Brussels – The alliance between Giorgia Meloni‘s Italy and Viktor Orbán‘s Hungary appears to be increasingly unbreakable, at least at the level of the parties that currently dominate the national political landscape and the governments of their respective EU member states. While Brussels awaits the president of the European
Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to decide whether she is ready for a second term, in the run-up to the EU Parliament’s renewal elections on June 6-9, special attention should be paid to the moves of the two prime ministers, on which the balance of the next legislature may depend.
Orbán himself—speaking to reporters from Repubblica and La Stampa on the sidelines of the meeting with Meloni the night before yesterday’s (Feb. 1) extraordinary European Council meeting—assured that “yes, we are ready and we will join” the European Conservatives and Reformists Party. Already in a press conference at the end of 2023, the Hungarian PM had anticipated being engaged in “preliminary discussions” with the European political family led by the leader of Fratelli d’Italia—with the re-election to ECR presidency in June last year—anticipating that the possibility could be realized only after the European elections. Yesterday thus came confirmation of intentions to expand the ranks of conservative parties: “The idea was to enter already before the elections, but at this point, we will do it after the vote,” the Hungarian premier reiterated.
The endorsement from Orbán’s closest ally, the ultraconservative former prime minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, had come only two days ago (Jan. 31): “I’m not sure if any changes can take place before the European elections, but after the vote I am personally open to the idea of Fidesz joining our group,” explained the leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party during a press conference at the EU Parliament. A scenario that is certainly not unwelcome even to Prime Minister Meloni, who is not interested, however, in speeding up the timetable as she is busy weaving a delicate web of possible pre-election agreements that Orbán’s very presence could destroy: “I don’t think it’s a debate of these days or months, possibly it will open after the European elections,” the ECR chairwoman cut short at the end of yesterday’s EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.
If it is true that Fidesz could secure a not negligible number of MEPs in the European Parliament, at the same time it should not be forgotten that Meloni is trying to carve out a key role in the discussions among the 27 governments for the appointment of the new Commission presidency—if not even for a complicated reversal of alliances in the European Parliament—and everything depends on her ability to mediate with centre-right (and other) leaders. In the European Council, the Italian premier cannot show too much closeness to the prime minister who is most destabilizing EU unity and will have to seek mediation with the more influential heads of state and government, such as the French president, Emmanuel Macron (liberal), and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz (social democrat). On the European Parliament front, on the other hand, dialogue will be by necessity with Manfred Weber‘s European People’s Party, the same one that was about to expel Fidesz before the Hungarian party officially announced the abandonment of the centre-right European family in 2021, just a moment before the EPP did so, to avoid the shame of being expelled.
From left: the Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, the then Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, and the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán (June 29, 2023)
As things stand, Fidesz is not a member of the ECR party, let alone the group in the European Parliament. The 12 Hungarian MEPs of Orbán’s party sit among the non-members and any change requires a formal membership application, followed by an internal decision of the MEPs of the political family concerned. Already two weeks ago the ECR group’s spokesman, Michael Strauss, had left the door open to Orbán’s Fidesz party—”Anyone who shares our values can join us”—but for the moment “we have not yet received a formal request from Fidesz,” the same spokesman confirmed today (Feb. 2). Responding to questions from the press, Strauss explained that he did not know “what Orbán and Meloni said to each other” two nights ago, but recalled that they are currently talking about the possibility of “negotiations” after June elections, “as Morawiecki also said.” Sources in the European Parliament explain that membership in a European party does not imply automatic membership in a political group: If Fidesz joins the Party of European Conservatives and Reformists for all intents and purposes, it will still have to apply for membership in the ECR group in the European Parliament.
As of today, the Conservatives are the fifth largest group in the Strasbourg hemicycle (67 MEPs) but—according to the most recent forecasts of what could happen at the polls in the 27 member countries—they could play for fourth place with the Renew Europe Liberals (between 85 and 86 members) in the next legislature. With a re-confirmation of Fidesz at the polls in Hungary, the possible entry of 12 or more MEPs in ECR would put the group in a position to slip third place to the far-right Identity and Democracy (98). However, these are only projections when the vote is still four months away.
