European Commission’s infringement proceedings and Viktor Orbán’s “bravery”

Hungarian President Pál Schmitt’s days may be numbered. Today the president of Semmelweis University began the formation of a committee to investigate the charge of plagiarism. Considering that a couple of days ago the dean of the graduate school of the same university didn’t see anything wrong with the circumstances of the case, this is a welcome shift in policy.

There were also two new developments today in the battle between Hungary and the EU. First, in an unprecedented move the European Commission launched accelerated infringement proceedings against Hungary over the independence of its central bank and data protection authorities as well as over measures affecting the judiciary.

The second development is that Viktor Orbán will be able to speak in person tomorrow at the full session of the European Parliament. The topic will be the Hungarian situation, which all parliamentary delegations find worrisome.

Let’s start with this second development. InfoRádió, a right-of-center all-news radio station, learned in Brussels that Viktor Orbán had asked Jerzy Buzek, then president of the European Parliament and a great supporter of Fidesz, whether he could make an appearance at the Wednesday meeting and participate in the debate of the EP on issues relating to Hungary. This news hit the electronic media around 7 p.m., and about four hours later Péter Szijjártó officially announced that the Hungarian prime minister will indeed speak in the European Parliament.

When I first heard the news that Orbán wanted to speak in Strasbourg, I didn’t think he was serious about this venture. After all, his last appearance before the European Parliament was anything but a success. He cut a terrible figure. He lost his temper and although later in front of a Hungarian audience he tried to spin the event as a great diplomatic and political success, it was an embarrassment not only for Orbán but also for the country he represents.

But no, it seems I was wrong. Orbán is itching to go to Strasbourg again. I suspect that this time he will have an even more difficult time than before. First of all, although Orbán wrote to Jerzy Buzek, a conservative Pole, he now has to face Martin Schulz, the new president of the European Parliament. Schulz is a socialist and an outspoken critic of Fidesz. The MSZP members of the EP enthusiastically supported Orbán’s request, most likely because they are sure that he will not cut any better figure this time than he did earlier. It seems that Schulz thinks the same way.

There is another reason Orbán will face an even less friendly audience this time around. Earlier the Christian Democratic People’s Party’s delegation stood firmly behind him. That is not the case today. Orbán is friendless in the European Parliament. Joseph Daul, the leader of the Christian Democratic delegation, announced that its members will follow the lead of the European Commission. He added that every member country’s government must follow the European Union laws, there are no exceptions.

Just to give you an idea of what a difficult time Orbán will most likely have in Strasbourg tomorrow, I mention only what Schulz had to say about the Hungarian prime minister after announcing Orbán’s presence at tomorrow’s session. Schulz found it a sign of “bravery” that while Viktor Orbán asked the president of the European Parliament in a modest sounding letter for permission to speak, the Hungarian government didn’t even wait for an answer before announcing that Orbán would address the parliamentary session. Moreover, Viktor Orbán’s spokesman described the European Parliament’s session as  “an attack the international left is planning to launch against Hungary.” What a beginning!

 

Martin Schulz, the new president of the European Parliament, not exactly a friend of Viktor Orbán

Another “friend” of Viktor Orbán, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chairman of the Greens’ delegation, announced that the whole debate will be broadcast on the Internet because “the Hungarian media has a peculiar habit of providing disjointed information.” (The Hungarian translation of the word he used was “feldarabolva.”) Good luck, Mr. Orbán!

As for the infringement proceedings, until now there have been only bits and pieces of leaked news about the exact topics that will be covered. By now it is clear that the rumors were correct. The infringement proceedings are being brought against Hungary over the independence of the central bank and the data protection authorities in addition to measures taken against the judiciary. All these are important topics which need detailed analysis that I will leave for tomorrow. Here I would like to concentrate on how the Hungarian government will most likely react to the whole issue.

From Zoltán Kovács’s fairly lengthy interview on BBC’s Hard Talk it is clear that Viktor Orbán and his spin doctors are trying to portray the European Commission’s objections to the new Hungarian Constitution and some of the cardinal laws as a demand for small adjustments to certain phrases in the laws. They simply don’t want to understand that the problem is not in the details but with the whole new “regime” that came into being as a result of the year-long legislative marathon. The “regime” is a mockery of democracy. But to admit that would mean giving up Orbán’s cherished dream of a system that has the appearance of being democratic but that is in reality–well, pick your favorite adjective.

