As always before an EU summit (European Council), the leaders are gathering today, 09 March, in mini summits, by political families. The major ones are the EPP (Christian Democrats) and the Socialists.

The first, the EPP leaders, the likes of Merkel, Juncker and Rajoy, are gathering today in Brussels in the strange absence of the Romanian president Klaus Iohannis.

The EPP engine remains the most powerful political machine inside the EU institutions. It was the EPP that, for instance, was the main factor that accelerated Croatia‘s quick march towards NATO and the EU integration. Croatia was then ruled, as today, by the right-leaning HDZ party of the the flamboyant former prime minister Ivo Sanader.

In recent decades, led since 1990 by the Belgian Wilfried Martens (died 2013), the EPP, this oldest pan-European political formation had seen its rules about who can be a member become rather lax. As shown by the EPP‘s taking in of Berlusconi‘s Forza Italia, or Hungary‘s FIDESZ of the authoritarian Viktor Orban, new parties do not need to show much Christian, or even democratic credentials. The EPP has slowly become a vast political dumping ground, functioning rather by the logic of numbers.

As Thomas Jansen, the EPP historian, an important figure inside the group and author of a “History of the EPP” put it in a conversation with me:

”It actually rarely depends on some temporary political leader‘s character whether one party would be accepted in the EPP or not. it is mostly always the numbers that count. A centre-right party has to be powerful and influent in its own country. And, of course, it doesn‘t even have to be the only one. From some countries, we have two or three parties as members; sometimes they are even rival at home.”

It is true, the rules in the EPP are so lax, that we have taken in people that we didn’t know now how to throw out. We didn’t know, for a long time, how to get rid of Koštunica’s formation from Croatia, for instance. He’d been a nuisance from the very beginning”, says the former German EPP MEP Doris Pack.

“We also have a problem now with some nationalistic formations, like Viktor Orban’s FIDESZ, indeed”, says another EPP important figure. Once they are in, they cannot be thrown out anymore. Look at the Hungarians, or the Serbs!… Even when they are in the opposition they can be as nationalistic as their governing enemies.”