"We cannot be ejected or suspended; we have won four elections by the will of Hungarian citizens," Orbán insisted. He noted that Fidesz had garnered 47, 56 and 52 percent of the votes during the past three European parliamentary elections, respectively. "A party like that will obviously not allow itself to be ejected or suspended but will stand up and leave instead," he said. Fidesz had decided to "suspend our rights for the period while we wait for the three wise men to complete their report, then we will have talks again with the EPP".

The prime minister stressed that Hungary's policies remained unchanged, saying that he had made this clear at the EPP meeting. He said this applied to Hungary's goal of a strong Europe, a strong European Union, its immigration policy and its priority to protect the continent's Christian culture. Fidesz had appointed "its own committee of three wise people" to be chaired by state secretary for family and youth affairs Katalin Novák. State secretary for EU relations at the Prime Minister's Office Judit Varga and Fidesz-Christian Democrat MEP József Szájer would be the other two members.

Orbán said the three of them will be the ones to hold talks with the EPP's committee and draft their own report on how the EPP and Fidesz's relationship should be shaped, whether Fidesz has a place in the EPP and if so, what kind of an EPP that should be.

"The European People's Party made the right decision today because it kept its unity," Orbán said. The decision had been right in the sense that the grouping would now be able to tackle the European Parliament election campaign as a cohesive unit, and because Fidesz could continue to support Manfred Weber as the EPP's spitzenkandidat (lead candidate). Fidesz and the EPP had "not closed off any paths" and would be free to decide on their relationship after the election.

Orbán called the EPP's debate on Fidesz's future "very interesting, exciting and instructive". He said the EPP's future had been "called into question" in recent weeks and the debate had been about the centre-right bloc's future. He called the EPP an "unprecedentedly brave venture", pointing out that it was a grouping ranging from "liberal left-wing parties" to Christian conservative right-wing parties "like ourselves".

He said it was the pursuit to keep these parties together that made special the "experiment" he said was the EPP. This had worked out reasonably well in the recent period, and it was this that had turned the EPP into the top political force in European politics.

At the same time, in recent weeks 13 parties from "the leftist-liberal branch of this colourful community" had proposed that "those who are firmly on the Christian conservative side" should be expelled from the EPP. "Those are us," Orbán said.

Certain political forces were looking to turn the EPP into an organisation "with a much narrower profile whose centre of gravity is not where it is now but much further to the left, in a liberal direction".

Another reason why the debate was special, the prime minister said, was because it had happened on the eve of an election campaign. "I've got to say, no political opponent could have a nicer present than to have the other party start to slice itself up two months before the [European Parliament] elections [between 23 and 26 May]," Orbán said. "We want the EPP to remain the strongest party in European politics and to be able to mount a united campaign."

Fidesz also wanted the EPP to remain a balanced political family "which is only possible if we, the party representing Christian conservative values, are also here".

Addressing a press conference after the meeting, European People's Party's group leader Weber said the three wise men would be headed by former European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, with former European Parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering and former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel also on the panel.

Weber said Fidesz's potential expulsion from the centre-right bloc was not off the table. He said it would take "a long time" to restore trust between the EPP and Fidesz.

Hungary's opposition parties called the meeting a defeat for Fidesz. The Socialists said Fidesz had lost its interest in representation powers [in the EU]. "Hungary, however, must not," Bertalan Tóth said on Facebook. "It is now our job to defend Hungary's interests in the EU since Viktor Orbán will no longer be able to do that." The Socialists will launch a signature drive so that Hungarians can express their will to keep the country in the EU, Tóth said.

Jobbik deputy leader Márton Gyöngyösi said that even though the EPP "allowed" Fidesz to agree to the suspension of its membership, it was still "clear" that Fidesz had "taken the first steps towards quitting the European Union".

Democratic Coalition MEP Csaba Molnár said Fidesz "was basically ejected from the EPP … They can try to prove that the opposite is true but this is what has really happened," he said.

Klára Dobrev, the party's top candidate in the European parliamentary elections, said: "Regardless of Orbán's explanations, this is definitely a huge defeat."

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