Will Fidesz and the EPP part ways?

Signs are growing that Orbán's Fidesz party will be expelled from the EPP after he refused EPP leader Manfred Weber's demand for an apology for anti-European statements and an anti-Brussels poster campaign. The EPP is to decide Fidesz's fate on 20 March. Hungarian commentators discuss the possibility of Fidesz choosing to leave the EPP of its own accord.

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Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

Fidesz must leave the EPP

Instead of making concessions to the EPP Fidesz should change sides of its own accord, the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet urges:

“The People's Party has sided with the Socialists and Democrats, whose demands it is only too happy to meet. So Fidesz only has one course left open to it: it must find new allies. Viktor Orbán and Fidesz should quit the EPP and join forces with Matteo Salvini, the Austrian Freedom Party and the government in Poland! That would be in the interest of Europe and Hungary. There's no reason to wait any longer. Or rather, we must not wait any longer. Only in this way can we take the forefront in the fight against immigration and protect both Hungary and the Europe of nations. The Hungarian prime minister will have to take the lead in this fight. That follows from everything that he has said and done so far.”

Mandiner (HU) /

Wait and see what happens in the elections

Fidesz would do better to wait until after the EU elections before taking a decision on whether to leave the EPP, the conservative website Mandiner counsels:

“Are Viktor Orbán's policies closer to those of Matteo Salvini, Jarosław Kaczyński and Heinz-Christian Strache than they are to those of Angela Merkel? Yes, without doubt. But what protected the Hungarian government from still worse hostilities until now was its membership in the EPP and the fact that it had a strong voice there. Sometimes it makes sense to destroy the status quo if it has become devoid of content. But is this the right time, with the elections to the European Parliament just around the corner, to take such a portentous decision? We have no idea how the EPP will fare, or how well the new right will perform in the elections.”

Politis (CY) /

Manfred Weber in an awkward position

Germany's conservative sister parties the CDU and the CSU will play a key role in the EPP's decision, Politis points out:

“Until now the Union parties have tried to keep communication channels with Viktor Orbán open so as to avoid a head-on collision. ... The EPP's leading candidate Manfred Weber [also from the CSU] is in a particularly awkward position because Fidesz's exclusion from the group would change the balance of power in the next European Parliament to his detriment, as it would mean the EPP losing seats.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Fidesz's fate in the hands of the Poles

Whether the European People's Party will really exclude Fidesz depends to a large extent on the Poles, the news website Azonnali comments:

“It's true, Fidesz and the Civic Platform (PO) are both members of the EPP party family, but that doesn't mean at all that the two parties have close relations. Viktor Orbán's true ally in Polish politics has long been the governing conservative nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), which is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists. Like Fidesz, the PiS has introduced a whole series of illiberal reforms in recent years.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Aren't Sweden's Moderates paying attention?

While the EPP is trying to expel the Fidesz party the Swedish Moderate Party is not keeping its distance from the Sweden Democrats as it should, Aftonbladet comments:

“Yesterday Ulf Kristersson [the party's leader] announced in a major interview that he isn't ruling out taking power together with the [right-wing populist] Sweden Democrats. ... We don't know yet whether Fidesz will be expelled from the EPP group. If it is, it will probably join the same EU group as the Sweden Democrats. This means that the Moderates would break with Viktor Orbán because he is violating 'the principles of democracy and the rule of law', while at the same time trying to form a government with the support of his Swedish sister party.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Orbán could come off better than the EPP

Viktor Orbán is being intentionally provocative with the poster campaign attacking Commission president Juncker and George Soros, Le Soir believes:

“This latest provocation that has so alienated the EPP leadership appears to be an intentional act by the Hungarian PM, in a bid to force Europe's most powerful political family to ostracise his party. ... Once out, he'll be able to play the role he aspires to: namely the dominant force in the group of European Conservatives and Reformists. The formerly Eurosceptical ECR will no doubt soon also welcome Salvini's League and become a sovereigntist and xenophobic force to be reckoned with. ... All that the EPP can hope for then - for its own sake but also for Europe's - is that it won't lose its soul for good in the process.”

Mérce (HU) /

As pathetic as it is laughable

The left-wing website Mérce finds it reprehensible that only now does the EPP see a reason to take action against Fidesz:

“You can write that the European People's Party has now forced Viktor Orbán to his knees or that up to now Orbán had managed to outwit the EPP. But in truth none of this is important. Because the timing of the EPP's outraged reaction to the Hungarian posters and its being on the verge of breaking up with Fidesz is as pathetic as it is laughable. The European People's Party doesn't have a problem with the fact that these posters foment hatred, but with the fact that they show one of the key faces of the EPP, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. That's what has really upset them.”

