Socialists and liberals are crying wolf about centre-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán because they want to cover up problems in their own political families, a European People’s Party (EPP) source told EURACTIV.com, in an indication that jockeying for positions ahead of 2019 European elections had truly begun.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the EPP source noted that expelling a party member [as some would like to do Orbán’s party] requires a specific process to be followed.
According to the Article 9 of the EPP statute, the suspension and the exclusion of a member may only be decided by the Political Assembly, which is not obliged to disclose its reasons.
“A proposal for the exclusion of a member may only be submitted by the Presidency, or seven ordinary or associated member parties from five different countries,” the statute reads. The Political Assembly meets every 6 months behind closed doors.
Several EPP politicians feel uncomfortable sitting at the same centre-right table with Orbán.
So far, Greece’s opposition New Democracy has publicly supported the activation of Article 7, as have Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP party) and the Scandinavian member parties.
However, some conservative politicians, such as Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, openly back Orbán.
“They must send a letter to the Presidency and make an official request. Then the request goes to the Political Assembly and we have a vote”. The source added: “We have received no letter so far.”
EURACTIV has learnt that the EPP will put to vote a resolution “on the party’s values” at its next party Congress on 7 November in Helsinki. The move is intended to be a reminder to those members who cross the party’s lines.
“Till then, our parties have the time to discuss the text, exchange views and approve it.”
“We are not turning a blind eye on Orbán but seriously, see what’s happening in the other parties,” the source added.
S&D ‘hypocrisy’ about Romania
The EPP source referred to the case of “golden passports” and alleged money laundering in Malta, led by a socialist government. But what EPP found more disturbing was the S&D “hypocrisy” about the situation in Romania.
In Romania, the socialist government has attempted to change the country’s anti-corruption laws and provide a shield from prosecution for politicians. It has also organised a referendum that aims to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. These moves have triggered strong reactions and protests across the country.
Earlier this week, Romania’s socialist Prime Minister Dăncilă came under fire by S&D MEPs who put pressure on her to stick to the party’s progressive values.
The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe for constitutional law, will soon review the situation with the anti-corruption laws in Romania.
EURACTIV has been told that if the Venice Commission finds there is a violation, several S&D MEPs are ready to support a European Parliament resolution about a possible activation of Article 7 against Bucharest.
But PES, the Party of European Socialists, led by Sergei Stanishev, reportedly backs the Romanian socialists no matter what.
EURACTIV asked S&D-President Udo Bullmann if the group is considering an EU Parliament resolution against Romania.
“Our Group is and will be at the forefront of the fight for democracy and rule of law in Europe. We have had an open and frank discussion with the prime minister of Romania this week, including critical issues regarding developments in her country,” the German S&D chief said.
He explained that in the discussion, it was made very clear that the group was not shying away from any critical topic, regardless of the country.
“So far, to our knowledge, no EU or independent institution has raised the issue of Article 7 regarding Romania.”
“The Venice Commission is currently looking at the case. We consider it only sound and fair to await the results of this investigation before drawing further conclusions,” Bullman emphasised.
‘Kiss Tsipras hand’
The EPP source also noted that little attention is being paid to the moves of Bullmann, who, in his words, has “opened the door” to the extreme-left.
“He recently went to Athens to kiss the hand of Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras,” the EPP source said.
Leftist Tsipras, whose party is affiliated with GUE-NGL, has cultivated strong bonds with some major socialist parties across Europe and is always invited as an observer at PES pre-summits.
The EU socialists, the leftists and the Greens have come closer following the collapse of the grand coalition and there is an ongoing discussion to form a “progressive coalition”.
According to Syriza MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis, the objective is to block the EPP’s right wing-far right entente by forming a pro-EU coalition from “Macron to Tsipras”.
Verhofstadt ‘blinded by numbers’
The EPP source lashed out against Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European liberals and democrats (ALDE), as well as French President Emmanuel Macron.
“He [Verhofstadt] goes with the wind, he is blinded by numbers,” the EPP source said, suggesting that the ALDE leader is ready for any compromise to increase the size of his group.
Verhofstadt wants to collaborate with Macron’s La République en Marche party ahead of the EU election in May.
Currently, Macron has no political group in the European Parliament and has publicly opposed the Spitzenkandidaten process, which is supported by the EPP and was applied in the last EU election.
Macron, though, backed the idea of transnational lists, which the EPP rejected.
“In the last election, Verhofstadt backed the Spitzenkandidaten process without transnational lists […] now he opposes it because there are no transnational lists but sorry, this is opportunistic”, the EPP source emphasised.
Another proof of political opportunism, according to the source, was Verhofstadt’s initial attempt to collaborate with Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement. “His moves tend to split ALDE,” the source said.
The election of EPP’s Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament was reportedly the result of a last-minute deal between Verhofstadt and EPP group leader Manfred Weber, who recently announced his candidature for the Presidency of the EU Commission.
In addition, Verhofstadt’s attempt to approach the 5-Star Movement was made weeks before he ultimately allied with the EPP.
Regarding Macron, the EPP source said the French president would go for the Spitzenkandidaten process if he had a political group in the European Parliament.
“With his non-participation in the democratic debate ahead of the election, he disqualifies France from having an EU high-level post,” the source said.
Macron has said he wants to create a “progressive coalition” in the next EU Parliament and analysts expect he is able to attract members from the EPP and S&D.