Viktor Orbán in Brussels and Paris

With the exception of Germany and Poland, where Viktor Orbán was received with military honors, and a few rather uncomfortable meetings with José Manuel Barroso, the Hungarian prime minister did not receive invitations from the states of "Old Europe." So, he decided to initiate meetings with the heads of state in the European Union. After all, Hungary will have the rotating presidency in the first half of 2011 and therefore he had a good excuse: to discuss matters of common interest.

Normally, we can't find out much about what transpires in Orbán's conversations. Usually it is only Orbán who talks to Hungarian journalists, and sometimes the information comes not from the prime minister himself but from Péter Szijjártó, his spokesman, who accompanies him everywhere. But even if there is–and that doesn't happen too often–a joint press conference, it is rarely enlightening.

Orbán's itinerary began in Brussels where he talked with Barroso. Afterwards the two men actually gave a joint press conference. Although it was the usual meaningless performance, there were a couple of new pieces of information that may or may not be true. Orbán for example claimed that until recently he thought that Hungary's presidency could be devoted to culture and the management of water supplies. This is the first time I heard about either of these alleged priorities. There was a lot of talk about minority questions and about what kinds of advantages Hungary could reap from the presidency, but waterways? I guess Orbán felt that mentioning the minority question was not timely. After all, on the very same day as the press conference a long interview with him appeared in Le Figaro in which the French journalist expressed his surprise that, despite inheriting a very serious economic situation, the first law the new Hungarian government passed dealt with conferring Hungarian citizenship on Hungarians in the neighboring countries. And he added, "Do you understand that your European partners have been a little confused?"

But now, Orbán continued, after a severe economic crisis that will continue to affect the EU during the Hungarian presidency, there will be more important issues than culture and waterways. The countries of the European Union must coordinate their budgets and certain agreements must be revised. Thus one can surmise that the Hungarian budget for 2011 was also mentioned in some form or other during the Barroso-Orbán talks.

I also found it a little jarring that Orbán felt compelled to say that "he and many members of his government have been participants in European life for a long time by now." Did he want to emphasize that he is, contrary to appearances, a good European? After all, Orbán was asked by the journalist of Le Figaro why he has two Hungarian flags in his office and why no flag of the European Union can be seen anywhere. So, it seems, he was forced to realize that Europe watches more closely than he thought and perhaps it's better not to emphasize the nationality issues too much.

It was also new to me that the Orbán government in the last few months initiated reforms and as a result of these reforms Hungary is no longer in crisis. The truth is that no reforms were introduced, no crisis situation existed in April when the elections were held, and the exorbitant bank levies and extraordinary taxes on certain businesses, mostly foreign owned, were necessary because of an unnecessary tax cut for the well-to-do introduced by Orbán's government. But according to Orbán the "accomplishment" of the Orbán government is proof that Hungary has a real talent for problem solving.

The Hungarian prime minister only once, in Brussels, referred to the "revolution" that occurred in Hungary because this topic can also be delicate in Western Europe. After all, the European Council's president, Herman Van Rompuy, warned against the rise of nationalism, populism and anti-democratic forces within the European Union. Orbán was asked in Le Figaro whether perhaps Rompuy included Hungary among these countries. Orbán's explanation was interesting: Van Rompuy couldn't possibly think of Hungary because after all "we belong to the same political family," i.e. the Christian Democratic caucus of the European Parliament. But there is a huge difference between Orbán's Fidesz and the British Tories or the German Christian Democratic Party.

And finally, the most revealing news came from France. Today Orbán met for almost an hour with Nicolas Sarkozy. Again there was no joint press conference and Orbán talked about only that part of the conversation that centered around Hungary's role as the next rotating president of the European Union. However, the office of the French president also released some details of the conversation. It is true that the French president and Orbán talked at length about the immediate tasks before the European Union, but even here there were some differences. Orbán emphasized the expansion of the Union, in particular supporting Croatia's entrance into the EU. In addition, he mentioned Romania's and Bulgaria's joining the Schengen Zone. But Sarkozy considered these issues minor in comparison to the economic problems at hand. Orbán kept talking about agricultural policies and their importance for Hungary, but Sarkozy poured cold water on that issue too by stating that changes in agricultural policies will undoubtedly take place in the future. That most likely means cuts in agricultural subsidies.

