Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) in Warsaw on Tuesday (8 January) amid growing speculation that his Fidesz party plans to leave the EPP.
Tuesday’s talks between the Polish and Hungarian leaders were intended to discuss the “joint activities of both parties in European politics and the issue of cooperation in the context of the conference on the future of Europe”, the Polish right-wing party, part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group in the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
Dziś odbyło się spotkanie Szefa @Fideszmpsz Viktora Orbana z Prezesem #PiS J. #Kaczyński oraz Premierem @MorawieckiM. Omawiano wspólne działania naszych partii w polityce europejskiej oraz kwestię współpracy w kontekście konferencji o przyszłości Europy. pic.twitter.com/4bP12AI7ww
— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) January 7, 2020
The Conference on the Future of Europe, announced in late 2019 by the new EU leadership, is meant to task the EU’s three main institutions to draft new legislation and propose changes to the EU treaties.
Both, Hungary and Poland, together with Visegrad partners Czech Republic and Slovakia, had been at odds with outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his team, especially over how to manage migration into the bloc as well as the two countries’ stance on rule of law issues, media freedom and judicial independence.
After the talks, Orbán shared a photo of Tuesday’s Warsaw meeting on Facebook, with the comment in Hungarian: “Together we are strength, apart — weakness.”
Although no further details has been communicated regarding other topics discussed, the meeting comes at a time of speculation about Fidesz’s future in the European People’s Party (EPP) and its potential search for a new political home.
In March 2019, the EPP suspended Fidesz over alleged violations of EU rule-of-law principles, then reaching a compromise solution that allowed the EPP to keep its ‘bad boy’ in and bolster party unity ahead of the European elections in 2019.
Back then, Fidesz agreed to “unilaterally suspend” its EPP membership, which meant the loss of voting rights, the right to propose candidates for posts and abstention from any party meetings, until an ad hoc committees of both parties completes its reports on the matter.
An expert group headed by former EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy is currently examining whether Fidesz has to leave the EPP for good.
With Van Rompuy’s recommendation expected in the next few weeks and following the election of former European Council President Donald Tusk as EPP president, expectations about the resolution of the stalemate between EPP and Fidesz are rising.
According to Hungarian left-wing daily Népszava, the recommendation of the “wise men” committee is ‘already on Tusk’s desk’.
With that, it is likely that a decision might be taken during the EPP political assembly planned for early February, where the EPP could face three options: An extension to the party’s suspension, a postponement of the decision for another few months, or expulsion/voluntary exit from the group.
The ECR party leadership has so far presented itself as open for cooperation.
Asked by EURACTIV in late 2018 whether he would like to see Orbán’s Fidesz party in ECR, leader of the British Conservatives, Geoffrey Van Orden, said he had not personally been in contact with the Hungarian party but “it would be interesting to look at those possibilities”.
However, with the British MEPs set to leave the Parliament when the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, the Polish Law and Justice party, cultivating close ties with Orban’s Fidesz, will be the strongest force in the ECR group and could potentially pursue a closer relationship.
Furthermore, in December, EPP leader Manfred Weber, who as Spitzenkandidat for the 2019 European elections had taken a softer stance on Fidesz, spoke out against Orban’s full return to the EPP family.
“So far, Fidesz and its chairman Viktor Orbán have not used the time to address the criticisms that led us to suspend membership at the time,” Weber then told Germany’s Der Spiegel.
Weber added that “in particular, the current legislation and the future of the Central European University in Budapest are not encouraging. Viktor Orbán has to deliver.”
In an interview with Magyar Nemzet on Saturday (4 January), Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch said the party will decide for itself which European party group it wishes to belong to in future.
“A decision will not be taken about Fidesz, rather the decision will be taken by the party itself,” Deutsch said in the interview with the Hungarian daily, adding that his party had so far not been officially notified about completion of the EPP’s report concerning its membership.
(Edited by Benjamin Fox)