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Tusk sends warning to EU's powerful EPP - 'Cut out populists, manipulators and autocrats'

The outgoing European Council President vowed to bring a swift end to the bitter feud over the Hungarian prime minister’s membership of the EU’s most powerful political bloc. The centre-right EPP, the EU Parliament’s largest alliance, is deeply divided over Mr Orban and his Fidesz party’s membership. In an attempt to heal wounds, Mr Tusk told delegates at the EPP’s annual congress that they cannot afford to back down to “populists, manipulators and autocrats who lead people to believe that freedom cannot be reconciled with security”.

He said: “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.

“Under no circumstances can we give away the sphere of security and order to political populists, manipulators and autocrats, who lead people to believe that freedom cannot be reconciled with security.

“That protecting our borders and territory cannot be reconciled with liberal democracy, and an effective governance with the rule of law.”

He added: “Whoever is unable to accept this is de facto placing himself outside our family.”

Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk said the EPP must cut out populists and autocrats (Image: GETTY)

Donald Tusk

Mr Tusk was named president of the EU's most powerful alliance by its members (Image: GETTY)

Delegates saw this as a direct challenge to Mr Orban, who has been heavily criticised for launching personal attacks on EPP leaders, including EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, forging relationships with far-right leaders and allowing Hungary to slip into a seemingly authoritarian regime.

Mr Tusk was a long-time critic of Mr Orban during his tenure as EU Council president.

“I can’t agree with some of Orban’s political decisions and new ideas, but at the same time we are close friends,” Mr Tusk later said.

He described the feud as a “complex issue” for the EPP.

Donald Tusk

The EPP boasts powerful leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Ursula von der Leyen (Image: GETTY)

Fidesz’s membership from the EPP was suspended last March but members remain divided on how to solve the dispute.

Some fear the movement would lose a significant amount of influence in the European Parliament if Mr Orban’s MEPs are banished.

Other say if Fidesz are booted out of the EPP in the future, they could create a populist alliance with other nationalist parties in order to confront their former party.

Siegfried Muresan, a vice-chair of the EPP group in the EU Parliament, compared Fidesz’s potential departure to Brexit, wrecking both the alliance and Hungary.

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Viktor Orban

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban was suspended from the EPP last March (Image: GETTY)

“There would be no winners,” he said.

Manfred Weber, the EPP’s leader in the Parliament, said it was Mr Orban’s decision whether he wanted to be part of a “strong, reliable, centre-right party, yes or no”.

He added: “If he does then he has to solve problems. For the moment there is no positive development. The expectations are clear from an EPP point of view.”

Mr Weber also expressed concerns for the other challenges faced by the EPP going forward.

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He said: “The EPP and all big parties are under heavy pressure European-wide, somehow to keep the idea of a people’s party, a bridge-building party.

“All over Europe, and this is the outcome of the European elections, we see fragmentation across the political landscape.”

The centre-right movement remains the EU Parliament’s largest political bloc.

But it shed a significant amount of votes in last May’s European elections, winning just 182 MEPs – a drop of 39 on its 2014 total.

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