When it came to bilateral relations Sarkozy apparently made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the way French and other European companies have been treated in Hungary. Surely, he was thinking here of Suez S.A. and what happened to it in Pécs after Zsolt Páva (Fidesz) became mayor of the city. He expressed his misgivings about the discrimination foreign firms suffer in Orbán's Hungary.

Orbán gave a lecture at the French Institute of International Relations where he claimed that in the future "Central Europe will be the key region of European competitiveness." After the crisis, Central Europe will be  the "engine of economic growth" and it will achieve "double of the economic growth in Western Europe." It seems that György Matolcsy's unrealistic predictions are contagious.

And finally the truth came out about the so-called economic policy of the Orbán government. He admitted that analysts might have a difficult time trying to interpret Hungary's "unusual economic experimentation." This "economic mixture" [of low budget deficit and high crisis taxes] "can be deciphered only after careful analysis." He admitted that ahead of time "one cannot predict whether [this new kind of economic policy] will work or not. As in every experiment there is always the possibility of failure. But we want to be successful." In brief, the Hungarian people are the guinea pigs in a great experiment concocted by György Matolcsy and Viktor Orbán for purely political purposes.

At home Orbán wouldn't dare tell the Hungarian people that what the government is doing is an experiment that might end in failure. Today a woman who phoned in to György Bolgár compared the government's economic policy to a Ponzi scheme and, she added, Ponzi schemes always collapse.  

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Joe Simon
Guest

Viktor Orbán also met ECR Chairman Michal Kaminski in Brussels. They discussed a wide range of issues and Orbán showed an excellent grasp of all problems relating to the EU. So far he has a positive image in the EU. He also visted Moldova and met with Vlad Filat the prime minister of that country. He seems to be forceful and an activist when it comes to foreign affairs.
It is hard to understand the negative tone of the above article.

pgyzs
Guest

“It is hard to understand the negative tone of the above article.”
It is actually easy to understand just check the reaction in the archive whenever Orbán travelled abroad (You can pick an arbitrary trip, it’s always the same). To me it would actually be a surprise if the PM of the country about to take over presidency of the EU wouldn’t travel and negotiate around the continent.
“He expressed his misgivings about the discrimination foreign firms suffer in Orbán’s Hungary.”
“He expressed his misgivings about the discrimination foreign firms suffer in Orbán’s Hungary.”
I’m bursting out in tears.
“At home Orbán wouldn’t dare tell the Hungarian people that what the government is doing is an experiment that might end in failure.”
I’ve heard that from Orbán at least a dozen times… I find it risky as well, I don’t agree with the means either. But as somebody cheering for his country I have no other option but to cheer for their success because the alternative might allow you to write dozens of “Told you so..”-posts but on the other hand it would be very bad for the country and the people (not that the alternative neoliberal way wouldn’t be).

OpenDog
Guest

@pgyzs Sorry for saying, but you are as Hungarian as it gets. Electing a government is not like buying a lottery ticket: waiting very positively for your numbers then cursing God for unfortunately not picking you (again). Of course you have other options! You can voice your opinion about the things you don’t like to make Vic and his gang slow down. This is the only positive attitude. Hitting the wall slap bang happily whistling doesn’t seem to be very positive to me. It’s just plain stupid …

Paul
Guest

Is Joe Simon the new Szilárd/Johnny/Kevin?
I thought it had been too quiet recently.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

pgyzs: “”He expressed his misgivings about the discrimination foreign firms suffer in Orbán’s Hungary.” “He expressed his misgivings about the discrimination foreign firms suffer in Orbán’s Hungary.” I’m bursting out in tears.”
So, you approve of the kind of barbaric treatment that was metted out to Suez in Pécs? Is that the way to break, change, renegotiate a contract? It was disgraceful.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

pgyzs: “(You can pick an arbitrary trip, it’s always the same).”
Yeap! I have a very low of opinion of Orbán whom I consider to be a cheap populist who has been working very hard in the last few months to dismantle all democratic institutions in the country.
I’m also certain that abroad he doesn’t have a good reputation. Western politicians are not blind. They know who he is. Plus they have bad memories from his earlier tenure. Hungary’s foreign policy was a disaster even then.

