Seventy years ago, in the aftermath of the total destruction that the unleashing of rabid nationalism brought to Europe, a group of visionary men came together with an idea of uniting European countries. At the helm of this project was a circle of influential Christian Democrats, including Italian prime minister and anti-fascist politician Alcide De Gasperi and French politician Robert Schuman, who became the first president of the European Parliamentary Assembly.
Today, the European People’s Party (EPP) is the ideological heir of this influential group. With 219 members, it is currently the largest political force in the European Parliament and de facto leads the other two main EU institutions, holding the presidency of the Commission and the Council. It is not an exaggeration to say that today the EPP is leading the EU, just as its predecessor were in its dawn.
The EPP has expressed its commitment to the vision and principles upheld by the EU’s Founding Fathers, who laid the foundations of a Europe of peace, prosperity, and unity, of progressive thought that opens borders.
Therefore, today, the EEP should be at the forefront of combating the deepening internal crisis the EU is facing and the rise of the far right and nationalist populism. At least on paper, the EPP group has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to rejecting of all destructive trends challenging the Union.
In practice, however, the EEP is giving shelter to a toxic political project that threatens the very foundations of the EU.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban along with his Fidesz Party continues to be a member of the EEP. Despite building his populist politics on anti-EU rhetoric and policies, Orban has not be marginalised within the group; to the contrary, he continues to be praised and welcomed by some of its leaders.
For the past eight years now, Orban has been solidifying his grip on Hungarian politics, economy and the media and will continue to do so in the next four years.
At the base of his far-reaching populism has been a systematic campaign against a number of “enemy” targets, which apart from the liberal opposition and progressive media, the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros and refugees, have also included the European Union.
In a speech delivered just prior to the recent parliamentary elections in Hungary, Orban outlined what his rule has been all about: ending the “euro-blah-blah, prissy liberalism and politically correct hot air”. He sees himself as the leader who has sent “the muzzle back to Brussels and the leash back to the IMF”.
Orban’s overreaching control over the media has ensured that there is a steady stream of propaganda portraying Muslims as a threat, dehumanising migrants, and praising his party and policies as bastions of traditional values and the Hungarian ethnos.
In the past few years, Brussels has finally started issuing warnings and taking action against Orban’s authoritarian policies and the deteriorating rule of law in the country. Fidesz’s response has been to reject these actions as a “political offensive” against Hungary and “ EU’s anti-Hungary witch-hunt“.
He has not only passed laws that are in direct contradiction with EU law – such as a legal measure targeting the Central European University and a law on foreign funding of NGOs – but it has also defied EU decisions, including the quotas for refugees that each member state has to take in.
Orban’s rhetoric and policies implicitly challenge the idea of a pluralistic border-free EU, celebrating the diversity of its people and united by common liberal values. The vision he and other right-wing nationalist populists like him promote today is of a white, ethnically and culturally homogeneous Europe divided by carefully monitored borders.
Let us remember that it was a similar vision of white superiority and purity that brought about one of the most catastrophic wars in European history. And it is that war that prompted the EU’s Founding Fathers to work on a project that would guarantee that this type of ideology never takes control of European community again.
The fact that Orban’s party continues to be an EPP member shows that despite its official declarations, the EPP is by far not combating anti-EU populism. Much of its rhetoric is hypocritical and, in fact, covers up for the growing support for anti-democratic and illiberal politics emerging at the heart of the EU.
But beyond hypocrisy, EEP’s embrace of Orban is also dangerous. Politicians like him, under the (allegedly) moderate guise of Christian Democracy, are becoming a symbol for the anti-EU far-right forces.
What is more, Orbanism is spreading to Central and Eastern European countries. For states like Poland, where the EU has been a major force pressuring for changes and reform, this trend can potentially derail democratisation efforts and encourage the cloning of Orbanian model.
Orbanism encourages violent xenophobia, hate speech and racism which target anyone from migrants and refugees, to Muslims, Jews and Roma, to the LGBTQ community. And all that 73 years after the end of World War II and the Holocaust sounds dangerously familiar.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.