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Now that Viktor Orbán and Fidesz have finally exited Donald Tusk’s EPP Group, what is the next step?

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Orbán indicated that he wanted to form a party with Matteo Salvini (Italy) and the PiS of Poland. However, what was once possible in 2019 (when Orbán decided to stay with EPP), may prove more difficult today.

Salvini, whose Lega party is backing Mario Draghi’s so-called unity coalition government, said talks with Orbán were not a priority at the moment.

 “I am dealing in a highly concrete way with (COVID-19) vaccines and reimbursements (for lost revenue) to Italian firms,” Salvini told reporters when asked about what Orbán had said. “We’ll talk about what happens in Europe further down the line.”

First, I do not believe this coalition can exclude Giorgio Meloni of the FdI, regardless of Salvini’s wishes. (There were rumors that Salvini would demand this, but this is not something that has been confirmed and came from a pro-migration source.) Regardless, Meloni is surging in Italy and has consistently stood firm behind the values that Orbán has stated that he is looking to advance.

In addition, there are plenty of parties from one country that belong to the same EU political grouping, and if Salvini and Meloni want to govern Italy in the future, it’s best to keep them as allies.

Secondly, we believe Salvini is getting heavy pressure from Lega officials to keep his distance from Orbán and national conservatives. How this is related to his upcoming trial in Italy is unknown, but Lega officials may be may planning to embrace the establishment if Salvini is unjustly convicted in this show trial.

However, one must also look back to the 2019 EU Summit, which I believe was a disaster and missed opportunity for the right. Salvini and his party were at the height of popularity and dominated the EU elections in Italy, but were blackballed at the EU Summit when others were making deals with his rival Macron and the establishment parties (EPP, Socialists, Renew Europe) to install Ursula von der Leyen as EU Commission president and open-border activist David Sassoli (another Salvini rival in Italy) as EU Parliament president.

I believe this was a huge political miscalculation and strategic error…and still do.

Thus, the recent exit of Fidesz from the EPP Party should be viewed as a vital step in the right direction that probably should have happened in 2019.

While I still believe this coalition with Salvini is possible, one has to take advantage of opportunities when they are available (as we thought in 2019) before they quickly disappear.

Quite frankly, I do not know what Salvini is thinking today, just as I was mystified at Visegrád’s thinking in 2019.

One cannot make deals with the establishment; this never works out and one will always get burned in the end. Salvini should remember this, just as the ‘victory’ proclaimed by Poland and Hungary included EU Commissioner Věra Jourová, who was a gift from Macron and Babiš at Renew Europe.

At this point, there are too many unclear issues with Salvini. Orbán should concentrate on strengthening and expanding the scope of the ECR Group with the PiS of Poland, Meloni and VOX of Spain. Orbán has a strong personality and is the one leader who can enlarge this base, while working to rehabilitate Salvini in the long term.

Why invent new parties when one can strengthen the centre-right base already established at the ECR Group?

For years, this writer strongly believed that the EU was in desperate need of a solid and principled center-right bloc willing to work with (in two separate groups) Salvini’s ID group on the right to provide the counterbalance to the heavy influence of Germany, France and the West EU bloc.

Originally the thought was the right could unite in one bloc, but there are many challenges (personalities, egos) that would make this difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, it is not necessary, given how well the liberals, socialists and EPP work together today inside the EU.

Overall, we find the ECR members of higher quality than the EPP, and more in tune when it comes to migration, the sovereignty of the nation state and rolling back the power and scope of Brussels. Even geographically, the ECR can be more CEE-based than the EPP.

But they need the leadership of both a Orbán and the PiS to grow. Only Orbán and the PiS posses the clout and stature to make it happen. In the long term, their leadership will only strengthen some of the other emerging parties.

The status-quo is not the long-term solution and something must change.

Now, free of EPP chains, Viktor Orbán can be the ‘game-changer’.