That’s why spokesmen for the regime, Zoltán Kovács for example, act as if they were completely baffled by the “attacks.” They demand examples. Generalities won’t do, the apologists of Orbán’s regime claim. Kim Scheppele in her latest article on Paul Krugman’s blog talks about this problem when she states that “Europe will have to do a lot more than demand small legal changes to reverse what has happened.”

So, I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard Zoltán Kovács’s reaction to the European Commission’s infringement proceedings. “At last,” he said, “instead of heated political discussions here are legal and technical details.” He also made it quite clear that the Hungarian government is planning to sit down and “discuss” these details. When the reporters reminded him that the Hungarian government has only one month to answer, he expressed surprise because normally in such cases the member state has two months to answer the charges. What at this point Kovács didn’t yet know was that this proceeding is not a garden variety but an accelerated one.

Kovács also claimed that “Hungary and the Hungarian government have nothing to be ashamed of because there are more than 700 infringement proceedings currently in process.” Against Hungary there have been only fourteen and now, after the Commission added another three, the number became 17. “There is nothing extraordinary here,” Kovács said. Unfortunately for the Orbán government, this is not the case. These are grave objections and the European Union has a powerful weapon in its arsenal: money.

Finally, we just learned that on January 24 Viktor Orbán will be travelling to Brussels to meet José Manuel Barroso. I assume he will try “to discuss the details” of legal wording that will be acceptable to the EU. After that meeting the second act of the drama might begin.

P.S. Tomorrow at 15:00 Hungarian time there will be live broadcast of Orbán’s speech here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/de/schedule/live-broadcast

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Martin Eden
Guest

Kovács also claimed that “Hungary and the Hungarian government have nothing to be ashamed of because there are more than 700 infringement proceedings currently in process.”
Well this number may be +/- true, but what he did not add is, that most of the infridgements are technical, many of of them relate to fulfilling environmental norms, water quality or some technical pecularities with trade or chemicals. As fas as I know there is no other country with THIS type of political infridgements

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Martin Eden: “I know there is no other country with THIS type of political infridgements.”
That’s correct.

Petofi
Guest

I am waiting patiently for people to realize….that there is truly something funny in so many–Kovacs, Martonyi, Fellegi et al–reasonable-seeming men so avidly trampling their own reputations before the world. THEY CAN’T POSSIBLY NOT KNOW THIS.
So what, really, is going on?
Why are so many, led by Orban, so gleefully play the ridiculous roles
they are to ever accelerate the decline of Hungary?
Anyone smell a rat in the works..?

Csoda. Kegy
Guest

“Orbán is itching to go to Strasbourg again.”
This is not an interview with a self-important bad-intentioned nit-picking liberal – he’s been smart enough to avoid those.
Instead its a great opportunity for VO to grandstand as David against the EU Goliath. The symbolic dimension is huge.
He will presumably address the issues raised in historic terms and not answer the questions.

Bowen
Guest
@ Petofi:”trampling their own reputations before the world” For me, it’s all about audience design. The government will be aware the Hungarians will need to face increasingly severe austerity measures (especially if the EU/IMF aren’t willing to continue financial assistance). At the same time, the government does not wish to relinquish the control it has been building up since 2010. The government needs to keep a majority of the population on its side, despite financial hardships. One way to do this is to invent ‘international attacks’ which are now a constantly repeated theme in government discourse. Anything can be labelled an ‘international attack on Hungary’ if necessary – from criticisms about the new Constitution to allegations about Schmitt’s PhD. Famously, Goebbels advocated this as a means of garnering public support under dire circumstances. Orban speaking to MEPs, Kovacs and Martonyi speaking with BBC journalists are all part of the same picture. It doesn’t matter how silly the media-sophisticated, English-speaking Hungarian finds them, or how the concerned, Hungary-aware foreigner finds them. Those people are in the minority. What matters is that Orban, Kovacs, and Martonyi can be portrayed as bravely going out there and defending the Hungarians against the international attacks.… Read more »
Petofi
Guest

@Bowen, re how well Kovacs on the BBC.
Actually, I was extremely perturbed by the interviewer–she could
not formulate the necessary follow-up questions. How could she let him get away with stating that the constitution is legal. Is retroactivity legal? Is demonizing another party ‘legal’ (or constitutional?).
There were many more instances. Obviously, the woman was given
the proper research but she had no personal background on the subject. Orban a “good”man? How ridiculous! Undermining the central bank? getting rid of the best supreme court judge? subjecting the city of Budapest to chaos (soon) by refusing
financing to BKV? putting the country through a fallacious defense of “attacks” that’s economically ruinuous?
What I hated the most was that the woman’s incompetence made
Kovacs sound reasonable and his statements plausible!

