“You also have the right to know what Brussels is up to”, reads a Hungarian propaganda poster that has the signature of the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, emblazoned across the message.

His personal attack to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in recent days has escalated the Hungarian strongman’s disinformation campaign against the EU which has triggered a domino of affect on him and his Fidesz party within the European People’s Party (EPP) to the point that its expulsion is now on seriously on the table.

Orban’s campaign focused on Juncker, Brussels, and their relationship with Orban’s favourite scapegoat and frequent target of his government’s anti-Semitic attacks, the Hungarian-born, billionaire philanthropist, George Soros.

Soros appeared frequently in Fidesz’ disinformation campaign, with the Hungarian government successfully pushing Soros’ liberal institution Central European University out of the country.

CEU announced last December that it will leave Budapest for Vienna after a protracted legal and rhetorical battle with Orban’s government.

From Helsinki to Brussels

At the time, this was not enough for the EPP to decide that Orban’s Fidesz could no longer be part of the family as Orban’s party members had signed an emergency resolution in the EPP’s Helsinki congress, vowing to stop talking about illiberal democracy and to respect the party’s values, which include “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights” in its charter.

Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, February 12, 2019. EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER
Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, February 12, 2019. EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER

Juncker posters a ‘game-changer’

As the EU’s parties have entered the pre-electoral race at full speed ahead of May’s European elections, Juncker reacted to Orban’s poster campaign, which accused the Commission President and Soros of wanting to flood Hungary with migrants, by saying, “Against lies there’s not much you can do,” adding that the EPP and its top candidate to be his successor as a president of the European Commission, Manfred Weber, should wonder if it needs Orban’s voice in the EPP.

“They didn’t vote for me in the European Parliament,” he said. “The far-right didn’t. I remember Ms. (Marine) Le Pen when she said ‘I’m not voting for you.’ I said: ‘I don’t want your vote.’ There are certain votes you just don’t want,” added Juncker.

“Citizens do deserve to know the truth about what the EU is doing,” said the EU executive, adding that in the Commission “we believe that they deserve facts, not fiction”.

In the report adopted by the College of Commissioners, the Commission rejected Hungary;s assertions on its intentions to introduce refugee resettlement quotas, suggesting that refugee resettlement “is and will always be on a purely voluntary basis”.

Another of the seven points of the Commission’s anti-disinformation campaign was on the “job-training pilot programmes for migrants”. The Commission answered that they were voluntary and Hungary had already opted out.

The EU executive commented that each European Union member retains the right to “remain exclusively in charge of the numbers of workers they admit, if at all,” while also clarifying that the EU’s funding for immigration is part of the Cohesion funding that is allocated to each country to assist in managing migration issues and is not based on their stance regarding migrants.

Apart from the Commission’s reaction, letters from national EPP member parties have reached the party’s president, Joseph Daul, pushing for the procedure to expel Fidesz from the EPP.

“At least eight parties have expressed their intention to launch the process of sanctions against Orban, but the letters signed have not all arrived so far,” confirmed a source close to the EPP leadership.

Weber on board

“All the options are on the table, we are currently talking about it in the EPP,” said Weber at the German weekly magazine ‘der Spiegel’. “With these statements and his poster campaign, Viktor Orban has significantly harmed the EPP, which is why I expect him to apologise and stop this action.”

The parties that have already made clear that they do not want Orban or Fidesz in the EPP include the Finnish Kokoomus Party, the Swedish Christian Democratic Party (KD) and Nya Moderaterna, the Belgian Christian Democrats (the Flemish CDV and the French-speaking CDH) and the Luxembourg Christian Social Social Party (CSV), along with the Portuguese People’s Party (CDS), and the Netherlands’ Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) – all of which have sent or are in the process of sending letters to Daul.

Greece’e New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis clarified at the Delphi Economic Forum that his party will to send a letter requesting Fidesz’ expulsion sometime after March 4.

“We will take concrete actions very soon,” Weber stated.

According to the EPP’s statutes, which were renewed last November in Helsinki, the suspension and the exclusion of a member may only be decided by the Political Assembly, which is due to take place in March 20. According to Article 9 of the statute, “the proposal for the exclusion of a member may only be submitted by the Presidency, or seven Ordinary or Associated Member Parties from five different countries”.