Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to leave the European People’s Party (EPP) if new regulations aimed at finally excluding Fidesz are put to a vote.
Last week EPP group leaders took a step towards new rules that would allow the group to penalize an entire member party, rather than just a single MEP, and by a simple majority. The rules are expected to be approved by the required two-thirds majority at a group meeting on March 3.
Critics of Fidesz within the EPP are confident that once these rules are in place, the EPP group will vote to suspend the 11-strong Hungarian faction. Fidesz MPs will not be allowed to vote as Hungary’s rightwing party's membership has been suspended since March 2019.
The approval of the internal regulation could end the long feud between EPP and Fidesz over democratic norms. Up until now Hungary’s ruling party has escaped from being thrown out of EPP because of support from Germany's ruling CDU/CSU. Flourishing economic ties and massive subsidies to German companies have improved Orban’s position even as he had been the subject of targeted criticism from Berlin for dismantling democratic norms. But Hungarian analysts have predicted that the looming leadership change in the CDU with the retirement of Chancellor Angela Merkel will impact on how Hungary's ruling party is treated in the EPP.
Family Minister Katalin Novak published the prime minister's letter to Weber on Facebook on Sunday. Orban has previously proposed a new kind of looser cooperation to EPP fraction leader Manfred Weber, but instead of going along with that, the group is planning to rewrite the internal rules retroactively to make it easier to exclude Fidesz.
"This is unacceptable. Our definition of rule of law cannot accept retroactive rules”, Orban wrote, calling the move "legally questionable".
"If Fidesz is not welcome, we do not feel compelled to stay in the group," he wrote.
Since Fidesz’ membership has been suspended, Hungary’s illiberal leader has explored alliances with parties further to the right of the EPP, which are more closely aligned with his anti-immigrant policies, though he hasn’t made any formal moves. One option would be the Identity and Democracy grouping, with includes France's National Rally led by Marine Le Pen and Italy's Northern League led by Matteo Salvini; another would be the European Conservatives and Reformists, which includes Poland's Law and Justice led by Jaroslav Kaczynski and the post-fascist Brothers of Italy.
The EPP group would remain the biggest faction even without Fidesz. The conservatives currently have 187 members, followed by the social democrats with 145, out of a total of 705 in the parliament.