Hungary’s incoming commissioner Olivér Várhelyi has pledged to keep his interests separate from those in Budapest, but Prime Minister Viktor Orbán doesn’t see it working that way.
The appointment of Várhelyi as the next European commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement is Hungary’s “biggest diplomatic success of the last ten years,” Orbán told state-owned Kossuth Radio in an interview Friday.
The new commissioner, who had been serving as Hungary’s ambassador to the EU, received the support of members of the European Parliament after providing written guarantees he will be independent from his government.
The prime minister said that insisting on distancing oneself from national politics “is an old left-wing game, it’s not even worth taking it seriously,” and added that he would “never nominate for high international posts people who are not good patriots, and who cannot reconcile their own patriotism with the international assignment they take on.”
Várhelyi is “an excellent Hungarian patriot” and good European, Orbán said.
In his written answers to the European Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, obtained by POLITICO, Várhelyi said: “I will neither be bound nor influenced by any statement or position of any Prime Minister of any country or any other representatives of any government.”
Orbán also accused his European political family, the European People’s Party, of having experienced a “left-wing drift” — and said he could look to pull his Fidesz party, which is currently suspended from the EPP, out of the grouping if its direction doesn’t change.
“If yes, we have a common future. If not, then we have to build another political community,” Orbán said.
That comes after newly elected EPP President Donald Tusk this week said the group would decide whether to expel Fidesz from its ranks by the end of January. “I deeply believe that only those who want and are able to give people a feeling of safety and security, preserving at the same time their freedoms and rights, have a mandate to run for power,” Tusk said.
In response, Orbán told Hungarian listeners: “A Hungarian ruling party cannot belong to a political community which is pro-migration, which doesn’t support border control, which doesn’t support the Hungarian fence, which doesn’t give respect to the Hungarians, which doesn’t recognize the work we have done in the interest of Europe’s defense.”
The prime minister also accused Hungarian-American businessman George Soros of working to prevent Várhelyi from getting appointed in Brussels.
Critics accuse Orbán of meddling in the Balkans and maintaining an overly close relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During Várhelyi’s parliamentary hearing earlier this month, some MEPs said they were concerned about a speech made by Orbán in Azerbaijan last month, where he appeared to pledge Várhelyi’s assistance to the Hungarian government’s Turkish and Azerbaijani allies.
The majority of Hungarians “would like Hungary’s influence in European politics to grow,” Orbán said in his Friday radio interview.
He referred to the neighborhood and enlargement post as the “most important European portfolio” for the next five years.
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