Budapest / Brussels (dpa) – It’s the divorce of a long-broken marriage: Hungary’s right-wing conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban breaks with the Christian Democratic European People’s Party in the European Parliament.
On the surface, that only means that party leader Manfred Weber will lose 12 MPs from Orban’s Fidesz party. But for the party family and for the European Union, the consequences could go much further. No one has completely overlooked it so far.
What happened today followed some sort of script that had been open for days. As announced, the Christian Democratic EPP Group, which also includes the CDU and CSU, has amended its rules of procedure. Sounds harmless, but it was anything but a bureaucratic process. Because this change was intended to suspend Fidesz from the EPP group. Orban anticipated this and pulled the cord himself: within minutes he sent a resignation letter with the Hungarian Prime Minister’s stationery – that was also announced.
“I hereby inform you that the Fidesz members are ending their membership of the EPP Group,” Orban wrote in an indignant tone. The EPP’s rule changes are clearly directed against Fidesz and his constituents. Preventing elected MPs from carrying out their duties is anti-democratic, unjust and unacceptable. However, most EPP groups are now simply fed up with such attacks. More than 84 percent were against Orban in the vote on the rules of procedure.
The debate with Hungary on the fundamental values of the EU and the rule of law is taking too long. Orban had proclaimed the goal of an “illiberal” democracy for his country years ago. Meanwhile, with the EPP – and also with the EU – it has switched to refugee policy, the media, the university and judicial policy. Rule of law proceedings are underway under Article 7 of the EU Treaties against Hungary for alleged violations of the EU’s fundamental values.
Weber in particular – who describes himself as a bridge builder – had nevertheless tried for a long time to keep Orban’s Fidesz colleagues in the EPP faction. The CDU and CSU, the strongest group in the parliamentary group, stepped on the brakes when the measures were proposed. But now her boss Daniel Caspary said: “Unfortunately the conflict with Fidesz has worsened in recent months. That is why we have set a clear example. “
Orban MPs have been part of the EPP Group since Hungary joined the EU in 2004. Initially, Orban was seen by the Christian Democrats as the bearer of hope for a new, democratic Eastern Europe. The then Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) had a fondness for him. But Orban’s style of government since 2010 has been insulting. The power politician increasingly kept the judiciary and the media in Hungary on the line.
The rule of law in particular created a wedge between Orban and the EPP. His rigid isolationist policies during the 2015 refugee migrations certainly found admirers outside his camps. But the European Court of Justice made it clear several times that many of the investigative measures to “secure borders against illegal migrants” were in violation of European law.
Orban became increasingly aggressive, attacking EPP heavyweights such as then Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker or faction leader Weber with crude conspiracy theories, belittling them as puppets of US investor George Soros. Orban’s bold claims that the EPP had given up its “Christian roots” and lost itself in today’s “liberal blah” caused shaking heads. Only he, Orban, upheld the true values of Christian Democracy.
Group leader Weber answered this accusation. Orban’s party is no longer on the same footing as the Christian Democratic founders, including Konrad Adenauer, the CSU politician said. “It’s Fidesz who has turned away.” Otherwise, however, the consensus politician Weber felt visibly uncomfortable: “This is not a day when I could say I would be happy with what happened.”
His party colleague Alexander Dobrindt put it in a nutshell: “This can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences for the EPP party family and will also have a negative effect on the European unification process.”
Because what is Orban doing now on the sidelines? A change from the Fidesz MPs to the right-wing national FCR or to the even further right-wing faction ID in parliament would be conceivable. For the ID group, AfD boss Jörg Meuthen immediately said: “Orban is welcome with us!” Both would strengthen rights in the European Parliament. And Orban’s behavior in the EU can become unpredictable.
Most recently, at the end of 2020, he blocked the EU’s financial framework for weeks because he did not want to come to terms with a new rule of law instrument. According to this information, EU funds can be cut if countries do not follow certain ground rules. In the end, Orban was content with a compromise that he saw as a victory. It won’t be the last showdown.