Budapest, Hungary – Viktor Orbán may have been an exceptionally successful politician over the decade or so, but some of his recent decisions have misfired badly.
The problems started more than two years ago when his foreign policy strategy collapsed as a result of his incorrect read of the political mood of Europe. Perhaps because of his domestic successes, he wrongly assumed a sharp turn to the right, which would dramatically alter the composition of the European Parliament in favor of his ideological comrades. Instead, the liberals and the greens gained unexpected strength at the expense of the right-of-center European People’s Party (EPP), to which the Fidesz delegation belonged.
Orbán’s second mistake was that, in hope of a far-right surge, he began a series of provocations against the powerful EPP, which until then had offered Europe’s enfant terrible and his party much needed protection. After several years of insults, the day of reckoning finally arrived. If Orbán hadn’t left EPP on his own, EPP would have expelled the Fidesz delegation. Orbán most likely made the decision for Fidesz to leave EPP unilaterally, because by now the party exists only as the political instrument of its chairman.
Future of Fidesz at the EU level hangs in the balance
I suspect that in the last few years Orbán was convinced that, in the event that his party left EPP, the relatively large Fidesz delegation would be an attractive addition to one of the right or far-right EP groupings. Some observers even feared that Orbán, the political magician, would be able to convince the parties that make up the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) and Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) to join hands and create a large far-right group. This scenario, it seems, was foiled in the last few days.
Two weeks ago, high-level Fidesz politicians informed Magyar Nemzet that “the question is not what will happen but when a new group that will include the Italian Liga and the Polish PiS in addition to the Hungarians” will emerge. In that case, the newspaper’s Fidesz informer speculated, it is possible that EPP, instead of moving toward the left and the liberals, will actually return to its former Christian democratic roots and will be “an ally of the new group created with Fidesz’s participation.”
It looks as if this optimistic interpretation of the Fidesz delegation’s future was premature because Katalin Novák, deputy chairman of Fidesz, gave an interview this week to the Belgian Flemish-language public television station in which she said that cooperation with Matteo Salvini’s Liga and the Polish PiS “doesn’t necessarily mean a new structure or a new delegation.” She insisted that Fidesz “is interested in action and answers.” The cooperation among the Italians, the Poles, and the Hungarians will be some kind of “movement.”
Perhaps to counterbalance this bad news, Magyar Nemzet decided to publish an interview with Matteo Salvini in Rome titled “We would like to lay the foundations for the Europe of the future.” But this interview only reinforced the supposition that Salvini and perhaps Orbán have not been able to convince some of their comrades about the value of such a new delegation.
The price of independence
So, Fidesz MEPs will be sitting among 39 independent members, who include the communists, the neo-Nazis, three Catalan politicians in exile, and a representative of Die PARTEI, a joke party, something like Hungary’s Two-tailed Dog Party. As “EUrológus” said, this is the price of independence.
Despite the fact that the Fidesz EP delegation remains homeless, cooperation between the Polish and the Hungarian delegations has already begun. The two groups accused Sophie in ‘t Veld, a member of the LIBE committee that is holding hearings on Polish, Hungarian and Slovenian affairs, of a witch hunt against their countries. They claim that the “European left uses the rule of law conditionality for the punishment of national governments.” But EU politicians have already heard this complaint multiple times. Issuing such communiqués will not be effective against the growing opposition to rogue states like Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia.
As for the European People’s Party, despite Orbán’s hope of sowing discord within EPP, with perhaps several of his allies following him, EPP remained intact; not even the Slovenian delegation was ready to accompany Orbán into the wilderness. Moreover, once EPP no longer had to cope with, and explain away, the presence of Fidesz, the Christian Democrats readily joined a grand coalition within the European Parliament. Moreover, as Politico reported on March 23, “a broad coalition consisting of the EPP, SD, Renew Europe, Greens, and the Left now threatens to bring the Commission itself to court over any failure to act” on the “application of the rule of law conditionality.”
Rule of law debate drags on
Naturally, it is to Poland’s and Hungary’s advantage to postpone the implementation of the law, and therefore they waited until the last minute to file their brief with the European Court of Justice challenging the constitutionality of the rule of law conditionality. As we know, the ECJ has an incredibly heavy caseload, and normally it takes years before the court delivers a verdict. As a result, Viktor Orbán hopes that he will have years, but definitely until after the 2022 national election, before Hungary has to face the consequences of the law.
This delay is what the European Parliament wants to prevent. Yesterday, an overwhelming majority of the European Parliament (529 to 148) accepted a resolution warning member states that if they don’t honor the rule of law they endanger the budget of the European Union. At the same time, the MEPs apprised the European Commission that if they don’t do their utmost to safeguard the financial interests and values of the Union, “the European Parliament will consider it a negligence which according to the appropriate article of the European Constitution must be followed by official procedure,” meaning there will be legal consequences. The resolution even gave a deadline of June 1 for the implementation of the law.
All in all, Viktor Orbán’s situation in the European Union is anything but enviable. With pressure from the EU and the alarming COVID-19 statistics at home, Orbán is facing the possibility of an early retirement.
By the Hungarian Spectrum, a Kafkadesk partner.