Paul
Guest

Éva, I followed your link to the piece you wrote on the Suez fiasco last year. Has anything happened since then?
Were the staff paid? Were any sacked? Have water prices gone down? Do Suez still own their 48%

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Huge silence. Suez couldn’t get back the building or the running of the water company. As far as I know the case is in court. But I will check. Perhaps I missed something in the news.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul, I found something:
“Wed, 14/07/2010 – 11:27 —A Hungarian arbitration court has ruled that the city council of Pecs was legally entitled to terminate its water service contract with the multinational Suez Environnement, and take over the running of the service itself.”
Now I suddenly recall that Páva announced this decision with great fanfare but the court simply said that they can terminate the contract. Not forcibly occupy the building and out the minority owner. So, suit will continue and it will be very expensive.

Joe Simon
Guest

Orbán is a definite improvement over Gyurcsány, that is all one can say. Like all politicians he is going to wear thin after a while. Problems are simply intractable and people are always impatient. Look how Obama is fighting for his political life. But to say that Orbán is dangerous for his country is really an
overreaction, a bit peevish and somewhat petulant. He is certainly not a cheap populist. He has shown great integrity so far as a politician. Of course politics is a slippery field and I am sure there will be chips on his armour. Right now there is no one in Hungary who could better lead that country.

John T
Guest

“Orbán is a definite improvement over Gyurcsány” Joe – To me it’s just one mediocre leader replacing another. But Orbán’s mediocrity had already been shown between 1998 and 2002.
Orbán is dangerous in so far as I don’t think he has a clue what to do, other than survive, hence the flip flopping, making up policy as he goes on. As for integrity, I don’t think he has any, but I’d struggle to find a Hungarian politician that has integrity anyway. Certainly, no would reach the standard I would expect for people entrusted to run a country.
The only person I’d give some credit to would be Bajnai, but he’s not a player going forward.
“Right now there is no one in Hungary who could better lead that country.” – I’d change that to say “there is no one in Hungary who could lead the country”. I could do the job better and you probably could too.

Hank
Guest

Joe Simon: “He (Orban) has shown great integrity so far as a politician.”
You can’t be serious? Can you? Surely not. Or? Well, in the extremely, extremely unlikely case you are, let me, with thanks to LMP who stuck up a banner during the final vote to limit the powers of the Constitutional Court, quote Orbán himself. This is what he said on June 29, 2007: “The decisions of the Constitutional Court are binding for everyone. There are no excuses or ways around it, that is the iron law of Hungarian democracy.”

GW
Guest

“Joe Simon” wrote:
“He has shown great integrity so far as a politician.”
If this is true, then please enlighten us on how Orban was able to purchase the land and build a house in Kútvölgyi (in Budapest’s prestigious District XII) on the salary of a Hungarian member of parliament.
Further, why did he not voluntarily keep members of his immediate family from obtaining public construction contracts to avoid any semblance of a conflict of interest?

Odin's lost eye
Guest
John T you say ** “Orbán is dangerous in so far as I don’t think he has a clue what to do, other than survive, hence the flip flopping, making up policy as he goes on. As for integrity, I don’t think he has any, but I’d struggle to find a Hungarian politician that has integrity anyway.” **. My late wife said “OV is a demagogue who only wants power, which he does not know how to use, except to gain and keep the trappings of power which is the one thing he loves”. He is a political manipulator which he uses for his own aggrandisement. He surrounds himself with mediocre sycophants whose very pronouncements make him seem to be the ‘Wise Leader’ (where have I heard that before?). At the moment he wishes to strut round Europe ‘lording it’ over people who in the ordinary way would not give him the ‘time of day’. He mistakes politeness for obeisance. Very soon he will need to buy a new hat three sizes larger. John T I will agree with you on the problem of ‘integrity’ all of them (the whole boiling lot) are ‘on the make’! and from the works… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GW: “Further, why did he not voluntarily keep members of his immediate family from obtaining public construction contracts to avoid any semblance of a conflict of interest?”
Orbán and his family clearly became rich during his political career. During his tenure as prime minister, he actually furthered the Orbán family’s enrichment. There is plenty of proof for that. However, he hired very clever lawyers who sued on some minor points that had little to with the substance of the case. Once he won the case, he kept saying that the court decided that he was innocent of all accusations.

