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Orban - Weber conflict: How Hungarians prepare for European Parliament elections

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

The conflict between the European People’s Party and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the leader of the ruling conservative Fidesz party, has lasted for more than a week
21:37, 12 March 2019

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The European People’s Party is composed of center-right parties from 27 member countries, Fidezs is one of these parties. It takes the majority of places in the European Parliament. Representatives of political forces from the European People's Party occupy high-ranking posts in the EU, such as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker or President of the European Council Donald Tusk. The union has a direct impact on the decisions taken in the EU.

The dissatisfaction of its participants was caused by the information campaign of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban against the EU on the eve of the European Parliament elections.

Posters depicting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros appeared on the streets of Budapest with the text that they allegedly want to introduce mandatory quotas for migrants, weaken the ability to protect the borders of EU member states and facilitate immigration with the introduction of immigration visas.

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In response, the chairman of the European People’s Party’s faction in the European Parliament and a possible candidate for the post of future European Commission President Manfred Weber (German Christian-Social Union) demanded that Orban apologizes, stops the information campaign against the EU, and ensures the work of Central European University in Budapest, which is funded by Soros (the university management decided to transfer activities to Vienna after the ban to issue American diplomas by the Hungarian authorities) if Fidesz wants to be a member of the European People's Party.

Voting on the further membership of Fidesz is scheduled for March 20. President of the European People's Party Joseph Doyle (the French Republicans) condemned Orban’s demarche and stressed that decisions on migration are taken in Brussels collectively by the governments of EU member states, deputies of the European Parliament, among whom there are representatives of Hungary.

According to Doyle, 12 parties from European countries are asked to exclude Fidesz from the European People’s Party. However, it makes no sense for Orban to apologize to anyone, because with the help of an information campaign against Juncker and Soros, he expects to extract political dividends for himself in the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held in May 2019.

Intrigues of Bannon and Orban

Three days after the indignation of European officials, Orban said that he still hopes to reform the European People’s Party, tighten the EU’s migration policy, but does not rule out that the European People’s Party’s meeting on March 20 could end with Fidesz’s exclusion.

 Budapest has long been irritated by the attacks from Brussels, which does not hide its displeasure with the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies in Hungary, and the European People's Party is the direct conductor of the policy of pressure on the Orban regime.

In September 2018, the majority of MEPs from the European People’s Party faction supported the report of the Dutch legislator Judith Sargentini about the violation of the rule of law by the Hungarian authorities, restricting the independence of the judiciary, freedom of speech and press, transparency of the electoral system, and pressure on civil society.

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Populists voted for the application of EU sanctions against Hungary, including the deprivation of the right to vote in the European Council, according to Art. 7 of the Lisbon Treaty. In November 2018, European Council President Donald Tusk accused Orban of promoting xenophobia, antisemitism, undermining liberal democracy, and declared that he was not a Christian Democrat because he opposed respect for the rule of law and the independence of the courts.

It seems that the Hungarian prime minister is looking for new protectors in the European Parliament, and he is counting on assistance from the Polish Euroskeptics. The leader of the ruling Polish conservative party, Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, like Orban, refuses to accept Muslim refugees and sees them as a threat to the security and national identity of the Poles, and has difficult relations with the European Commission.

Law and Justice is not part of the European People’s Party but is represented in the Eurosceptics European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which also includes the Conservative Party of the UK.

Conservatives and reformists give high priority to the relations with the United States and NATO, advocate greater control over migration, oppose European bureaucracy, and put the interests of national governments above the initiatives of supranational EU bodies.

The accession of new parties into the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists is very opportunely since after the UK leaves the European Union, the British conservatives will not influence the decisions of the European Parliament, which will reduce the political weight of this union.

In February 2019, the ultra-right party Brothers of Italy of Georgia Meloni joined the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, and in September 2018, it expressed the intention to join the Movement organization of Italy’s Interior Minister and Northern League, led by Matteo Salvini and American political consultant Steve Bannon, who oversaw the election campaign of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

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Bannon and Salvini want to gather as many European conservative parties as possible in the European Parliament in order to create a counterbalance to the European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, to promote European skeptics to leading positions in the EU and to conduct an integration education reform.

Kaczynski is also apparently familiar with this idea since in January 2019 he discussed the European Parliament elections with Salvini. The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists could be the backbone of the future faction of Eurosceptics in the European Parliament.

