quinta-feira, 28 de junho de 2018
Viktor Orbán cements place in Europe’s new center right
Viktor Orbán cements place in Europe’s new center right
Conservative mainstream is split over Hungarian PM — but numbers are on his side.
By RYAN HEATH 6/21/18, 3:27 PM CET Updated 6/29/18, 5:15 AM CET
Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister and internal scourge of the European center right
Some European center-right politicians have grown so fed up with Viktor Orbán, the godfather of “illiberal democracy,” that they want to kick him out of their club.
They’re stuck with him.
Moderates in the EPP, from countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg, have been pushing for Orbán’s Fidesz party to be booted out for its anti-EU rhetoric and what they regard as growing abuses of the rule of law. Their campaign has gathered some steam: In early June CDA, the Dutch EPP affiliate party, passed a resolution formally requesting Fidesz’s expulsion.
But they don’t have the numbers to expel Orbán from the European People’s Party. And the pan-European group’s leaders need the Hungarian prime minister to be sure of remaining the biggest bloc in the European Parliament.
Orbán, for his part, has no intention of leaving. He sees the EPP moving his way, particularly when it comes to anti-migrant measures and messaging, and he is making a pitch to move it further in that direction — something a recent EPP policy document advocating tougher border security suggests is already happening.
The overriding sentiment in the EPP: We don’t like what Orbán says, but we have to live with it for now.
In Brussels, according to one member of the European Parliament who requested anonymity, “the EPP is practically split down the middle” on the issue.
That schism was laid bare this week when the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee backed a resolution declaring that Hungary is at risk of a serious breach of EU values. Eight EPP members on the panel voted in favor of the text — nine voted against.
To gauge feelings about Orbán, POLITICO spoke to EPP MEPs and officials from seven countries. The overriding sentiment: We don’t like what he says, but we have to live with it for now.
A senior EPP member of the European Parliament said that under the surface, the divisions within the bloc are more complex than just pro and anti-Orbán.
“There’s more or less three groups in EPP,” the MEP said. “The ‘kick-outs’ are liberal, from Sweden and Netherlands. Then there’s rock-solid Fidesz supporters, including the CSU [from Bavaria] and the Austrians. Then you have people like CDU [Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union] in the middle.”
In setting out his vision for the future of Europe, Orbán has boldly claimed to be following in the footsteps of the CDU’s longtime leader, Helmut Kohl. The former German chancellor was a fellow practitioner of “provocative provincialism” — but he was also a champion of greater European integration.
That didn’t stop Orbán from using a speech this month to mark the anniversary of Kohl’s death to argue for keeping power in EU capitals — rather than in Brussels — as a safeguard of national and Christian identity. He used concerns about open borders as his rallying cry.
“A strong EU needs strong member states,” Orbán said.
“We are the captains of border fortresses, and we know our duty,” he declared, after noting he had just spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump about the difference between a “beautiful wall” and a “beautiful fence.”
Orbán pitched his priorities as Hungary first, the Visegrád Group of Central European countries second, and the EU a distant third.
György Schöpflin, a Hungarian MEP, fired a warning shot at the EPP | European parliament audiovisual
He described EU surveillance of Hungary’s adherence to the rule of law as “merely a code name for the federalist aspiration” and accused the European Commission of writing a “pro-immigrant budget” that was perhaps written by his nemesis, George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist. (It wasn’t.)
Orbán then turned his guns on the EPP itself, brutally describing how he would hold it hostage via the threat of forming a “pan-European anti-immigration formation,” if the party dares to kick out Fidesz.
Strength in numbers
Orbán knows the numbers are on his side. And that’s a big problem for the EPP moderates who would like to be rid of him.
Fidesz now contributes 11 members to the EPP group in the European Parliament. That’s nearly half their 25-seat buffer from the second-biggest group, the Socialists and Democrats.
Unlike the rest of the EPP, whose members both publicly and privately admit they expect to lose seats in the 2019 election, Fidesz expects to do even better at the polls next year. They are aiming for 12 seats in a Parliament that will be reduced from 751 seats to 705 due to the U.K. leaving the EU.
In other words: Fidesz’s share of EPP MEPs will likely rise, explaining why Orbán feels able to adopt a tone of “you need me” rather than “please keep me.”
Unfortunately for Orbán’s opponents, it gets worse.
“Better to keep them in so we can talk to them directly. He always listens at a certain point. He runs off and has to be told to stop, but he usually does” — An EPP MEP
Fidesz also acts as a rallying point for other right-wing parties in Central and Eastern Europe. And several MEPs from countries neighboring Hungary — from parties such as Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania — appeal to an ethnic Hungarian base and work closely with Fidesz.
Throwing out Fidesz could eventually mean the EPP losing about 20 MEPs.
Not only that, expulsion could push Orbán into the arms of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, or indeed Italy’s populist government.
György Schöpflin, speaking on behalf of the Fidesz delegation of MEPs, fired a loud warning shot in this regard.
“If expelled, Fidesz owes the EPP nothing,” Schopflin said. “I really hope they know what they’re doing. Fidesz could cause devastation outside the EPP,” he said, leading to a group of 150-200 “Eurocritical” MEPs.
The upsides of Fidesz remaining in the EPP are significant for the party.
Orbán and his MEP delegation could act as a bridge to MEPs from small parties to the EPP’s right if, as expected, the main pro-EU centrist parties fail to keep their absolute majority.
It also suits Orbán for Poland to be cast as Brussels’ No. 1 problem child. That position is much easier to maintain if he remains inside the EPP.
All of this explains why Manfred Weber, the EPP’s leader in the European Parliament and a contender for European Commission president in 2019, is building a track record of looking beyond Orbán’s difficult behavior.
Manfred Weber, the EPP leader in the European Parliament | Andy Rain/EPA
He sees a union that is already fracturing along too many political and policy lines, and said he believes that the Continent’s biggest party cannot fall into the same trap.
“It is time to bring Europe together and not to divide it. This is the only way we can be successful,” Weber told POLITICO.
Some EPP members also believe keeping Orbán and Fidesz inside the tent stops him from becoming more extreme.
“Better to keep them in so we can talk to them directly. He always listens at a certain point. He runs off and has to be told to stop, but he usually does,” said another senior European People’s Party MEP.
Siegfried Muresan, an MEP who serves as the EPP’s spokesperson | European Parliament audiovisual
The expulsion campaign is likely to fizzle in the coming months as the 2019 election focuses minds on what really worries voters: terrorism, youth unemployment and immigration (rather than political dealings in Hungary), according to a recent 27,600-person survey commissioned by the EU.
Even the anti-Orbán Dutch CDA party couldn’t muster the energy to fight him at an annual Europe policy gathering in late June: Michel Barnier and Brexit topped the agenda instead.
Even so, party officials say that doesn’t mean Fidesz has a free pass.
“We are going to expect Fidesz to respect the rules of the game” said Siegfried Muresan, an MEP who serves as the EPP’s spokesperson. “I think the elections of 2019 are going to be a test for that. The rules of the game and the red lines will be much clearer in an election.”
Naomi O’Leary contributed reporting.