In the latest chapter of the protracted farce between Orbán vs EPP, Orbán is now really pissed off.
EPP, the biggest party family in the European Parliament (EP), has been in labor for years, trying to give birth to a solution to the problem called Orbán. No one is holding their breath about the result. It has been a long and farcical story in which Orbán always gets what he wants and EPP always cowers.
It was cozy for Orbán to be in the largest party family because that is where power is brokered. And the rest of the parties in EPP were split between those who adored Orbán for leaving his tiny paw prints on the demolition of the EU from the inside out, as Putin’s Trojan horse, and those who adored power even more than they were embarrassed that Orbán does it so unashamedly.
As a result, EPP has been tolerating Orbán as hard as they could. Just look at the career of Manfred Weber, taking a blow for believing Orbán one too many times.
It’s a bit like Trump and the Republican party. Except that the EPP would still remain the biggest faction in EP even without Fidesz. But corrupt old farts remain corrupt old farts, even when their supposed principles are openly trampled upon. They are cowering even without the mathematical need to do so. Maybe some of them are also on Putin’s payroll, it is unlikely that Putin never tried to corrupt such a noble bunch. At any rate, Orbán’s party was never removed from the totally noble ranks of EPP.
The Hungarian public has been watching the saga with decreasing interest. At first, when Orbán’s deep desire to stay in EPP became clear, we watched it with attention. Some even looked up what EPP was. After subsequent, toothless attempts to rein Orbán in, however, EPP has lost Hungarians’ interest. It was just yet another body that chose appeasement instead of short-term pain, even though appeasement never works.
The reason behind it is beautifully described by Dalibor Rohac in Foreign Policy:
“The drive to maximize the number of seats in the European Parliament has been made stronger by the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system, under which parties put forward candidates for the European Commission presidency prior to the European election. Whereas it had been previously understood that the commission’s president would be determined by a bargain between member states behind closed doors, the new system, introduced in 2014 to improve transparency, has raised the stakes of European elections by directly tying their results to the control of Europe’s top executive body. In turn, European parties are even more interested in their crude size, at the expense of all other considerations.”
“In principle, there ought to be a political price to pay for European political parties when their members abandon basic democratic principles. Yet, because European politics remains overwhelmingly national, few voters are even aware of the existence of EU-level political parties. Even fewer are willing to punish their national politicians for their associations with autocrats in other EU countries.”
I wonder which justification they went for. There is the excuse that they need to keep him at the table because that somehow re-pacifies him – even though Orbán lost his pretense of being civilized while he was at the table. Then there is the excuse that if Orbán doesn’t do the nazi things, real nazis will do it and they will win the elections – and we don’t want that, do we? This one has worked on Brussels for long, long years. The sweet-sweet lure of keeping the parliamentary majority made both absurd excuses for turning a blind eye to Orbán sound appealing.
The EPP failed to expel Orbán’s party a number of times.
Orbán gently “suspended himself” in March 2019, at least according to his domestic propaganda, but he left a part of his MEPs inside EPP, claiming that the Christianists-democratists are totally a different party, not Fidesz. And the EPP swallowed that with relief like a battered wife swallows that he won’t do it again.
The last time EPP and Orbán clashed was in December 2020. Before the event, Orbán’s foreign minister went on a whirlwind tour to visit all extreme right parties in the EU, probably to signify how serious they are that there is life outside of EPP. Once, again, not much happened, EPP only booted one Orbánist MEP.
And now they are at it again, trying to secure a 2/3 majority to change EPP’s rule to be able to fire a national group, not just individual MEPs. Like that was the problem before.
In the meantime a post-EPP preparations have taken place on Orbán’s end. He is preparing for life outside EPP and in his offended mind he is no doubt seeking revenge and to show them. And he always puts our money where his mouth is.
Since the strife started in 2019, Orbán has pumped a lot of money into his party foundation, comparable to big, European party families. In 2019, Fidesz’ party foundation’s budget went from 1.3 to 4 million euros, all from Hungarian taxpayer money.
This foundation bought a 506 sqm office in Brussels’ Schuman square in January for 2.27 million euros with the agenda to conduct propaganda to sway Brussels.
For comparison, the entire EPP’s party foundation runs on 7 million euros per year – 6 million of that comes from the EP. The social democrats (also Europe-wide, with 68 members, not just one country’s party foundation) work from 4.5 million euros – 95% comes from the EP. The liberal party foundation, ELF (47 members), runs on a 2 million annual budget (and a rented office of only 156 sqm), mostly financed by the EP.
There is no other national party in Europe with its own Brussels office, they are all happy with their party group’s representation.
Orbán seems to be planning to restructure the entire right wing landscape in Europe – much like Trump is defiantly planning to own the Republicans. It is yet to be seen whether Trump and Orbán can permanently damage more than just their own parties. Whether their kicking is just hubris and desperation – or also sufficient to cause large scale destruction that leaves them to be kings of the ashes – as autocrats are.