Orban also liked Bannon's idea. They met in Budapest in May 2018. No wonder the American political consultant once said that he would gladly make the Hungarian capital the headquarters of his movement. Unlike Juncker and Tusk, Orban is on good terms with Trump.

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The American president supports the rigid migration policy of the Hungarian prime minister and the growing influence of the conservatives in the EU political arena. Trump appointed Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany, and he has similar political views with Bannon.

Grenell is known for his statements in support of European conservatives, criticism of traditional left-wing elites.

An information campaign against the EU in Hungary plays into the hands of Bannon’s Movement, as Orban created a precedent for a split within the most influential political group in the European Parliament, made it clear that conservatives interested in reforming the EU and tightening the migration regime have nothing to do in the ranks of the European People’s Party and need to collaborate with like-minded people.

Meloni believes that the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists will work with all conservatives to push out centrists like French President Emmanuel Macron to the periphery of European politics.

Preparation for elections to the European Parliament

The information campaign against Juncker and Soros and the conflict with the European People’s Party is Orban’s thoughtful PR move to convince the Hungarian society of the need to actively vote in the European Parliament elections for the Fidesz Party, which allegedly is the only political force capable of defending them from the dictates of the EU.

Usually, a low turnout is observed at these elections, and in addition to Fidesz, the second most popular party in Hungary, the ultra-right Jobbik party will also advocate the anti-immigrant positions. Now they occupy three places in the European Parliament (Fidesz has 13 places).

The information campaign of Orban is designed to divert the attention of the Hungarians from the speeches of opposition parties. In December 2018 - January 2019, large protest actions were held in Hungary against the authorities' tightening of labor legislation and an increase in working hours.

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On the eve of the elections to the European Parliament, the Hungarian opposition could again focus public attention on this issue. Orban played on the lead and plunged Hungary into another conflict with Brussels so that Euro-skepticism would grow in the society.

It’s no wonder why Orban chose European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and billionaire George Soros as characters for his play. These figures are not popular among the Hungarians. In May 2015, Juncker half-seriously, half in jest, called Orban a dictator.

In December 2018, a European official accused the Hungarian prime minister of spreading false information. Juncker recently called on Fidesz to leave the European People’s Party. Hungarians do not agree with Juncker’s proposal to resettle 50,000 refugees in European countries during 2019.

The European Commission unsuccessfully seeks the Government of Hungary to accept 1,294 refugees. The image of the enemy around the oligarch Soros was formed by Orban long ago. Orban accuses him of financing the liberal opposition, encouraging migration and the intention to erase the Hungarian identity. During the 2018 election campaign, Fidesz posted similar banners and posters depicting Soros and opposition leaders.

EU Nervous Games

It’s possible that Orban will be blackmailing the European People’s Party with its behavior and hopes to achieve concessions on existing problematic issues. While the Hungarian prime minister was arguing about the possible withdrawal of Fidesz from the European People’s Party, his associates spoke differently.

Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister of Hungary promised to soon replace the provocative posters of Juncker and Soros with posters on plans to increase the birth rate in the country and expressed interest in maintaining participation in the European People's Party.

The Hungarian authorities make it clear to Weber that if Brussels does not interfere in the internal affairs of Budapest and does not focus attention on Hungary’s refusal to accept refugees, Fidesz will not undermine the image of the European People’s Party.

Weber, who has a chance to become the next chairman of the European Commission, does not need a split in the European People's Party, because other populists, such as the Forward Italy party of the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, may follow the example of Orban.

During the last parliamentary elections in Italy, Berlusconi actively collaborated with the parties of Salvini and Meloni, and even worked out the option of creating the right coalition. Following Orban, other conservatives who disagree with the existing EU policy may go with the Eurosceptics faction of the European Popular Party.

It is not surprising that Weber was going to meet with Orban and try to find ways out of the current crisis. It is more profitable for him to ensure that Euroskeptics and populists remain scattered across different factions in the European Parliament and do not try to unite into one, which will become a counterbalance to the traditional elites.

Weber has a more constructive attitude towards Orban than his like-minded Junker. He believes that Orban deserves respect because he effectively protects the external borders of the EU. Last year, Weber supported the proposal of his party member of the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to toughen the fight against illegal migration.

Weber believes that it is necessary to strengthen the protection of the external and internal borders of the EU (which the Hungarian Prime Minister actually does), to organize the departure of migrants who do not have the permanent residence in the EU. The prospect of maintaining Fides participation in the European People's Party depends on whether Orban and Weber can agree.

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