Time and again the Hungarian media gets hold of news, which in the end turns out to be unfounded, that Fidesz will be expelled from the European People’s Party. The first article in my data base is from October 2012 when Népszabadság reported that Viktor Orbán, who had been one of the deputy chairmen of the European People’s Party, decided not to be renominated for the post. At that time analysts came to the conclusion that if Orbán decided to run for the post he most likely would still win but that there was a growing number of people who thought that Orbán was too confrontational, someone who didn’t quite fit in. It was possible that leading members of the EPP delegation actually informed Orbán of these reservations. A few months later, in May 2013, the Frankfurter Rundschau reported that the expulsion of Fidesz from EPP was seriously being contemplated because of Viktor Orbán’s “trampling on European values.”
If there were such voices in what Jan-Werner Müller called a “deeply dysfunctional” party, they remained in the minority. Today EPP is the largest delegation in the 751-member European Parliament with 274 members, 14 of whom come from Fidesz. If these 14 were forced or decided to leave on their own, EPP would still remain the biggest caucus. Yet it looks as if most of the Christian Democrats are unwilling to part ways with their Hungarian colleagues.
A few days ago rumors of the possible departure of Fidesz members from EPP began to circulate again. The Europe Society of Hungary held a conference in Brussels about “illiberal democracies” under the sponsorship of the Open Society Foundation and the German liberal Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit. During the conference an unnamed but “first-hand” source claimed that “the place of Fidesz in the EPP delegation might be in danger” unless Viktor Orbán unambiguously declares his commitment to European values. The EPP delegation, he said, expects Orbán to give a clear answer at the forthcoming meeting of the governing body of EPP in Budapest.
The day arrived. Yesterday Orbán gave a long interview to Napi Gazdaság, the new government daily, in which he mostly talked about domestic policy. He promised to steer a calmer course than the one his government followed in the past five years. The little he said about Hungary’s relations with Brussels, however, didn’t sound very promising. Regardless of what he told the EPP leadership today, he said he is planning to continue his fight for Hungary’s sovereignty because “the Hungarian people are in a constant state of endangerment.” As long as the financial, energy, media, and food sectors are in foreign hands, Hungarian sovereignty is just a fiction. This statement belies the domestic calm Orbán now promises. As far as the European Union is concerned, those people who believe Viktor Orbán’s promises will again be disappointed. European values will continue to be trampled on.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP caucus, and Viktor Orbán had a long talk over breakfast where Orbán, as was expected, promised everything Weber wanted to hear and perhaps even more. In no time Weber was convinced that Orbán never really meant to introduce capital punishment, which is probably true because Orbán is a master of double talk. One of his really bad blunders was his reference to “illiberal democracy,” which couldn’t be remedied by claiming later that the word “illiberal” in English doesn’t really mean “illiberal.” After he cleared the capital punishment hurdle, he laid it on thick: “The best possible cooperation with the strongest party of Europe, the European People’s Party and its parliamentary delegation, is in the strongest national interest of Hungary.” As he put it, “There is no Europe, there is no European politics, there is no European Union without the European People’s Party.”
All this praise was necessary to calm the waters in Brussels, where apparently Orbán had a very hard time at a meeting with the EPP MEPs after his appearance in the European Parliament a couple of weeks ago. But in Budapest the leading members of EPP were unwilling to say anything about Fidesz-EPP relations. As Népszabadság put it, “they remained awkwardly silent about Orbán.”
This is not the end of the story, however. Next week the European Parliament will vote on the Hungarian situation, and the European People’s Party will put forth a resolution reflecting their own attitude toward the question. This resolution is much more sharply worded than any previous ones coming from the party. I will quote here only some of the more important sections. The EPP caucus
4. Affirms Members States’ sovereign right to launch national consultations and engage their citizens in a dialogue on issues which are of great importance and have a direct impact on them; recalls that consultations should reflect the readiness of governments to exercise responsible governance aimed at securing democratic political solutions and respect for fundamental European values;
5. Believes, however, that the content and language of the particular consultation launched in Hungary, on immigration and terrorism, are highly misleading, biased and unbalanced; regrets the fact that it casts blame on the EU institutions and their policies, whereas the responsibility lies with the Member States, and recalls that the Member States are fully involved in the EU legislative process;
8. Recalls that the EU is faced with complex international challenges that require strong cooperation across borders, a willingness to exercise realistic solidarity, and a readiness to take responsible action; believes that the EU can only influence strong actors in other parts of the world, with their different values and political systems, when it shows unity in the most important fields;
9. Invites all Member States to participate in a constructive manner in the current discussion on the European Agenda on Migration, which affects equally internal, external and development policies that have to be implemented in the EU and consequently impact on the African continent and the Middle East;
For some time now there has been talk about Orbán moving the entire 14-member Fidesz caucus over to the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR), where the bulk of the delegation of 70 comes from the United Kingdom and Poland, if the EPP caucus is too hard on him and his policies or if the decision is reached to expel Fidesz MEPs from the caucus. People seem to know that Orbán has made some overtures to ECR and that ECR was also interested in gaining 14 new bodies for its parliamentary delegation. If one takes a look at the resolution for next week’s parliamentary discussion on Hungary which ECR submitted, one can see that, although ECR earlier was very hard on Orbán because of his pro-Russian policy, this time it decided not to take a strong position against the Hungarian government. I will quote here only the passages that relate to the national consultation on immigration and terrorism:
2. Affirms that the Member States also have a sovereign competence to establish their own laws and to hold their own democratic debates and consultations with the electorate at a national level; stresses that this principle is consistent with the sovereignty of a democratically elected government;
3. Supports the Commission’s role, as the guardian of the Treaties, in ensuring that national legislation, including that of Hungary, is in conformity with both the EU Treaties and basic European democratic values and human rights;
4. Stresses the importance of any evaluation and analysis carried out by the Commission and Parliament as to the situation in individual Member States being fact-based and balanced;
More than five years have gone by since Viktor Orbán began his crusade against the European Union and against Hungarian democracy. He encountered no serious opposition despite the fact that everybody must know by now that Hungarian democracy is in tatters. As long as the European People’s Party stands by him, Orbán will continue to flout the European Union, which doles out the money that keeps a mini-dictator in power.