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Orban and Salvini Stir the Nationalist Pot

European right-wingers are talking about a new alliance, but it won't be easy

Viktor Orbán • Autor: ČTK
Viktor Orbán • Autor: ČTK

When the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was forced to leave the European People’s Party (EPP) family last week, the question arose of what the ambitious Hungarian ruler would do next in EU politics. After years of arguing, he has definitively lost his place and his voice in the most powerful party in the EU, so three options now loom for the 13 Fidesz members of the European Parliament.

One option would be to join Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice, which has its own “Conservatives and Reformists” group along with the Civic Democratic Party of the Czech Republic. Another would be to join the Identity and Democracy group, where those waiting for him would be Marine Le Pen, whose approval rate is growing at home in France, and the former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The third option would be to invent a different scenario for how Orban's euroskeptic, nationalist voice can be heard in the EU.

It is exactly this third option that would be, by all accounts, closest to Orban’s usual modus operandi from the start – just after leaving the EPP, he let it be heard that “the values of Fidesz are not currently represented in European politics.” A new EU-wide political group is already under discussion, but that seems to be a rather complicated matter.

During his regular Friday interview for government radio in Hungary, Orban said representatives of Fidesz are negotiating with Salvini’s League and also with the Brothers of Italy, another hard-right Italian party. Salvini has let it be known that in addition to meeting with Orban, he is also negotiating with “the Poles,” or rather Poland’s governing Law and Justice party. As for Law and Justice, it is courting Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who may still be a member of the EPP, as Orban was until recently, but who is still quite close to his Hungarian colleagues in all respects. As far as Salvini’s negotiations with Law and Justice amid the current ferment, that Italian politician wants to hear that the hegemon from Poland will exclude the Brothers of Italy – Salvini's competition on the right – from the faction before he joins.

New Setup, Old Arguments

Two options are likely to break out of this complex snarl of rivalries and sympathies. Orban and Salvini could beef up the European Conservatives and Reformists led by Law and Justice, thereby boosting that faction to the No. 3 spot in the European Parliament. In all likelihood such a group would immediately attract smaller political players as well, Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa in particular. Either that, or Law and Justice and the League will leave that group and establish a brand-new European club together with the temporarily homeless Orban.

It is not entirely clear what such a group could bring to the table. Salvini just said vaguely that “there is a need for an absolutely new order of ideas to face the challenges of the present.” Orban is not being specific either. “We're not in a rush,” he told the Hungarian government journalists on Friday.

Similar courtships and negotiations played themselves out once before in the aftermath of the last European Parliament elections in 2019. Orban, however, ultimately rejected all proposals and preferred to continue with his lucrative membership in the EPP. Nor were previous feelers between Law and Justice and Salvini very successful either. The parties are in accordance with one another in many respects, but diverge on some essential matters.

Law and Justice does not want a single migrant from Africa or the Arab countries on its territory; the League advocates for consistent redistribution of asylum-seekers throughout the EU. Poland is the biggest recipient of EU money; the League is asking for cuts in contributions to Eastern Europe. Law and Justice sees Russia as an existential threat to Europe; Salvini sees it as a “strategic security partner.” Even now, we can anticipate that things will not be uncomplicated on the EU’s nationalist front.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert. Vychází ve spolupráci s TransitionsOnline

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