Orbán and Weber: From Total Support to Public Break-Up
Fanni Kaszás 2019.05.07.
On Monday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that Fidesz would no longer support Manfred Weber as the lead candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP). This came on the heels of the EPP and Fidesz’s joint decision to suspend the Hungarian party’s membership as well as Weber’s recent statement on German television, in which he claimed he would refuse to become the president of the European Commission (EC) if it took “populist” Fidesz’s votes to get there.
Fidesz’s support of Weber
In October, the EPP board heard two candidates for the post of Spitzenkandidat: former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, belonging to the EPP’s liberal arm, and current EPP group leader Manfred Weber, the deputy head of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria.
Weber had traditionally enjoyed positive relations with the Hungarian rightist governing parties and the Prime Minister himself. However, he has also criticized the Hungarian government and its abuse of power in recent months. He pointed out that patience is running out and said that in future debates, Fidesz cannot expect any more concessions.
Back then, with the acceptance of the Sargentini report, it was doubtful whether Orbán and his party would support the Bavarian Christian Democratic politician’s candidacy for the top position of the European Commission. But in the end, following “one night of deliberation,” Viktor Orbán finally decided to support Weber as the lead candidate of the EPP.
However, it became clear that members of the EPP – and Sptitzenkandidat Manfred Weber – were not in an easy situation. If they were to exercise sharp criticism towards the radicals, they would lose right-wing voters, but if they moved to a more characteristic rightist position, they might risk being abandoned by moderate voters moving towards political liberalism.
Weber does not need the support of Fidesz?
Last month, Manfred Weber gave a statement on German television channel ZDF in which he claimed he would forgo the chance to become president of the European Commission (EC) if it takes Fidesz’s votes to get there.
When it comes to Europe’s future, I want to make it clear that the middle is dominant. Not the left-wing extremists, the communists, and not the right-wing extremists, the nationalists.
Weber’s statement follows a joint decision to suspend Fidesz from the EPP. In total, 190 EPP delegates voted in favor of the proposal and three voted against it. A three-member evaluation committee has been appointed to assess Fidesz’s implementation of the conditions agreed upon in the proposal. Aside from the fulfillment of Manfred Weber’s three-point ultimatum, the committee will also examine Hungary’s respect for the rule of law and Fidesz’s regard for EPP values.
The suspension has kept the party family intact while also giving each party a chance to sing the tales of its “victory.” “The EPP made the right decision because it kept its unity. The EPP also made the right decision in the sense that the grouping will now be able to tackle the EP election campaign as a cohesive unit and because Fidesz can continue to support Manfred Weber as the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat,” Orbán stated.
In an interview two months ago with Welt Am Sonntag, PM Orbán stated that Hungary supports Manfred Weber, “a great man,” and that “it would be good for Europe if a Bavarian politician led the Commission.” He added that Fidesz would “support Weber until the very end,” despite others doing all they can (after the EP elections) to replace him with another politician as the President of the European Commission.
When asked about recent articles in pro-government Hungarian media criticizing EPP chairman Joseph Daul and group leader and spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber, PMO head Gergely Gulyás said that although there had been disagreements within the grouping, Fidesz had never gone to the lengths of personally criticizing the head and top candidate of the EPP.
Fidesz withdraws support
Prime Minister Orbán announced on Monday that “Hungary’s government and head” cannot support a European Commission presidential candidate (Manfred Weber) who claims he does not want the Hungarian vote.
The government does not currently consider any of the candidates in the EC presidential campaign viable. The PM said Hungary is “looking for a suitable candidate,” and added that a complicated series of talks could be expected ahead of the president’s election.
Orbán said that though “pro-migration forces” – which include the left and the majority of the EPP – are in a strong position, the rise of “anti-migration” forces – the right wing of the EPP and the parties to its right – would create “a more balanced situation.”
However, some have pointed out that the government and Fidesz are not the same. Weber was not talking about “Hungarian votes,” he merely refused to accept a Presidency won using Fidesz’s votes; therefore, any rhetoric claiming that Weber does not want the support of ‘Hungary’s government’ and the ‘vote of Hungarians’ is a bit exaggerated. On the other hand, Fidesz can argue that since it has the majority in the Parliament, it formed the government that represents Hungarians on the international stage, so rejecting Fidesz is equivalent to rejecting Hungarians.
It is important to keep in mind that the final decision of Fidesz’s place in the EPP has only been postponed by the suspension of the party. Orbán has confirmed that Fidesz’s place is still in question:
We have made an adequate, temporary decision, but we have not settled anything. After the elections, we can freely decide on the terms of our relationship.
Orbán said that if Fidesz had a right to hold the minority view within the EPP regarding strategic matters, it would stay in the grouping. But, he said, if the EPP “becomes intolerant, then we will, of course, have to find our place elsewhere.” The Prime Minister stressed that Fidesz would hold off on making a decision about its EPP membership until after the EP election. This was why, he said, the party had not attended a political meeting recently convened by Italian deputy PM Matteo Salvini, insisting that Fidesz did not want to quit the EPP without knowing the outcome of the elections.