Joe Simon
Guest

Well, show me any politician on either side of the Atlantic who has a ‘clue’ as to how to handle this global recession.
Orbán’s speech at Nagy Imre’s funeral on the Hősök Tere is still a modern day classic. No one has articulated better the legacy of 1956 than he did. And he has shown consistency in pursuing his aims. He went to Délvidék, Felvidék at the time when minorities there needed support.
He is well liked in Erdély for his stand on the dual citizenship. So yes, he has political integrity as he had shown his committment to democracy even before the fall of communism. While Gyurcsány ‘converted’ when it was profitable for him to do so.
Yes, it is unfortunate and sad that politicians also got rich as so much wealth formerly owned by the state became
free for the taking. But show me a senator or governor in the USA who is poor. Not too many.
As to dismantling democracy in Hungary, that is clearly an overreaction. Personal prejudice is getting the better of you.

Paul
Guest

So, I was right, ‘Joe’ is indeed our latest Fidesz troll.
Only this time they’re trying a new(ish) tack, by making him sound like a reasonable man who just happens to think OV is the best of a bad bunch.
But this is actually how Johnny Boy started out. Unfortunately ‘he’ couldn’t take the pressure of all our questions and comments and soon started posting the usual bile. I wonder how long it will be before ‘Joe’ does the same thing?
And why do they always pick such improbable names? Why bother trying to look non-Hungarian when no outsider would ever support Fidesz with such fanaticism?
And why can’t they do it better? Such passages as “As to dismantling democracy in Hungary, that is clearly an overreaction. Personal prejudice is getting the better of you.” Are straight out of the Fidesz Blog Troll manual.
I wish they’d stop this nonsense and just bring back Szilárd, he at least sounded like a real person.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest
I’m here for you Paul, only watching, but I can assure you that I have nothing to do with “Joe Simon”. By the way, it is obvious that it’s you who, unfortunately, make discussion completely impossible here. You are attacking “Joe Simon” and claiming he is a fanatic but all he does is defend Fidesz in a respectable manner. If someone is a fanatic then it is you. It is your problem that defending Fidesz in any manner or words immediately resolves in your brain a “Fidesz troll”. You can’t imagine that people defending Fidesz are voicing their very own belief nad opinion, you can only imagine they are doing a propaganda work. Even for the professors at Debrecen university. Let me say to you that they were by no means in “party service” at Fidesz. Their belief and opinion is simply their own which coincidences with the opinion represented by Fidesz simply because Fidesz is made up of people of the same kin. So it’s the other way around, not the way you think. I think it’s time for you to face it: the majority of Hungarians thinks the same way as Fidesz speaks. May it be unacceptable and… Read more »
Joe Simon
Guest

OK, lets examine phrases like ‘Road to dictatorship’ or ‘dismantling democracy’ in Hungary, silly as they are. In Canada recently the Harper government ‘prorogued’ the Parliament, in effect abolishing it for a period, in order to avoid defeat. The head of state duly signed the order. I donot think that democracy has come to end in Canada. A leader can be and should be forceful while still within the law. Or look at the extreme right in the USA trying to abolish even those modest reforms that Obama achieved in the field of health care. Again democracy will not come to an end. But Obama will have to be strong using all the legitimate powers to contain his opponents. Orbán is right to pursue his agenda as forcefully as he can. The electorate can pass judgement on him in four years. But your reactions are to him are pathological.

T. Sanyi
Guest

I don’t think pointing to single incidents in other countries leads us anywhere – the US or Canada haven’t been the topic. And just because something bad happens elsewhere, it is no argument why it should be good in Hungary.
The point is: “…while still within the law” and “using all the legitimate powers”. My point of concern is that in Hungary there is one party now that can change these rules and define what’s legitimate or not, hence having the possibility to abolish the usual checks and balances that regulate the powers of the ruler between general elections. 4 years are quite some time and I think democracy is more than just voting every 4 years.

