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article imageAustrian far right invites Orban to form joint EU bloc

By AFP     Sep 10, 2018 in Politics

The leader of Austria's far-right party raised the prospect Monday of forming a common bloc in the European Parliament with the party of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"I gladly invite Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party to work together in future in a common EU bloc!", Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), said on Facebook.

Strache and others in the FPOe have often imitated Orban's strident anti-immigrant rhetoric, but currently the FPOe sits with other far-right parties in the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group.

Strache's comments come on the eve of a speech Orban will make to the European Parliament defending his government's record against a report outlining a series of "concerns" over the rule of law and human rights in Hungary.

Later this week MEPs will vote on whether to demand so-called Article 7 proceedings against Hungary, which could ultimately see its EU voting rights suspended -- a procedure only launched once before, against Poland last December.

Concerns over the erosion of the rule of law and the treatment of migrants have also led to calls for Fidesz to be expelled from the parliament's centre-right European People's Party (EPP) grouping.

Strache's colleague in Austria's government, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz -- whose centre-right People's Party (OeVP) also sits in the EPP -- struck a much more critical note towards Orban on Monday, saying OeVP MEPs would vote to support starting Article 7 proceedings and would also back the suspension of Fidesz's EPP membership.

"There is no compromise over the rule of law and democracy. Basic values must be protected," Kurz told the ORF 2 TV channel in an interview.

The chair of the EPP, Germany's Manfred Weber, has previously opposed expelling Fidesz but said the party would not get any "favourable treatment" if he succeeds in his bid to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission next year.

"When it's about basic rights and values, no one in our EPP group gets favourable treatment, including Fidesz," Weber said last week.

While Orban's actions have provoked opposition, they have been applauded by populists elsewhere in the European Union.

Italy's new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has expressed admiration for Orban and last month the two men appeared together to launch an anti-immigration manifesto aimed at next year's European parliamentary elections.

Salvini was also pictured last week meeting US President Donald Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon, who claims to have had talks with Orban over forming a pan-European right-wing movement ahead of the 2019 poll.

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