This happens when you avoid naming those responsible: you are exposed by an autocrat. In a joint call, 17 EU member states are now calling for EU countries to maintain proportionality in their emergency measures in the wake of the corona crisis. “We are concerned about the risk of violations of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights,” write the governments, including Germany. What they don't do: mention Hungary – or even Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
They received the receipt promptly: Orbán announced through his Ministry of Justice that Hungary fully supported the call. “Emergency measures should be limited to what is absolutely necessary.” Orbán's brazen Volte shows how he ridicules the EU. The community, the member states, the other members of the European People's Party (EPP), the MEPs: they can swear and scold, challenge and threaten – in the end Orbán does what he wants and gets away with it.
A punitive mechanism in the EU budget
Some states, including Germany, are calling for a new mechanism in the budget: the disbursement of EU funds should be linked to compliance with the rule of law. That could make an impression on Orbán, at least in theory. If the EU budget for the years 2021 to 2027 does not stand until the end of December, structural support will expire, among other things. They make up almost four percent of the gross domestic product in Hungary. The longer the dispute over the budget lasts, according to the Orbán opponents, the more uncomfortable it becomes for him.
The EU Commission had proposed that it itself decides on a restriction of payments and that the member countries can only stop this with a qualified majority. For this, Hungary or Poland would have to pull 15 member countries on their side, which represent 65 percent of the EU population – a difficult undertaking.
That is why Orbán, in particular, wants to reverse the process: budget cuts should only be possible if a qualified majority of the countries decide to do so. EU Council President Charles Michel followed this line in his latest compromise proposal. It was a “serious tactical mistake”, says an EU diplomat. Michel thereby “far too early and without need” abandoned the rule of law mechanism. Because: A qualified majority for a money withdrawal is almost impossible in Brussels.
In Berlin, it is now considered difficult to get the rule of law reservation back into the budget in its original form. He was perhaps the last chance to stop Hungary's path to autocracy. That is why people in Germany, the Netherlands and some other countries are now hoping for the European Parliament. The majority of the MPs there have to approve the budget compromise of the member countries.
“We are ready to fight,” says the Greens budget politician Rasmus Andresen. Parliament's President-in-Office Michel had “definitely rejected” the draft budget. This demand even comes from Orbán's own party family, the EPP. “We don't let ourselves be put under time pressure,” says Romanian Christian Democrat Siegried Muresan. A budget with a watered down rule of law mechanism is insufficient. “And we will not agree to an insufficient budget.”
“The European Parliament cannot do it alone while the member countries are working with the pocket dictator as if nothing had happened,” says the Green Party politician Bütikofer. Instead, “all EU decision-makers must now draw a border together” – ideally at a special summit on the rule of law.
Exclusion from the EPP?
Similar to the EU governments, 13 party leaders, mainly from Northern Europe and the Benelux countries, wrote a letter to EPP Chairman Donald Tusk on Thursday. Your message is clear: Orbán has to leave the EPP. After all, in addition to the smaller member parties, Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also signed the letter, an EPP heavyweight. Does that change anything?
So far, Orbán's Fidesz party has only been suspended. She remains a member, but has no influence on the fate of the party. It is not certain whether there will be an exclusion. This is due to two factors.
For one thing, the major EPP member parties think little of being kicked out. These include the conservatives in Spain, Italy and France as well as the CDU and CSU from Germany. Even if the influential CSU finance politician Markus Ferber recently pleaded for the first time in SPIEGEL to check the end of Fidesz's membership, the line of party leaderships remains to be seen. In view of the corona crisis and the consequences, it is downright absurd to waste a lot of energy on kicking out Orbán, according to Berlin and Munich. “People think we're crazy.”
It also helps Orbán that the EPP is a party family strongly dominated by Eastern Europe after the past elections. EPP members no longer rule in Spain, not in France, their member party has lost the election in Ireland. The new strong men in the EPP admire Orbán more or less openly. The Bulgarian Bojko Borissow occasionally sticks to Orbán, plus Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the self-appointed bridge builder between East and West. Majorities against Orbán cannot be found in this way.
What about the EPP Group?
A strange spectacle can be seen in the EPP Group in the European Parliament: Although the Fidesz Party is suspended in the EPP, its MEPs continue to attend the parliamentary group meetings. Commissioner von der Leyen owes the majority in her election to the votes of Orbán's parliamentarians. After all, the Hungarians are one of the largest national groups in the group.
But now there is also a debate in the parliamentary group about exclusion. “It is high time that we copied the party's approach and at least suspended the Fidesz MPs in the parliamentary group,” said CDU MEP Sabine Verheyen. “When the corona crisis is over, we have to address the question of whether the Fidesz colleagues can remain a member of our group,” says her colleague Dennis Radtke.
For the Deputy EPP Group Leader Estaban Gonzáles Pons, who currently represents Group Leader Manfred Weber, the situation is clear: “As long as Fidesz belongs to the EPP, the Fidesz MPs will also be part of the EPP Group.”
Orbán made it clear to EPP Secretary General Antonio López-Istúriz White on Friday about the EPP discussion. Orbán wrote that he was busy saving the lives and health of Hungarians and boosting the economy after the crisis. He brushed aside concerns about his Enabling Act: “With all due respect: I don't have time for this!”