The new Hungarian foreign policy in the making

I've written a lot about the frantic pace at which Fidesz lawmakers are moving in parliament. According to the latest count fifty proposals were submitted by the Fidesz-KDNP majority. Out of these fifty only one was initiated by the government and even that was just the suspension of an earlier law that set the date for the introduction of the new civil code for July 1. All others were submitted by individual members. In a month and a half twenty-six proposals were discussed, voted on, and passed. Quite a record, I would say. How well these laws will stand the test of time we will see. Opposition members naturally claim that they will not.

The new foreign minister has also been very busy. Earlier I wrote about a rather ambitious Fidesz plan of long standing that envisaged a north-south axis of states that would work together and form a regional alliance within the European Union. They would allegedly coordinate policy to defend the interests of the countries that fall within this axis. In addition, there would be closer political and economic cooperation among them. A few years ago Fidesz was thinking in terms of the following countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia. But time went by and Slovak-Hungarian relations became rather strained. At the same time, in the last two years or so, Viktor Orbán has worked assiduously to build closer cooperation with the right of center Romanian government. In fact, last summer Orbán more or less campaigned for Traian Basescu, the president of Romania.

So the geography of the axis started to shift. The notion of a north-south axis that would include Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia was bandied about. In light of this, it wasn't terribly surprising that the new prime minister's first foreign trip was to Poland. However, after reading the reports on Orbán's meeting with Donald Tusk, the prime minister of Poland, I had the distinct feeling that the Polish politician was less than enthusiastic about this north-south axis concocted by the Fidesz leadership.

Most likely my instinct about Orbán's visit to Warsaw was correct because just this morning János Martonyi in an interview talked about a Hungarian policy that will orient itself toward the south. He no longer envisaged a north-south axis that would include Poland. The reporter wanted to know specifics, and it turned out that Martonyi is thinking in terms of Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and possibly even countries farther south in the Balkans.

Martonyi's first foreign trip was to Sarajevo where the foreign ministers of the western Balkans gathered for a conference. A few days later he visited Belgrade and negotiated with the Serbian prime minister and the foreign minister. He emphasized at the press conference that Hungary will be the first one to ratify Serbia's accession to the European Union. He also promised a joint Serbian-Hungarian cabinet meeting in the near future.

A few days ago Martonyi also met with Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, in Budapest and they signed a document about "strategic cooperation between the two countries."

While Martonyi was paying special attention to the Balkans and Italy, Zsolt Semjén decided to court Romania. He spent two days in the Romanian capital and in Transylvania and praised Romania for its enlightened minority policies. He informed Basescu that the Hungarian government actually based its law on dual citizenship on the Romanian model. And in his conversation with Emil Boc, the prime minister, he drew comparisons between Viktor Orbán's 29 points and the economic decisions of the Romanian government. Naturally he talked with the Hungarian politicians of RMDSZ, the coalition partner of the Boc government. The other more nationalistic Hungarian party that was formed a couple of years ago with Fidesz's encouragement was ignored.

Among potential members of this truncated axis Serbia is very obliging because at the moment it needs Hungarian support. So is Croatia. I'm not sure about the Romanian government's the real feelings toward the government in Budapest.

As for Slovakia, well, one ought to devote a whole separate chapter to that mess, but right now Budapest doesn't seem to be of one mind on what to do with the new situation. Martonyi this morning told the reporter that the Hungarian government is definitely planning to negotiate with the new Slovak government and with Béla Bugár's Most/Híd. However, a few hours later Semjén expressed his doubts about Most/Híd's representing the interests of the Hungarian minority. He wants to know how Hungarian Bugár and his party really are.

Tomorrow János Martonyi is going to Washington to talk with Hillary Clinton, but when he was asked about a possible date for an Obama-Orbán meeting the answer was fuzzy. He first said something about the fall, but when the reporter asked specifically whether it would be in the White House he drifted into a mental cloud. The confusing answer was something about a meeting at some event, for example, a conference. My feeling is that this much coveted White House invitation will not be issued any time soon. Especially since the State Department is most likely well informed about what's going on in the Hungarian parliament.

Since I mentioned Romanian affairs I should call your attention to a new feature of a well known Romanian daily called Gandul (Thought). Lately it has translations of some of its articles in English, German, and Hungarian. I checked it out, and I think it will be useful to those who don't read Romanian.