Well, that’s not exactly the best way of describing it. Perhaps it would be better to say that they were days full of surprises. Already yesterday some eagle-eyed politicians noticed that in an omnibus bill the government managed to squeeze in an increase in social security contributions. Until now, the employee had to pay 9.5% of his salary. In the bill it is 10%. Of course, Fidesz didn’t say a word about the increase, and I’ll bet government policy makers would have been mighty happy if no one had noticed it. But they did. Some explanation had to be given and Péter Szijjártó, Viktor Orbán’s personal spokesman, explained that this increase was necessary in order for Fidesz to fulfill a campaign promise. “The ladies” will be able to retire, regardless of age, after forty years of “work.”
Well, let me start with the “ladies.” Only God knows why in Hungarian one cannot simply say “women.” But one can’t. Then comes the campaign promise. I don’t remember any campaign promise concerning the ladies’ special status. To the best of my knowledge Fidesz’s “expert” on pensioners, a professor of gerontology and as far as I’m concerned an old fool, came up with the idea after the elections. According to him the “ladies” have to retire early in order to attend to the needs of their grandchildren! Outrageous.
Now, every normal person would object to this provision on several grounds. First, it breaks the rule of equal treatment of men and women. Second, from a more practical point of view: men die earlier, so why would we give preference to women in this respect? Third, when everywhere in the world the retirement age is going up because otherwise the whole system will collapse in no time, Hungary is swimming against the tide. (But what’s new about that lately?)
So, now Szijjártó tried to explain that the half a percentage point increase in social security contributions is necessary for the sole purpose of fulfilling this campaign promise. But there is something wrong with the math here. Apparently, this extra half a percentage point amounts to an increase of 40-50 billion forints of revenue per annum while the estimate is that no more than about 10,000 “ladies” would be eligible for early retirement.
In any case, thanks to this increase in social security contributions the “drastic” taxcut for most people will be only 0.5 percent. Just wait until 90% of the employed people get their first checks in January. Great will be their surprise because I suspect that most of them don’t quite realize that the substantial tax cuts mentioned so often are only for the top 10% of the actively employed or well-heeled entrepreneurs.
But that wasn’t all. This morning it became known that the extra taxes on banks and on selected businesses (mostly foreign-owned) will not end in 2013 as promised. That was discovered by György Kopits, head of a new body in charge of keeping an eye on the budget. Kopits until recently was in the Fidesz camp, but he is a good enough scholar that he finds György Matolcsy’s voodoo economics too much to tolerate. He has expressed his misgivings a lot recently. So, anyway, Kopits found in an addendum in very small print the provision that the drastic extra taxes on banks and businesses will continue even in 2014. Of course, in 2014 there will be elections again. I assume I don’t have to spell out the significance of four years of extra taxes that would allow the Fidesz government to boost its revenue, honor the deficit provisions, and spend and spend so the electorate will happily reelect them.
Well, the markets really didn’t like that piece of news. The Budapest Stock Exchange fell 4.71%. The forint began to slide by noon and kept sliding. I really wonder how long the government can keep up this game. I have the feeling not for long.
That wasn’t all. The government steamroller failed today. Or rather, almost failed. János Lázár, leader of the Fidesz delegation, sponsored another bill concerning the status of the constitutional court that was supposed to be more generous than the earlier proposal but would still greatly restrict the competence of the court. And it almost didn’t pass. An unheard-of event in the history of the frantic parliamentary history of the Orbán government! The bill needed a two-thirds majority and it was one vote short! Take a look at those faces: Viktor Orbán, Tibor Navracsics, and Róbert Répássy.
But never fear. Everything can be fixed in the Fidesz world. Although the voting machines had a successful test run just before the vote, once the bill fell short four Fidesz members of parliament announced that their electronic voting machines had failed and that had caused the problem. This explanation was accepted by the presiding speaker of the house. The MSZP people first claimed that one of the four, the inimitable Tamás Meggyes of Esztergom, wasn’t even in the chamber during the vote but at the end they gave up and accepted the verdict.
And finally, László Sólyom spoke for a second time. A week ago or so, Ferenc Gyurcány in his blog complained about Sólyom’s silence while the government is trampling on the constitutional edifice of the country. He reminded Sólyom that he had been such a zealous guardian of the constitution when Gyurcsány was prime minister where the sanctity of the constitution was in no way injured. Why is he silent now?
Well, I don’t think that Sólyom decided to express his objections because of Gyurcsány’s urging but he did. And rather forcefully. One cannot really be surprised. After all, the present constitution was pretty much his handiwork. A couple of days ago he announced that it is unlikely that the government can come up with a better constitution than the one Hungary currently has. Today, he was even more explicit. He announced that the road the government chose will be “a slippery slope on which it will be practically impossible to stop.” This road will lead to the death of the constitutional court. Because of the new regulations the constitutional court will have to follow unconstitutional laws.
He said that in the absence of a really effective constitutional court the president’s political veto will be the only possible way to reintroduce some semblance of checks and balances in the system. I might not like László Sólyom very much, but I don’t think that he is so naive that he is actually hoping that Pál Schmitt will be able to fulfill that role. Or even wants to. Sólyom announced that “from this afternoon on [when the bill passed in parliament] our only hope is the future constitution.”
However, I’m almost sure that Sólyom has no great hopes concerning that future constitution. It is enough to read some of the suggestions, including those of Pál Schmitt, to know that that constitution will not be worth the paper it’s written on.