On Saturday, Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) elected Armin Laschet, prime minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, as their new leader. Although many voiced their hope that the change of leadership would finally help to seal Fidesz’s fate in the EPP, Laschet, whose political approach is similar to that of Merkel, is expected to be extremely cautious and permissive when it comes to the dilemma presented by the Hungarian ruling party.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán congratulated the new newly elected leader of the CDU, Armin Laschet in a letter.
“I am convinced that the long-standing cooperation between Fidesz and the CDU has greatly contributed over the past two-and-a-half decades to the development of Hungarian-German ties and the outstanding economic success of our countries,” Orbán wrote, adding that he is looking forward to working together in the future. The Hungarian Prime Minister also assured Laschet that he can rely on Orbán and Fidesz’s support to “…advance our pragmatic cooperation based on mutual respect.”
Meanwhile, several critics of Viktor Orbán seem hopeful that the new leadership of CSU will finally enable EPP to take firm steps against Fidesz. As even Hungarian PMO Head Gergely Gulyás said, the fate of Fidesz in the EPP depends on the decision made by the German and Austrian parties, therefore it is extremely important who leads the CDU in the coming years.
A few days before the CDU election, Manfred Weber, a member of the CSU and group leader of the EPP in the European Parliament, said that the party’s next leader “has a great responsibility” in making up their mind about whether Hungary’s ruling party still belongs in the EPP.
“It is certainly going to be one of their first decisions to make,” Weber told Politico in an interview. A decision must be made in 2021, Weber said. “The past weeks, in particular the veto against the rule of law mechanism in the EU budget, were a setback for the cooperation,” the Bavarian politician emphasized.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European People’s Party, also expressed high hopes for the new CDU president to finally make up his and his party’s mind about the fate of Fidesz, according to Politico. “It’s time to be bold in defending our values,” said Tusk, who has long wanted to exclude Orbán from the party group, speaking at the CDU conference on Saturday before the result of the election was announced.
In an interview with ZDF however, Laschet said that he expected difficult negotiations in the ongoing conflict with Fidesz.
“I think we also need the Hungarians and Poles in the European Union. I don’t want them to drift into the radical right. But the EPP has clear conditions. We will demand Viktor Orbán to respect them,” said the new CDU leader.
Despite his comments, Armin Laschet is seen as a man of continuity who probably won’t deviate from the direction Angela Merkel has been following for more than 15 years.
Leftist daily Népszava writes that based on his statements so far, he may be even more permissive towards the Hungarian ruling party than Merkel was. As the paper highlights, Laschet has been very cordial with the Orbán government in the past and has been reluctant to openly criticize it.
Laschet’s cautious approach, according to Népszava, could easily be due to the fact that among the German provinces, North Rhine-Westphalia is the largest investor in Hungary, ahead even of Bavaria. Tens of thousands of Hungarians live in the province and there is multi-level cooperation between Hungary and North Rhine-Westphalia. Many think that while German carmakers are doing well in Hungary, leading German politicians tend to turn a blind eye to the Orbán government’s political actions, regarded as anti-democratic by many critics.
Furthermore, as Politico recalls, it is hard to ignore that Fidesz’s EPP membership was suspended in 2019; since then there was always something the party group said it had to wait for before it could make a decision about Fidesz. The EU budget in December or the EU election in 2019 were such occasions that went by without any resolution. Thus at this point it is hard not to believe skeptics who think that we will have to see the dichotomous relationship between the EPP and Fidesz for a very long time.
Featured photo by Christian Marquardt/Action Press pool/EPA/MTI