Time for EPP to kick out Viktor Orbán, Politico
Petri Sarvamaa is an MEP for Finland’s National Coalition Party, part of the European People’s Party and the Budgetary Control Committee rapporteur for the rule of law mechanism.
Most of us agree that the European project is based on the principle of rule of law. We recognize that it is a prerequisite for democracy, stability and prosperity, and we know that, if we don’t defend it, the EU loses its credibility.
And yet for years we have watched as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has dismantled his country’s democracy and jeopardized European values from within the safety of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament.
His behavior has caused a rift in the group, which decided nearly a year ago to suspend his Fidesz party even while allowing its MEPs to remain part of the EPP in the Parliament. The party remains suspended, even as a three-man committee concluded its study on the situation in Hungary.
This limbo must end. Fidesz has become a corrupt, nationalistic, populist party under the control of a strongman. We can no longer stand behind them in good conscience and have to move quickly to kick them out.
Rather than revamping his agenda according to EPP values, Orbán has moved even further away from the group and shown no remorse.
To be sure, it will not be an easy decision. Many had hoped the party would change course and return to the fold. Indeed, Orbán was given plenty of opportunities to do so.
Instead, the route the Hungarian prime minister has chosen leaves the EPP no choice. Rather than revamping his agenda according to EPP values, he has moved even further away from the group and shown no remorse. If Fidesz were to remain a member of the EPP, we would be legitimizing Orbán’s dismantling of Hungarian democracy.
The prime minister and his party have devastated liberal democracy in Hungary over the last decade. His government has successfully destroyed the independence of the judiciary and changed electoral laws to their favor. It has dismantled the country’s independent media, by bringing TV stations and newspapers under the control of Orbán’s allies.
The Hungarian leader has used EU taxpayers’ money to consolidate his increasingly authoritarian regime, using agricultural subsidies as a patronage system that enriches his friends and family, protects his political interests and punishes his rivals. His nation-wide billboard campaign last year attacking George Soros and former European Commission President, and EPP colleague, Jean-Claude Juncker adds insult to injury.
For some time now, a number of EPP leaders have emphasized that those who do not believe in our common values and ideas for the future of Europe should not belong to the group. Last year, for example, the EPP group voted with a vast majority in favor of a new rule of law mechanism that would tie the distribution of EU funds to adherence to the rule of law.
It is high time to live up to these words. Under Orbán’s leadership, Fidesz has drifted too far from the core of what the EPP stands for.
Even as the EPP meets for its next political assembly, Orbán is expected to be sharing a stage in Italy with far-right figures like Matteo Salvini and Marion Maréchal. He has also praised U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for their policies.
At the end of the day, this is not about Hungary, Orbán or Fidesz. Taking a clear stance that we won’t stand for someone running roughshod over our values sends an important message to the rest of Europe too. There are plenty of MEPs in other political groups — whether on the left or the right — who undermine core EU values.
The EPP must realize that a shared commitment to democracy and the rule of law is far more important than concerns over how votes will be divided between political groups if a member leaves the group.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t keep Fidesz as a member of the group and also lecture others about the importance of European values. If we want to be on the right side of history, we can no longer afford to compromise with an increasingly authoritarian strongman.
Published in Politico, 29th of January 2020.