International 04/03/2021

Orbán leaves the European People's Party to avoid expulsion from Parliament

The break leaves the European Conservatives with 12 fewer seats in the European Parliament

3 min
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Brussels this December.

The largest political group in the European Parliament, the European People's Party, has finally parted ways with the party of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The relationship has been deteriorating for years since Orbán's authoritarian drift and a flirtation with Euroscepticism that some in this family have long seen as unsustainable. Two years ago, just before the European elections, the conservatives suspended the Fidesz of voice and vote and, since then, the debate on the final expulsion had remained latent, but the fear of some to stoke the fire of the most anti-European far-right and further weaken the hegemony of the populars in Europe kept them hanging by a thread that has just broken this Wednesday, when the popular group of the European Parliament has forced the departure of Orbán with a change of its internal rules that facilitated the expulsion. Orbán decided to leave before he could be expelled.

It implies a rupture in the European Parliament and is almost the last step before the final divorce, because, for the moment, the twelve Fidesz MEPs are no longer part of the popular parliamentary group and will probably seek to join some other group, such as the Conservatives and Reformists, founded as a result of another split of the PP, that of the british Tories of David Cameron, where Vox is now too, and also the ultra-conservative Polish PiS. For the moment, however, Fidesz is still an integral part of the European People's Party as a political family outside the European Parliament, although it seems difficult that this relationship will go on much further, considering that the current leader of this European family, the former president of the European Council Donald Tusk, has spoken out several times in favor of the expulsion of Fidesz.

The break took place on Wednesday because the popular MEPs, led by the German Manfred Weber, have voted by a large majority (148 votes in favor, 28 against and 4 abstentions) a modification of its internal rules that ultimately allowed to accelerate the suspension of an entire delegation. Orbán had already threatened last Sunday to leave if this reform went ahead, and he has done so. In a letter to Mr Weber, chairman of the group in the European Parliament, Mr Orbán immediately announced "his resignation from membership of the European People's Party group" as follows: "With hundreds of thousands of Europeans in hospital and doctors busy saving their lives, it is very disappointing to see that the People's group is paralysed by its internal administrative affairs and is trying to silence our democratically elected MEPs". The letter denounces the rule change as a "hostile move against Fidesz and its voters".

The political significance of this break goes beyond the distribution of seats in the European Parliament. The coexistence within the conservative family of centrist voices with Orbán's ultra-conservatism is a bet with a Merkelian stamp that prioritizes a greater Christian Democrat transversality that underpins the conservative hegemony in Europe and ultimately dissolves these discourses within the consensus of the popular family. But Orbán has made it more and more difficult, with direct attacks against European institutions and their rulers (also from his political family), violating the principles of the rule of law in the European Union, threatening to vetoing pandemic recovery funds and even threatening to derail the European vaccination strategy while strengthening ties with Russia and China.

And while the German delegation has great weight within the Christian Democrat family (also the PP of Pablo Casado is betting on this path), some voices such as the Nordics or Tusk himself were not willing to accept these constant challenges and question their alignment with the principles of a conservative family that considers itself the axis of the European project. This is why the amendment of the regulation was voted for by a large majority despite knowing that it could mean the departure of Orbán's party. The European People's Party now finds itself forced to manage the Orbánisation of other members, especially in Eastern Europe, where Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa has also on several occasions aligned himself with Orbán and Trumpist populism despite being a Christian Democrat member.

In the European Parliament, Fidesz could remain in the group of non-attached members, but it is more likely to negotiate its incorporation into another parliamentary group. According to Efe, the Polish delegation of conservatives and reformists has already had contacts with Orbán's party. If they end up in this group, it would be the second time that a split of the Popular Party has fattened the Eurosceptic group that, in fact, was formed by the departure of the british Tories prior to Brexit. The other option could be Identity and Democracy (ID), which includes the Italian Lega, Alternative for Germany or Le Pen's National Grouping. With the departure of Fidesz, the Populars go from 187 to 175 MEPs and, if they were to join the Conservatives and Reformists, they would go from 62 to 74 and would surpass the Greens by one seat.

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