The suspension of Fidesz may be an unprecedented step in the history of the EPP but is still a compromise measure showing that Viktor Orban’s strategy of staying within the EPP has protected Hungary from the kinds of measures taken against Poland.
The EC has been critical of Hungary and its leader but it has never brought an Article 7 action against him on the issue of the rule of law. Instead, it has argued that Hungary has been willing to be constructive and change legislation.
However, the real reason may lie in the fact that Fidesz is part of the EPP, the biggest European parliamentary grouping. The Polish ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) belongs to the much smaller European Conservative Reformers group.
Another important factor is the fact that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ and head of the EPP Manfred Weber has for years been protecting Mr Orban in order to ensure that the sizeable FIDESZ delegation augmented the structures of the EPP. He resisted launching an attack on Orban over the Hungarian leader’s stance during the migration debate as Weber’s own party (CSU) is sympathetic to that point of view.
Hungary and Poland may be buddies, but they are not in the same place
Law and Justice (PiS) has no chance of being able to join the EPP should it ever want to as the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) are long-standing members of that grouping. They would block any application by PiS to join the EPP.
There are other differences between Mr Orban’s situation and that of PiS. In his last three elections, the Hungarian leader has been facing a divided opposition. In Poland, it looks as if the opposition has united in an anti-government block.
Another difference is the fact that Poland has not actually been at the forefront of the migration crisis. Hungary has, and therefore public opinion there is more acutely sensitized on the issue.
Since Hungary has not faced any Article 7 actions by the EC the issue of Hungary exiting the EU has not been debated much in that country. In Poland, the opposition has now for months been campaigning arguing that actions against Poland under Article 7 and by the ECJ over the rule of law issue could lead the country to eventually exit the EU.
Hungary is also in a different geopolitical location and therefore able to pursue a different foreign policy. It has no conflict with Russia and Mr Orban enjoys good relations with Vladimir Putin. It does not feel under any direct threat from Russia as it has no border with it.
Mr Orban and Mr Kaczyński agree on many issues with regard to the future of the EU, migration and social conservatism. But they are still in different political blocks in the EP and Mr Orban is not keen for that to change. So there are limits to both the friendship and the alliance.