Just as some of you already reported in the "Comments," Pál Schmitt signed the media law. He signs anything put under his nose. Mind you, I believe that if he had received instructions from above not to sign, then he wouldn't have. In my opinion there may even have been a brief telephone conversation between Orbán Viktor and the president during which the former explained why it is absolutely necessary to sign.
As usual, commentators see the event from a variety of perspectives. There are those who never for a moment doubted that he would sign, and there are those who still expected to see some rational thinking in the leadership of Fidesz. As I mentioned a few days ago, instructing Schmitt not to sign but to send the proposal back to parliament would have been a masterstroke in my opinion. Orbán would have beeen able to demonstrate that Schmitt is not after all just the brainless puppet everybody thinks he is. In addition, he could save face. After all, only a few days ago he swore up and down that he would not change a word in the law, but now he has to because of this independent-minded Schmitt. That would have given Orbán an opportunity to make amends with the European Union and the all-important ally, Germany.
He didn't choose this easy escape route. A friend of mine's answer to my proposal was that Viktor Orbán even under these circumstances can't "lose." He always has to win. If Schmitt didn't sign, perhaps he would be hailed as a man of reason who after all behaved in a statesman-like fashion. Orbán couldn't stand such an outcome.
In any case, we will see what happens if anything. One thing is sure. The German government is keeping an eye on Budapest. The Frankfurter Rundschau published an interview with Werner Hoyer, undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, who just today expressed the German government's hope that "the Hungarian government hasn't spoken the last word on the subject." Well, it looks as if it has. From the interview it is also clear that the European Commission is investigating and that the German foreign ministry is well informed. Hoyer explained that initially Neelie Kroed, the commissioner responsible for the media, was supposed to lead the investigation, but it looks as if Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding will also be involved.
It seems that the rotating presidency is not in danger, but it is problematic to have a country leading the European Union that is in violation of democratic principles. How can a country like that preach about freedom of speech to other countries, like Belorus or Iran? Hoyer emphasized that a piece of legislation must be written in precise legal language. It should specify all the details. It is not enough to say that "we will look at the practical application of the law later to see whether it works or not. This is unacceptable!" I assume what Hoyer had in mind was Navracsics's feeble explanation concerning the details of the media law.
This morning on Hungarian public radio (MR) the Hungarian foreign minister, János Martonyi, repeated what Tibor Navracsics said about a week ago: let's wait. We'll see how the media law works in practice. However, if this answer was unacceptable from Navracsics, it will be equally unacceptable coming from Martonyi. Martonyi emphasized that he hopes that "the unofficial investigation of the European Union will be objective." The last sentence of MTI's report on Martonyi's interview puzzled me a bit. He said that "the international criticism shouldn't cast a shadow on Hungary's EU presidency beginning January 1." But the criticisms haven't stopped. Even the German Christian Democrats have raised their voices. And if that is the case, how can Hungary's presidency be effective and successful?
Gábor Török, a political analyst who has a successful blog, wrote his most recent piece on Pál Schmitt under the title "Null komma null" (zero point zero). Török prides himself on being absolutely unbiased, but most people considered him to be closer to Fidesz than to the socialist-liberal side. In the last few months, however, he has been exhibiting a decided shift away from Fidesz. His portrait of Schmitt is really devastating. Loyalty is a nice thing, says Török, but what Schmitt is doing is actually injurious to both the institution of the presidency and his reputation. He is making the office of president insignificant. As for the question of reputation, Schmitt should think of the future. What will happen when he appears in high school textbooks as a ridiculous and pitiful puppet? When people talk about him with contempt? It seems that Török is no longer trying to look "objective." He decided that what this government is doing is indefensible.