An alliance with Europe's far-Right may be on the cards
Today’s breach between Fidesz and the European People’s Party (EPP), Europe’s alliance of moderate conservatives, is dramatic. Rather than see his MEPs ignominiously expelled from EPP’s parliamentary delegation, Viktor Orbán made good on his threat to leave the group. Today Fidesz’s Families Minister announced in an open letter that the party’s MEPs were resigning their EPP membership.
The split is the logical outcome of Orbán’s flouting of EPP party discipline by campaigning alongside leaders of rival (far-) Right parties from other EU states ahead of May 2019’s EP elections and his public denigration of Weber — then EPP’s candidate for Commission President. Shortly after, in September 2019, he antagonised the group further by saying at a meeting of the ‘post-fascist’ Fratelli d’Italia party in Rome that he stood ‘a little to the Right’ of its leader Giorgia Meloni.
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Following Fidesz’s exit, will the EPP now take more assertive steps in tackling the Hungarian Party’s challenge to EU norms? This looks unlikely in the short term. EPP’s centre of gravity, for now at least, remains in Germany’s governing CDU-CSU alliance. Close commercial links between the two countries means that Berlin has strong financial incentives to continue appeasing Fidesz or, as the CDU leaders put it euphemistically, to ’maintain a dialogue with Budapest’.
New CDU leader (and Angela Merkel’s likely successor as Federal Chancellor) Armin Laschet is unlikely to adjust this course given his background as Premier of North-Rhine Westphalia: his state has larger capital investment in Hungary than any other in Germany. Unsurprisingly, Laschet’s rise has been warmly welcomed by Fidesz-controlled media in Hungary.
More significant is the question of where Fidesz goes from here. In international circles, Fidesz has attacked Hungary’s Left-liberal parties for entering into an electoral pact with formerly fascist Jobbik but domestically it has taken exactly the opposite approach: berating Jobbik for betraying ‘the national cause’ by joining forces with liberals and socialists.
Which leaves Orbán with two choices: either he can join the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) — home of Polish allies PiS — or a rival group, ID (Identity and Democracy) guided by Marine Le Pen’s radical-Right National Rally (NR).
Alignment with ID was hinted at in 2019 and, less conspicuously, in 2020. On 10 December, Orbán dispatched Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on a lightning tour of meetings with ID party leaders in Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands — all within a day. The tour represented a striking departure from diplomatic protocol because Szijjártó did not meet heads of government, but rather, the heads of opposition parties in their respective countries.
If Fidesz were to join ID, the party would be third largest in terms of MEPs (behind Le Pen’s NR and Salvini’s Lega). But more than that, Orbán could wield disproportionate power in the group because Fidesz — unlike the other ID members — controls a government. For a start this would give the hard Right Euro-party its first seat on the European Council — the body which “brings together EU leaders to set the EU’s political agenda.” Furthermore, if Fidesz joins ID it would bring access to financial resources that only a governing party can unlock.
Fidesz is already expanding its influence in Brussels, by using public money to nearly treble the budget of the SZMPA — which is a ‘party-foundation’ (i.e. a state-funded think tank closely aligned to the political party itself). The increased funding is being used to establish a Brussels operation. With a budget of 4 million euros, SZMPA’s spending power is now ahead of some Euro-parties and has facilitated the purchase of 500+ sq metres of office space in Brussels’ prestigious Schuman Square. For comparison, Renew Europe (the liberal Euro-party) is run on a budget of just 2 million euros out of a 156 sq meter office.
Perhaps, then, Europe’s far-Right is about to join Fidesz rather than visa-versa?