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Orbán ally-turned-rival Péter Magyar joins centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament

Peter Magyar sings with his supporters during the party's election night party after the European Parliament and local elections in Budapest, Hungary, early Monday, June 10
Peter Magyar sings with his supporters during the party's election night party after the European Parliament and local elections in Budapest, Hungary, early Monday, June 10 Copyright Robert Hegedus/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund
Copyright Robert Hegedus/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund
By Mared Gwyn Jonesvideo by Maria Psara
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The European Parliament's centre-right faction has opened its arms to Péter Magyar, the thorn in Orbán’s side who is swapping Budapest for Brussels.

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Viktor Orbán’s fiercest political challenger Péter Magyar has joined the European parliamentary group that previously counted the Hungarian prime minister as one of their own.

The centre-right group of the European People’s Party (EPP) - which harboured Orbán's Fidesz party until 2021 - opened its doors to Magyar's Respect and Freedom (TISZA) party in a vote in Brussels on Tuesday, meaning the seven TISZA MEPs elected in June's European elections will sit with the parliament's biggest faction.

Magyar, a former insider within Orbán's hard-right government, shocked the Hungarian nation earlier this year by blowing the whistle on what he described as a “mafia state," unveiling his personal experience of the government's corruption and propaganda machine.

He fronted TISZA's campaign in the run-up to June's ballot, securing an unprecedented 30% of the Hungarian vote and dealing a blow to Orbán’s Fidesz which, despite remaining the biggest party, scored less than half of the vote (44.8%) for the first time in an EU ballot since Orbán returned to power in 2010.

Magyar had previously said he would not take up his seat as Member of the European Parliament, but rowed back on Monday when he put the decision to a public vote on his Facebook profile.

According to Magyar, a majority of 100,000 voters said he should switch Budapest for Brussels, prompting him to take up his seat in the hemicycle.

Magyar nonetheless vowed to continue to challenge Orbán's grip on power back home: "I will work for change in Hungary," he said.

"The change has started, and this is the beginning of the end for the Fidesz party," Magyar also told reporters.

"I'm proud that we were led to the EPP, to the biggest group in the European Parliament, where we can really represent the interests of the Hungarian citizens. He (Orbán) is not so lucky," Magyar said, adding that his TISZA MEPs would aim for positions of power in parliamentary committees in order to shape EU legislation in areas including industry and the environment.

Orbán's Fidesz is currently politically homeless in the European Parliament and its lawmakers are therefore more limited in influence.

But above all, Magyar pledged to take up the fight to restore the rule of law in his country, where democratic backsliding since Orbán's entry into power is well-documented.

"Brussels didn't really understand the situation in Hungary. Brussels and the European Parliament helped Prime Minister Orbán play this game in Hungary and use this article 7 procedure and the rule of law procedure for his own political purposes," he said in a veiled stab at Brussels.

For years, the EU executive has held back funds from the government in Budapest in retaliation for persistent rule of law violations, which has allowed Orbán to nurture a fierce anti-EU campaign domestically.

Magyar also claimed this has held Hungary back economically.

"We are now the second poorest member state in Europe and the most corrupt one officially," he said. "So the people are fed up with the corruption, with the lies and with the propaganda."

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Speaking ahead of the meeting, EPP chairman Manfred Weber said: "It is great that a party asking the necessary questions in Hungary is joining the EPP."

"This is a clear message from the Hungarian population that they want another political perspective," Weber added, referring to TISZA's solid performance in June's European elections.

Magyar clarifies Ukraine position

Although now the most credible political challenger in Hungary, Magyar is himself deeply conservative and has emerged as an alternative opposition figure to the centrist and left-leaning parties that have tried to challenge Orbán’s rule.

It means that he shares some of the Hungarian premier's stance on the war in Ukraine.

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"Putin is an aggressor. Ukraine is a victim. And the Ukrainian people have their own rights to defend their own territory," he explained. "But we shared the position of the government. We will not send troops or weapons to Ukraine from Hungary."

The EPP has repeatedly said that any partners, let alone group members, must be unwaveringly "pro-Ukraine."

The Hungarian Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) - Fidesz's junior coalition partner which holds a seat within the EPP group in the parliament - announced later on Tuesday it would leave the group.

KDNP claimed it could no longer tolerate what they described as the EPP's "pro-war" stance.

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Magyar had previously said he would only join the EPP if the KDNP party left or was expelled. The choreography was likely dealt with by EPP chairman Manfred Weber, who visited Budapest last Friday to meet with both Magyar and KNDP chairman Zsolt Semjén.

The Tuesday meeting saw the EPP group welcome a total of fourteen new members, including seven lawmakers from Magyar’s TISZA as well as others representing the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement(BBB) and New Social Contract (NSC), the Danish Liberal Alliance, the Family Party of Germany, and the Czech Mayors and Independents party.

It consolidates its status as the biggest grouping in the European Parliament. Whilst these parties join the parliamentary group, they do not necessarily become members of the pan-European political party of the EPP.

TISZA's entry into the European Parliament comes just three years after the EPP forced the lawmakers of Viktor Orbán’s hard-right Fidesz party out of their group amid controversy over democratic backsliding in Hungary - a country branded in a European Parliament resolution as an “electoral autocracy.”

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