Thirteen European center-right parties called Thursday for their political group to expel Hungary's ruling Fidesz party after its leader Prime Minister Viktor Orban assumed emergency powers.
Orban insists he must rule by decree in order to tackle the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. But many, including some of his allies in the European Peoples Party (EPP), say his power grab has gone too far.
The Scandinavian, Greek, Belgian, Lithuanian Czech and Slovak conservatives who signed Thursday's statement calling for Fidesz to be kicked out of the EPP do not represent a majority of the group.
But their letter strengthens the hand of its addressee, party chairman Donald Tusk, the former Polish leader and president of the European Council, who is pushing the EPP to distance itself from Orban.
The signatories call on the EU executive, the European Commission, to "address the situation in Hungary forcefully" and brand Orban's move a "violation of the founding principles of liberal democracy and European values".
Shortly before the parties' letter was made public, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she was "particularly concerned" about Hungary and promised to monitor the situation.
And 13 EU members, including heavyweights France and Germany, without explicitly naming Hungary, warned Wednesday against "violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights".
The EPP is the biggest single voting bloc in the European Parliament and the party of both von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But it is not in itself a majority, and some EPP parties have wanted to keep Orban's Hungarian MEPs on board in the center-right grouping to avoid them siding with eurosceptic populists.
Germany's ruling CDU party was not among the group of parties that issued the joint call for Fidesz's expulsion, and Orban has been lobbying its leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, to back him over Tusk.
The letter was signed, however, by the leaders of 13 conservative or-right parties, including two serving prime ministers; Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece and Erna Solberg of Norway.