Caricature: The Economist/David Parkins.

The EU's most dangerous leader

Why the EPP should expel Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party

Viktor Orban presents a unique danger, because he injects a far-right virus into the bloodstream of Europe's political centre. While formally a member of the European People's Party (EPP), his policies and aims are borrowed from the playbook of Europe's far right. If the EPP does not want to be eaten from within, it should expel Orban's Fidesz party now.

ESI discussion paper: An Article 19 Mechanism - The need for a robust defence of EU rule of law (23 July 2020)

ESI report: The wizard, the virus and a pot of gold - Viktor Orban and the future of European solidarity (18 Apr 2020)

ESI background: "On the brink of victory" - Viktor Orban, rhetorical poison and a vision of hell (15 June 2018)

Viktor Orban is islamophobic and nationalistic in the most reactionary sense. He hates European institutions and open societies. In his "State of the Nation" address in February 2018 he said: 

"If everything continues in this way, then the cities of Europe will clearly have majority Muslim populations – and London will not be an outlier, but a pioneer. If things continue like this, our culture, our identity and our nations as we know them will cease to exist. Our worst nightmares will have become reality. The West will fall, as Europe is occupied without realising it. Will this be a vindication of the views of those who think that civilisations are not killed, but commit suicide?"

The real problem though, Orban claims, lies not in the East and South, but in the West:

"We have prevented the Muslim world from inundating us from the south [with Hungary's fence] ... However absurd it seems, the situation is that now the danger is threatening us from the West. This danger to us comes from politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris. They want us to adopt their policies: the policies that made them immigrant countries and that opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and the expansion of Islam."

But Orban is up for the ultimate fight: "Of course we shall not look on impassively; we are not sheep, who quietly stand around waiting for their fate to be visited upon them. Naturally we shall fight ..."

Hungary accounts for 1 percent of the EU's GDP and 2 percent of its population. Yet, since 2015 Orban has become one of the European leaders defining the continent's political discourse. Orban is no shadowy, dark force like J.K. Rowling's Lord Voldemort. Rather, he is Mephistopheles: an erudite, persuasive wizard who coaxes European centre-right parties to hand him their soul. 

Central in Orban's narrative is the combination of his warnings against (Muslim) immigration and his attacks on European elites. In summer 2018, in a speech at a summer university in Romania, Orban claimed that

"... we must face up to the fact that Europe's leaders are inadequate, and that they've been unable to defend Europe against immigration. The European elite has failed, and the European Commission is the symbol of that failure."

Orban described a looming battle between true Christian democrats, who – in his view – are nationalists and by definition illiberal, and those who believed in a nihilist "open society": 

"In today's open-society Europe there are no borders; European people can be readily replaced with immigrants; the family has been transformed into an optional, fluid form of cohabitation; the nation, national identity and national pride are seen as negative and obsolete notions; and the state no longer guarantees security in Europe ... Let us confidently declare that Christian democracy is not liberal ... Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept ... Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept." 

Orban's speeches make clear how little respect he has left for leading European Christian Democrats like Angela Merkel who, on her visit to Budapest in February 2015, had explained, standing next to Orban, that she did not believe the concept of "illiberal democracy" made any sense. Ahead of the European elections Orban went a step further and threatened to dismember the EPP

"In relation to the 2019 elections to the European Parliament, it would be easy to, say, establish a new formation from like-minded Central European parties – or, indeed, a pan- European anti-immigration formation. There is no doubt that we would have great success in the 2019 European elections."

But the results did not match his expectations. While winning 52% of the vote, his victory speech lasted less than four minutes. As Peter Kreko from Political Capital told Der Spiegel: "Orban won at home, but lost in Europe."

Today Orban is weaker than he has been for years. He has suspended the implementation of a controversial law, toned down his criticism of EPP leaders and supported Ursula von der Leyen to become president of the European Commission. Clearly Orban has decided that now is not a good moment to leave the EPP. But it would be naive to believe that he has lost his disdain of EPP leaders and of their christian democratic values.

If the EPP wants to avoid being eaten from within, she needs to act now and show Orban where he and his ideas really belong: to the far-right. The EPP needs to expel Orban now. The moment has not been more favourable for a long time.