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Europe's week: Orban leaves the EPP, as Brexit makes a dramatic return

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Europe's week: Orban leaves the EPP, as Brexit makes a dramatic return
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For most European Christian Democrats, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was a boogeyman who steadily eroded democracy in his country.

This week, Orban pulled his Fidesz party from the biggest political group in the European Parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), avoiding an all-but-certain expulsion after changes to its internal rules.

And Manfred Weber, the EPP chair, was unequivocal on who was responsible, placing the blame at Orban's doorstep.

"It is about rule of law, it is about the thing going on in Hungary, that is the substance of the problem, and the problem is the provocative approach against Europe and some of the statements of Viktor Orbán," Weber explained to reporters in the Parliament Wednesday.

"We are the bridge builders, but on the other side of the bridge nobody was there to use this bridge-building approach."

The Fidesz's EPP membership shielded Orban for a long time from harsher punishment for his so-called democratic backsliding.

But the self-inflicted isolation from his powerful allies could cost Hungary desperately-needed EU coronavirus recovery stimulus funds, which have been tied to adherence with the rule of law.

Borrowing extended

The future of these stimulus funds was also at the centre of a debate in Brussels this week for other reasons.

The European Commission extended the coronavirus exemption of the EU's fiscal rules in order to weather the brutal economic shock of the pandemic, meaning uncapped borrowing will continue to be allowed through this year and the next.

"Today the Commission states clearly that pulling back support too quickly would be a policy mistake," Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commissioner for Economy told Euronews on Wednesday.

"The best way to secure public debt sustainability, the best way to reduce the risk of scaring and economic divergence, is now to support the recovery."

Closing the gender pay gap

The Commission announced further measures this week, laying out its plans to force companies to publish the wages of employees to help close the gender pay gap.

The Commissioner in charge of the proposals, Helena Dalli, said that transparency is key in achieving equality between men and women in the workplace

"The pay transparency proposal is a major step toward the enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between women and men," Dalli said.

Brexit's back

And just when everyone thought they had seen the back of it, Brexit came back.

The European Parliament delayed deciding a date for the vote to approve the Brexit trade deal with the UK after London "violated" the terms of the agreement.

The institution's most senior MEPs agreed to postpone the decision until they meet next week, after the UK unilaterally announced a grace period on border checks on agri-food products entering Northern Ireland, a move which has angered Brussels.