Analysis. The billboards, which depict George Soros and Jean-Claude Juncker as part of a Brussels conspiracy, will be removed. But Orbán’s feud with the European People’s Party (of which his party and Juncker both belong) threatens to split the conservative alliance apart.

Orbán caves on Soros billboards, but doesn’t apologize

The faces of George Soros and Jean-Claude Juncker, depicted as laughing heartily behind the backs of us poor Europeans, should finally disappear from state-sponsored billboards on Hungarian streets by March 15. At least this is what the authorities in Budapest have announced, after being the object of by criticism from the European People’s Party (EPP) for their campaign featuring anti-European messages.

The Hungarian government has been blaming Soros and Juncker for uncontrolled immigration, which, according to the Orbán government, is putting the survival of Europe and its “Christian identity” at risk. “You also have the right to know what Brussels has in store,” reads the message on these billboards, found on many walls and streets throughout the country.

Orbán’s style of criticism against EU policies is well-known: he tends to accuse the European Commission of promoting the phenomenon of migration, of refusing to consider the problem of the defense of the Schengen area’s borders, and of giving migrants bank cards with money on them—money which, according to Orbán, is taken away from Hungarian families and those from other European countries. Accordingly, he is trying to claim the moral high ground by being willing to oppose this situation. Orbán maintained his confrontational stance on this issue in response to the criticism from within the EPP, which has risen to the level of an ultimatum delivered by Manfred Weber, the European party’s top candidate going into the European elections. Weber’s ultimatum aimed to push the Hungarian leader to immediately end his anti-EU campaign and to give CEU (the Central European University) the possibility to stay in Budapest.

However, the ruling party, Fidesz, is putting on a display of confidence, saying they won’t be intimidated and rejecting the “ultimatum.” The situation could lead to Fidesz’s expulsion from the EPP. Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs has said, in effect, that they are not willing to give in on anything: “The Hungarian government is prepared to listen to any criticism, but the decision of the Hungarian people is more important to us than party discipline,” Kovacs wrote on Twitter.

In other words, the billboards will come down starting March 15, but their commitment to “save” Christian Europe from Muslim migrants will continue unabated. Orbán says he is ready to listen to everyone’s opinion on this issue, including that of Weber, but excludes the possibility of renouncing the vision of a “Europe of Europeans” made up of fully sovereign nations, and no longer subject to the dictates of the “Brussels technocracy.” Weber also wanted Orbán to publicly apologize to his colleagues in the EPP (especially after he called those critical of him “useful idiots”), while Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch claims that the Hungarian prime minister does not have to apologize, because he is simply telling the truth that immigration is a key issue for the next European elections.

The Fidesz leaders are sensing that hostility toward their party is growing within the EPP, but believe that expelling them from the European party would not make sense, as it would only put a spotlight on the risks of uncontrolled immigration, which many in Europe see in similar terms. In short, the Hungarian authorities are communicating that for them, “saving Europe” is more important than Fidesz remaining within the EPP; however, many observers believe that Orbán’s true objective is to remain within the European People’s Party and to shift its political axis to the right, in a nationalist direction, with the help of other political forces supporting so-called sovereignism. Moreover, Deutsch explicitly denied the rumors about alleged secret agreements between Fidesz and other groups in the European Parliament.

There is also criticism on the home front against the Hungarian government for its anti-European campaign and the policies it has been pursuing for years, but it is coming from an opposition that remains, as always, fragmented. Far-right Jobbik claims Orbán is leading the country to ruin, while the socialists have said that the possible expulsion of the Fidesz from the EPP would lead to the beginning of the end for Orbán in the long term. At present, however, the country’s leader is projecting confidence, and sees the European elections as a reckoning with those liberal forces who would, according to him, fill the EU with immigrants, to the supposed detriment of us poor Europeans.

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