Pravda (SK) /

The EPP in a dilemma

Pravda names the main reason for the EPP's hesitance regarding saying farewell to Fidesz:

“The EPP is caught between a rock and a hard place. Although with 218 MEPs it is currently the strongest group in the European Parliament, in the last three elections it has become ever weaker and thus faces a major dilemma. On the one hand there are the values it represents. On the other there is the fear that after excluding Fidesz it could potentially lose twelve votes in parliament - and each vote could be decisive. Perhaps, however, Orbán has now lessened the dilemma with his words about the 'useful idiots'.”

Expressen (SE) /

Don't divide the European Parliament too

Expressen highlights the dangers posed by exclusion:

“If Fidesz opts to ally itself with the Italian Lega and the Polish PiS it will only increase the risk of nationalists and right-wing populists blocking key reforms in the EU Parliament. In a union made up of 28 member countries you can't just cooperate with upstanding liberals. The question facing the parliamentary groups is how much importance they should attach to spotless conduct. ... If too many parties are excluded, the groups could risk losing their ability to unite the various parties. The divisions between the east and the west are already blatant, and they stand little chance of diminishing if the parties group themselves along the fault lines in the European Parliament.”

The Times (GB) /

Western Europe should put its own house in order

The old habit of pointing an accusing finger at Eastern Europe is no longer appropriate, finds The Times:

“Authoritarians, crooks and populists do well less because their message resonates than because the mainstream competition is so weak. But the overall lesson is that Europe's old east-west divide is becoming irrelevant. If you want a real sign of democracy in danger look at Italy, where it recently emerged that the League, the party of deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, received direct funding from Russia. France's thuggish Yellow Vests have few counterparts in the former communist east. Nor are Britain's neuroses about Europe understood. Many countries have tussles with Brussels. Nobody reacts as we did.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Juncker is going too far

Der Standard considers Juncker's demand to be dangerous:

“The Christian Democrat has called on his party family, the EPP, to exclude Orbán's Fidesz. That may be personally understandable, and even likeable, but Junker is Commission President, not a party politician. This weakens not just the role of the Commission. If Junker believes that Orbán and co. are violating the EU charter he could immediately launch proceedings. Excluding Orbán could certainly be strategically awkward for the EPP. According to the prognoses it will lose a considerable amount of votes in May - as will the Social Democrats. The radical right group in the EU Parliament would be considerably strengthened if it took in Fidesz.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Don't expel Fidesz, ostracise it

Kicking Fidesz out of the EPP won't help, Zeit Online argues:

“Orbán should not be given the chance to cast himself as a European martyr. ... Those who want to fight him have many other options. That goes for the European Union, the EPP, and the other member states. They can all challenge Orban at various levels. They can cut his funding, stop doing business with his close contacts, deny him access to the public stage, sidestep him and talk directly to the Hungarian people. He can be ostracised in a way that's as subtle as it is effective.”

Sega (BG) /

There can be no dialogue with this party

The EPP is harming itself and European parliamentarianism by keeping Fidesz as a member, Sega argues:

“Initially it was difficult to tell whether Orbán was a Nazi, but the traits of a dictator were already unmistakable. The EPP dismissed this as a passing mood and saw nothing in it that could cast the EU back to the start of the 20th century. But unhindered by supervision and controls Orbán continued on his path. Yet there are still politicians in the EPP who believe that it would be better for Orbán's Fidesz party to remain in the EPP so that the dialogue isn't broken off. ... The problem, however, is that there is no dialogue.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Now even the CDU/CSU has had enough

The Hungarian head of government clearly didn't expect even Germany's CDU/CSU party to distance itself, comments Gazeta Wyborcza:

“For Orbán the reaction is no doubt a shock. He and Angela Merkel were united by a rough friendship. The Hungarian prime minister harshly criticised the chancellor for her decision of September 2015, when Germany decided to take in all the refugees on the Balkan route. According to Orbán this was catastrophic for Europe. But in fact Merkel saved Hungary from a humanitarian crisis. ... Merkel accepted Orbán's attacks with stoic calm and continued to meet him very frequently afterwards.”

Népszava (HU) /

If you're not for us you're against us

The Orbán government sees enemies everywhere it looks, Népszava is convinced:

“If you're not for us you're against us. Or rather: against the country. This is the attitude the government's never-ending campaign reveals. Lecturing or criticism from abroad, like that voiced by Juncker, is perceived as part of an anti-Hungarian global conspiracy engineered by - it goes without saying - the evil George Soros. Every accusation of corruption which the media levels at the government is also passed off as part of this monstrous conspiracy. So it's only natural for the government to defend itself in the interest of the country, including with its permanent 'enlightenment campaign' on billboards, on television, and in the ever-more-ubiquitous pro-government media.”