Showdown in Brussels: Viktor Orban threatens Fidesz to leave the EPP group

Updated March 1, 2021, 4:50 p.m.

  • Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is threatening to withdraw his Fidesz party from the EPP group in the EU Parliament.
  • This Wednesday will show how serious he really is.
  • It is the culmination of a conflict that has been simmering in the European People’s Party (EPP) for years.

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Viktor Orban launched a counterattack. A possible suspension of his Fidesz party from the Christian Democratic EPP group in the European Parliament? The Hungarian Prime Minister does not want to put up with that. That is why he threatens to withdraw his MPs himself.

This Wednesday should show how seriously the right-wing Hungarian means it. Then the EPP Group will vote on new rules of procedure that would allow the suspension and exclusion of entire parties.

It is the culmination of a conflict that has been simmering in the European People’s Party for years. In the main roles, alongside Orban and parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber: Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) and, recently, the new CDU chairman Armin Laschet.

Orban and Fidesz Party have long been a burden of the EPP party family

The EPP forms the largest group in the European Parliament, has a number of EU heads of state and government and unites Christian Democratic, conservative and right-wing populist parties under one roof. Orban and his Fidesz party have long been a burden on the party family, which also includes the CDU and CSU. Critics accuse her of undermining democracy and the rule of law.

In Berlin and Brussels, however, it was difficult for a long time with a clear edge against the bully from Budapest. Build bridges and stay in dialogue – this was the motto pursued above all by the German Union parties, without which not much is possible in the EPP. The concern also played a role that Orban could join forces with right-wing populists such as Matteo Salvini from Italy, Geert Wilders from the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen from France to form a large parliamentary group.

The first escalation came in 2019 with a poster campaign by the government in Hungary, which defamed the then EU Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and US billionaire George Soros as a promoter of illegal migration. Shortly before the European elections, the EPP managed to suspend Fidesz – at party level. Orban himself sold this as a self-chosen step. A little later, the Hungarian resigned from Bavaria, Manfred Weber, who wanted to become head of the commission at the time.

Fidesz membership in the party has been suspended since then, and the corona pandemic also got in the way of a final decision. In the group, however, the dozen or so Fidesz MPs continue to participate – and defend Orban’s policy, which restricts the right to asylum and cuts media diversity. Now, two years later, this consideration could be over.

The trigger is a verbal derailment by Fidesz MP Tamas Deutsch, who brought Weber statements to the Gestapo at the end of last year. A number of parliamentary group colleagues called for Deutsch’s expulsion at the time – but Weber could not bring himself to do so. From parliamentary groups it is said that Merkel asked Weber for it at the time because Hungary and other EU countries were still pending approval for the Corona aid package. After a turbulent parliamentary group meeting in December, German only lost a few rights in the parliamentary group.

New rules of procedure should make it possible to exclude entire groups

Many EPP MPs see this decision as a major mistake Weber made. In a confidential conversation, several say that he missed showing a clear edge in a specific case. Because with more and more EPP people, patience with Fidesz is running out – even among the otherwise reticent Germans. “I can no longer see any connecting line,” says Dennnis Radtke (CDU).

The group is now due to vote on Wednesday on the new rules of procedure drawn up as a result of the December part-session. This should make it possible to exclude whole groups from the parliamentary group or to suspend them – and thus understand the decisions of the party family. If a national party like Fidesz is suspended from the EPP, the decision can also be made in parliament on a proposal from the parliamentary group presidium. That would take more than half of the votes cast.

From parliamentary groups it is said that as soon as the new rules of procedure are adopted, the proposal to suspend Fidesz should follow within a few days. A majority is considered certain. But Orban is reluctant to let the reins of action be taken out of his hands. On Sunday he wrote to Weber in the Hungarian government’s letterhead: If the parliamentary group approves the changes, his party would leave the parliamentary group of its own accord. The EPP would remain the strongest force in the European Parliament, but the group lacks important votes. In addition, a group to the right of the EPP would probably be growing.

The top of the EPP Group does not want to be intimidated by this. The vote will take place one way or the other, they say. A large part of the group would be relieved anyway if Orban went on his own initiative. “You shouldn’t stop travelers,” says Radtke.

Orban himself has often flirted with cooperating with other right-wing parties. However, the break with the EPP was seldom as tangible as it is now. It is unclear whether Fidesz would only leave the parliamentary group or the EPP family of parties. Because the contacts to all the influential EPP politicians – Merkel, Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen or Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – are of inestimable value.

But it could soon be over with that too. EPP boss Donald Tusk has long been pushing for Fidesz to be ruled out completely. He should start a new attempt in June – if Orban has not gone by himself by then. Then the position of the new CDU boss Laschet should also be decisive. The possible candidate for chancellor has so far been cautious about the issue. (pak / dpa)

After Jacques Chirac, he is the second former French head of state to be convicted of corruption.

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