Member

@Petofi “reasonable-seeming men so avidly trampling their own reputations”
Same as before 1990 in the ancient regime … dumb, lazy and spiteful people join the winning team. It doesn’t matter if it’s like a Charlie Sheen kind of winning team. You are with the chosen ones. Even if you are an intellectual dud you still with the leaders.
When I was 10 in Hungary it was kind of embarrassing that I was reading Karl May and sci-fi books and all but had absolutely no idea about soccer. My peers kept talking about teams and scores so it became a serious social issue to keep up. So I went like fuck it, I need to have a team. So I asked my grandpa, who was an avid TOTO player (a game betting on soccer scores) who’s first. He said the Dozsa. So this is how I became a Ujpesti Dozsa fan. I had no clue it was the team of the Ministry of Interior …

GDF
Guest

Petofi:”What I hated the most was that the woman’s incompetence made
Kovacs sound reasonable and his statements plausible!”
Unfortunately this is not the first sign of lack of competence at the BBC News (and probably not the last one).

Paul
Guest
I’m afraid Csoda and Bowen are right. No matter how stupid Orbán may look to us and the rest of the ‘outside’ world, it will be played as a patriotic David v Goliath in Hungary and will be well received – ecstatically so in some places. I fully expect my wife to get a phone call from her mother Wednesday afternoon telling her how well Orbán spoke and how he stood up for Hungary. I have the upmost respect for Éva and am loath ever to criticise her, but I am saddened that, even after the last 18 months, she still doesn’t appear to see this view of Orbán and his speeches and actions. It doesn’t matter how poorly he goes down in the real world, on Planet Hungary he will be portrayed (and largely seen) as a hero. Why else would he be so eager to be to go to Brussels? To understand Orbán it’s vital to appreciate that what goes on outside Hungary doesn’t bother him, all he cares about (and all he needs to care about) is what is thought (and believed) IN Hungary. The only time the outside world bothers him is when he needs their… Read more »
Paul
Guest
“After that meeting the second act of the drama might begin.” Continuing the theme of my earlier post – the “second act” will begin when Orbán finally makes his decision as to whether or not to give in to the IMF/EU’s demands. Will he take the money and accept political restraint and humiliation as the price, or will he bluff it out? How much does he believe his own nonsense? Upon that decision rests the future of Hungary for a good many years. Before Christmas, it looked as if that decision would be forced on him by early or mid January, but we are already past that date. And. by the sound of it, he still won’t have made his mind up (or told us he has) by the 24th. So, how much longer can this calm before the storm go on? How much longer before the financial and EU pressure tells? How much longer before the ‘market’ starts to get nervous? The consensus of opinion seems to be that he’ll need the money by the middle of the year, so presumably he can wait until April or even May before he has to decide. And that’s a very long… Read more »
I love Hungary
Guest

I think they should have Schmitt deliver the speech. The one he wrote starting, “Fourscore and seven years ago, Our Founding Fathers…”

