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Don't cross our civil rights red lines, Merkel ally warns Orban

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Don't cross our civil rights red lines, Merkel ally warns Orban
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BERLIN (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban risks triggering a crisis in his Fidesz party’s relationship with the European Union’s centre-right parties over laws they charge infringe civil liberties, an ally of Germany’ chancellor has warned.

Re-elected earlier this year, Orban has attracted criticism for delaying accreditation for a university founded by financier George Soros, an outspoken critic of Orban.

A proposed law that would subject non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funding to strict regulation has been compared by critics to measures in non-European Union states like Russia.

Critics say the European People’s Party (EPP), which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), has pulled its punches because of a need for its member’s votes in the European Parliament. Fidesz’s commanding position at home means it contributes a big chunk of the EPP’s caucus.

But Andreas Nick, a CDU lawmaker and his party’s Hungary rapporteur, has become the latest EPP figure to say Orban’s latest moves on the Central European University (CEU) and the NGO law risked crossing red lines.

“Would I prefer Fidesz to stay within the Christian Democrat camp? Of course,” Nick told Reuters. “But our Hungarian friends need to understand that crossing certain lines would make life very difficult for everyone.”

His remarks, coming shortly after criticism by Manfred Weber, another Merkel ally and the EPP’s president in the European Parliament, suggest that patience is running out for a party increasingly seen as being far outside the democratic mainstream.

The Council of Europe, Europe’s human rights watchdog, is due to issue a report on the proposed NGO law next month, and Nick said Hungary’s reaction to that would be a crucial test of its willingness to respond to criticism.

But Cas Mudde, an expert on Fidesz at the University of Georgia, was sceptical about whether critics would stay the course if Orban did back down.

“This is a pre-emptive strike… criticising Fidesz mildly, before real critique comes out, and then later either not following up or accepting marginal adjustments,” Mudde said.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt, editing by Larry King)

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