Accelerated infringement proceedings against Hungary: The first phase

I watched the debate with the exception of Orbán's opening remarks, but I'm sure that they will soon be available on video. Orbán's closing comments were weak and ill placed. His reference to a Christian Europe was most unfortunate. It showed how little Orbán and Fidesz politicians in general understand the European reality today.

Since I just finished watching the parliamentary debates I'm not quite ready to give a coherent summary of a very long discussion. Instead, I think it would be better to go over the details of the infringement proceedings. A heated debate is one thing, but an official complaint coming from the European Commission is something else.

Yesterday I wrote that the Commission had started legal action against Hungary over the independence of the central bank and data protection authorities as well as over measures affecting the judiciary. So let's see what the particulars are.

Independence of the national central bank. First one has to become familiar with EU language. TFEU is the acronym for the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Commission identified breaches of Article 130 TFEU stipulating full independence of the central bank and Article 127(4) TFEU requiring consultation with the European Central Bank "on any draft legislative provision in its field of competence." Article 130 states that "neither the ECB, nor national central bodies … shall seek or take instructions from Community institutions or any government of a Member State or from any other body."

So, let see how the Hungarian law is in conflict with these articles. Under the new law the minister in charge of finance can participate directly in the meetings of the Monetary Council, the body that sets monetary policy. The agenda of the Hungarian National Bank must be sent to the government in advance, a practice that precludes confidential discussions. The governor and the members of the Monetary Council must take an oath of fidelity to the country and its interests. This is also problematic from the Union's point of view since the governor of the Hungarian National Bank is also a member of the General Council of the European Central Bank.

There are more problems with the new law. For example, the rules governing the dismissal of the governor and the members of the Monetary Council. Even parliament can propose dismissing a member of the Monetary Council. Here we don't have even a pretense of the bank's independence.

Independence of the judiciary. The European Commission focused on the decision of the government to lower the retirement age of judges from 70 to 62 as of January 1, 2012. EU rules on equal treatment in employment (Directive 2000/78/EC) prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Under the case law of the Court of Justice, "an objective and proportionate justification is needed if a government decides to reduce the retirement age for one group of people and not for others." In Hungary's case, the commission has not found any objective justification for treating judges differently from other groups, especially at a time when all across Europe the retirement age is being increased instead of being lowered. This move is especially suspicious because Hungary already indicated to the European Union that it intends to raise the general retirement age to 65.

The Commission also found the selection of judges problematic. Under the new law, the president of a new National Judicial Office concentrates powers concerning the operational management of the courts, human resources, budget, and allocation of cases. The same person is alone responsible for the appointment of judges. The Commission also wanted to know why the chief justice of the Supreme Court was dismissed whan other judges in the same body could continue their work. The Commission expects detailed answers. (If you ask me, the Hungarian government will be very reluctant to give in on this issue.)

Independence of the data protection supervisory authority. Instead of a single ombudsman being in charge of data protection the Hungarian government created a new National Agency for Data Protection. As a result, the six-year term of the Data Protection Commissioner was prematurally terminated. New rules were also created that allow the prime minister and the president to dismiss the new supervisor on arbitrary grounds. The independence of data protection supervisors is guaranteed under Article 15 TFEU and Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. In addition, there is a rule (Directive 95/46/EC) that insists on complete independence of the commissioner.

* * *

Viktor Orbán's answer to all this today in Strasbourg was rather feeble. He wasn't surprised about the increased interest in Hungary because in the last year and a half "comprehensive, deep, magnificent and exciting renewal has occurred" in his country. He claimed that this renewal was necessary because in 2010 Hungary was threatened with economic and financial collapse. This claim is patently without foundation. It is enough to compare the economic statistics; the situation is a great deal graver now than it was in April 2010.  He announced that the problems outlined above can be easily and quickly remedied. Obviously, he is hoping for a few changes in wording that would be no more than window dressing. He emphasized that none of the objections raised by the Commission touches the new constitution. LMP and MSZP immediately called Orbán a liar on that score.

