Fidesz and the EPP are now at a crossroads

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Orbán's Fidesz leaves EPP Group. [Shutterstock/focal point]

The European People’s Party (EPP) lacks diversity and vision regarding the Conference on the Future of Europe and unless it rethinks its role in European politics, it will gravitate towards the Left, writes László Trócsányi.

László Trócsányi is a university professor, member of the European Parliament for Fidesz and former Hungarian Minister of Justice. 

Fidesz’s 12 MEPs have decided to leave the European People’s Party, finally ending a long and difficult struggle. The move came after EPP adopted amendments to its internal rules of procedure, allowing the group to limit elected members of the European Parliament from exercising their full range of rights.

idesz MEPs not only deemed these amendments a serious departure from democratic norms but also considered the debate and vote on them untimely and inappropriate given the current pandemic. However, to fully grasp what led to this separation, one must dig deeper.

The past decade turned out to be a turbulent period in the history of the European Union. On the one hand, it has had to face external challenges never seen before, encompassing the economy, security and public health.

On the other hand, it has had to accommodate internal perspectives and narratives that never before had to be considered. Although the EPP, as the intellectual heir of the Christian democratic tradition, has always been at the heart of the European integration process, it increasingly finds it difficult to remain true to its values in the face of external challenges and is increasingly unable to accommodate different perspectives.

Unlike earlier phases of socio-economic prosperity and peace in Western Europe, the last decade was marked by crises, beginning with a protracted economic downturn and followed by the migration crisis and proliferation of terrorist attacks. The growing mistrust surrounding the acceleration of political integration at the expense of member states led to the Brexit vote. And now, we have the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit an unprepared and fragile European Union and continues to pose challenges. Unfortunately, this “decade of crises” has not united Europeans behind the European Union but instead divided them.

Furthermore, Europe has not been in its best shape in the past 30 years. In fact, it has been in decline in terms of demographics, defence spending and its weight in the global economy. Against this backdrop, the last decade was and still is the first major test for the EU, as well as for the EPP; it has also been a period of reflection and constant shifts in European politics — not just for Christian democracy but other movements as well.

Contrary to the title of Remarque’s famous novel, all is now moving on the Western front, and European politics is struggling to find answers to the contemporary challenges of the old continent. There are also disagreements within political families, as the various national delegations belonging to the same political family do not necessarily agree on every policy question or even on the main political directions.

Europe is the land of variety in a geographical and cultural sense, and, accordingly, the national delegations bring their own views, cultural attitudes, mentalities and approach — a diversity that could make European political families a colorful and exciting place for fruitful debates.

Instead, these families face an internal struggle between aspiring to transform the European Union into a federation and following a more pragmatic approach that would favor the interests of nation-states. During the last decade, the EPP’s mainstream has gravitated to the former and now finds it increasingly difficult to remain true to Christian democratic principles as well as accommodate the various narratives within its own political family.

In particular, they ignore the fact that different past experiences and expectations result in Member States viewing integration from completely different perspectives. For Western European countries, European integration was a reaction to the horrors of World War II, and they have since been wary of nation states. For them, the EU has been a success story that has brought peace.

Central European countries, however, lived under one totalitarian regime after another and were ultimately saved by their nation states, leading to a strong attachment to their respective country’s culture, traditions, and identity. For them, integration is far from being a success story as long as it cannot provide nations with the capabilities and leverage necessary to protect themselves.

Unfortunately, since the reunification of Europe, the EPP’s mainstream has struggled to provide a pluralistic platform for inclusive debates. The strength of Europe has always been its diversity. However, the majority of the EPP squandered the opportunity to make use of this, instead favoring a one-sided discourse that willingly compromises with the Left.

The constant threat of using the rule of law mechanism to punish national constitutional systems, even in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, is emblematic of this stance. While Hungary seeks to protect European Christian values, it has come under attack from the Left and increasingly from the majority of the EPP over abstract and ideological values they call “rule of law,” even though those values are detached from the traditions of European nations.

The EPP’s lack of tolerance for diversity has become obvious in the run-up debate to the Conference on the Future of Europe, shown by the striking contrast between the EPP’s position paper and that of the Hungarian Delegation. The former’s majority sees integration through an ideological lens and, like the Left, aspires to build a federation.

In contrast, the Hungarian Delegation favors pragmatism over ideologies and views European integration as a powerful instrument to make nation states — their markets, economies, heritage and traditions — more resilient and prosperous. For them, European cooperation is justified only via its ability to provide benefits to the citizens of Europe and leverage to its member nations.

A perfect example of how these two approaches differ is that while the EPP majority only envisages the role of parliamentarism at the European, supranational level, the Hungarian Delegation wants to give national parliaments an active role in the legislative processes of the EU.

These untenable differences have finally led the Hungarian Delegation to separate from the EPP, which, I think, was unavoidable. However, this is far from the end; instead, it is the beginning of a period of reflection for both.

Unless the EPP rethinks its role in European politics, it will soon entirely dissolve into the Left. On the other hand, Fidesz needs to revive the Christian-democratic tradition and reorganize European politics accordingly. As Ovid said: “Either do not attempt at all, or go through with it.” The mission of Fidesz is now nothing less than to go through with it – all the way.

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