Hank
Guest
Sorry, I meant to post this as a comment on todays blog about the EU and Hungary, not yesterda’s about Schmitt. So here it is again. This morning, one could read a defense of the Orbán government by Tamás Fricz, a right-wing political analyst, in Magyar Nemzet. And what he did is pretty typical for the way many of the defenders use half-truth statements. Fricz suggests that the unprecedented Western pressure on the Hungarian government is due to diverging but equally legitimate models of democracy. He says he borrows his analytical model from the American-Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart who distinguishes between two primary forms of democracy, one usually known as majoritarian, the other as consensual. Fricz believes that the conflict between Hungary and the EU stems from these two different approaches to democracy. In Hungary, Fidesz governs according to majoritarian principles (“the winner takes all”), while the European Union advocates rather a consensual model. “But it is of paramount importance to realise that both are valid forms of democracy,” – Fricz argues. (I got this summary from budapost.eu which is a conservative site that gives English summaries of comments in the major newspapers (left and right). From all this… Read more »
Guest
London Calling! Will Orban and delegates wear their Blue Peter badges again this time? (Ah! Bless!) (Sorry was that an International attack? – Sorry!) I will not be surprised if MEPs devise another ‘sticky-tape-over-the- mouth’ protest about the media laws – They will be braver this time. The issue has been further highlighted by the fact that Hungarians will be able to see it from an independent source – an even bigger challenge for the demonstrating MEPs to convey their message. I am sure Orban will play the “Oh No! – Please don’t let me be misunderstood” card again. and will ‘beg’ for leniency (yes he will!!). This will not play well at home however much the media is throttled. What he has yet to understand is the the EU will throw the book at him – No legislature tolerates deliberate ignoring of ‘advice’ – (“When an auditor offers advice, it is a mandatory instruction”!). Barroso will also give no truck – the rhetoric has been surprisingly undiplomatic. I am confused by the way some Hungarians negotiate. My partner once arranged a very definite price for some car seats from a ‘Bonton’ car breaker in Hungary – arranging a fair… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Good post, Hank.
Democracy is not synonymous with majority rule. Democracy is a political system based on the rule/involvement of the people – the word comes from the Greek ‘demos’, meaning ‘the people’, not ‘the majority’.
Majority voting is just a convenient way of managing a democracy, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily the only way, and it most certainly doesn’t mean it is inherently fair or just – it is purely pragmatic.
A properly functioning democracy would take into consideration ALL the people, not just most of them. Even ignoring the ‘idealistic’ idea that all the people should be involved, on purely functional grounds, having a significant majority who feel side-lined or ignored inevitably leads to a dysfunctional government.
So, no, Viktor, a ‘majoritarian democracy’ is NOT a democracy.

Paul
Guest

Charlie:
“This will not play well at home however much the media is throttled.”
“he will be able to spin it as a possible victory. The domestic audience will swallow it”
So which is it?

Guest

London Calling!
Paul!..Both!
His last appearance was not impressive – his eyes trying to avoid the demonstrating MEPs and heavy swallowing gave him the ‘Nixon’ shady look!
The more perspicacious Hungarian and the opposition will see it.
Unfortunately the loyally blind will swallow the spin and only see their saviour on his usual pink cloud!…Including dare I say? – your partner!
Charlie

late night
Guest

I find it remarkable, that in 2012 you introduce a European constitution stating that religion, and one particular religion is the cornerstone of the state, a EU member, and this should be OK. Europe is disoriented, loosing itself in petty fights, the religions and one particular are taking advantage of this and trying to gain ground seriously.

Member

“…much longer before the financial and EU pressure tells?”
The markets seem to be assuming an Orban surrender soon, forint is now trading at 305 to the euro.
I’m sceptical (about the surrender), it’s just not in the man’s DNA to listen to prgamatic reason when it involves a loss of personal face.
But whatever, think this is the time to buy some euros, just before he embarrasses himself once again in front of an international audience.

Guest

Oneil?
Can you borrow that wonderful “Hey Europe, sorry about my prime minister!” placard?

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
In a civilised democracy the elections results are of the type where the winner does take all. However in such a democracy the winner cannot change the rules of the election game to ensure that he will always be the winner. He can only do this if he has made an election pledge to do so before the election and has made it very loud and clear! Orban the Viktator’s idea will be to defend the new Hungarian laws aggressively in the European parliament. He will defend the New Hungarian model of Fideszian democracy. He will then try to use minor disagreements within the EU to obfuscate the EUs arguments about his breeches of European Law. He will do this for public consumption at home and for his own personal glory. The second tactics the Hungarians will use will be to slow everything down to a crawl in the hopes that something else turns up which distracts the EU Commission away from the Hungarian problem. The one month he is allowed to reply to the E.U charges against Hungary, currently there are 3 will be extended to 3 to 4 months by translation problems, the submission of incomplete answers, clerical… Read more »
Member
At this morning there is information from The Bild magazine (Germany) regarding an interview with Orban that will hit newsstands tommorow. THe point is does not really matter what he will say today, he already packaged his deal to the Hungarians. Her we go: “A hatalomnak és nem az érvek előtt fogunk meghajolni ebben az esetben” In this case we will bow to the power not in front of reasons. or how about this? “Magyarország a szabadságharcosok országa. Ellenszélben is kiállunk az értékeinkért és a nemzetünkért. Akkor is ha, ha ellenszél orkánerejű” Hungary is a country of freedom fighters. Even in headwinds, we will stand up for our values and for our nation. Even in hurricane force headwinds. at the same time he is already contradicting himself: “Nyitottak és készek vagyunk arra, hogy valamennyi problémáról tárgyaljunk, amelyet az Európai Bizottság komoly érvekkel alátámasztva felhoz” We are open and willing to negotiate any concerns which the European Union Commission want to discuss with seriously strong arguments. (I have a problem to translate “érv”, that could mean reason or argument, valid point..) SO is he willing to listen to reason or he will not? Of course for the EU he will say… Read more »
An
Guest

