The discussion just ended. One could follow it live on the Internet at the website of the Council of Europe. I assume that eventually the debate in the Parliamentary Assembly will also be available on video.
Let me jot down my first impressions. First and foremost, I would be most surprised if Björn von Sydow, a Swedish socialist member of the Parliamentary Assembly, were right that the Council of Europe would initiate a "monitoring procedure" against Hungary because of human rights violations. Most of the speakers took the Orbán government's side. There were fierce Hungarian supporters of the government while no Hungarian socialist was present. Apparently, the two Hungarian socialist members of the body were unable to attend. One of them is visiting India while the other is in the United States. Considering that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council Europe meets only four times a year it is beyond me why the socialists decided to make travel plans during the first session of the year.
Although it is true that at least one conservative member, Lord Tim Boswell of Great Britain, condemned the Orbán government's nationalism and severely criticized the media law, most of the right-of-center speakers were a great deal more charitable. The Hungarian speakers simply spouted the usual Hungarian propaganda about building democracy instead of violating its rules.
The socialist Andreas Gross of Switzerland and the Swedish Kerstin Lundgren (liberal) were among the few critics. As "friends of Hungary" they felt that they have to speak out because otherwise they would fail the Hungarian people. Lundgren said that "the whistleblowers" must be listened to. She very much hoped that the Hungarian government will be good to its word and will make the necessary changes in the law. Another socialist from Moldavia, Grigore Petrenco, was also deeply concerned, especially because the board overseeing the media consists of people delegated by only one party. He mentioned the attack on the constitutional court. Just because a government has a two-thirds majority in parliament it mustn't behave as the leader of "a one-party system." According to him "monitoring procedures should be introduced."
Well, that was about the last criticism of the Hungarian government. Christos Pourgourides, a Cypriot Christian Democrat, launched the defense. The government has a two-thirds majority in parliament and therefore whatever the government does is "the will of the people." If there is something wrong with government actions there are courts. The Hungarian government is in consultation with the European Union and he hopes that the law will be changed before the question ends up on the table of the European Court. Monitoring is not necessary.
The Italian Luca Volonte, who is described as a leading social conservative, criticized the proceedings against Hungary because of "a lack of facts." Any criticism of the government inside of Hungary comes from "people who are unhappy that they were not reelected." Holger Haibach (a German Christian Democrat) went on and on about the Hungarian socialists who ruined the country. He cited the corruption of the earlier governments but deemed Viktor Orbán's Hungary "a genuine European regime."
Then came the Hungarian contingent. Márton Braun (Fidesz), one of the deputy speakers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, announced that they are not worried because "Hungary is a solid democracy." The European Union's criticism of the law doesn't touch on substantive points. They are "only technical issues," he said. Imre Vejkey (Christian Democrat) started with Gyurcsány and his alleged lies, as if they had anything to do with the current state of democracy in Hungary. He repeated the old story that the criticism leveled against the media law is based on "ignorance." He "categorically rejected" any such "attacks" on the Hungarian government.
Next came Tamás Gaudi-Nagy (Jobbik) who was also chosen by the Hungarian government to defend its actions. He went on about the unfair treatment of the Council of Europe when it never criticized "eight years of awful dictatorship." Attila Gruber (Fidesz) addressed the situation of the civil servants who as a result of a new law can be fired without any explanation. This was necessary only because of the economic straits the country finds herself in at the moment. It has absolutely nothing to do with "political spring cleaning." As for the new constitution, he claimed that the old one was "Stalinist." The new one will be truly European with an eye on "national traditions." Melinda Széky (Fidesz) praised Hungary's twenty-year-old democracy which the government is now rebuilding and strengthening. All criticism against the Fidesz government is based on erroneous information. And for good measure György Frunda, a Hungarian politician from Romania, came to the rescue of the Orbán government. He wasn't satisfied with only twenty years of Hungarian democracy. He talked about "centuries of democracy"! Although he admitted that perhaps Fidesz made a mistake in appointing only people close to the party to oversee the state of the Hungarian media, on the whole the government is on the right track. Hungary is a democracy and therefore "Hungary must be respected."
Fidesz was well prepared and I think that they achieved what they wanted.