Hungary’s Fidesz remains a major headache for the European People’s Party (EPP). The erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and scandals within the EPP have further strained the already tense relations between Orbán’s Fidesz and the rest of the group. An exclusion remains within the realms of possibility, but new EPP rules of procedure could further complicate this process.
The confirmed withdrawal of Klubrádio’s broadcasting license this week, the last radio station critical of the government, joins a long list of harassments Prime Minister Orbán has been carrying out against press’ freedom since he took office in 2010. This latest blow for the rule of law also caused international outrage. EPP Group MEPs, like Austrian Othmar Karas, linked the protests against the radio station’s withdrawal with a renewed call for Fidesz to be expelled from the EPP group.
Fidesz’s anti-EU rhetoric and violations of the rule of law in Hungary have caused rumblings within the EPP for a long time, although it has escaped any severe sanctions so far. Even Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch, whose outrageous comments linked EPP parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber to the Gestapo and the secret service in Stalinist Hungary, was not enough to exclude him from the group.
According to its internal rules, it would take a two-thirds majority to complete an exclusion from the group, which has 187 members. Previously launched procedures against Fidesz members have also failed as most members from countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and France have opposed them.
Meanwhile, EPP MEPs are continuing to discuss how to reorganise exclusion proceedings of delegations and members in the future. As early as next month, a dedicated taskforce is set to bring a vote on establishing new exclusion rules. The new rules currently on the table provide that 15% of EPP members, spread over at least four delegations, could already initiate an exclusion procedure. The proposal would replace the now needed two-thirds majority with an easier attainable need for an absolute majority. The proposed rules do not provide for the suspension of an entire delegation but allow sanctions to be imposed on individual EPP members. Suspended members would not be able to attend EPP meetings or internal elections, nor would they be considered for official parliamentary functions.
The new rules would, however, also mean that while potentially suspended Fidesz members would not participate in most EPP activities they would remain a part of it, allowing the EPP to benefit from Fidesz membership advantages such as higher financing and, more importantly, speaking time in the parliament.
There are many reasons for the reluctance of the majority of the EPP to cast Fidesz out, including the fact that Fidesz’s twelve MEPs protect the EPP’s majority in the in the European Parliament. Economic interests in Hungary for certain member states might also play a not unimportant part in the equation. Other controversial EPP members, such as the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, who lately attracted attention for his attacks on freedom of the press, will certainly not have missed the EPP’s conciliatory approach and could cause further friction within the Group in the future.