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Hungarian MEP facing expulsion from EPP group over Gestapo comments

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Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch (right) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in 2016.
Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch (right) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in 2016.   -   Copyright  Tibor Illyes/MTI via AP
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The head of the European Parliament delegation representing Hungary’s ruling party is being targeted for expulsion from his political group in the European Union legislature after comparing the group's leader to the Gestapo.

Members of the European People’s Party have called for a vote on expelling Tamas Deutsch, the head of the Hungarian delegation to the centre-right group.

Deutsch is a founding member of Hungary’s right-wing ruling party, Fidesz, which belongs to the European People's Party.

In a Monday letter addressed to the leader of the EPP in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, and delivered to all group members, EU lawmakers referenced their "growing dismay and impatience (with the) increasing radicalisation and verbal abuses of certain Fidesz MEPs".

The signatories demanded that a vote on Deutsch’s expulsion be held at the group’s next meeting on December 9.

Weber, who represents Germany, has been critical of Hungary and Poland’s decision to veto passage of the EU’s next seven-year budget and coronavirus recovery fund, which the two countries oppose due to a so-called rule of law mechanism which would link payment of EU funds to countries’ adherence to democratic standards.

Weber had called the veto “irresponsible,” and said if media freedom and judicial independence were upheld in Hungary, the country's leaders had no reason to fear the rule of law mechanism.

Deutsch told two Hungarian news outlets last week that Weber’s comments were reminiscent "of the Gestapo and (Hungary’s communist-era secret police) the AVH".

"If you have nothing to hide, you don't have to be afraid. I well remember that the Gestapo and the ÁVO [AVH] had the same motto," Deutsch said. "That's what they said. It's like it was the historical experience of those living in Germany and Hungary at the time they had fears who had nothing to cover up.

"Manfred Weber is not telling the truth because there are subjective assessments of the rights of the European Union that are in line with current political opinions and disguised as his rights".

In the letter demanding a vote on Deutsch’s expulsion, EPP lawmakers called his remarks "shocking and shameful".

"Comparing our support for the rule of law with Gestapo or Stalinist methods is an insult to all of us in the EPP group," the letter reads.

Deutsch told pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet on Tuesday that the effort to oust him from the EPP was proof that Hungary must “use all means” to prohibit adoption of the rule of law mechanism.

The Hungarian delegation to the European People's Party also is facing fallout from the news that another senior lawmaker had attended an illegal lockdown party in Brussels. Fidesz MEP József Szájer resigned on Sunday after police broke up a party that media reports described as a sex orgy.

The EPP suspended Fidesz’s membership in 2019 over concerns that it was eroding the rule of law in Hungary and engaging in anti-Brussels rhetoric. It was one of several instances in which Weber and Fidesz have locked horns.

The first major break in the relationship between the Bavarian politician and the Hungarian government was the vote on the Sargentini report in the European Parliament in 2018. After the debate on the report and the EPP's closed-door discussion, Weber said he would support the report and, for the first time in the history of the EU, launch an Article 7 procedure against Hungary.

In a weekend interview with Belgian newspaper De Standaard, Weber said the EPP would have already made a decision on expelling Fidesz from the group were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.