New government, new plans

Although the final results of the 2010 parliamentary elections have not yet been decided, the Hungarian media have already spent considerable time and space speculating about what this government will look like and who will have important positions in the cabinet. There is also a lot of speculation about the structure of the government. While in the United States the creation of a new department is a rare event, Hungarian politicians love to make changes in the structure of government. Ministries come, ministries go, and things usually don't get any better. In fact, it often happens that the new structure doesn't stand the test of time.

In just the last few years I remember the introduction of a sport and youth ministry (by now gone), a ministry of information technology (also gone), a ministry of culture and national treasure (gone). Then there was the creation of a separate ministry dealing with local governments (still exists). The most fundamental and important change introduced by Ferenc Gyurcsány was putting the police, earlier handled by the Ministry of Interior, under the the Ministry of Justice by renaming it the Ministry of Justice and Law and Order. That turned out to be a very bad decision. The minister of justice and his staff were not able to handle the affairs of the police.

I took a quick look at the structures of the various governments since 1990 and came to the conclusion that the most logical and simplest division of governmental functions was introduced by Gyula Horn. His cabinet consisted of twelve minsters and two ministers without portfolio, streamlined from the government of József Antall that had thirteen ministries and nine ministers without portfolio. Viktor Orbán liked a big cabinet; he had altogether fifteen ministries plus two ministers without portfolio. He added two new ministries: one was the huge ministry of the prime minister with a full-fledged minister at its head. Both ministries appealed to his successors, Péter Medgyessy and Ferenc Gyurcsány, and are still important parts of the governmental structure. Medgyessy and Gyurcsány didn't reduce the numbers, just shuffled some of the responsibilities of the ministries.

Apparently, if current rumors have any foundation, an entirely new structure will be introduced that is totally alien to Hungarian precedent. It seems that Fidesz will imitate the British set-up by creating only eight ministries, among them some "super ministries." One of these super ministries will deal with human affairs: social issues, culture, education, health, and everything else under the sun. There will be only one minister and several undersecretaries in charge of the various fields. Even more bizarre is the apparent plan to abolish the post of minister of finance. He would be demoted to the rank of an undersecretary under the superminister in charge of the economy. The undersecretary in charge of finance would only be responsible for the budget. But more about all this once we know the details.

Jobbik is already making demands for representation on parliamentary committees. Currently there are seventeen parliamentary committees and by law the chairman of the committee on national security must belong to an opposition member of parliament. By custom the same is true about the chairman of the committee on foreign relations and the chairman of the committee on finances. Vona announced in no uncertain terms that he will demand the chairmanship of the committee on foreign relations! You can imagine what László Kovács, minister of foreign affairs in the Horn government, thought of that. He pointed out that this is a very important position. Foreign governments pay attention to what the chairman of this particular committee says or does. How can a politician whose party wants to sever ties with the European Union head such an important committee? The politicians of Jobbik have often made provocative remarks about Hungary's neighbors and have made no secret of their revisionist aims. Moreover, Jobbik has turned away from a western orientation in general and its European parliamentary member, Csanád Szegedi, has been assiduously working for better relations with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kirghistan of all places!

I took a quick look at the current composition of the parliamentary committees; of the seventeen committees eight are headed by Fidesz, two by SZDSZ, and the rest by MSZP politicians. During the first Orbán government the governing parties were not that generous with the opposition. There were twenty-four parliamentary committees between 1998 and 2002 and in sixteen cases the chairmen came from government parties.

My feeling is that in the next parliament Fidesz will assume the chairmanship of the lion's share of the parliamentary committees, arguing that the party has such an overwhelming majority and the opposition is so small that it wouldn't be fair to allow the opposition to wield undue influence. After all, the opposition  (MSZP, Jobbik, and LMP) will have no more than about 110 seats out of the 386. 

Jobbik will have to get something, but I very much doubt that it will be the chairmanship of the committee on foreign relations.

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Mark
Guest

“It seems that Fidesz will imitate the British set-up by creating only eight ministries, among them some “super ministries.”
I wonder where they have got the idea from that this is the British set up. According to my count there are fifteen central government department/offices/ministries which are equivalent to Hungarian ministries. The notion that an eight ministry model is typical FIDESZ spin, very similar to the rubbish pedalled by them in 1998 that their model of a Chancellory was copying the German system.

Gábor
Guest

Mark, I suppose it is quite easy, just as was the case with Chancellory. That time it was Stumpf’s mania (as “political scientists) and he was a good enough guy to deserve a chance to realize the reult of his research, now it is Navracsics’s turn. It is a deplorable state of affairs, when a political party is inclined to restructure government every time according to the very accidental fact who is coordinating its preparations. Maybe it is not the best way to effective government to allow “political scientists” to use real government as their research lab.
Otherwise it is not the number of ministries but the structure, with senior and junior ministers etc. what they mean to be British. Probably, because many features of the British cabinet system was introduced by Gyurcsány 😀 )

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “”It seems that Fidesz will imitate the British set-up by creating only eight ministries, among them some “super ministries.” I wonder where they have got the idea from that this is the British set up. According to my count there are fifteen central government department/offices/ministries which are equivalent to Hungarian ministries.”
This is what happens when I don’t check something myself and believe what Fidesz politicians and experts say.
My only excuse is that I simply didn’t have time. I must admit though that I was surprised to hear about the “English model” because I have never heard of such thing but there are many things I have never heard of!
As promised I will write about the government structure again once we know what the real situation is. Here I would like to mention only that it is hard to imagine a government where there is no full fledged ministry of finance in charge of the budget.

Andras
Guest

A cynical friend of mine, working in one of the ministries, told me that the re-organisation of ministries is only way to get rid off anybody without have to give any other reason that his/her job ceasing to exist due to reorganisation.
Beyond this, this would mean, that in the first crucial 3-5 months there would not be anything than reorganisation, internal battles and nobody would do anything to save his/her job. This would mean that the new gov. will likely to misspend this first crucial quarter year… in the midst of a beginning of a major European level crisis!

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Andras: “A cynical friend of mine, working in one of the ministries, told me that the re-organisation of ministries is only way to get rid off anybody without have to give any other reason that his/her job ceasing to exist due to reorganisation.”
I have the feeling that one doesn’t even have to be very cynical to think that. As for abolishing the post of finance minister, Orbán can get rid of an annoying guy who keeps an eye on expenditures.

Gábor
Guest

Andárs, you miss the point: they won’t spoil this quarter of a year, rather win it. As long as they are reorganizing no one will discover how incompetent their ministers and secretaries of state are. 🙂 And I wouldn’t fear that the key ministers (Pintér, Fellegi if he will be really minister) will need much time to learn the ways of transforming public money to privite profit…)

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