Then came a long discussion during which Viktor Orbán's countenance visibly darkened.

Orban az EP-ben, 12-01-18

Viktor Orbán is listening but not comprehending

After three hours of some very harsh criticism Orbán might have been a bit shaken, but outwardly he retained his composure and returned to his favorite themes: war and struggle. "Hungary was always a land of freedom fighters and it will remain such." This can be taken as a promise that he will not give up his struggle against the European Union in the name of national sovereignty.

His closing remarks didn't really touch on the essence of the criticism, meaning that the new constitution and the cardinal laws are paving the way to an autocratic, non-democratic system. Instead, he called attention to the ignorance of his critics and the political bias of his opponents. He repeated the same themes some of the Fidesz EP members had already touched on during the debate: the people who criticize have never read the constitution, they don't know the real situation in Hungary, and they should visit the country in order to get to know the Hungarians.

I don't think that Viktor Orbán managed to convince any of his critics that Hungary is a democratic paradise.

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An
Guest

Eva, thanks for this post. Sounds like a lot of details; but they are important to see that these are not mere technicalities as the Fidesz propaganda machine likes to claim.
International organizations are also very critical of many of the Orban governments new legislation. Just to name a few:
Human Rights Watch:
http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/06/hungary-reverse-interference-courts-media
http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/06/23/hungary-reforms-needed-new-constitution
Freedom House: http://www.politics.hu/20110812/freedom-house-calls-for-withdrawal-of-hungarys-new-church-law/
The Venice Commission:
http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2011/06/21/venice-commission-vexed-by-hungarys-new-constitution/
Amnesty International:
http://www.neurope.eu/article/pressure-hungary-s-human-rights-record-kept

peter litvanyi
Guest
Dear Eva /open letter/, I just received another letter from Hungary that spells …—… ,an international signal of distress. It would be beneficial if you organized your database horizontally as well as vertically. I believe An, “some1” ,”whoever” and me just agreed. Actually “Odin’s’” previously submitted post provides us with a format that took place in British history: “a provisional party of the no”. We need to support/ foster a coalition whose only purpose is to defeat the present /Mr. Oban’s FIDESZ/ ruling party and which makes all its legislation up to this point null and void. Perhaps we all should make a statement to that extent under our full names as well as encourage our acquaintances to act in the same spirit. By definition, the coalition dissolves itself the moment this goal is accomplished. At which point new general elections under democratic guidelines are to be held. Somehow I don’t think we will be at the same side of the table when democracy happens /here or in Hungary/. Yet this does not diminish my personal respect towards you, Eva. I, however, need to ask you a question just to see what’s what here. Have you ever banished/ censured or… Read more »
Member

Peter. please! Open letter? This is a blog! Everything is an open letter.
Look, this is a personal blog, not a political movement. Imagine it as people sitting around a table and talking. This attracts a lot of intelligent people (that’s why I’m here, muhahaha) so with the help of the almighty Google gods the blog can spread the word about this disastrous Hungarian government.
I’m not professor Balogh’s spokesman, but I’m pretty sure she never censored out anybody for their views.
So, Peter, just follow the lead. Your green(ish) anti-globalization views are very welcome!
PS: I always loved the slashes instead of the parentheses. It’s a nice personal touch.

Minusio
Guest
@ peter litvanyi: I am certain that Eva Balogh never blocked anyone who wanted to write in this blog – quite in contrast to “Hungarian Voice” owned by a certain Dr. Michael Pießkalla in Munich who banned me (and whom else?). Ad Hungary going it alone and leaving the “present EU”, I am extremely doubtful. In fact it makes me suspicious of your political wisdom and historical consciousness. There are already too many Eastern Europeans around who clamour for “another Europe”. I don’t want to be part of it and I could no longer associate with my friends in all of those countries, but especially in Hungary, if I did. They are good citizens of this only existing European Union – and proud of the fact that, on their passports, it first says European Union and only below comes the name of their country. You are probably a different generation, but you should know that this European project of peace, solidarity and prosperity is a courageous endeavour and a huge achievement, born from the reverberations of many European wars. It needs commitment. It’s not, however, a self-service buffet. And it is not a Brussels bureaucratic moloch either. Did you know… Read more »
peter litvanyi
Guest