Some1, he is a snake, indeed. And a dangerous one of that… look how successful he was in the past 10 years or so to sow the seed of division in the Hungarian society.
He (and the Fidesz propaganda) is trying to pull a similar feat at the European level, by labeling criticism against anti-democratic measures in Hungary a left-liberal attack. What is truly worrying, that some conservatives in Europe are falling for it. And the last think Europe needs, is divisiveness at a time when the EU is facing its biggest economic crisis that can naturally bring disagreements within the EU anyways, without the help of OV.
OV is very good at this, finding the cracks in an otherwise functional system and turning people against each other.

Member

An: ” And the last think Europe needs, is divisiveness ”
Leave it to Hungary to create chaos. For once, could Hungary be on the good side? For once could Orban rise to the task and behave like a political leader and say “I f*& it up. Let see how will make it right. Let see how we can serve as role model for Europe by cohesion versus creating chaos.” No he can not. Hungary again in WWI, WWII, and now for the 21st Century in an other War. Shame on Orban! SHame on Fidesz!

Paul
Guest

“OV is very good at this, finding the cracks in an otherwise functional system and turning people against each other.”
An astute observation.
And a very timely reminder that we should never underestimate Orbán and his tactical ability. Especially now, when he feels most under attack.

Paul
Guest

Missed this earlier:
“What I hated the most was that the woman’s incompetence made
Kovacs sound reasonable and his statements plausible!”
I can assure you it didn’t. Maybe to Hungarians this is how it came across, but to a UK listener it was the very opposite.
What I heard was an intelligent and well informed person asking questions and another person dodging them as fast as he could. He had no real answers and came across as totally uncertain and evasive.
As for not following up the questions – she had a relatively limited time and a hell of a lot to get through. If she’d allowed herself to get side-tracked she would have run out of time. It wasn’t that sort of interview.
What she did was good enough – she showed the Hungarian government up as a bunch of devious amateurs. As a PR exercise it was a total failure.

Member
Guest

Paul!
Paul!
Spot on! (Or as you Hungarians say ‘On Spot’!)
Thanks for defending Zanab Badawi so well – It had to be wide-ranging even for the generous time.
Better to hit him hard with all the issues without allowing him to do the politician’s trick of responding with “This is the question you should have asked…….” and then proceed to answer it. And concomitantly control the interview.

Csoda. Kegy
Guest

Paul “to a UK listener”
Kovacs is not so bad later on on the screen (not on the Youtube / Hardtalk website clip), and you can see Zanab losing her cool

Bowen
Guest

Well, that was quick. Apparently, no-one has actually objected about anything, and Orban is supported in the EU.
http://www.hirado.hu/Hirek/2012/01/18/15/Orban_az_alaptorveny_egyetlen_passzusat_sem_kifogasolta_senki.aspx
Everything is fine after all!

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
An I will agree with you. The Viktator and his bunch of Banda log (Fidesz) undoubtedly will try to split European Society using the same tricks as he used in Hungary. The problem for him is that European Society is many orders of magnitude more sophisticated and far more politically aware than Hungarian society. They are also far more widely travelled and in general far more cosmopolitan than the Viktator and his monkeys. Although I am totally uneducated by Hungarian intellectual standards I have as a young man seen far more of the real world than any of them. My real worry is what does the Viktator really want? Is Hungary big enough to satisfy his Ego or is he after the whole of Europe? Does he want to lead the ‘New Order in Europe’? The last toad who tried that ended up blowing his brains out in the Capital land which looked like a builder’s junk yard in a land wrecked by his ‘New Order’. Paul I will agree entirely about the Kovacs interview. As you write ** “As a PR exercise it was a total failure” **. Admittedly the interviewer did use some ‘English phrases’ which are difficult… Read more »
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