The Fidesz Conundrum – or why there will be no unified Right in the EP

By: Pelle Geertsen, Euraffex

Following the departure of the Hungarian Fidesz MEPs from the EPP-group, Brussels has witnessed lots of speculation about what it might mean. From subtle policy changes to kicking off a grand realignment of Parliament, many scenarios have been floated.

Chief among the popular ideas of Fidesz’ next move have been; Fidesz joining the ID-Group, Fidesz joining the ECR-Group or Fidesz joining (or even leading) a merger of the ID and ECR Groups, creating one, united Right in the Parliament, and claiming the position as the second-largest political group.

While this last scenario on paper might hold some merit, if you ask me if it will actually happen, the answer is a clear no.

Why there will be no merger

No, there will be no merger of the ID-Group and ECR-Group with Fidesz as a bridge. Just like there was no big, Right-group created at the beginning of this term.

The reasons behind this are many, but mainly remain what they were in 2019:

  1. It will not suit many of the ECR members
  2. It will not suit many of the ID members
  3. There is no real unity

For the ECR group, it would mean losing lots of influence, and some of the group’s more powerful delegations (either in terms of numbers or behind-the-scenes influence) would have to hand over significant control and influence to someone else. It will also, for some members, hurt the image they have been trying to cultivate.

For the ID-group it is somewhat similar, except that it would potentially improve their standing in parliament and for a few, the chances of claiming titles and positions. It would however also mean more discussions on policy and direction, and that could limit the possibility of some delegations of adapting to their national policy climate.

More importantly, however, is that there is no real unity between the different members of the two groups. On issues such as financial and social policy, there might be overlap on some points, but on others, they disagree. While the ECR is perceived as getting more protectionist on some trade issues, it still has a very pro-trade wing, something that might not fly with many ID-members. Furthermore, the disagreements on foreign policy are evident – not least the relationship with Russia and its allies.

Add to this the feeling of bad blood from the ECR towards some of the MEPs who chose to shift from ECR to ID after the 2019 elections.

So, what is more realistic is that Fidesz will eventually join the ECR-Group.

Joining the ECR-Group

Joining the ECR group has several advantages. With 12 extra members, the group will grow to outshine the Greens (unless they manage to attract a few new members in the meantime – something that is being worked on).

It will provide a platform for continued association with other EU-governments, not least in Poland. Fidesz in the ECR would mean representing half of the Visegrad leadership in one group.

Joining the ECR will also allow for the continued engagement on political issues, although of course in a new way. MEPs will continue to lead files and will have access to more shadow rapporteurships than in the EPP.

It could also give more direct influence, by allowing for some coordinator roles to Fidesz members.

Lastly, it will be an easy way to keep the staff they want to keep, and to have continued access to group funds. Something that might not matter as much in Budapest as it does in Brussels.

Joining ECR will of course not be without questions and obstacles, but these can be overcome, and for some in the ECR, the addition of the Hungarian members would be seen as an advantage in the internal political manoeuvring. For others, it might reduce their influence, but the question is if those affected in this way will be powerful enough to block it. I highly doubt that is the case.  

Going solo – and why it won’t happen

The Fidesz MEPs can of course also choose to not join any of the political groups, but doing so would have several negative consequences:

  1. Not being in a group would cost them financially, in terms of receiving less group funds for “information purposes”.
  2. Not being in a group will cost them in terms of staff resources: While there is staff for the Non-attached members, there are fewer per member, and often in lower grades.
  3. More importantly, not being in would mean losing political influence. Fidesz MEPs would no longer be able to be rapporteurs, or even shadows, on legislative (and non-legislative) issues in Parliament. This would open up for easy attacks by their opponents.
  4. It would make it harder to obtain or maintain any positions for the MEPs, such as the current EP Vice-Presidency and the three Committee Vice-Chairs they currently hold. This would, again, be too easy to use against them for their opponents.

If not now, when?

While policy wonks and others in the Brussels bubble would prefer the matter be settled quickly – so that we can all adjust our graphs, charts, and predictable vote outcomes – this might not happen.

Changing from one political group to another normally entails a series of practical negotiations; from the amount of staff and share of group funds available to nice titles in the group and influence on policy areas. With Fidesz potentially being the second-largest delegation in the ECR, it is not unreasonable to think that they would want to hold some coordinator positions, or as a minimum deputy coordinator positions. This would mean shuffling ECR positions around, and it is never easy to take titles and influence away from people while keeping them smiling.

This means that it takes time. Add to this that the 12 Fidesz members all bring their committee positions with them, but not the substitute positions they held. This means that new positions need to be arranged, which again can take time.

We also have to remember that stories about talks between Fidesz and ECR and its members are nothing new. It was reported as well back in January 2020, without anything changing.

So, it will come, and it will most likely come soon, but it could take a month or more, allowing for real negotiations.

Until then, we might have to be patient.