My dear friends,

Since our last meeting in February this year, the world around us has changed dramatically. The pandemic, caused by the coronavirus, has invaded our lives on many levels, from personal and individual, to geopolitical. Some of us have been directly affected by Covid-19. All of us have experienced its other effects, such as quarantine, self-isolation, lockdowns, deep changes in behaviours and social habits, the economic downturn and the omnipresent feeling of uncertainty. We had to change our method of work, an example of which is today’s online meeting, and amend our plans, like postponing the date of our Extraordinary Congress, and our priorities. That is why I appreciate even more your engagement and determination, and here I mean all of you and the whole of the EPP, which have kept us present in this time on the European political stage.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will last, how many more victims it will claim, and how much more loss it will cause. There are many reasons to believe that the coming months will be critical. The pandemic has become a test, an extremely demanding one, for national healthcare systems, European institutions, for the Union as such, our economies, and for our psyches. It is a uniquely difficult political test for us as Christians, as Europeans, and as democrats. A Christian perspective in the time of pandemic is defined by a genuine concern for every man and woman, for the most vulnerable ones, it is defined by solidarity of all with all. To be a Christian in the time of pandemic means to be a guardian of an ethical dimension of politics to a much greater extent than in normal times. While looking for systemic ways of fighting against the virus, we must make decisions which are painful, sometimes even ruthless, which is why we cannot allow ourselves not to have empathy for each individual. People will forgive politicians their mistakes, we all make mistakes after all, but they will never forgive them their cynicism, unconcern or lies. We must develop deep mutual trust between citizens and governments, and not resort to manipulation and propaganda. For this very reason no politician from the EPP should remain indifferent when someone uses the pandemic for corruption, for attacking democracy, or for the unjustified limitation of human rights, including the right to credible information about the situation.

And here I would like to take this opportunity to thank once again our parliamentary group and Manfred Weber for their principled and univocal stance as regards the rule of law in the context of the Recovery Fund. European money cannot serve those governments who have completely un-European ideas and plans. We must also strongly fight all the attempts to undermine European solidarity by external forces. We must not let them divide us. Let us be aware that those who use lies, violence, and poison vis-à-vis their own citizens are also ready to poison the atmosphere in our community.

The EPP has also been active in the past months when it comes to cooperation with our Eastern partners. I want to thank all those who have engaged themselves in helping the Belarusian civil revolution, especially our party colleagues from the Belarusian Christian Democracy, the United Civic Party of Belarus, and the Movement for Freedom. You have truly astonished the whole world, by proving that good may triumph over evil, that the essence of good politics and Christian perspective will never be violence and falsehood. You may still have a long fight ahead, but I can promise you, on behalf of all of us, that we will never leave you alone and that we will support you politically, organisationally and materially.

Today, we are also deeply concerned by the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. We must do everything in our power so that the conflict which has exacerbated in recent days, does not degenerate into a regular war. We are calling on all parties to maintain dialogue and refrain from the use of fire. The alternative to dialogue is a catastrophe for the region and beyond.

The EPP is again facing a dilemma in terms of migration. The pandemic overshadowed disputes and emotions around relocation and the asylum policy for a short while only. We have a new proposal on the table, presented by Ursula von der Leyen which seems like a step in the right direction, but reaching consensus may still be very difficult, also in our ranks. I would like to ask you to have a frank debate in your parties about the project, as well as about the problem of migration in a wider context. We cannot make the same mistakes which have given so much political fuel to our opponents from the radical right. Our priority should be a wise synthesis of the need for the protection and control of our external border with the need for solidarity with the oppressed. On this occasion, I would like to again express my appreciation for the actions of the Greek government, and personally for Kyriakos Mitsotakis. You can count on us, just like in the case of the aggressive policy of Turkey. Greece and Cyprus have a right to expect full solidarity from the Union, and we are duty-bound to support them.

As you may remember, it was our intention to resolve, in voting during this meeting, a motion put forward by fourteen member parties to exclude Fidesz from our ranks. The pandemic has disrupted our plans, and this is not an excuse, but a real reason to postpone the decision. Nevertheless, I would like to share with you today one reflection I had after my consultations on the Fidesz issue in the last weeks. And I will be very open with you. The divisions about the future of Fidesz run deeper than it would seem when we listen to the public declarations of our leaders. There are parties in the EPP, who are OK with what Fidesz is doing in Hungary, and what it proposes as a direction of change for the whole of EPP. It is still a clear minority but let us not fool ourselves that everyone rejects Victor Orban’s way of thinking. There are also parties, very significant ones, who are critical of this political philosophy, so-called “illiberal democracy”, but who do not want to exclude Fidesz for tactical reasons, dictated by the internal dynamics in their countries, resulting from their interests or fears that the EPP would split, for example in the Parliament. This is a large group. And finally, there are those for whom our principles are the most important argument in this debate. I do not have to add here that I am wholeheartedly on their side. The truth is that there is no majority today for either excluding Fidesz or for its reintegration. So, let’s make the most of the time given to us by the pandemic, to reconsider our strategy. One thing should be clear: the essence of the problem is not only Fidesz, but a certain trend, very worrying in my opinion, which is also present in the EPP, in all of Europe, and beyond.

The illustrations of this trend are after all such phenomena like Brexit and Trump’s presidency. Our attitude to Fidesz’s practices in fact reflects our attitude to the idea of real democracy versus mono-party democracy, our attitude to traditional human rights, and our attitude to the foundations of the European Union. Therefore, the discussion about Fidesz is a de facto discussion about us and our strategy. And the results of this discussion will be meaningful for the future of democracy and for the future of Europe. Today, I find it hard to imagine that we can persuade Fidesz to return to our values. Unfortunately, I can imagine that some of the EPP parties could give up on them under the influence of this worrying trend. My task is to care for the EPP’s unity, but for the EPP which I joined thirty years ago, a political family, for whom it is important, but not the most important, to be effective in the struggle for power. For whom power is a means to strengthen freedom and democracy, not an end in itself. It is you, who must ask yourselves this question: not who to exclude or reintegrate, but who you are and who you want to be. You still have some time to think of an answer. Until the day when we finally meet in person and can vote in a secret ballot.