Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pulled his ruling party out of the parliamentary caucus of the European Union’s largest political group as the bloc piles pressure on him over the erosion of democratic norms.
Orban triggered the exit of his 12 European Parliament lawmakers on Wednesday after a vote by the European People’s Party (EPP) caucus cleared the way to suspend them. That leaves the EPP with 175 members in the 705-seat legislature, still the largest group.
The EPP, which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is stepping up pressure on Orban over a decade of eroding the rule of law in Hungary and his public embrace of populists and nationalists. The European Commission is also poised to implement a new mechanism that may cut billions of euros in funding for projects deemed flouting the bloc’s norms and undermining its financial interests.
The center-right group is trying to regain its credibility over democracy-related issues after largely shielding and legitimising Orban for the first half of a more than decade-old power consolidation.
Since then, Orban’s ideology spread to other eastern EU nations, including Poland and Slovenia, and inspired opposition parties in western members from Italy to France.
“The EPP, to put it bluntly, has acted as Orban’s enabler by stymieing EU efforts to check the autocratic transformation of Hungary,” Daniel Hegedus, a fellow at the Berlin-based German Marshall Fund, said by phone. “In this regard, today’s events were important and clearly negative for Orban.”
Orban’s overhaul included extending his influence over the courts and the media and reducing the autonomy of independent institutions. The EU is currently probing Hungary’s suspected rule-of-law violations under its Article 7 procedure, which can lead to the suspension of a member state’s voting right.
The vote by the EPP caucus opened the door to expand the party’s 2019 suspension of Fidesz to the Hungarian ruling party’s members holding seats in European Parliament.
A proposal to the effect was expected to be filed within days and was all but certain to be approved, as a simply majority of votes will be enough to pass it, according to the amended rules that garnered broad support on Wednesday.
Orban didn’t wait to suffer another political humiliation. It’s not clear whether he also plans to withdraw Fidesz from the larger EPP party, which acts as the umbrella for the center-right formation, or only its parliamentary group.
“The amendments to the rules of the EPP group are clearly a hostile move against Fidesz and our voters,” Orban wrote in a letter to EPP group Chairman Manfred Weber on Wednesday. “This is antidemocratic, unjust and unacceptable.”