Europe’s Eastern Nationalists Brace for Backlash After Big EU Election Wins

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(Bloomberg) --

Nationalists in Hungary and Poland celebrated two of the three biggest victories in Europe’s legislative ballot, but unless they change direction, they may face isolation in the world’s largest trading bloc.

The dream of a potential coalition between conservatives and far-right nationalists -- an alliance Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had hoped to anchor -- was dashed when a possible pro-European Union centrist alliance emerged from the weekend legislative elections.

Europe’s Eastern Nationalists Brace for Backlash After Big EU Election Wins

Orban has consolidated power at home while leveraging his place in the European People’s Party -- the bloc’s largest political family -- to stifle scrutiny from abroad. But that membership, already suspended in the run-up to the vote, is now in peril.

The Liberals won’t join coalition with the EPP unless the center-right group expels Orban, a senior lawmaker from French President Emmanuel Macron’s party said on Tuesday.

“We are very clear: the issue of freedom and the rule of law are essential and I don’t see how we could form a majority with Orban on that,” Pascal Canfin, deputy leader of Macron’s European parliamentary group, told France Inter radio. “The EPP must clarify its position with Orban in the coming days, that’s fundamental.”

Hungary and Poland are facing proceedings for suspected violations of democratic norms and there are calls to cut EU funding for rule-of-law violators. Talks on the EU’s seven-year budget will now get underway, putting a premium on a seat at the table of a group such as the EPP.

Orban’s Fidesz party won 52% of the vote in the European Parliament elections, compared with 16% for the opposition Demokratikus Koalicio, the widest margin of victory across the EU. In Poland, the ruling Law & Justice of Jaroslaw Kaczynski clinched the third-biggest win with 46%, giving it an advantage over pro-EU rivals before general elections this fall.

Europe’s Eastern Nationalists Brace for Backlash After Big EU Election Wins

But those landslides mean little outside of the countries’ borders, as their opponents in the EU gain strength.

The Liberal and Green groups, the biggest winners in the European assembly, are already gunning for Orban and Kaczynski. Both leaders have set up Europe’s biggest propaganda machines and stacked independent institutions with party loyalists.

While Kaczynski’s party isn’t a member of the four centrist parties, Orban’s EPP membership is a potential obstacle to a continent-wide leadership coalition. Orban himself has flagged that a centrist alliance may force him to quit the EPP.

Ties with the party are already at the breaking point after Orban followed Fidesz’s suspension by hosting far-right leaders and withdrawing backing for the EPP’s candidate to lead the EU executive.

“Orban won the battle at home but he may have lost the war in Europe,” said Daniel Bartha, director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy. “He’ll be increasingly isolated in Europe.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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