, said he is not comfortable in being associated with Mr Orban.
“No, just as the sitting Fine Gael MEPs have shown their discomfort in the past,” he said. “They have been quite straight about the reservations and the objections they have had to some of what Viktor Orban and his party have said and what they have done. And it is not just what they have said about the European Union. A marker has been clearly now been laid down.”
Cork-based sitting MEP Deirdre Clune said: “I agree with what has been said. We have already voted for this Article 7, the European process to have an investigation into Hungary, and the suspension that has been there at the moment is indefinite. It is important that a strong marker would have been put down and that is what happened this week.”
Former tánaiste and Dublin MEP candidate Frances Fitzgerald said it is a strong statement that MEPs have to defend European values, defend democracy, and defend and press freedom and the rule of law.
“There have been huge problems within Hungary and I think it is very important that this process is under way,” she said.
Agriculture Minister Andrew Doyle compared the suspension to the treatment handed out to a misbehaving schoolchild.
“If you take any situation where you have people who have stepped out of line, whether it is the school classroom or wherever, they are given a suspension, they are given time to reflect and consider whether they want to be part of that and conform with the ethos, in this case of the EPP,” said Mr Doyle.