Friday, 1 Mar 2024

Von der Leyen told to sack Orban ally after he brands MEPs ‘idiots’

Oliver Varhelyi allegedly says ‘how many other idiots are still left?’

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been told to sack European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi after the European Commissioner was caught on a hot mic appearing to call MEPs “idiots”. Mr Varhelyi, the commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement and a close ally of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing President, appeared to have little patience during a question and answer session entitled Strengthened EU Enlargement Policy to the Western Balkans.

After answering one question, as the camera pans back to Rainier Wieland, one of the European Parliament’s vice-presidents, Mr Varhelyi is heard to mutter, in Hungarian: “How many idiots are still there?”

A brief clip was subsequently tweeted by Sandor Ronai, another Hungarian MEP who unlike Fidesz member Mr Varhelyi is a member of the liberal Democratic Coalition party.

Mr Ronai commented: “After Commissioner @OliverVarhelyi replies to questions by MEPs, he takes his seat, you can clearly hear him saying: “How many other idiots are still there?”

Other MEPs also joined in the chorus of condemnation, not least Belgian MEP and ardent Brexit critic Guy Verhofstadt, who retweeted Mr Ronai’s post, saying: “@vonderleyen has to sack him immediately.

“Otherwise she risks losing the trust of the whole European Parliament!”

Replying to Mr Ronai’s tweet, German MEP Delara Burkhardt said: “Insulting members of the European Parliament that do their job by asking critical questions needs to have consequences. @EP_President needs to act.

Yesterday’s incident is not the first time Mr Varhelyi has faced controversy this year.

On January 18, MEPs demanded an investigation amid concerns he might be showing too much favoritism toward Serbia’s pro-Russian president.

Mr Varhelyi’s brief includes relations with the volatile Balkans region, where many countries are trying to join the 27-nation bloc, and he supervises their accession talks.

In a report adopted in Strasbourg, France, MEPs urged the European Commission to launch “an independent and impartial investigation into whether the conduct engaged in and policies furthered by” Varhelyi are in breach of the commission’s code of conduct and of his EU treaty obligations.

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Earlier this month, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic lashed out at EU demands that he enforce sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, branding them “a brutal” interference in the internal affairs of his country. Mr Orban has criticised the EU’s sanctions, saying they hurt the Hungarian economy more.

Although formally seeking to join Europe’s club of nations, Serbia has repeatedly ignored calls to align its foreign policies with those of the EU, including on sanctions.

In December 2021, the commission surprised many by opening membership talks with Belgrade on a series of policies, despite Serbia’s unresolved tensions with its former territory of Kosovo.

Mr Varhelyi said then that “Serbia is taking another very important step forward in joining the European Union.”

The EU lawmakers are also concerned about Varhelyi’s attitude toward separatist-minded Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.

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Centre-left Dutch EU lawmaker Thijs Reuten, who helped draft the parliament’s report, said the commission’s “role is to protect Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity, promote democracy in Serbia, and secure peace and stability in Montenegro and Kosovo. Not the opposite.”

He explained: “Supporting the nationalistic and separatist stances of Dodik would not only be against the Code of Conduct for the Members of the European Commission, but also playing with fire.

“The persistent reports about Orban’s Commissioner cosying up with autocrats to undermine democracy requires immediate action.”

Dodik has routinely stoked nationalist sentiment and sought to unite his Bosnian Serb mini-state with Serbia. has approached Mr Varhelyi for comment.

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