Five points on Manfred Weber’s visit to Budapest

2019-03-13

European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate Manfred Weber’s visit to Budapest on 12 March has not become a turning point in the EPP-Fidesz relationship, but it strengthened Viktor Orbán’s positions. Political Capital’s quick summary in five points:

  1. The fact that Manfred Weber came to Hungary to help find a compromise to mitigate tensions well characterises the EPP-Fidesz relationship and has symbolic importance for Viktor Orbán.
  2. After the sharp rhetoric early on, an increasing number of signs have indicated that the goal of Manfred Weber and German EPP members (CDU/CSU) is to keep Fidesz in the EPP. The three prerequisites listed by Weber should be understood as an attempt to find a compromise rather than an ultimatum for Fidesz. Weber’s list contains items that he believes can be remedied – mainly in communications to allow both sides to save face.
  3. The EPP leadership – especially Weber and the most influential parties, the CDU/CSU – want to keep Fidesz in the EPP, primarily for party political reasons. The reason for it is that Fidesz – together with the representatives of Central European parties allied to him – constitutes a considerable force within the group, and its representatives generally vote in line with the mainstream. In addition to party politics, German economic interests play a large role as well, which the Hungarian government serves loyally. There are two very recent examples for this: the Overtime Act and Budapest’s appeal against the European Court of Justice’s verdict imposing tough rules on cars’ CO2
  4. Fidesz is unlikely to be expelled from the EPP before the EP elections. The most likely scenario for 20 March is that they will delay taking a decision or launch a procedure (e.g., an investigation) with a similar effect. If Weber cannot pacify critical voices, Fidesz’s membership might be suspended before the EP elections, but in practice, this would be nothing more than a way to allow both sides to figure out their strategies after taking into account the new composition of the European Parliament.
  5. Regardless of how the relationship of Fidesz and the EPP evolves in the future, the developments are benefiting Viktor Orbán for now. Orbán’s interest is increasing his own importance in the EU, the EP, and the EPP. The scandal surrounding the anti-Juncker billboards and the EPP’s internal debates focusing on Orbán both weaken the party group and increase the Hungarian leader’s prestige. Consequently, Orbán can either increase his relative strength in a faltering People’s Party or leave the group to become a key actor in a new populist-Eurosceptic alliance. However, the latter option would considerably shrink Viktor Orbán’s options and influence on the European level.

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