Following the news that the Hungarian government informed the German EU presidency that due to the rule of law debate it will veto the 2021-27 EU budget, the debate has been re-launched in the European People’s Party on the exclusion of the Hungarian government party. Othmar Karas, MEP of the Austrian People’s Party ÖVP, said that it would not be right for a member of the People’s Party to blackmail the entire EU in terms of the rule of law, while EPP President Donald Tusk called on EPP parties to give a clear position on the veto.
On Monday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in a letter addressed to the German EU presidency, wrote that Hungary will veto the budget for the 2021-2027 financial cycle, including a recovery package for member states for the economic restoration following the coronavirus epidemic if it is tied to the rule of law criteria.
After this, Othmar Karas, MEP of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), told the Kronen Zeitung in Vienna on Wednesday that:
if Viktor Orbán does not vote on the compromise of the EU financial package at the European Council on Thursday, Fidesz must be expelled from the European People’s Party immediately.
According to the Austrian politician, who is also the Vice-President of the European Parliament, a member of the People’s Party cannot blackmail the EU with the rule of law.
This re-launched the conflict between the EPP and Fidesz – as Fidesz is still suspended in the center-right party family. It means that although it is still a member, it has no voting rights and no formal say in its decisions since last year when the party family questioned whether the Hungarian ruling party meets the democratic values laid down in the official documents of the People’s Party, namely whether they have respect for the rule of law, EPP values, as well as the implementation of the EPP emergency resolution in “Protecting EU Values and Safeguarding Democracy.”
FactFidesz’s membership has been suspended in the EPP since 2019 following a joint proposal from the European People’s Party Presidency and Fidesz. According to the Fidesz narrative, they themselves asked for their suspension, waiting for the EPP to change direction and return to its Christian democrat roots instead of promoting liberalism, while the EPP claimed that they suspended the Hungarian government party. Back then, the EPP created a three member Evaluation Committee (the so-called three wise men) to monitor and assess whether the Hungarian governing party meets the democratic values laid down in the official documents of the EPP. The committee was dissolved this June, but the decision on Fidesz’s membership is still up in the air.
The opinion of ÖVP’s MEP on Hungary’s veto concerning the EU budget and the recovery package is important for the Hungarian government party. As Gergely Gulyás, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office highlighted this autumn in an interview with an Austrian newspaper, Die Presse, Fidesz is still
in the People’s Party because Hungary has a strong connection with Germany and Austria. If the CDU, CSU, and ÖVP want us to stay, they will find a majority to do so. The German-speaking parties decide on this matter.
However, it seems that the ÖVP, which so far has not been very involved in the debate over Fidesz’s membership, has now spoken out against the Hungarian party. There is no clear information yet on the German parties’ stance, but according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the parties are closing ranks behind the Orbán government. Alexander Dobrindt, the leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union’s (CSU) parliamentary faction, told the newspaper on Tuesday that he “does not believe” excluding Fidesz would solve the current stalemate, saying it would only exacerbate the conflict.
Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the European People’s Party, also indirectly called for the exclusion of Fidesz from the party family. He wrote on Twitter that he expects a clear position from the parties of the EPP on the veto. Tusk said in the post that “opponents of our core values can no longer be defended.”
Yesterday, PMO Head Gergely Gulyás responded to the criticism of the veto by Donald Tusk at the government’s weekly press conference. According to Gulyás, what they are proposing in connection with the payments for the Hungarian government tied to the rule-of-law is a simple “witch hunt.” Then Gulyas quoted an earlier statement from Tusk, in which he stated that he had not supported this procedure in Poland’s case. “Based on these, I am confident that the President is with us now,” he said.
Previously, Katalin Novák, deputy leader of Fidesz and Minister for Family Policy, also reminded everyone that back in 2018 Tusk called it a “risky move” to tie European Union budget allocations to member states’ compliance with standards regarding the rule of law.
On her Facebook page, Novák shared a link to a Polish article in which Tusk had said that the plan to tie receipt of EU funds to the issue of the rule of law was “pointing in the wrong direction.” Novák cited Tusk as saying that he had deemed the move risky- not only because he would want to avoid Poland being punished, but also because it would hurt Europe if the issues of EU funds and the rule of law got mixed up.
She added that “the payment of funds allocated for various purposes in the common EU budget must not be subject to purely political criteria,” quoting Tusk in the article.
featured photo: Donald Tusk (l) and Viktor Orbán (r) (Balázs Szecsődi/MTI/Miniszterelnöki Sajtóiroda)