Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has apologised to Belgian centre-right politician Wouter Beke for calling him and other critics in the European People's Party (EPP), who want to expel his Fidesz party, "useful idiots".
Orban wrote in a letter to EPP, dated Wednesday: "[The term is] in fact a quote from Lenin, which I intended to criticize a certain policy and not certain politicians." Orban made the comments in an interview with German media earlier this month.
"I would hereby like to express my apologies if you found my quote personally offensive," he added in the letter.
Hungary and the EPP have clashed over the government's anti-Semitic and anti-EU rhetoric, as well as over a poster campaign directed at the financier George Soros and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
As many as 13 EPP parties had demanded the Fidesz party be suspended or ousted from the group following the campaign and comments.
Beke, the leader of the CD&V party was one of the EPP members who asked the group's president Joseph Daul to expel Fidesz from the European political party.
"It is no secret that there are serious disagreements between Fidesz and CD&V on the issue of migration, the protection of Christian culture and the future of Europe," Orban wrote in the letter.
“It is also no secret that we do not wish to change our position on these issues.
"Yet I do not consider it reasonable to solve such disagreements by expelling a party from our political family.
"I would therefore respectfully like to ask you to reconsider your proposal for expulsion, if it is possible."
In response to the letter, which Beke posted on Twitter, he wrote: "I accept apologies, but this was not an insult directed at Wouter Beke. It was about respect for European values and better cooperation to guard the EU's external frontiers. I see no change there. The CD&V sticks to its position: no place for Fidesz in the EPP.”
The apology letter to the EPP was a condition set by the group's parliamentary leader Manfred Weber, who is tipped to become the next European Commission President, for Fidesz to stay in the alliance.
Orban's party has gained from being in the EPP where it receives protection from Brussels, while the EPP has benefitted from having a populist party in its ranks ahead of the European Parliament election in May.
However, two senior EPP members who want Fidesz expelled told Reuters that Weber was bending too far to Hungary's will.
"Weber is plotting a way out of this for Orban, including engaging Bavarian resources to help the CEU,” they said. Adding it is increasingly likely that Fidesz will stay.
EPP members will meet on Wednesday to decide if the Hungarian party should be expelled from the group.