Let me to return to my post of April 12 entitled “Europe fights back: Viktor Orbán may be in real trouble this time.” In it I wrote that according to the reporter of Új Magyar Szó, a Hungarian-language paper in Romania, the caucus of the European People’s Party is seriously thinking about removing Fidesz from the group because the politicians of EPP no longer consider Fidesz a conservative-liberal party with a Christian Democratic program. According to a person close to Viviane Reding, Joseph Daul, the leader of the caucus, Viviane Reding, and Antonio López-Istúriz, secretary-general of EPP, discussed the matter over dinner in Dubrovnik.
Soon enough came the denial. The report from Romania is entirely without foundation, said Kostas Sasmatsoglu, EPP spokesman. Antonio López-Istúriz wasn’t even present at the meeting of the caucus in Dubrovnik. He added that Vivane Reding ” didn’t hold a dinner meeting where the question of the future of Fidesz was discussed.” He added that EPP can hardly wait to welcome Viktor Orbán in Strasbourg.
As soon as I read this communiqué I was struck by the odd sentence about Reding not holding a dinner meeting where the future of Fidesz was on the agenda. Sure, there may have been nothing official, but Daul and Reding might have discussed the question informally. I said at the time that although it is possible that not all the details are correct, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if at the end it turns out that there is something to the story.
Well, it looks as if I was right. The reporter for Új Magyar Szó, Árpád Zsolt Moldován, insists that his story is accurate. Fidesz’s possible departure was not only discussed during dinner but Daul and Reding also had a private meeting about the matter in the afternoon.
Moldován’s source is a member of Reding’s closest circle. The source claims that it was Daul who initiated the talk with Reding. Daul had found out from the Polish group in the caucus that the Fidesz delegation had begun exploratory talks with the EP caucus called the Alliance of European Reformers and Conservatives (AERC). Who are they? The caucus was formed in 2009 from EP members of parliament who are on the whole Euro-skeptic and farther to the right than EPP. To give you an idea of the composition of the group, the largest contingent comes from the British Conservative Party, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists (26 members) followed by 9 Občanská demokratická strana (Civic Democratic Party) members from the Czech Republic and 6 members of Kaczyński’s party (PiS) and 5 members of the Polska Jest Najważniejsza (Poland Comes First). Daul was told that Viktor Orbán had met Jarosław Kaczyński just the other day. The suspicion was that the talk might have had something to do with Fidesz’s decision to look around for a caucus where they might feel more at home.
If Fidesz leaves on its own or is expelled, the EPP caucus, the largest in the European Parliament, will lose 17 members. Certainly the leaders of the EPP delegation are not happy about such an eventuality, but “at least then the situation would be clearer.”
Moldován’s source emphasized that nothing has been decided yet, but the number of those who are worried about developments in Hungary is growing. He claimed that the delegation membership is split right down the middle. Fifty percent support Fidesz while the other half are against Viktor Orbán’s policies. But in EPP as a whole–that would include members of the commission and other officials of the Brussels bureaucracy–the percentage of those who oppose Fidesz’s membership in EPP is 70%. And their numbers are steadily growing. More and more people question Orbán’s honesty and reliability. But “it will be Wilfried Martens, the president of EPP, who will make the final decision.”
My hunch is that Fidesz’s position within the EPP delegation is not in imminent danger. I think he could still get at least a slight majority of the members to side with him. But he is preparing for the eventuality that perhaps that slight majority will evaporate in the next few weeks, and he wants the decision to be his whether he stays or leaves the Christian Democrats and joins the Euro-skeptics where he actually belongs.
What I also find fascinating is that according to the insider’s information it was the Polish delegation that warned most likely Daul about the exploratory talks between Fidesz and the leadership of the AERC. You may recall that right after he became prime minister Viktor Orbán’s first foreign trip was to Warsaw. He had grandiose plans for a north-south axis of like-minded East-Central European States from the Baltic to the Adriatic. He made several overtures to Donald Tusk, whom he was certain would be an ally. But Orbán received a cold shoulder from Tusk. Tusk is a whole-hearted supporter of the European Union and envisages Poland’s future in close cooperation with its western neighbor Germany. Thus, although Orbán made at least two trips to Warsaw, Tusk failed to return the visits. Presumably he keeps away from Orbán, at least in part, because he realizes that Orbán’s policies are leading him farther and farther away from Europe. Perhaps the Polish Christian Democrats’ “helpful” information was intended to speed up the “divorce” process. After all, if Fidesz joins AERC at least he will be with his true Polish friends in the PiS. From there on Tusk doesn’t even have to pretend.