For years, a political class offended by everything and begging for apologies on minor scandals has seemingly been fine with benefiting from the membership of parties with very questionable views. A recent speech by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán makes it clear that European political parties need to screen their memberships and stop the opportunism.
During a speech at a large rally in Budapest last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán laid out his anti-immigration agenda. Orbán laid out how Africa is kicking down the European door, and that the European Union is "not defending us". With the parliamentary election on April 8 nearing, the leader of the Fidesz party is increasing his populist tone in order to secure another absolute majority in parliament. With regards to funding of his ideological opponents, notably through investor and philanthropist George Soros, Orbán said this:
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”
Here's the deal: when your speech could very well have been given by any major politician between 1933 and 1945 (we're obviously thinking of nobody in particular, are we?), then you probably don't belong in the realm of a centre-right political party in Europe. These words have a definite anti-Semitic underpinning and they should disqualify the Hungarian Prime Minister from ever being taken seriously in Europe again, at least as far as political deal-making goes. And yet, the European People's Party (EPP), which is simultaneously the strongest political force inside the European Parliament, continues to accept Fidesz within its structures. The Hungarian members benefit from longer speaking times, more personnel and funding through the EPP.
But why would an international European party put up with members that it has considerable ideological differences with? The answer lies in the size in the political factions: the larger the EPP as a political group within the European Parliament, the more it is likely to secure the post of the president of the European Commission. Under the current "Spitzenkandidaten" system, the largest group in the parliament will nominate the head of the Commission for the legislature of five years.
This has increasingly incentivised political groups to form a very large ideological tent; so large, that it has become a mere object of opportunism to maintain their political influence. The EPP is not alone with this phenomenon: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) has the Slovak Smer – sociálna demokracia amongst its ranks, which is now more well-known than ever after the resignation of its leader, Robert Fico, as Prime Minister of Slovakia as a consequence of the murder of a journalist. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has been haunted by the membership of ANO 2011, founded and chaired by current Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is currently under investigation amid allegations that an anonymous company he controlled unlawfully received €2 million in subsidies from the European Union.
Babiš is the country's twelfth prime minister with a net worth of $4 billion. After making a fortune in the agrochemical industry, he proceeded to get involved in buying largely unprofitable media outlets. The plan: Use them as a tool to win elections. He ran after a number of political scandals in the previous government, ironically in order “to fight corruption and other ills in the country's political system.” He then touted the country's immense economic potential and capitalised on growing skepticism towards the EU and immigration, which helped solidify his reputation as the “Czech Donald Trump.”
These European political parties put up with these corrupt and authoritarian groups because it increases their influence in Brussels and creates the illusion of support. They accept the infighting within their own structures and ignore the blatant hypocrisy of attempting to improve the human rights record and transparency in countries whose rulers sit within their ranks, all in order to remain in power. The European political parties need to draw clear red lines, as ideological lines not to cross. Otherwise, they risk making the process of European democracy into more of a farce than its already perceived to be.