During the political assembly of the European People’s Party in Brussels delegates voted to suspend the membership of Fidesz, the right-wing populist political party in Hungary led by the controversial Viktor Orbán.
Nationalist MEPs, politically affiliated to the EPP, voted in favour of the motion, in which 190 voted in favour and only three voted against. The PN said that even though it voted against a member of its own political family, the defence of the people and the rule of law was a priority.
Fidesz agreed with the suspension, preventing a split in the EPP, despite previous appeals to have the vote cancelled that placed the blame on the dispute with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The vote was presented to the EPP this afternoon and included a number of points that questioned the commitment of Fidesz to the core values and principles of the Party. Hungary has long been under the spotlight of the EU and has faced a number of criticisms related to Orbán’s far-right tendencies and policies.
Described by many as a far-right leader who “thrives on conflict”, he was even branded as a “racist, bully and xenophobe” by a United Nations human rights chief after Orbán said he didn’t want Hungary to be “multi-coloured”.
In 2016, he described Muscat – who hails from the opposing socialist party – as a friend of Hungary.
In recent weeks, Fidesz launched a “fake news” campaign against Juncker that caused “considerable political damage”. Orbán covered up the offending posters in a last minute attempt to retain his party’s EPP membership.
Changes were also made to the country’s legal system which resulted in the George Soros-founded Central European University moving out of the country. Soros is a regular target of Orbán for his support of pro-democracy groups and activists.
Concerns were also raised by the EPP regarding issues pertaining to freedom of expression, Orbán’s anti-immigration campaign, and respect for the rule of law.
Underlining the fact that democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights formed a part of their ethos, the letter suggested suspending Fidesz membership rights subject to an assessment on its respect for the rule of law and its adherence to EPP values.
“Pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality” were basic principles that all member parties of the EPP were expected to respect, protect and promote.
Labour Party MEPs had previously criticised the PN for not taking a position on Hungary’s violations. In 2017, PL MEP Miriam Dalli accused PN MEP Roberta Metsola of voting against sending an MEP mission to the country while working “tirelessly against Malta” – this was countered by Metsola as being unfounded.
In September 2018, the European Parliament voted in favour of initiating Article 7 against the country for breaching a number of the EU’s core values.
PN MEP David Casa said that such a vote was a warning to Malta, noting that “PN MEPs don’t only speak up when there are problems with the rule of law in Malta, but also to defend it in Europe for the benefit of citizens.”