The alliances of the European right with the Orbán unknown
An agreement between the popular and conservative right-wingers in Europe—already sponsored by EPP President Weber—clashes with the complicated picture of national party affiliations, an element of instability in the three European parties ranging from the moderate to the extreme right. The special watchdog is the European People’s Party (which includes 84 parties including Forza Italia, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the French Republicans, the Spanish People’s Party, and Poland’s Civic Platform), which may be trying to string up relations with the family of European conservatives, notwithstanding the extremist fringes within it.
The President of the European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, and the Italian Prime Minister and President of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR), Giorgia Meloni
It should not be forgotten that the 13 political formations belonging to the Conservative and Reformist Party are led by the same leader of Fratelli d’Italia, a party that at the national level positions itself in the extreme right ( of post-fascist derivation). Also within it are other ultra-conservative parties, such as the Spaniards of Vox, the Swedish Democrats, the Slovaks of Freedom and Solidarity, and especially the Poles of Right and Justice (PiS). The deck could be broken not only by the possible entry of the Hungarians of Fidesz—considering precisely the Populars’ reluctance to ally with the same party they were about to expel just three years ago—but also by the Polish crux. The new prime minister is the former president of the EPP and former president of the European Council between 2014 and 2019, Donald Tusk, one of the strongest antagonists of an alliance in Brussels with the political family representing parties such as PiS. Convincing the Polish Populars to dialogue with the ultra-conservative ones—and vice versa—may prove an almost impossible hurdle to overcome.
Allowed and not granted that these frictions can be overcome in the name of excluding the Socialists from the majorities in the parliament, the fact remains that a majority consisting only of Populars and Conservatives is not feasible at the moment. The recently proposed option from the Italian Lega Secretary and Vice-Premier, Matteo Salvini, is to replicate the Italian government coalition: in Rome, there is a right-wing Forza Italia-Fratelli d’Italia-Lega majority, in Brussels one should aim at a very wide PPE-ECR-ID camp. Last summer’s words of the Italian Foreign MMinister and EPP Vice-President, Antonio Tajani, and the even more explicit ones of the president of the EU Parliament, Roberta Metsola—”When we go to the elections in June, we have to propose a pro-European choice to the citizens”—demonstrate that among the majority of the populars this kind of scenario is considered almost impossible because the Party of Identity and Democracy is full of anti-European forces. In this sense, the Lega, which in Italy is not considered the most right-wing force on the parliamentary political chessboard (a title that belongs to Meloni’s party), sits in Brussels with the most ultra-nationalist parties on the entire European scene. Important sources within Identity and Democracy confirm, however, that there is a “constant dialogue” between Weber and Marco Zanni (president of Id) and that the possible convergence with Meloni could be understood as an attempt to secure “a strong figure in the council.”
On the other hand, the scenario sketched by several European Populars (such as Tajani) for an alliance with conservatives, sources within the Renew Europe group have repeatedly confirmed to Eunews that the group“will never give support” to this kind of solution. All the more so when both Morawiecki’s and Orbán’s parties are represented among the conservatives. Indiscretions that seem to find explicit confirmation in the words of the group’s vice-president and Italia Viva MEP, Nicola Danti: “Now it will be clearer to everyone that in the next European elections we must beat the Meloni-Orbán ticket,” he commented on X the news of Fidesz’s possible entry into ECR: “Our Prime Minister evidently imagines a future for Europe in which to deploy the champion of anti-Europeanism in the front row.” The Renew Europe group vice-president made clear that, in this scenario, at the June vote “on one side there will be the sovereignists, on the other side the pro-Europeans committed to building the United States of Europe.”English version by the Translation Service of Withub