Hungarian PM Orban apologizes for insulting EU allies

FILE - In this May 22, 2015 file photo, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and European Council President Donald Tusk, left, greet Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a summit in Riga, Latvia. As the Hungarian prime minister’s conflicts with the European Union appear headed to a breaking point, calls are increasing for greater scrutiny of his government’s spending of EU funds. An opposition lawmaker in Hungary has gathered over 470,000 signatures to pressure Prime Minister Viktor Orban into joining the budding European Public Prosecutor’s Office as Orban’s Fidesz party may be suspended or expelled next week from the main center-right group in the European Parliament, it was announced Thursday, March 14, 2019 (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis, File)
In this Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, file photo, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, puts his hand on the shoulder of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is visiting EU officials on Thursday to discuss the current migration crisis. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

BRUSSELS — Hungary's prime minister has apologized for calling some of his allies in the European Parliament "useful idiots," but continues to face demands that he and his right-wing Fidesz party be expelled from the political group.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban sent apologetic letters to the leaders of 13 parties belonging to the European People's Party who have called for his ouster from the group, which has 49 parties altogether. Those wanting him ousted say Orban's fierce anti-migrant stance does not fit with the EPP's general centrist political bent.

In the letter sent to Wouter Beke, leader of Belgium's Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats, Orban attributed the "useful idiots" insult to Lenin, saying he meant "to criticize a certain policy and not certain politicians."

"I would herby like to express my apologies, if you found my quote personally offensive," Orban wrote, while also noting that his Fidesz party and Beke's have "serious disagreements ... on the issue of migration, the protection of Christian culture and the future of Europe."

Beke, however, said Thursday that while he accepted the apology, Orban's views on European values and migration still had no place in the Christian Democratic family and his party has not changed its mind on expelling Fidesz from the EPP.

A decision on the expulsion is expected Wednesday at an EPP political assembly.

EPP leader Manfred Weber met Tuesday with Orban in Budapest, but said the talks had not resolved the issues that could lead to the expulsion of Fidesz.

Weber has also urged Orban to end an ad campaign targeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU — which Fidesz said it would do — and guarantee the continued operations in Budapest of Central European University, which was founded by Hungarian-American financier George Soros.

CEU is one of Hungary's top universities, but announced last year that it would move its programs issuing U.S.-accredited diplomas to Vienna from the coming academic year after Orban refused to guarantee its full operations in Budapest, where it has been since 1993.

Weber met with CEU rector and president Michael Ignatieff during his Tuesday visit to Budapest and revealed a plan involving the Technical University of Munich and German automaker BMW that could allow CEU to comply with amendments to Hungary's law on higher education.

Ignatieff hailed Weber's initiative — "and the possibility it opens of reversing CEU's ouster from Budapest" — with reservations. He called on Orban to make "an authoritative political commitment" and provide long-term legal assurances that would allow CEU to stay in Budapest.

___

Gorondi reported from Budapest.

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