30 March 2019
Fidesz and the rest of the V4 become marginalised in their political narrative and lose their so-far uniting ideological platform. The EPP takes over its agenda by committing itself to defend a “European way of life”.
The popularity of the eurosceptic agenda has been boosted by the fallout from both the economic crisis of 2008 and the immigration crisis of 2015.
The mainstream European parties – the centre-right (EPP) and the centre-left (S&D) – have not adequately responded to these developments, which has led to the emergence and legitimisation of anti-systemic discourse and eventually to the questioning of the liberal-democratic model by large sections of European societies.
The emergence of the eurosceptic parties and their increasing popularity is seen as the major consequence of these developments.
On the centre-right, we have seen a clear shift towards an anti-immigrant stance in Austria, which has delivered a victory for the Christian-Democrats under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz.
In Germany, there is a growing anti-immigration sentiment within the governing CDU, which is seen as the main reason for the change of the party leadership and the stepping down of Angela Merkel.
The CDU’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU, has always been more to the right on social issues and never embraced Merkel’s pro-immigration stance, exemplified by Manfred Weber.
In the past, Weber has staunchly defended Viktor Orbán. Recently, Weber has joined the mainstream EPP in criticising Orbán and eventually opting for the suspension of Fidesz in the faction. However, he retains Orbán’s support in running for the President of the EU Commission.
In the end, Orbán’s calming gestures – once effective in mollifying EU critics – proves inadequate and the EPP formally expels Fidesz from the group.
Adding insult to injury, the EPP co-opts a few of Orbán’s positions and the group shifts to the right on numerous issues including the widespread embracing of an anti-immigration position.
This move by the EPP reflects Fidesz’s own shift to the right when it was being challenged by Jobbik in the domestic Hungarian elections; successfully taking over the platform and political space of the then-far-right party.
The homeless Fidesz looks to join the ECR, but the situation quickly becomes complicated as these new positions by the EPP have considerable implications for the ECR.
The ECR is deprived of its major, defining arguments; in order to survive, the ECR begins reaching out to the EPP.
Poland’s Europe Minister, Konrad Szymański, becomes one of the idea’s largest proponents.
In an attempt to placate some of the hardliners in their base, PiS also holds discussions with the existing eurosceptic alliances (ENF or ENPP) and even flirts with the idea of forming their own, new eurosceptic group.
Specifically, Jarosław Kaczyński explores forming a new group with the leaders of the Italian Lega and the Spanish Vox.
However, there is no doubt that the shift of the EPP to the right would deprive milder eurosceptics – the ECR – of much of their platform.
EPP members, following the Austrian OVP’s example, shift to the right on immigration and “civilise” the language aiming at pragmatic policies including more effective and stringent control of the borders and the development of the EU’s institutional framework.
Responding to public sentiments, the EPP chose to run a policy of “defending a European way of life”. There are several dimensions of this policy.
Firstly, the EU invests in creating hard borders and returning migrants to their ports of exit. The extent of this task requires a tandem effort from both Frontex as well as EU reinforcements for Italian and Greek border guards.
Secondly, in a controversial turn, the idea of re-immigration, which has been debated in France and Germany, is taken on by the EP and it passes by a narrow majority. Consequently, hardline, nationalist parties across Europe lose a crucial talking point.
Thirdly, the EU adopts elements of economic protectionism, mirroring Donald Trump’s revamping of the US’s economic policy and hitting first and foremost at Chinese imports.
Lastly, after seeing their popularity increase among the polarised electorate, the EPP continues to usurp policies from the far-right which leads to an increase in confidence for geopolitical robustness.
In turn, it ushers in plans for a more autonomous ESDP and strategic independence from the United States.
However, the EPP does not adopt a friendlier stance on Russia. On the contrary, it decides to flex its muscles further diversifying energy sources and halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline while pushing aggressively for European-based and sustainable energy production, defending the stance as critical for maintaining security.
This leaves the parties of the ECR rudderless. Whilst a possibility of co-operation with the EPP is technically still an option, it does not materialise.
This is due to domestic political reasons, and the fact that PiS’s opposition – Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish Popular Alliance (PSL) are established EPP members and have a major influence on the faction’s line.
Therefore, the EPP’s shift to the right ends up producing a radicalisation of the ECR’s positions, which will be competing for votes of the right-wing electorate.
Visegrad Insight 2 (14) 2019
European Parliamentary #Futures
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Published by Res Publica Foundation
Partner: Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Supported by: ABTSHIELD
Wojciech Przybylski, Editor-in-Chief
Marcin Zaborowski, Senior Associate
Magda Jakubowska, Director of Operations
Galan Dall, Managing Editor
Anhelina Pryimak, Editorial Assistant
Anna Kulikowska-Kasper, Contributor
Paweł Kuczyński, Illustrations
Rzeczyobrazkowe, Graphic Design