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New EPP Leader Tusk Declares Fight against Populists

Péter Cseresnyés 2019.11.21.

Outgoing European Council President Donald Tusk was elected the new president of the European People’s Party on Wednesday. He had been running for the top post unopposed. In his speech, Tusk vowed to fight “populists, manipulators, and autocrats” also targeting, without naming him, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The former Polish Prime Minister was elected with 491 votes in favor and 37 against at the party’s congress in Zagreb, meaning the unopposed Tusk becomes the first Eastern European to lead the biggest political force in the EU. His Presidency will start on  December 1, 2019.

Fidesz Won’t Attend EPP Congress in Zagreb

Tusk calls for a fight against autocrats and populists

Before the vote, Tusk gave a speech calling for a fight against populism, also clearly alluding to Viktor Orbán numerous times.

According to the Polish politician, fear plays the biggest role in today’s politics.

…in such moments as the migration crisis and a new wave of terrorism, it is fear which dominates over other social emotions.”

People want a sense of safety and security and those who can best respond to this call get the support of the public, Tusk emphasized.

He also warned that under no circumstances shall the sphere of security and order be given away to political “populists, manipulators, and autocrats,” who lead people to believe that freedom cannot be reconciled with security. “That protecting our borders and territory cannot be reconciled with liberal democracy, and effective governance with the rule of law,” he added, calling this conflict „the essence of the internal debate” within the EPP.

We will not sacrifice values like civil liberties, the rule of law, and decency in public life on the altar of security and order, because there is simply no need.”

In a likely reference to Fidesz’s suspension, Tusk also warned: “Whoever is unable to accept it is de facto placing himself outside our family.”

In one part of his speech, the incoming President of the EPP unquestionably referenced Orbán.

“I remember when some worked really hard for many days and weeks to contain the wave of illegal migrants from Turkey, negotiating for hours, hundreds of hours, our agreement with Ankara, thanks to which, the influx of migrants fell by more than 90%. I don’t have to remind anyone of the great role Angela [Merkel] played here. However, someone else took care of impressions. Someone, who also worked hard, but only on his narrative and self-creation, putting up a fence and billboards with anti-migration propaganda.”

Orbán’s most vocal critic in the EPP

Being one of Orbán’s and Fidesz’s most vocal critics in the People’s Party, Tusk’s bashing remarks don’t come as a surprise.

Last year, for example,  at the EPP Congress in Helsinki, the then EC president took a stand for liberal democracy in his speech.

Tusk on Values: Christian Democracy Not Opposite Of Liberal Democracy

Without naming the Hungarian PM, Donald Tusk warned against those “emerging politicians on the main stage” who, by taking advantage of the “migration chaos,” had started to “set security and order against openness and freedom.” He emphasized that no one in the EPP has the right to attack liberal democracy.

“If you want to replace the Western model of liberal democracy with an Eastern model of ‘authoritarian democracy,’ you are not a Christian Democrat,” Tusk said.

Future of Fidesz in Tusk-led EPP

The most important question right now is what happens with the Hungarian governing party in the EPP. When Politico asked EPP officials, they said Tusk’s biggest task would be to defuse the situation with Orbán and Fidesz.

“Only an Eastern European can challenge the Orbán narrative in the EPP,” one party insider said. “Any purely Western coup against Orbán will fail miserably.”

Following the suspension of Fidesz, it was agreed that the EPP would appoint a three-member evaluation committee to determine whether the Hungarian governing party meets the EPP’s conditions.

The Great Debate: Did the EPP Suspend Fidesz or Did Fidesz Suspend Itself?

The “council of wise men” was scheduled to finish the report by October so that they could vote on Fidesz’s membership at the November congress. However, the People’s Party later prolonged the process because they didn’t want Fidesz to cause a distraction from the election of the People’s Party president and other strategic issues.

According to government-critical news portal Index.hu’s EPP sources, the reason for procrastination is the extremely tough task the council of wise men has to face. They need to take a position on a matter neither the Commission nor the European Council has been able to take before. Also, both the staying and leaving of Fidesz could result in serious consequences for the EPP; therefore, it is understandable the committee is cautious.

According to Euronews, if Fidesz were to be excluded from the party family, the EPP would lose 13 mandates, reducing its seats in the EP to 169, which is uncomfortably close to the 154 mandates the second largest party, the Social democrats have. If, on the other hand, Fidesz remains, there is allegedly a risk that members of the Benelux and Scandinavian parties will go over to the Liberal-Conservative ‘Renew Europe’ party, which could also reduce the number of EPP politicians by more than 20.

Featured photo via europa.eu