José Manuel Barroso: the European Union and Hungary

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has been very busy lately getting final approval for his second-term team of commissioners and dealing with the Greek crisis.

On March 3 Barroso unveiled a new 10-year plan for jobs and growth in the European Union. The commission’s ambitions are modest: Barroso and his team are hoping for a yearly 2% economic growth, but he emphasized that reaching even that modest goal will require closer cooperation among the 27 member states. How can this goal be achieved? First and foremost by increasing employment from 69% to 75% of the Union’s workforce. I might add right here that in Hungary it is about 55%! Europeans also want to invest more in research and development and in education.

The next day Barroso flew to Budapest where the leaders of the European People’s Party’s parliamentary caucus held one of its regular meetings. First he had a working dinner with Gordon Bajnai and the next morning he had a private meeting with Viktor Orbán. The picture below was taken after this meeting.

I suspect that the conversation didn’t go to Orbán’s liking. He looks mighty unhappy in the photo. If I had to guess, Orbán wanted to find out from Barroso how the European Union would react to a tentative proposal of raising the budget deficit from 3.8% to a somewhat higher figure. How much higher? It’s hard to tell where Fidesz stands now. A little more than a month ago Fidesz’s “independent” economists were still talking about 7.7%. At least they seemed to be certain that the government’s figure of 3.8% is phony and that the real number is 7.7%

However, since then a few things have happened. Most notably, Mihály Varga and his economic team had a couple of talks with the representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union and both told Varga in no uncertain terms that (1) the figures are not phony and (2) 7.7% is out of the question. Since then, it seems to me, almost no reference has been made to exact figures. The last I heard from Orbán was that a month after he takes office he will be able to tell the whole truth about the state of the Hungarian economy to the people. My guess is that it will be an announcement that the situation is much worse than they thought, the socialists stole everything and the cupboard is bare. It breaks his heart but he cannot fulfill any of his promises. His face on this picture I think is telling: no way out of the bind. He promises immediate change but nothing of the sort will materialize.

After this most likely unhappy meeting there was a public gathering where Barroso, Orbán, and Joseph Daul, the leader of the European People Party’s parliamentary delegation, spoke. This last politician delivered a rousing campaign speech on behalf of Fidesz after which he turned to Orbán and said “Viktor, you can count on us!”

Barroso, on the other hand, was much more restrained when talking about Hungarian internal affairs. Instead, he emphasized that the member states of the European Union must have closer relations. He emphasized the necessity of the Union’s acting as one unit because otherwise economic development will stall and the European Union will not be able to compete with the United States and China.

Surely, that is not what Orbán wanted to hear. He is not a euroskeptic in the sense of rejecting the Union, but he is leery of any move toward closer cooperation and unity. He has made enough references to the importance of nation states and national cultures for us to know how he feels about the question. People often remark that at his public appearances, although there are dozens of Hungarian flags, the flag of the European Union is never present.

Orbán’s speech was basically a rehash of his speech on “the state of the Hungarian nation” on February 5, 2010. The unfortunate phrase “money capitalism” cropped up again. He again emphasized that instead of engaging in financial speculation, banks should provide money for “production.” When I heard this strange “money capitalism” phrase I first thought it must have derived from Marxism. However, this morning I learned that the term was used by the populists (narodniks) in the thirties and lately in the program of a far-right organization called Pax Hungarica Mozgalom. A closer look reveals that these people are the followers of the late Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party and their ideology is called “hungarism,” or in other words the Hungarian version of national socialism.

The man who discovered the source of the term, bless his heart, was Jenő Veress, a journalist who writes wonderful opinion pieces in Népszava. In his last article called “Quotation Marks” he recalled Orbán’s problems with plagiarism in his speech of February 5 and added that this time he used the phrase “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” without crediting F.D.R. Then Veress became curious about “money capitalism” and, behold, Orbán’s speech writers turned to this far-right organization’s program for this strange term. As Veress said, it is somewhat worrisome that this man doesn’t seem to have one original idea. It is also worrisome that Fidesz speech writers copy ideas as their own from the webpage of a far-right organization.