Quick answers:
re: “So, Peter, just follow the lead. Your green(ish) anti-globalization views are very welcome!” Thanks for the covert warning, man. It was nice to know you too.
re:”but you should know that this European project of peace, solidarity and prosperity is a courageous endeavour and a huge achievement, born from the reverberations of many European wars.”
Dear “Minusio”, well I don’t take it very lighly at all. Perhaps there is ten years max. between the two of us. I am VERY PRO EU; it is just not exactly this particular EU /there is nothing sacred about experiment #1/. Therefore I think the real task is to change things around on a global level. Call me a Trotskist if that makes you breathe easier. I personally admire the dear late Ms. Emma Goldman. If you don’t want to be part of the future: your choice, Pal.
Sorry, lately Hungary is about as poor as Romania. Did you notice?
PS: I asked Eva a personal question /not without reason/ and she may or may not answer that. I accept all possible answers/ outcomes. It’s none of you guys’ business, OK?
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

Recovering Magyar
Guest

Ah…It must be really frustrating to be a Hungarian exceptionalist these days. To be so in the right and so very broke at the same time…
It is a uniiiique pain only a Hungarian can understand.

peter litvanyi
Guest

One last word and I will shut up /cause am tired and sick of all of this/:
I am proudly PALOC. A jewish Paloc in my case.
We lived on both sides of the border for centuries. We spoke at least two languages and we mixed them up good.
We paloc are neither. We are both to the best of our ability. We do not dream about a great paloc empire but we can tell our kin from a hundred miles.
The EU may have made the recent record books. It did not heal the rift of that one single mile that torn our paloc people apart for centuries.
I stand for that mile. It’s not really Hungary or Slovakia /whatever both megalomaniacs think/. It’s my people’s land. We speak funny.
There is no EU for me till hatred cuts across the land like a river.
That’s where it starts, that’s where it ends.
I am not a hungarian if you wish. I am not a slovakian if you wish. I am paloc by birth and priviledge. I can also be a european if this is a true alternative.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
For a moment let us consider one of Orban the Viktator’s options. This is to leave the EU. If Hungry did this she would have to negotiate her exit terms. Most of these would be financial where Hungary might well have to repay all or some part of, the various grants made to her by the E.U. The financial problems which would face Hungary at the IMF would not change and Hungary would have to go into default. We know Argentina did this but Hungary does not have the resources of Argentina. Goods for Hungary –cash in hard currency with order only! Once outside the EU she would face tariff barriers from the E.U. for her exports. I have a feeling that those who have invested in Hungry would de-invest rapidly. I know that there are several investment projects ‘on-hold’ at the moment and a lot of equipment is sitting in warehouses outside Hungary just waiting. If the E.U. really gets the ‘hump’ about the Viktator and Hungary’s decline into a ‘one man’ state, the E.U. could close its borders. The only route out of Hungary would be through the Ukraine. Serbia would not play ball with Hungary as Serbia… Read more »
SB
Guest

Dear Eva,
Would you please watch and comment on this video?
http://mno.hu/ahirtvhirei/cohn-bendit-boduletesen-melletrafalt-1044219

kingfisher
Guest

This is a highly intelligent piece that will infuriate people here. Read it carefully. He is not defending Orbán for what he has done. But rather, points out some uncomfortable truths about how the EU operates.
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100130630/the-eu-unintentionally-bolsters-hungarian-authoritarianism/

