Early March in Brussels is a cloudy weather for Fidesz, the Hungarian EPP member. Fidesz is a powerful national party in Hungary, ruling alone in Budapest since 2010. Fidesz is also a powerful party within the European People’s Party. With 12 MEPs the Hungarian delegation in among the strongest in the EPP group. EPP’s chief whip is József Szájer, a Hungarian Fidesz MEP.
A disillusionment with Fidesz has been growing for years. First among the non-EPP critics. With time, the wave of criticism has reached the EPP shore. The controversies with the Budapest government have been shelved and protected for when the key decisions were taken, Mr Orbán usually delivered and converged with the CDU and alikes: on the election of Mr Tusk or Mr Juncker to the top EU offices, on the support for major legislative proposals or the sanctions on Russia. The only major EU policy with Hungarians in opposition to the Brussels mainstream? The migration policy. There are also the internal developments and the rhetoric of Mr Orbán. As a member of the EPP the internal developments were mainly understood as domestic issues. Until Article 7 has been triggered against Hungary; the political debate moved forwards. Even then, as one senior EPP politician told me back in December 2018: “EPP can afford one such enfant terrible among us”.
Why keeping Fidesz? Pál Csáky, EPP MEP from Slovakia, who represents the Hungarian minority, said that the message to the EPP leadership is simple: 12 MEPs today and a potential increase to “12-13-14 mandates will be for the European People’s Party in the next European Parliament“. It is the leverage and extra seats in the EP that the Hungarians provide. There are more Hungarians in the EPP than all the Scandinavian MEPs (Swedish, Danish, Finnish – 8), or equal to the entire Benelux MEPs (Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourgian – 12).
The latest wave of criticism towards Fidesz comes from the campaign in which Fidesz puts the faces of Juncker and George Soros with a warning: “You have the right to know what Brussels is planning to do“. It is one thing to scare the Hungarians with migrants or the Roma or an American billionaire of Hungarian background (the EPP might be indifferent or silent), it is quite another to scare the general public with a leading EPP face. The face EPP is most proud of. The face of the Commission president.
Remember when Jean-Claude Juncker joked about his Hungarian partner “dictator”? It was friendly back then. The relationship is unfriendly today.
A number of EPP member parties are already in internal opposition to Fidesz calling for the Fidesz expulsion from the EPP. The Benelux EPP parties are unhappy. The Nordic EPP parties voice concern. There is dissatisfaction with the Portuguese. Even the Bulgarians take a move.
Until the Juncker affair, the EPP largest national delegations, the Germans (34), the Poles (22), the French (20) and the Spanish (17) were largely silent. This starts to change.
Manfred Weber spoke to Der Spiegel. In the interview published in English the EPP Spitzenkandidat says “Viktor Orbán is following the wrong political path” and:
Orbán badly damaged the EPP. That is why I expect him to apologize and put an end to the poster campaign. Beyond that, we cannot simply return to business as usual. It has reached a new level; appeals are no longer sufficient. We will take concrete steps very soon.Manfred Weber
Mr Weber also announced he will make proposals in the coming days, since “there has been a fundamental change in the handling of Orbán. Enough is enough.”
Mr Orbán responded in his style in Die Welt am Sonntag calling people critical of him “useful idiots”. He also announced the Fidesz campaign with Juncker photo will discontinue on 15 March. Mr Juncker photograph will be replaced with that of Mr Timmermans. On 20 March the EPP political assembly is scheduled. On 7-8 March this week the EPP Group Bureau meets in Warsaw.
Andrzej Grzyb, MEP with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) tells me today that PSL is not in favour of taking drastic steps towards Fidesz. This has been communicated already to Mr Daul, head of EPP, as throwing Fidesz out of EPP would create more problems than by keeping them in. Mr Grzyb: “We are in favour of keeping them in”.
I also speak to Michał Boni, a leading EPP MEP elected in Warsaw (Civic Platform). He says the EPP should have a two way approach to Fidesz. The first stage should be to have a debate organised with Orbán face-to-face to explain the situation in Hungary, including the CEU expulsion and the smearing campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker.
In the second stage, according to Boni, the motion to remove Fidesz from EPP could be procured. For that seven national parties are needed.
Instead of thinking about how many votes we can lose by throwing out Fidesz we need to ask how many votes we shall lose if we keep them in.Michał Boni MEP
What few people want to admit today is that with Mr Orbán in the EPP or outside of it he is a potential future king maker in the European political scene. Should a coalition between him, Law and Justice and La Lega of Salvini come into realisation, this new group of like-minded politicians could become a major force in European politics.
Mr Weber may still need Mr Orbán if he wants to become Commission president. Probably Weber is going to look to the left side for support (Macron!), but it may be that Fidesz could be useful again. Hence it is important to see if the divorce takes place and what is the atmosphere the day after. This might be especially relevant in… the European Council. With Orbán, the Polish and Italian governments there are already 3 members of the European Council who could be potentially opposed to Mr Weber presidency. If the divorce is hostile there could be more unwelcoming faces for Mr Weber as head of the next Commission. To block any candidate in the European Council a Visegrad-4 coalition with Italy, Austria, Bulgaria and Romania would be enough: 35.84% of population of EU-27.