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Europe’s Conservatives Thought They Could Control Viktor Orban. They Were Wrong.

Category: Europe,World

“It would be easy to, say, establish a new formation from like-minded Central European parties — or, indeed, a Pan-European anti-immigration formation,” Mr. Orban said in a June speech dedicated to Mr. Kohl’s memory. “There is no doubt that we would have great success in the 2019 European elections. But I suggest that we resist this temptation, and stand by Helmut Kohl’s ideals and party family. Instead of desertion, we should take on the more difficult task of renewing the European People’s Party, and helping it to find its way back to its Christian democratic roots.”

The speech irritated and worried many of Mr. Orban’s coalition colleagues, who saw it as offensively presumptuous, as well as a sign of their waning influence over him. Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria, a member of the conservative alliance, said his party would vote against Mr. Orban on Wednesday, joining center-right parties from Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Luxembourg who have long lost patience with the Hungarian leader.

“Now we see that he wants to change us rather than us changing him,” said Ms. Corazza Bildt, who is calling for Mr. Orban’s Fidesz Party to be expelled from the conservative coalition.

“A relevant asset”

During the early years of his power grab in Hungary, Mr. Orban received plenty of external criticism: more than a dozen objections from the Venice Commission, Europe’s most influential rights watchdog; official censure by the European Parliament; and the threat of infringement procedures from the European Union itself, led by Viviane Reding, a member of the European People’s Party who was then an official at the European Commission, the union’s civil service.

But he deflected criticism from most of his allies by appearing to compromise, while often doing little to moderate his program.

In response to pressure from European institutions, Mr. Orban lessened executive control of the judiciary, but left one of his oldest friends in charge of it. He paused an attempted takeover of the Hungarian central bank, but later appointed a loyalist as its chief. He agreed to reinstate hundreds of forcibly retired judges, but mostly in more junior positions.

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