The European People’s Party (EPP), which unites European centre-right conservative parties, is currently engaged in a discussion as to whether any measures are needed against the anti-democrats in the largest European political family. This is primarily the case of the Hungarian ruling party Fidesz. Its activities in recent years and, particularly, in recent months have caused legitimate concern in Europe over this Hungarian party’s approach to the democratic values of the rule of law, academic freedom, independence of the judiciary and the media, transparency of government, and separation of public and private interests.
The participants in the ongoing debate can be divided into two groups of those who advocate a pragmatic attitude and those who advocate a value-based attitude.
The advocates for a pragmatic attitude say that Hungary’s Fidesz should stay in the European conservative family of the EPP. They, first of all, point out that Hungary and other countries are getting ready for the European elections and that Fidesz has launched an anti-European campaign with pronounced elements of fake news targeting European institutions, George Soros, migrants and other alleged conspirators against the Hungarian people. Therefore, in domestic policies, Fidesz will exploit any action against it in its own favour by maintaining that Europe is exactly what Fidesz and Viktor Orbán have been talking about, namely that Europe discounts and even fights against a different point of view.
Despite the latter being a blatant lie, the advocates of pragmatism keep to their position, all the more so in view of complete uncertainty about the coalition in the European Parliament after the upcoming elections. The European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which ensure stability today, may lack votes for forming the coalition. Therefore, the future coalition may take various forms and structures, such as EPP+Alliance of Socialists and Democrats+(Alde+Macron‘s list+ECR) or emerge as a configuration with any party removed or added. The loss of Fidesz before the elections would therefore aggravate the future negotiations on the coalition because the EPP would wield less power.
The advocates for a value-based attitude, however, have their own key arguments. They maintain that, without clearly distinguishing the two, demagogues and radicals adopt ever stronger rhetoric and their belonging to the big centre-right family casts a shadow over the whole EPP and its associated national political forces. Hence, a question arises as to what, for example, we, the Lithuanian conservatives, have in common with Fidesz and its fight against the rule of law and policies based on disrespect for independent institutions.
At this week’s meeting of Nordic and Baltic leaders of the parties that belong to the EPP, I have had an opportunity to present my attitude that could be laid down as follows:
1. There will be no adequate time to call on Fidesz to withdraw from the EPP. We may help Fidesz in Hungary before the elections, but afterwards we may pay an even bigger price for that because the new coalition is likely to be more in need of Hungarian votes. This will keep strengthening the pragmatic attitude, and the Hungarian conduct may potentially evolve into political blackmail. Therefore, we simply have to make up our minds on how important the quality of the EPP, an alliance of traditional and democratic parties, is.
2. Demagogues who do not respect the rule of law and democracy thrive everywhere to the same extent as traditional parties fail to fight them back. All over Europe, anti-systemic and anti-European demagogical movements are mushrooming counting on the alleged lack of EU sanctions against breaches of the rule of law or democratic principles. Out of pragmatic considerations, large parties are performing mating dances around different non-democrats, thus legitimising them and creating the conditions for the birth of new ones. Therefore, it is necessary to draw the line and firmly state that at least a part of the EPP community always has and always will consider it unacceptable.
3. A voice of a single country does not count much either in the EU, or in the EPP. However, seven countries speaking in the same voice can no longer be ignored. For this reason, I invited my colleagues to work out a common position of the right-wing parties of the Nordic and Baltic countries.
4. Lithuanian demagogues and non-democrats also keep checking the limits of our tolerance, in particular, the extent to which freedom of speech and the rule of law may be breached to attract Europe’s attention. Europe has not reacted so far. The next step, however, could be an attack against not only opposition members but also the annoying Constitutional Court or other national institutions at the foundations of democracy. Thus, I advance both the value-based argument for defending the foundations of democracy in Europe and the pragmatic argument for making a precedent out of the Hungarian case to send a clear signal to our local radicals and demagogues that they are being watched and that their action will surely be met with an international response.
This week has brought a welcome result as the right-wing parties of Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden adopted a joint statement, thereby not only expressing serious concern over the activities of the Hungarian ruling party, but also calling for concrete steps against the further membership of Fidesz in the EPP.
It is high time we stop tolerating those who do not appreciate the values of democracy, the rule of law, and differing opinions.
P.S. Iceland’s conservative party does not belong to the EPP, while Estonian representatives did not take part in the meeting due to the upcoming elections.