EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was so stupefied after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attacked his migration policies that he publicly muttered “I cannot believe what I read.” When Orban’s party later targeted him in a virulent election poster campaign, Juncker was again dumbfounded, saying “You can’t really act against lies.”
Enemies from opposing camps? No, they belong to the same EPP Christian Democrat group, the dominant force in the European Parliament, and should, in theory, be close allies in May’s European Union election.
Instead, this political fratricide is front and center in this massive exercise of democracy, which spans 27 nations and involves close to half a billion people. The May 23-26 European Parliament vote could prove to be a tipping point in post-war European politics.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is clashing with President Donald Trump over his repeated threats to shut down the U.S. border with Mexico, warning that it could have catastrophic economic impact on the country. Delivery trucks carrying $1.7 billion worth of goods a day currently suffer a 12-hour backup at legal ports of entry after border agents were sent off to deal with immigration.
(Published Thursday, April 4, 2019)
The EU parliamentary election is run as national ballots in 27 member states. National political parties with common ideology then unite in EU-wide groups like the center-right EPP, the center-left SD Socialists and the liberal, pro-business ALDE.
Over the years, the major political groups started looking at adding unattached national parties to expand their bases. Even if these newcomers might not be as close to their core values, they still could boost their seat totals in Parliament.
Some factions, however, have developed sharply contrasting agendas within their groups and can vary as widely as the geographic spread from Finland to Hungary to Portugal. Some could now splinter off — like Orban’s staunchly anti-migrant, right-wing Fidesz party — weaken the center and reinforce the fringes.
The EPP, for example, welcomed a populist Italian, Silvio Berlusconi, two decades ago. Orban’s Fidesz party followed soon after. Other groups also face similar internal trouble — the ALDE with populist Czech leader Andrej Babis, who has been accused of misusing EU farm subsidies, and the SD with Romania’s Social Democrats, who critics say are weakening the judiciary’s fight against corruption.
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(Published Tuesday, April 2, 2019)
Orban was first embraced for his anti-Communist credentials but over the years turned into an anti-immigration populist calling for an “illiberal” society with autocratic leadership, something that increasingly jarred with EPP values.
It came to a boil over the past month when Orban fired up his anti-Brussels rhetoric portraying Juncker as conniving to keep nations like Hungary under their thumb and opening EU borders to all migrants. He plastered Budapest with posters showing Juncker as a gloating force of evil.
“I consider the formulations in the poster campaign in Hungary against Jean-Claude Juncker, which is meeting with incomprehension in large parts of the EPP, unacceptable,” Austrian Chancellor and EPP heavyweight Sebastian Kurz said Friday.
Since the last EU election in 2014, Britain has voted to leave the EU and Italy and Austria have government coalitions that include the far right. Over a dozen EU nations have fragile minority governments and Poland has turned as hostile toward Brussels as Hungary.
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(Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019)
“After the fall of London, Rome, Warsaw, Budapest, or Vienna into the hands of anti-European and/or xenophobic forces, we no longer speak of the ‘enemy at the gate’ but of the ‘enemy inside the gates,'” wrote Jose Ignacio Torreblanca for the European Council on Foreign Relations.
And all this comes at a time when the European Parliament now has more powers. All too long a posh retirement post for over-the-hill politicians, the parliament is now an effective decision-maker with a real say on everything from Brexit to anti-pollution regulations.
The first projections for the 705-seat legislature, produced this week by the parliament itself, show the EPP Christian Democrats struggling with 183 seats, the SD Socialists losing big to land at 135 seats and their grand coalition short of a majority for the first time. Populists would gain more clout during the upcoming five-year session.
The influential VoteWatch Europe think tank said “right-wing nationalists are set to gain, although they are likely to fall short of getting over 25 percent of seats.”
But it said a united group of right-wing nationalists could become the second largest group in the legislature.
But with higher numbers and better coordination, the anti-EU forces could start weighing in more on decision-making in Europe and battle back against pro-EU French President Emmanuel Macron’s vision of an ever-closer union.
Copyright Associated Press