Budapest, Hungary – One of Brussels’ longest-running telenovela is coming to an end. After years of bitter clashes and back-room negotiations, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party on Wednesday left the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament.
Orban’s Fidesz leaves EPP parliamentary group after years of tensions
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced Fidesz’ MEPs will leave the EPP parliamentary group. The decision came after a crucial vote that allows the EPP to suspend and exclude entire delegations, not just individuals members, from its ranks. The new rules were adopted by a wide majority of 148 MEPs in favour, 28 against and four abstentions.
In a letter to Manfred Weber, chairman of the centre-right group in the EU Parliament, Orban said that “the governing body of Fidesz has decided to leave the EPP Group immediately” considering “the amendment to the rules of the EPP Group are clearly a hostile move against Fidesz and our voters.”
The move follows years of indecision and tensions within the EU’s largest parliamentary alliance. Despite suspending Fidesz’ membership in March 2019 for undermining the rule of law and dismantling the system of checks and balances at home, the EPP never went so far as to exclude Orban’s party, which could until recently still count on the support from its German and French allies.
National delegations from Austria, Belgium or the Netherlands, among others, have on the contrary long called for Fidesz to be expelled from the alliance, arguing Orban’s illiberal and authoritarian turn was contrary to the EU’s core democratic values and to the EPP’s principles.
Exclusion procedure to go ahead against Fidesz
Key developments over the past few months, including Orban’s threat to veto the EU’s multi-annual budget and recovery fund over the rule of law conditionality mechanism, appeared to have been the last straw for its remaining allies, primarily Germany’s CDU-CSU.
“The party’s leadership has been informed of the intention of the Fidesz members to leave the EPP Group”, the EPP said in a statement on Wednesday. “Fidesz is now facing an exclusion procedure from the party.”
While the Hungarian government was quick to accuse the EPP of trying to “silence the will of the Hungarian people” and attempted to downplay to impact of the divorce, Fidesz’ departure from the EU’s largest alliance in the European Parliament marks a clear blow to Orban’s party, which loses one of its most powerful platforms to influence decision-making at the EU level and now finds itself in a political “no man’s land”.
While key figures from the European People’s Party welcomed the move in a sometimes triumphant manner, Orban’s decision to quit before being officially forced out highlights, once again, the EPP’s indecisiveness and irresolution.
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What comes next for Fidesz?
While Hungary’s ruling party could decide to remain in a somewhat loose alliance with the EPP, Fidesz MEPs could also join the ranks of other parliamentary groupings, with two obvious alternatives: the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), which includes Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party; or the far-right Identity and Democracy alliance, formed in 2019 around Italy’s Matteo Salvini (Lega), France’s Marine Le Pen (RN) and Germany’s AfD party.
Even without Fidesz delegates, the EPP still remains the largest group in the European Parliament, with 175 MEPs.
Rather than joining pre-existing groupings, PM Orban seems more in favour of building a new pan-European movement. In a statement published on Thursday, he claims that Fidesz’ exit from the EPP “opens up a new perspective in European politics.”
“Our task is clear,” he continues. “Now – without the EPP – we must build a European democratic right that offers a home to European citizens who do not want migrants, who do not want multiculturalism, who have not descended into LGBTQ lunacy, who defend Europe’s Christian traditions, who respect the sovereignty of nations, and who see their nations not as part of their past, but as part of their future.”
How this will translate in EU power dynamics remains to be seen.