Friends
Guest
Dear friends, Our peoples share centuries of common history. It is not by accident that we became members of the European Union together. We chose European citizenship because we knew we would not stand a chance on our own. And the ongoing economic crisis has only strengthened the need of solidarity between us and with the rest of the EU. The challenges you are facing are neither unique nor new. Not so long ago, with Hungary in serious economic difficulties, Fidesz already used the situation to extend its own powers, rather than steering the country away from economic collapse. But more importantly, as your neighbors, as your partners in the Visegrad group and fellow democrats we believe to have an intimate understanding of what is going on in Hungary today. Words do matter: Hungary is no longer the Republic we knew since a single party managed to dismantle the system of power checks and balances, taking advantage of the existing electoral system and of a deep political crisis, with the aim to secure its dominance for decades to come. By doing so, Fidesz’s regime demonstrated that the difference between tyranny and democracy can be thin, as it lies in the… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

SB, So, Cohn-Bendit made a slight mistake concerning the retirement age of the judges of the constitutional court. What difference does it make? It is patently obvious that the lowering of the retirement age of ordinary judges has only one purpose: To make place for judges close to Fidesz and the government and thus deprive the Hungarian judiciary of its independence. Unfortunately, Cohn-Bendit is right about that.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Friend (who is my personal friend as well):
“We side with all political forces seeking to avoid a disaster far greater than the collapse of financial markets. As a consequence, we will hold our respective governments as well as European institutions accountable should they fail to defend democracy, and lack solidarity with Hungarian people, our fellow citizens.”
Yesterday Orbán, who is a fantastic actor, lied through his teeth without being challenged. I’m talking here about his press conference.
The European Union is trying its best but can demand only changes in the law. However, one can change a word here and a word there but the essence of Orbán’s regime remains.
One can fiddle with the media law and yet the government can “legally” deprive Klubrádió’s frequency. There can be wonderful words about freedom of assembly when between the government and the city of Budapest the authorities reserve all possible gathering places in the city for March 15th, leaving one little spot for the opposition enough to hold about 5,000 people. And this is the situation that is so difficult to handle.

Member
The European Union is one of the most important advancement for Europe in modern day history. Would anyone question what it meant in the long run for the USA to unite? How about Canada? Quebec would would o been in trouble, and Newfoundland would be at brink. It is not to say that they would not survive on their own or there are no separation attempts by a selected group fueled by economical or nationalistic motive. Product that did not exist or was not valued a century ago became important for our days, and what have been a problem in the past became the driving force of economy on a much larger landscape than Europe. Although small “boutique” economical projects can be successful those are mare exceptions. Everything new has its growing pains, and so does Europe. Feudalism is gone for a good reason, and Orban’s pig and home garden projects, rebuilding of the army, allegiance for Fidesz only as solution for Hungary’s trouble sounds like Back to the Future IV. As for the article of Daniel Annan. It is silly. WHo in the world would sit trough watching three hours of drilling by the European Union? Only politicians and… Read more »
Petofi
Guest

The funniest thing about Orbanites is this: Orban has clearly sabotaged Fellegi’s efforts! He’s done this repeatedly. Orban
WANTS to be refused by the IMF. He WANTS to be rebuked by the EU parliament. (How else do you explain the insults he served up.)
He wants to lead heroic Hungary towards its new future: as a slave
state of Russia…while he himself sets up his gypsy kingdom in the neighbourhood of Felchut and cavorts with his fellows about how they finally got the “whites”–

Csoda. Kegy
Guest
The EU Parliament has a great website where you can watch what VO actually said on the 2 occasions he spoke yesterday: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?end-date=20120120&idmep=105800&page=0&format=wmv&askedDiscussionNumber=0# I am no fan of many of the decisions taken in the last year in Hungary or of the strongly nationalistic tone VO normally adopts. But I thought he did a great job in casting the external criticism of him / Hungary as an extension of domestic politics; of showing respect for and appealing to the liberal values of the EU as well as to nationalistic passions in other countries (e.g. his appeal over the Christian Democracy thing, whatever that is); and last but not least in projecting himself above the detailed decisions in each of the 365 laws he says have been passed by his government. Of course, if one accepts his position at face value, it leaves open the big question of what he is going to do to make sure that the weaknesses in this huge amount of legislation are corrected. In particular, weakened checks and balances do open the door much wider to a profusion of less well-meaning, democracy-unfriendly decisions by government officials seeking favour for themselves from the Prime Minister (or at… Read more »
Paul
Guest

The old “Orbán is really a gypsy” slander again. eh, Petofi? I thought better of you.

