In September 2018, the European Parliament voted to trigger Article 7, which represents the possibility to sanction a member state violating the EU’s principles of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect of human rights. With Viktor Orban enforcing anti-immigration policies at home, MEP’s decided in a close vote that it was the case for sanctions against Hungary, adding fuel to Fidesz’ anti-European Fire.
After Viktor Orbán’s anti-European ‘fake news’ campaign boasting posters featuring the Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian businessman George Soros accompanied by the slogan “You too have the right to know what’s going on in Brussels”, a clear message was given to the European People’s Party and European politicians. Quickly, parties took sides; Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor and former head of the Christian Democratic Union (an EPP founder party) took president Juncker’s side, condemning Orbán’s accusations, causing discontent and uproar in the EPP ranks. Understandably, a historically united pan-European Party cannot have such attacks within its own members be let without reaction.
These events widen the already broad spectrum of values found in the EPP, especially when it comes to the European question and the future path of the European Union. With rather pro-European assemblies such as Austria’s People’s Party, we find disparities even between geographically near movements.
Surely, a sense to the attacks can be found having a closer look at Hungary’s local politics. Viktor Orbán’s attacks stem from the fact that he transformed the European political arena into his own stage, for Fidesz’s local interests. Using Europe to fight political ideas instead of contributing to ideology is what gets Orbán winning at home. Clearly, he found a strategy that works. With it, he differentiates himself from the more classical form of anti-European populism found elsewhere in leading positions of European states, such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini. In fact, Viktor Orban fuels his popularity with the reactions he receives from Fidesz’s European counterparts, turning every stone thrown back at him in potential new votes. This approach put him into power again exactly a year ago, as he won Hungary’s parliamentary elections on April 8th, 2018, applying the same strategy.
Hungary’s attacks on EU leadership and its questioning of the institutions for political campaign purposes led to the suspension of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party’s membership from the European People’s Party group, justified by a deviation in Fidesz’s values from its sister parties’ ones. In the aftermath, it is not surprising to see that Viktor Orban did not express disarray following the EPP’s decision, backed by a landslide of votes (199 delegates voting for Fidesz’s suspension of rights, against only 3 voting against); on the contrary: Orban felt comfortable enough with the decision and approved of it, saying that The European People’s Party has made the right decision, because it showed unity within the EPP. On the other side of the table the decision has been met with approval; Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany’s CDU’s lead, underlines that the decision was taken due to a contrast in values: this suspension gives Fidesz the chance to remove the doubts it had about its approval and support of shared EPP values, as well as future collaboration on the grounds of these values.