Daul: ‘Orbán is the ‘enfant terrible’ of the EPP family, but I like him’

Joseph Daul [epp group/Flickr]

Joseph Daul, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), spoke to EURACTIV France about Grexit, Brexit and the “enfant terrible” of the EPP, Viktor Orbán. 

Joseph Daul is President of the European People’s Party (EPP). He has been an MEP since 1999 and was head of the EPP group in the European Parliament from 2007 to 2014.

David Cameron, whose party was a member of the EPP group in the European Parliament until 2009, wants to renegotiate of his country’s role within the European Union. What do you think of this?

I saw the British members of the European Parliament leave the EPP group. I talked about it with David Cameron at the time. His current group, the European Conservatives and Reformists, has only 70 members, compared to the EPP’s 221.

I also saw David Cameron ask for “opt-out” after “opt-out”. But he may end up just being “out”! Questions have already been raised in the European Parliament over whether the British MEPs should be allowed to vote on certain issues where the United Kingdom has an opt-out.

Before, the UK was on the front line of all the important European discussions. If you look at the Ukrainian issue today, they have shut themselves out. This is David Cameron’s problem. He is the one that promised the referendum, not Europe.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has also promised a referendum on 5 July, over the question of Greek debt. This adds more and more weight to the possibility of “Grexit”…

Anything is possible with Alexis Tsipras… except negotiating with him. I think the eurozone finance ministers have extraordinary patience. I can’t believe that a politician at this level could fail to think about what would happen to the Greek people if they were to leave the eurozone. It’s unbelievable. I have ever seen such irresponsible behaviour.

The latest polls indicate that 60% of Greeks want to support Tsipras, but 75% want to stay in the euro. Organising a referendum in such circumstances seems impossible to me. But Alexis Tsipras fears he might lose if the referendum is held any later. Grexit is now a 50-50 possibility.

The European Union is also facing an enormous challenge from migration. The EPP has been divided over this issue for several months. How does the EPP want to respond to the issues surrounding migration today?

Immigration really became a major issue this year. The EPP heads of state and government have become very strongly aware of what is really happening, and what might happen. I saw this for the first time at the last European summit.

How would it affect the EU if Syria fell completely into the hands of the jihadists tomorrow and the refugees in Libya had no hope of going home for years to come? Then there is the Ukraine crisis. This country is home to 40 million people, and the situation is deteriorating. Finally, there are the Balkans. If we don’t succeed in stabilising this region, the young generation will not be able to stay there. And this is all happening on Europe’s doorstep.

We need a real migration policy. And whether we like it or not, this can only happen at a European level. I think the heads of state and government have understood this.

But within the EPP, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is illustrating just how little solidarity exists in terms of migration policy…

That has not stopped Hungary hosting a good proportion of the immigrants. But Viktor Orban is dealing with the issue on a national level. It has to be brought up to the European level.

What he does is put the problems firmly on the table. For example, how many islamists are among the migrants that arrive? This is a tricky subject, but why shouldn’t we start thinking about it?

But beyond his position on immigration, Viktor Orbán’s views on the death penalty recently caused real unrest in the EPP. Does the Hungarian prime minister really have a place in your political group?

Nobody in the EPP has ever asked for Viktor Orbán to be excluded from the party. But there have been regular requests to talk with him. He is actually the only head of government that always comes to explain himself to the European Parliament.

We have had problems with the socialist prime minister of Romania, Victor Ponta. I asked him to come and explain something to the Parliament and we are still waiting!

Of course he caused a certain uneasiness. But there was also a discussion, and subject of the death penalty is closed. Viktor Orbán likes to provoke. He is the “enfant terrible” of the EPP family, but I like him and we always find solutions.

His party, Fidesz, has always voted in line with the EPP in the European Parliament. Since I have been President of the group, I have always been able to count on Berlusconi’s Italians and Orbán’s Hungarians to support our position.

He may be provocative, but we have always found solutions: either he has gone back on his declarations or he has found himself before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, whose decisions he has always applied to the letter.

There are many other heads of government in Europe that are not so provocative, but are less diligent about applying the decisions of the European courts. 

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