Is it a symbiosis for the EPP and Orban’s Fidesz?

While not everybody from the EPP is in Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s camp the leadership of the EPP rarely criticizes Orban. Will Orban stay largely untouchable, is this more about how skillful he is or perhaps the EPP does not care much, or is it basically both? Read few comments.

EPP President Joseph Daul tweeted support for Hungarian PM Viktor Orban. Credit: http://www.epp.eu

Edit Zgut, Foreign Policy Analyst, Political Capital Policy Research & Consulting Institute

Germany’s governing CDU/CSU party is Fidesz’s ally in the EPP, and they provided a protective umbrella to Fidesz.  As long as the CDU-CSU delegation is tolerating Fidesz’s behavior, Orbán does not have to worry about political consequence (i. e. that they will be expelled from the EPP caucus.) Although Berlin has repeatedly voiced its concerns, it has refrained from intense, open criticism and diplomatic offensives. There are two basic reasons: 1. German actors are fundamentally interested in political and economic stability in the region. From the German industrial perspective, Hungary currently seems to be stable. 2. Fidesz gives 12 MEPs for the caucus, therefore important for securing the EPP’s majority in the EP. State corruption, however is a huge concern and it was also telling that Ingeborg Grassle, chair of Committee on Budgetary Control in the European Parliament has criticized the Hungarian government with regards to corruption and claimed an investigation about Elios-case (which is related to Orban’s son in law who became the symbol of organized crime.)

But for the moment I assume that Manfred Weber’s recent support for Orbán before the Hungarian elections foreshadows that the German delegation within the EPP would continue to stand up for Fidesz in debates about the rule of law. Meanwhile, another German MEP from Fidesz-ally CDU Michael Gahler harshly criticised the pro-Russian policy of Viktor Orbán, but at the same time he added that he is hoping Fidesz would win the general election regardless, claiming that the conservative EP-coalition does not want to see Fidesz MEPs leave their ranks despite growing tensions. But it remains to be seen how the EPP would respond if Fidesz would took “moral, political and legal compensation” for the attacks on the government and restrict civil society and the rest of the independent media after the general election. (As it has been promised by Orbán on 15th March).

Cas MuddeAssociate Professor, Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia

For years I have been thinking that it was a combination of Orbán’s skillful manipulations and the EPP’s opportunism. But given the recent shifts to the right of many EPP members, and the outright support despite three years of open radical right campaigning by Orbán, I believe that they no longer care. They see him as most Republicans see Trump: too rough on the edges, but in essence correct on analyses and policies.

Bartek Pytlas, Assistant Professor, Chair of Political Systems and European Integration, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

The Fidesz government is indeed more tactical and Janus-faced in its challenge to EU values and principles than for example the Law and Justice government in Poland. Fidesz is using anti-Brussels and radical right rhetoric on national level, and at the same time stays largely loyal to the EPP on EU level. Furthermore, unlike in the case of Law and Justice, the dismantling of checks and balances in Hungary proceeds in more insidious, formally constitutional steps.

Nonetheless, it is very unlikely that EPP leadership is merely deceived and unaware of the challenges to European values and pluralist democratic principles by the Fidesz government, particularly as journalists, scholars and international bodies continuously bring these concerns to attention.

Instead, as recently noted by Prof. R. Daniel Kelemen among other scholars, the reluctance of the EPP to criticize the Fidesz government, or sometimes even the explicit endorsement of Viktor Orbán by EPP leaders can rather be explained by partisan politics. Fidesz loyally provides the EPP with political support and seats in the EP, contributing to the dominant power position of its party group in EU institutions.

This opportunistic stance of an established European party group vis-a-vis some of its own members is not limited to the EPP, but is particularly palpable in the case of Fidesz.

It remains to be seen how the EPP will react in the future. Should Fidesz continue to move Hungary in an authoritarian direction, it might become increasingly hard for the EPP to turn a blind eye on Viktor Orbán’s actions. Yet, current reactions suggest rather that Viktor Orbán will probably remain untouchable unless Fidesz membership will become a political burden for the EPP, for example because of electoral losses or internal party group instability.

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