On 20 March — less than three months before the European Parliament elections — the EPP plenary will discuss a proposal to expel Fidesz made by 13 member parties from ten member states. Manfred Weber would have been willing to abandon the Fidesz vote had Orbán promised to fulfill his three-point ultimatum. However, EPP leader Joseph Daul and the CDU rejected the idea and tomorrow’s outcome will determine whether Fidesz will remain in the center-right block, be suspended or ultimately expelled.
Viktor Orbán will lead the Fidesz delegation at the European People’s Party (EPP) political meeting on Wednesday, where members will vote on the party’s membership. According to the EPP Code, a representative of the party has the right to speak on its behalf at a meeting concerning its exclusion, and Fidesz will be represented by its first man.
At the meeting, Manfred Weber, the group leader of the EPP, will report on the “compromise” and describe how Orbán and Fidesz have fulfilled the three-point ultimatum. Specifically, Weber is expected to cite Orbán’s apology to EPP members, the removal of the controversial Soros-Juncker posters and the agreement made with CEU which allows the university to stay in Budapest and grant American diplomas. However, according to atv.hu’s sources, Orbán’s apology — in which he called anti-Fidesz EPP members “useful idiots” — did not convince the more liberal Finnish, Swedish and Benelux Delegations.
EPP member parties take a stance on Fidesz’s expulsion
In a letter published in EUobserver, Orpo, leader of the National Coalition Party of Finland, and Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party of Sweden, both formally called for the expulsion of Fidesz from the EPP. The two state that “when a party, like Fidesz, systematically acts against EU’s fundamental values, they no longer belong in the EPP.” The Romanian People’s Movement Party — former President Traian Basescu’s party — has already made it clear it would vote for Fidesz’s expulsion.
According to leftist daily Népszava, many member parties are waiting for the German Christian Democrats to make a decision before voicing their support in either direction.
Fidesz’s expulsion could split the EPP just months before the EP elections, seeing as several member parties are against the act. Slovenian Democratic Party member Janez Jansa said he would follow Fidesz out of the EPP. The exclusion would also alienate parties that receive votes in line with Orbán’s anti-migrant message, such as those from Bavaria, Austria and France.
Does Fidesz wish to remain in the EPP?
Last week, Orbán wrote a letter to the leaders of the EPP who initiated Fidesz’s exclusion. The PM apologized for “the offensive language” but maintained his political position. Orbán might be under the impression that Fidesz has a better chance of furthering Hungary’s interests if it remains in the biggest European political group.
Has Fidesz Decided to Settle Its Disputes with the EPP?
Orbán’s speech on March 15th, the Hungarian national holiday, also demonstrated his desire to remain in the EPP. His speech was marked by a decidedly milder tone; there was no mention of either George Soros or the European Commission. Antal Rogán, the prime minister’s Cabinet Chief, told Kossuth radio on Sunday morning that “Fidesz must fight for Europe’s place as a member of the EPP, especially as long as there is a chance within that party group to elect new leaders able to halt migration and protect Europe’s borders and Christian culture.” Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the PM’s Office, also confirmed that the party wants to remain in the center-right bloc so long as there is a chance the EPP might eventually embrace values important to Fidesz: “We want to see a strong, united, Christian democratic EPP which opposes illegal immigration, and as long as there is hope and a chance this could happen, we want to be a part of the EPP.”
The “Orbán question”
In Hungary, commentators from across the political spectrum are wondering whether the EPP will finally expel Fidesz. While many have deemed it a very unlikely possibility, others feel that the EPP may not be a suitable match for Fidesz any longer. At the same time, the government-friendly media has been attacking the EPP and its leaders. The media considers the EPP’s expulsion discussion a “pathetic, two-faced tactic,” and alleges that the EPP would only be hurting itself and damaging its own ambitions by removing Fidesz. They claim the move would result in the “end of Weber’s dreams to become president of the European Commission because the People’s Party could easily slip into second place behind S&D.”
Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, also spoke up against Fidesz: “[the party] has been undermining the fundamentals of democracy – rule of law, free media, independent courts and civil society groups, and academic freedom – all while being a member of (…) EPP.” Roth added that tomorrow’s decision will show “whether the European Parliament’s center-right party family is simply an alliance for power or a coalition for democracy.”
In an article published yesterday, the editorial board of British economic daily Financial Times also expressed its opinion on the topic: “the EPP and its leader Manfred Weber must stand up for democracy.” Earlier this month, The Economist declared that it is “time for Europe’s center-right group to kick out Viktor Orbán” as the EPP “has tolerated the Hungarian leader’s authoritarianism for too long.”
Ultimately, the decision is up to those in the EPP. Either way, the result will not be without consequence. After all, while punishing the Hungarian ruling party would satisfy the liberal members of the EPP, it would also risk alienating the party family’s anti-migration voters. On the other hand, letting Fidesz’s critical campaign go unpunished could potentially estrange center voters. One thing is certain, however: the EPP cannot make a decision without causing further turmoil.
featured photo: EPP congress in Valletta, Malta in 2017 (Press Office of the Prime Minister/Balázs Szecsődi)