Theodoros Benakis

It is time Orbán faces the consequences of his actions

Flickr/European People's Party/CC BY 2.0
Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to leave the EPP. His government is too corrupt and his proxies too much involved in EU money frauds.

On Tuesday the leader of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament said that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán must apologize for his criticism of the EU or his Fidesz party could be expelled from the group.

The declaration of Manfred Weber it is proof that the Hungarian PM crossed the line. Weber was a strong ally of Orbán and many times supported his policies.

Now Orbán must decide whether to accept Weber’s offer and stay in the safe harbor of EPP or sale for new – and probably- unknown seas. On March 20, the EPP will debate on Fidesz problem.

It is not a secret that voices against the Hungarian PM, his party and the policies applied by his government multiplied inside the centre-right Group.

In an interview to European Interest on January 2019, Ingeborg Grässle, the Chair of the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament, an experienced politician said:

“If we compare the reputation of the Hungarian government 1.5 years ago and now – in the EU –, I have to state clearly that it is more and more isolated. Nobody in Germany, not even the CSU, would invite Mr. Orbán now for their meetings. He chose new friends, Mr. Salvini, and never have Fidesz been as close to being excluded from EPP as now. The Hungarian government does not do European politics, but only domestic politics. Like every authoritarian regime, it needs an ‘external enemy’, a role which is given to the EU. One of the most corrupt governments in the EU builds up a bugbear to hide those machinations… I am sure that the Hungarian citizens understand what is happening.”

The atmosphere against Orbán worsens after his government starts a new anti-migration campaign against European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Now the future seems gloomy. The Hungarian PM probably never believed that the EPP could adopt a tough policy against him. And he has to decide rapidly his next steps.

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Interview with Ingeborg Grässle: A closer look at Brussels’ fraud fight

The safe environment of EPP

After Weber’s “ultimatum” the Hungarian party tried to save the appearances by saying the answer will be negative because Fidesz would not accept conditions other EPP members set.

Reuters reported that Tamas Deutsch MEP, who is a Fidesz veteran, told the private television channel ATV late on Tuesday that he doubted Orbán would comply.

“I would be very surprised,” he said. “This is not a kiddy party, where you pulled on my pony tail and it hurts. Manfred Weber is a lot more serious than that.”

Is that true? How important EPP membership is for the Hungarian Prime Minister?

Orbán doesn’t want to leave the EPP. His government is too corrupt and his proxies too much involved in EU money frauds. EPP offers him safety since until now he managed to enjoy scandalous impunity for his policies. He undermined democracy in Hungary, he attacked free speech, the independent judiciary, academic freedom. His anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Roma rhetoric was a pure racist hate speech. He said that the EPP politicians who critises him are “useful idiots”. Orbán enjoyed the protection of EPP prominent figures as Weber and the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to mention only the most exposed.

Now, even the former protectors of the Hungarian PM realise that their protegee represents a danger, a counterproductive alliance.

But how to pleased Weber?

By offering his apologies to the EPP Orbán risks helping the opposition at home. For a long period he built the image of a tough guy whose aim is to protect Hungary by the Eurocrats. He said to his audience that the country is surrounded by enemies. He promoted nationalism and intolerance.

If he accepts Weber’s offer, the ‘empire of hate’ so carefully built risks to fall apart.

Orbán certainly realises that his party cannot remain independent in the European Parliament. His government cannot remain without the support of a big political family as well.

Is Salvini a viable option?

Taking into consideration the above, another option was advanced. The alliance with the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom group (ENF), of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini.

It is true that both the Hungarian PM and the Italian vice-Prime Minister and leader of the League party expressed their admiration one for the other during their meetings. But this is not enough.

If Orbán chooses this option then he will become too vulnerable. Taking the side of Salvini and Le Pen will be considered casus belli for the rest of the European countries.

While there are many affinities between Fidesz and the guys of the ENF Group, the later is openly anti-EU. It is an isolated and toxic political environment despite the fact that two of its leaders are partners in the coalition governments of Austria and Italy.

In addition stability inside the ENF Group is not given since Salvini’s presence will undermine the role of his partners and will probably provoke frictions.

Orbán is too exposed in his government and proxies’ scandals to risk such a company.

The alliance with ENF will be a desperate movement and an act of political suicide.

Poles and Conservatives

Another option, if EPP expels Fidesz is the actual European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). If the group decides to continue as such, the role of the Polish Law and Justice party (PiS) will be instrumental.

The alliance between Fidesz and PiS will not be a simple party alliance since the two are the ruling parties in Hungary and Poland.

This could seem a viable and profitable solution for both, Poles and Hungarians.

The two governments will have their Commissioners, ECR will have more MEPs and a higher role in the European Parliament, Hungarians and Poles will have more possibilities in the European Council.

PiS is desperately searching for partners. This is why PiS negotiates with far-right parties as the Spain Vox, the Italian neo-fascists and the French sovereigntists. The far-right Sweden Democrats, the Danish Danish People’s Party and the Finns party of Finland are already ECR’s members.

The Polish government is searching for more support since its attacks against the rule of law are severely critised and condemned by the European Commission.

There are only two problems.

The first is the blatant Russo-philia of Orbán. The second is that PiS is not accused of corruption.

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