Member

@ Csoda. Kegy, The 365 laws passed should already raise an alarm, especially knowing how many was passed in the last month. His Christian values should be put into perspective, as he is the man who mocked religious people in the Parliament “Terdre csuhasok, imara!” (“On you knees monkery, to pray!”) in 1992.
Orban calls on people learn about Hungarian history, read the related texts, so I would like to challenge his believers to learn more about Orban.
Also, lets not mix up financial interest with social interests. The strengthening of the forint is not to say that Orban is a democratic person and everyone finally acknowledged this, but to say that he will probably comply with the main requirements of the EU, or as he would say “In this case we will bow to the power not in front of reasons.”

Paul
Guest
I’m getting worried. Until recently, Orbán looked and acted like a man under great stress. Everything was going wrong and accelerating, the forint was collapsing, the government couldn’t borrow money, a crisis was approaching – we weren’t sure exactly what, but it was definitely on the horizon. And now? Well Orbán looks far too relaxed, the forint is recovering, the government is managing to sell bonds. Something is clearly afoot – but what? My guess is that Orbán and his chums have come up with a ruse which they clearly think is going to work. And I suspect this ruse is to promise to make all the changes the EU ask for, and then only actually make cosmetic changes. Business as usual, they get the money, but plan Orbánrossa carries on. So far, so not very new, but I think the change in body language and tone recently is down to their belief that they are actually going to get away with this. They have seen how open to their PR and propaganda much of Europe is, they know that the EU has got its hands too full to want a real fight, and they think they can spin and… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “The old “Orbán is really a gypsy” slander again. eh, Petofi? I thought better of you.”
I don’t know why people consider that a slander. Unless that person thinks that it is a terrible stigma to have Roma ancestors.

Member

@Csoda. Kegy “No wonder the Forint is strengthening”
This is because the markets think he’s losing big time and will fold soon in the IMF poker game. The markets don’t care about ideological victories.
We are not Russia. We have no resources. We can’t afford the lack of democracy. We will go bankrupt.
@friends In your article I liked the allegory with Hannibal crossing the Alps. It certainly fits if we consider the road ahead us. I wish I knew who Hannibal is … Gosh, so much Elephant dung.

Member

@Paul I think Hungary being Europe’s gypsies fits well.
This reminds me on the late Geza Hofi again (greatest ever Hungarian stand-up comedian). When Orban was shown art in America: “That’s a Hungarian gypsy , right?” “No it’s a venetian mirror …”
I hate myself for quoting Hungarian links, but what the hell, here it is again. This is montage of Hofi’s stand-ups about Orban and the FIDESZ.
Enjoy!


Paul
Guest

Éva – unfortunately they do. We may not think this is slander, but unfortunately a lot of Hungarians do, especially out east.
And because Orbán has a dark complexion (more noticeable when he was younger), he is easily assumed by some to have, as my wife would say, a bit of Gypsy in him.
But my point was for ‘us’ to descend to this sort of abuse is just the same as Fidesz/Jobbik inferring their enemies have Jewish blood.