So here we are. The leaders of Fidesz claim that theirs is a moderate party standing betwen two extremes, Jobbik and MSZP, while the party chief is plagiarizing from the hungarists. Quite something.

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It is pretty clear that Orban is trapped between trying to quell the surging popularity of Jobbik and the radical elements, which despise capitalism, the EU, etc. and his more traditional middle class/professional base which wants lower taxes and a strong Forint. Moreover, the one thing these groups agree on is to try and put an end to the rampant corruption in the political system. Yet, this is the one area where FIDESZ is already out emulating the MSZP, and getting its hands in the pockets of all businesses in the country. The fact is Orban is bound to disappoint both the radical right and his more main stream supporters. He may be able to dial up the rhetoric, but on policy his room for maneuver is completely limited. Orban is desperate to revel in the 2011 Hungarian EU presidency, and he has been told in no uncertain terms that this will be in jeopardy if he does anything too rash. Meanwhile, the far right will have good reason (in their own minds) to mobilize when they see the first signs of betrayal. It should be fun. Meanwhile, for the first time in the last 20 years, I know of… Read more »

Poor old uncle Viktor. If he’s not being shafted by former Communists like Gyurcsány he’s being shafted by former Communists like Barroso…
And peple wonder why the Hungarian right can be so conspiracy-minded. Ha ha.


This is laughable. Take a photo, and make a story about a supposedly unhappy face. What if they were only discussing EU party-politics? Or for that matter, what if Barroso was telling Orbán that the deficit is actually 10%, and he got his “unhappy face” from getting to know that?
The socialists have a tradition of telling lies during elections. And they also have a tradition of making the deficit figures look better on paper than in reality. And, the EU gets the deficit numbers from the Hungarian government. They can lie (“miss-calculate it”), just like they did in 2006, or for that matter like Greece did.
Orbán has not promised any quick solutions. He has promised 1 million new jobs in 10 years, promise to take down corruption, and to make the state work better. Whatever effect those will have, i can imagine only something better than what we have right now.
Why not post something about the MSZP&SZDSZ corruption? “Orbán had an unhappy face” is an important story, but “MSZP robbed the Budapest transport CO” isn’t?

John T

I think you’ll find that the Government figures have at least had to be more accurate since the IMF got involved.
In terms of corruption in Hungary, it might help if the everyone finally faced up to the fact that most people are at it to some extent and that corruption or crooked activity almost certainly afflicts all of the existing parties. Very few people can hold the high moral ground in this respect.


@John T
“fact that most people are at it to some extent and that corruption or crooked activity almost certainly afflicts all of the existing parties”
So, you say that corruption is ok, its a way of life we should all embrace, like during the kádár regime?

John T

@Steve – no, not at all. I think that corruption is a disease. All I’m saying is that the reality of the situation is that most people are guilty of some level of corruption or dishonesty. I see that across the board though, not just as an MSZP issue.


@John T
The most common dishonesty is tax evasion, its an absurd situation, granted. Income taxes should be lowered, so that actual taxed income can become real income.
The real corruption is linked to the government, and the governing party. The issues during the Fidesz government were not on the same scale of what has happened in the last 8 years. And if you read the now released interview with Zsolt Balogh in relation to BKV, you will see the scale and brutality of corruption. There was nothing like this during Fidesz government.

John T

@Steve – corruption is corruption, regardless of the scale. To me, this is a zero tolerance issue and I don’t think you can really get away with saying Fidesz was less corrupt. Anyone who is corrupt needs to be dealt with, but properly, through the law and in a transparent way.
I personally would set the following rules for anyone found guilty of corruption.
Custodial sentences of up to 10 years for the most serious cases.
A minimum fine of HUF 1 million capped to HUF 100 (depending on the scale of corruption.
Confiscation of all assets obtained through corruption.
Bar any politician or public official found guilty of corruption from holding public office.
Ban any businessman found guilty of corruption from being a company director or runiing a business for a minimum of 10 years.
But all cases must be judged on the evidence within an independent judical system, free from political interference.