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Time for European Conservatives to Take a Stand on Hungary

European People’s Party Should Defend Democratic Values and Expel Fidesz

After stalling for years, it looks like European Conservatives are finally waking up to the threat to fundamental rights posed by Hungary’s Fidesz ruling party.

Campaign poster funded by the Hungarian government and targeting Jean-Claude Juncker and George Soros. © 2019 Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch

On March 4, Joseph Daul, the President of the European People’s Party (EPP), the European political family of center-right parties, said the question of whether to expel Fidesz  from the EPP will be on the agenda at the party’s assembly meeting on March 20. It follows a request from 12 EPP member parties across 9 EU countries to discuss the issue of Fidesz’s standing in the EPP.

Things have to come to a head now because of an outrageous taxpayer-funded Hungarian government campaign misleadingly accusing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker – also from the EPP – and Hungarian-born millionaire and philanthropist George Soros – vilified by Fidesz for years – of supporting mass immigration to Hungary.

But the main reason Fidesz has lost a claim to membership of the EPP is its relentless campaign under Prime Minister Viktor Orban to dismantle democratic checks-and-balance in Hungary. Fidesz has spared no effort to use xenophobic campaigns and smear critical media and nongovernmental organizations combating rights violations and high-level corruption.

Over the past two years, Hungary’s government enacted laws forcing organizations receiving international funding to register as a foreign-funded or face sanctions – a provision inspired by Russia’s ‘Foreign Agent’ Law – and criminalized the legitimate provision of aid and services to migrants and asylum seekers.

Last year, the government forced Central European University out of Hungary. In December, some 500 pro-government media gathered under a single privately-owned conglomerate aimed at preserving "national values" – another blow to the country’s media diversity.

The EPP’s charter is clear: promote free and pluralistic democracy and respect of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. Those are also EU founding values. Orban and Fidesz have repeatedly breached those values, but EPP membership has helped shield them from much-needed EU scrutiny. That in turn has emboldened abusive policies in Poland and elsewhere.

That’s what EPP members should keep in mind on March 20. Key EPP members, like Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) and France’s Les Républicains have remained ambiguously cautious – but they will have to make a choice. They should now unequivocally stand up for the rule of law and democracy and vote to expel Fidesz.

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