Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has left the European People’s Party. Or the EPP has kicked out bad-boy Orbán. Both narratives are true, choose the one you like. Today we will dwell on the consequences.
The EPP, the most influential political family in the EU, is often criticised, but it also deserves credit for keeping many national party members in line, within some discipline. Free from the EPP straitjacket, Orbán could be a much bigger nuisance for our union.
Together with the EURACTIV colleagues I consulted, we believe Orbán will hit back and wage a geopolitical war against the rest of the EU by attempting to drag the Western Balkans into his civilisational model of illiberal so-called democracy.
In the EU, it is greatly under-reported how much effort Hungary, a relatively small country, has invested in building a sphere of influence in the Balkans. If there is a historical model and inspiration for this, it must be the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Only now Orbán is building his empire on his own, without the Austrians.
And we remember how much Orbán pushed to get a Hungarian Commissioner in charge of enlargement. He would never have got one from von der Leyen if he hadn’t been in the EPP.
In the media sphere of the Western Balkan countries, there is a lot of sympathy and understanding for Orbán’s illiberal positions. Orbán and his close businessmen have also invested a lot in penetrating the media space in this wide region. A key part of their messages is about bashing the EU. Our expectation is that this will now be boosted to the max.
In the Western Balkan countries, Orbán will strengthen those he sees as his allies (Vučić in Serbia is a good example) and seek to replace those he sees as less supportive (such as Zoran Zaev in North Macedonia). We remember how close Orbán is to Zaev’s predecessor, Nikola Gruevski.
Orbán will engage with other geopolitical players – don’t forget his taste for the Turkic Union, or his advances to Russia and China, using other countries’ money to advance his agenda. It will work. Dictators like dictators.
This sounds very much like a nightmarish scenario. What can the EU do to avert it?
Our pessimistic answer is ‘basically nothing’, because enlargement fatigue plus future key elections in member states play into the hands of Orbán and his foreign friends.
The optimistic answer is that the EU will realise the challenge and finally get serious about becoming genuinely credible with its enlargement agenda.
Maybe it’s over-optimistic…
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Views are the author’s