European Parliament Shake-Up: Orbán’s Fidesz Quits EPP Group and Immunity of 3 Catalan Leaders Lifted

Written by | Friday, March 12th, 2021

The departure of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party from the EU’s biggest political family has opened Pandora’s box in the European Parliament and whetted conservatives’ appetite to reshape the political scene. According to an unnamed source at the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the EU’s legislative, the group’s plan is to initially open its doors to Fidesz, which quit the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) last week. The next step is to bring on board the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which is also an EPP member but its leader, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, is ideologically closer to Orbán. “The ECR is already in talks with Janša,” the source said. The third party reportedly in talks to join the ECR is the Italian Lega, which is now affiliated with Marine Le Pen’s far-right Identity and Democracy Party in the European Parliament.
“The condition for Lega to join is to kick out the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) led by Giorgia Meloni,” the source said, after Meloni’s recent demand to lift EU sanctions against Russia seems to have irritated the group’s main political force, Poland’s PiS. Orbán has recently written to the Brothers of Italy to express his support and praise their shared “Christian and conservative values”. “Not even Orbán has gone so far,” the source said, adding that Meloni seems to be standing in the way of the ECR group’s “growth and aimed political realignment closer to the centre right”. With seven MEPs, Brothers of Italy, currently a member of the ECR, is the only opposition party to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government. Lega, by contrast, boasts 27 MEPs and is part of the current coalition government in Italy. “The ECR is ready to offer Fidesz and Lega the chairmanship of the party and the group in the EU Parliament,” the source added.
On a separate but related matter, the European Parliament has voted to strip immunity from the former president of Spain’s Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, and two of his associates – a move that could pave the way for the political figures to be extradited. On Monday (8 March), 400 legislators voted for Puigdemont’s immunity from prosecution to be waived, while 248 were against and 45 abstained. The votes to lift the immunity of his associates – former Catalan health minister Toni Comin and former regional education minister Clara Ponsati – were by largely similar margins. “We have lost our immunity, but the European Parliament has lost more than that. And as a result, European democracy, too,” Puigdemont said afterward. “This is a clear case of political persecution.” Puigdemont and Comin, who are in self-imposed exile in Belgium, formally became MEPs in June 2019, while Ponsati, who is in Scotland, was officially a member from January 2020. All are subject to European arrest warrants issued by Spain, which is seeking their extradition related to their role in organising a 2017 independence referendum. The referendum saw a large majority vote for Catalonia’s secession from Spain, but the central government in Madrid had declared the vote illegal and unconstitutional.

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