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Hungarian opposition raises questions over lone Fidesz ally in EPP group

Respect and Freedom (Tisza) Party leader Peter Magyar celebrates winning seven seats in the European Parliament
Respect and Freedom (Tisza) Party leader Peter Magyar celebrates winning seven seats in the European Parliament Copyright Robert Hegedus/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund - via AP
Copyright Robert Hegedus/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund - via AP
By Robert Hodgson
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While the chair of the centre-right EPP is in talks with the new Hungarian opposition party about its seven newly elected MEPs joining the group, the leader of the Respect and Freedom (Tisza) Party has questioned the continued presence of an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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The parliamentary group of the European People’s Party will decide next week whether to admit the insurgent Hungarian opposition Tisza Party, while its leader, Péter Magyar, has questioned the continued presence of a ruling party member in the EPP’s ranks.

Magyar announced on social media on Wednesday that EPP group chair Manfred Weber would be in Budapest on Friday for discussions on his MEPs joining the group while also firing criticism at György Hölvényi, who was left behind when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pulled his Fidesz party out of the centre-right group two years ago.

“The overwhelming majority of the People’s Party supports the entry of Tisza Party representatives,” Magyar asserted on Facebook. “The only exception is perhaps the Fidesz-KDNP representative who currently sits in the [EPP]”.

Hölvényi has just been re-elected as the fifth candidate on the Fidesz-Christian Democrat party list, although he sits in the colours of the Hungarian Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) alone.

Magyar accused him of being a “good Fidesz propagandist” who must have “forgotten” to mention that his political allies had painted the EPP as a pro-war party during the election campaign.

Orbán withdrew Fidesz from the EPP group in 2021, complaining of a “hostile” attempt to “mute and disable” its lawmakers. On the same day, the group changed its rules of procedure to allow for the definitive exclusion of the party after two years of suspension from meetings and ballots.

No time to waste

The Tisza Party, rapidly mobilised ahead of the elections by disgruntled former government insider Magyar, took seven of Hungary’s 21 seats in the EU parliament on Sunday, reducing Fidesz’s presence from 13 to 11. Two left-wingers and one ultra-nationalist now complete the Hungarian line-up.

Magyar wasted no time in applying to join the largest group in the European Parliament, and promptly Weber signalled that its “doors are open” to his newly elected MEPs. The EPP group plans to vote on the Tisza Party’s admission on 18 June.

“The KDNP has been a member of the EPP for more than 30 years,” Hölvényi told Euronews yesterday when asked how he would react if the group were to admit a party whose stated aim is to bring an end to the Orbán era in Hungary. “The fact that seven MEPs from the Tisza Party are coming here does not cause any change in our membership.”

Hölvényi stressed that the upcoming vote was about admitting Tisza to the parliamentary caucus in Brussels, not the pan-European political family of the EPP itself. “Joining the party is a different and significantly longer process,” he said in an email exchange.

A man holds a Hungarian flag during protest outside the Hungarian Interior Ministry building in Budapest, 26 April 2024
A man holds a Hungarian flag during protest outside the Hungarian Interior Ministry building in Budapest, 26 April 2024AP Photo/Denes Erdos

At the same time, a spokesperson for the EPP dismissed the notion that Hölvényi might appear something of a cuckoo’s egg in the group’s parliamentary nest, especially if it admits a seven-strong group of MEPs nominally committed to the downfall of his political family in Hungary.

“Holvenyi is a member of the KDNP and not from Fidesz, he has always stayed at the EPP, and the KDNP have always run in joint lists with Fidesz,” EPP group spokesman Pedro López de Pablo said.

The KDNP has no veto over Tisza’s admission, which will be decided by a simple majority vote, but “they certainly have influence”, Lopez added, noting the group would simply follow its rules of procedure.

Those rules of procedure state that non-EPP members can only be admitted to the parliamentary caucus “if they subscribe to the political programme” of the EPP group.

This means pursuing ‘the process of federal unification and integration in Europe’ and subscribing to basic values such as ‘freedom and democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and subsidiarity’.

As the EPP’s victory in the elections became clear on Sunday night, its emboldened candidate for a second term as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added “pro-Ukraine” to the list of values that other centrist groups must subscribe to if they want to form an alliance with her party.

At an election rally in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen on 5 May, Magyar accused Fidesz of lying by presenting itself as the only party on the side of peace.

Tisza, like Fidesz, would not allow the transport of artillery to Ukraine, Magyar said, then added: “Let’s say it again, so even they can hear: the warmonger and aggressor is Putin – he started this war. Ukraine’s struggle to defend its territory is legitimate.”

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