Alexander Stubb, one of the EPP’s candidates for the next European Commission president, came out in defiance against the ‘illiberal’ factions within his party on Wednesday (17 October), saying he had zero tolerance for violations of fundamental party values.
In the opening speech of his campaign programme in Brussels, Stubb made clear that the European People’s Party is a “pro-European” party and should make a stand against illiberalism in society.
Responding to a question about what steps the EPP should take to address the issue of the Hungarian ruling party Fidesz’s ‘illiberal’ agenda, Stubb said he had a “zero tolerance” approach to rejections of what he referred to as the “values of EPP.”
Fidesz has been accused of attacks against the media, harassment of NGOs and a hardline approach to migration, which has led to a debate in the European Parliament on whether it was breaching EU law, and a vote that endorsed starting the punitive procedures under Article 7.
Stubb, the former prime minister of Finland, proposed two possible ways of dealing with Fidesz, both short of expelling the party outright.
If Fidesz continues to breach EU law, he suggested that the party’s EPP membership could be suspended, or, that the EPP should solicit a declaration from Fidesz that they will commit to the values of the party.
To suspend or not to suspend?
The matter is being discussed in detail during Wednesday’s EPP summit, which brought together the current EPP heads of states and government from across the continent, including Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán himself, together with the presidents of the Council and the European Parliament, Donald Tusk and Antonio Tajani.
“I have always been a friend of Orbán and I have always defended him,” EPP President Joseph Saul said in a separate press conference. “But I also have to defend human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, which are the sacred values of our party,” he added.
The EPP plenary will vote on a resolution today on the respect of these values, but no request for a Fidesz suspension has been filed to the secretariat as yet, and there were no indications that it might happen.
A formal request from seven national parties from at least five countries is needed to expel or suspend Orban’s party under EPP statute.
“There are more important issues than the suspension of Fidesz to discuss, like Brexit, migration and the next EU budget for instance,” Tajani said on entering the EPP summit.
Stubb played up European values as the driving forces of his political campaign, saying “without them, we actually have nothing.”
“The attack on values is very dangerous in the sense that if you start walking along the path of illiberalism, it would be very difficult to come back,” he added.
Speaking on the ever-growing threats of populism against liberal democracy across the continent, Stubb added:
“I’m sick and tired of politicians that incite fear and insecurities. It’s much more difficult to find hope and look for solutions.”
The EPP is due to pick its candidate for the next commission president at the party’s Helsinki summit in early November.
Stubb is standing against German MEP Manfred Weber, who is regarded as a more conservative candidate. Both have received the required nominations from their home parties and have also obtained support from two other EPP member parties.
“They represent a new political generation that will bring a new vision to Europe,” Joseph Daul said.
The EPP confirmed again its commitment to following the Spitzenkandidaten process to elect the party’s candidate for the European Commission.
“We’ve been the pioneers and we want to maintain this process,” said EPP Secretary General Antonio López-Istúriz.