Joe Simon
Guest

Yes, you have a point there. Checks and balances are important in a democracy. Gyurcsány is said to reorganize his party moving closer to the center. Also there is the Jobbik enjoying considerable support in the electorate. So the FIDESZ is not the only party in Hungary. Orbán has consistently and convincingly distanced himself from both and he has to watch his opponents. That is how things work. Judging from his past, I cannot doubt his committment to democracy. Calling Orbán a cheap populist is really silly moving this discussion into the realm of the ridiculous.

T. Sanyi
Guest

FIDESZ certainly is not the only party in Hungary, but it is obviously the only party that can change the rules of the game single-handedly. And I don’t know any other party in EU- or North American countries that is in a similar position.
And concerning the judgment of Orbán’s (and other FIDESZ politician’s) commitment to democracy there are obviously different points of view. My problem is that I’m not quite sure, what his idea of democracy or things like “good governance” actually is. To me, that seems to change from time to time.

Pete H
Guest

Joe, “Or look at the extreme right in the USA trying to abolish even those modest reforms that Obama achieved in the field of health care.”
The extreme right is trying to do that within the bounds of the system. Not, by changing the scope of power of the Supreme Court. Not by removing and checks and balances as Orban did when he curtailed the power of the Constitutional Court. I am not sure how anyone could argue that such a move is not in a direction away from democracy. I don’t think all is lost in Hungary, but if this move is indicative of what’s to come, than my prognosis would be more negative.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Pete H: “but if this move is indicative of what’s to come, then my prognosis would be more negative.”
Unfortunately, it is continuing. Just wait for today’s post.

Paul
Guest

“OK, lets examine phrases like ‘Road to dictatorship’ or…”
Almost word for word what one of your previous incarnations posted a few weeks ago (Johnny Boy, I think). You really should be more careful.
The ‘logic’ of defending OV by pointing out that equally bad things have happened elsewhere is so silly that it isn’t worth wasting words on.
Welcome back Szil. I haven’t the time or energy to answer your post point by point, but I’m sure you know by now what I’d say. And, yes, I agree, the majority of Hungarians disagree with me (my entire Hungarian family, including my wife, disagrees with me!), but since when has majority been the same as ‘right’ or ‘true’?
This is a ket point that OV and Fidesz don’t seem to be able to grasp.

Joe Simon
Guest

So lets thank the Spectrum for arduously surveying the Hungarian political scene, watching every move that Orbán makes to make sure that the country is not sliding into an autacracy. I may be overly optimistic but I do think that Orbán is a forceful leader and he is pursuing a democratic agenda. Most of the comments one reads on this blog consist of mainly negative, personal attacks on him. OK, it is your choice. I well remember how much President Kennedy was hated in many quarters. Or how much Trudeau was disliked by bleeding hearts. Ultimately it is up to the electorate to assess his performance and not for people here living in ivory towers. Orbán has a much better perception of Hungarian realities than you do. Gyurcsány was an anemic leader, Orbán is not.

Joe Simon
Guest

There will be an International Conference in Budapest Nov. 25-26, on 2O Years of Freedom in Eastern Europe. Orbán and the Constitutional judge István Stumpf will also be there. There will be lectures on the constitutional process, civil society, ethnic minorities, etc. Some 3O foreign lecturers will also give speeches.
Eva, this would be an excellent opportunity for you to go to Budapest in order to air your concerns. You could even meet Viktor face to face and tell him what you think of him. And warn him!
In Brussels Barroso praised Hungarian EU strategies. Hungary is no longer considered to be among the states having difficulties. Discussing his coming EU presidency, Orbán said the EU needs strength and cooperation. He wants the EU to draft a Roma policy. Unlike the anemic Gyurcsány, Orbán is forceful and active. So what is wrong with that.
Spectrum will continue its arduous vigil over every move Orbán makes. At the end you will disappear like Mephisto the arch negator in a puff of smoke.

QWERTZ
Guest

That is odd. There is absolutely nothing online about this conference. Have you got a programme, link, anything?
http://www.google.nl/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=%2220+Years+of+Freedom+in+Central+Europe%22

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