Member
My take on this calling someone Jewish/Gypsy is very simply. What are the intentions? I am not willing to go down the road of Jobbik and use factual things as derogatory. I am not suing the word gypsy or homosexual as a slander, so I do not want to be put in the same mix as Jobbik and many Hungarians. I am Westernized and so are many Hungarians, and I believe they are not like many others who want to hurt with these words. (I do not agree to revisit how to teach Huckleberry Finn in the States. Mark Twain used the terms what was acceptable at the time, and he meant no harm.) This forum is not the Magyar Nemzet or such, and is aligned with Western values and western morals. MOst of the comments comes from liberal minded people with great respect for all religions, race and other demographics. Yes, I think Orban has gypsy blood. Yes, I think Orban used to be an atheist and now he found God and he is Christian. He advocates for Christian values. I never heard someone advocating in Hungary for Jewish values. I wish Orban would have more compassion not only… Read more »
Mutt Damon
Guest

@Paul I agree with Some1. It’s all about the context. Don’t be such a gentleman. You’d put 95% of the stand-up comedians out of business. This wasn’t meant to be a slur. It’s for teasing the skiita deep Hungarian wingnut gypsy-hater followers of Orban the 5th that the Grofaz’ grandpa may have worked on adobe bricks in Felcsut.
I’ve signed the waiver. My kids know Huck Finn.

An
Guest
@Paul: “I suspect this ruse is to promise to make all the changes the EU ask for, and then only actually make cosmetic changes. Business as usual, they get the money, but plan Orbánrossa carries on.” This unfortunately is a possibility. Orban is going to make only the changes he absolutely has to, and he will try to get away with making only technical modifications that on the look of it satisfy democratic criteria, but gives him enough wiggle room to abuse the rules and push though his will. A good example of this is how the government and the Budapest city council is trying to block mass demonstrations by the opposition on March 15 by reserving most of the downtown area (areas where a large crowd can gather) for “official” celebration of the holiday. Even with the best intentions, the EU can only make Orban change the letters of the law; they cannot make him implement it in the intended spirit. And he won’t. He will find ways to look democratic enough on paper so that the EU is minimally satisfied (and get the money), or let the whole issue drag along until an official EU court ruling (and… Read more »
Friend
Guest

Dear Eva,
Orban didn’t deceive anybody yesterday in the EP, trust me.
The point is this: can the EU let Hungary go bankrupt?
If not, how can the EU channel the necessary money and at the same time show that it doesn’t like what Orban does?

Member

NEWS or not news. There are other seventeen pages in Schmitt’s thesis that he lifted from someone else. Although yesterday in a radio interview Schmitt said that beside the 180 pages in question, everything else on the 35 pages his own work. It is not so, as there was an other page from Georgiev and 17 pages from Klaus Heinemann work, the The Economics of Sport: the Institution of Modern Sport as an Area of Economic Competition.
Here are seven pages to compare from the original work and from Schmitt’s translation side-by-side.
http://hvg.hu/document/Schmitt_Pal_plagium2.pdf
I wonder if Orban now has some opinion and if Fidesz still thinks that this is just some boulvard gossip.

Paul
Guest

Completely OT – but I had a near ‘Huck Finn moment’ the other day. I was in a bakery with my 6 year old daughter and she was deciding which gingerbread man to have (they had different coloured buttons!).
To my horror, in order to choose she started reciting “Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo…”. I say horror because we were the only customers in the shop and all three of the staff were standing there listening to us. And the next line of this choosing rhyme is “catch a nigger by its toe”!!
I couldn’t think of any way to stop her in time, I just froze in horror, wondering how to explain away what she was about to say. But what she actually said was “catch a piggy by the toe”! Unbeknown to me, someone has obviously cleaned this rhyme up.
I was so surprised and relieved I put all my change into the charity box by mistake!

Member

Also completely OTT but how I laughed when I read this…will the Fidesz Drones and the associated far-right loons be linking to this article from the Jerusalem Post I wonder?
http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=254396
And the truth? Well the truth about the anti-Semitism and, indeed, about the changes taking place in Hungary itself is much more complicated, layered and nuanced than what is generally portrayed in 600-word news stories about the country or in a sound bite from a foreign stateman’s speech.
And that, too, gives Hungary a distinctly Israeli feel
Indeed;)

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