Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer should take a stand in defense of European Union values and the rule of law by rejecting a political alliance with the rights-damaging policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party.
Fidesz has been in power since 2010 and Orbán is heading arguably the EU’s the most openly hostile government to human rights and the rule of law. In recent months, the ruling party has cranked up the heat on nongovernmental organizations, moving to legislate the closure of a leading university, and deepen its abusive campaign against migrants and asylum seekers.
Chancellor Merkel, head of the Christian Democratic Union, and Prime Minister Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, should call for the European People’s Party (EPP) to cut its ties with Fidesz. EPP is the largest political group at the European Parliament – a coalition of the continent’s center right and liberal-conservative parties. Its charter defines “respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law” as “the basis of a common programme.” And yet, Fidesz still sits comfortably as a member of the EPP. That should change and this is what makes it relevant to German politics. Both CDU and CSU are also important members of the EPP and CSU’s Manfred Weber is chairing the work of the EPP group at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Fidesz and Orbán rely on their EPP membership to shield themselves from EU criticism. Leadership of both German parties is needed to take the bold step to question Fidesz membership in their European political platform.
Recently, the Fidesz-led Hungarian parliament approved a new bill that would force some nongovernmental groups that receive funding from outside Hungary to register as “foreign funded” and subject them to unjustified sanctions and obligations. Failure to do so may result in the dissolution of organizations. This comes on the heels of the government’s attempts to close down the Central European University (CEU), in large part because of its links to its founder, George Soros, whom the Orbán government likes to portray as the country’s number one enemy. A law approved in March allows for the blanket detention of almost all asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children ages 14 and over. All asylum seekers have been moved into indefinite detention without a detention order at the border with Serbia.
The European Parliament adopted a strong resolution that could ultimately lead to sanction and suspension of Hungary’s voting rights for violating the rule of law. The Commission triggered legal action on Hungary’s laws on asylum and against the Central European University and due to Hungary’s refusal to partake in the EU asylum relocation deal. But Fidesz’s continued ties with the EPP provides it with a legitimacy that should be questioned by the party’s record on human rights and the rule of law.
Hungary represents a challenge to the EU’s founding values. The failure to address that challenge effectively has inspired other governments, notably Poland, to emulate its approach, and the risk of contagion does not stop there. A coherent response to radical right populism is not only the job of the European Commissioners in Brussels; it should start with our own political parties standing up for human rights and European values.