March 06, 2019
Weber toughens his stance against Orbán
The expulsion of Fidesz from the European People’s Party looks more likely by the day. Manfred Weber, EPP spitzenkandidat and until quite recently an advocate of keeping Viktor Orbán’s party inside the fold, appears now to be taking the lead in pushing for his expulsion. Politico quotes a letter Weber wrote to EPP President Joseph Daul. In it Weber says he would be pushing for Fidesz’ expulsion on March 20 unless Orbán stopped his campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker, recognised the damage he had done, and resolved the dispute that had forced the George-Soros-financed Central European University out of Budapest. Given that it is unlikely that Orbán, judging by his recent comments, will meet Weber’s conditions, the EPP now appears firmly set on a course to expel Fidesz from its ranks.
Weber, in staking out his tough new position, will obviously have been mindful of his need to reflect the overall mood in the EPP where twelve constituent parties are now calling for the expulsion or suspension of Fidesz. But if the EPP spitzenkandidat and leading CSU-politician Weber pleads for expelling Fidesz on the 20th, it is difficult to imagine the hitherto-cautious leadership of the two German EPP members, the CSU and the CDU, adopting a different position. In any case Manfred Söder, the new CSU party leader and Bavarian state premier, is far less accommodating to Orbán than his predecessor Horst Seehofer had been. And while the CDU’s new party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has been cautious in her public statements in the early stages of the conflict, we see no good reason for her to swing behind Orbán on March 20 if the overwhelming mood in the EPP, and in large parts of the CDU, is now geared towards expulsion.
This leaves the option for Orbán to engineer some last-minute climbdown. The campaign against Juncker is scheduled to end on March 15, with a campaign against Frans Timmermans, the Commission Vice-President and social-democratic spitzenkandidat, due to take its place. The cynical ending of the anti-Juncker campaign five days before the March 20 vote will hardly be enough to reverse the pro-expulsion sentiment inside the EPP. We would not rule out that Orbán, faced with the prospect of imminent expulsion, could suddenly reverses gear and makes some pacifying gesture ahead of the crucial party meeting. But, given the way the opposition to Fidesz’ continuing membership in the EPP is firming up by the day, we see little room for Orbán to climb down enough to reverse the EPP mood without doing serious damage to his strongman standing with his own electorate. Orbán, a gifted political strategist, is always good for a surprise. But his options have now narrowed to the point where we see the expulsion of his party as overwhelmingly the most likely outcome. A major shake-up of the EU's political landscape right ahead of the European elections in May looks all but inevitable.