While many of the ruling parties in CE maintained their domestic lead in the EU polls, their influence will be greatly diminished in the European Parliament.

First, in Slovakia, the newly established parties – Progressive Slovakia (ALDE) and Spolem (EPP) – running together in the coalition have defeated the governing party SMER (SD). The radicals did not perform as well as many had feared.

Second, Viktor Orbán got only 13 seats (+1) despite projections giving him an even larger portion of vote; this could be slightly disappointed considering the the dominant role of the party in Hungary.

Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczyński

Finally, in Poland, the PiS party gained more than 45 per cent – the highest result any party ever won in EP or general elections in Poland. For Jarosław Kaczyński,  the Chairman of PiS, this dominating win on the domestic front will, at the same time, turn into a pyrrhic victory in the EU.

With the ultimate defeat of the British Conservatives in the EP elections, the two Central European illiberal politicians will find it harder and harder to adapt to a new political game. There will be no longer a third way between mainstream conservatism and the far right.

Domestic dominance not European influence

PiS and Orbán can forget about their ambitions to be indispensable troublemakers. Sooner or later they will have to play along with bigger groups or vanish.

While both are flirting with the European alt-right of LePen and Salvini, they are unlikely to join their ranks for different reasons. For Orbán the EPP membership means more than any alternative – at least for the next five years. For Kaczyński, an openly pro-Russian agenda is not acceptable, so he will place his hope in the greatly weakened European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

Elections to the European Parliament have demonstrated a growing polarisation of the political scene in Europe between the pro-European and essentially anti-European groupings.

Naturally, both groups are very diverse. Pro-European parties range from centre-left to centre-right and the anti-European range from left-wing eurosceptics to neo-fascists. Yet, the line of division in the European parliament is rather clear and bipolar with the major cleavage defined by the attitude towards European integration.

The group that did not fit these descriptions was the ECR, which consists predominantly of the British Tories and Polish Law and Justice Party. The group’s MEPs hate to be called eurosceptics and they, especially those from the Polish Law and Justice, tend to portray themselves as euro-realists.  

When prodded about the meaning of this position they say that they support the EU and are in fact pro-European but think that Brussels has too many competencies some of which should be repatriated back to national capitals.  In short, the line of argument of the ECR is a third way between blatant euroscepticism and pro-European attitude of the mainstream parties.

Until recently it seemed that the third way may indeed become an attractive proposition capturing the imagination of the European voters, who were tired of the EU but deeply uneasy about the solutions offered by populists ranging from Le Pen to Nigel Farage. However, the third way seems to be in demise affected on one hand by Brexit and on the other by the growth of the Eurosceptic scene.

PiS – although distanced from the EPP – is widely considered as far right, while Fidesz – rhetorically closer to LePen and Salvini – keeps the perception of a moderate party thanks to its – albeit tenuous – membership in the EPP. Orbán’s pragmatic choice gives him a glimpse of political influence while for Kaczyński, maintaining his current position will mean a further decline of PiS significance within the EP. .

Marcin Zaborowski and Wojciech Przybylski

Central European Futures

Over the past several years, it has become ever more apparent that the post-Cold War era of democratic reform, socio-economic development and Western integration in Central Europe is coming to an end.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German-Marshall Fund of the U.S..

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