Viktor Orbán arrived in Brussels early because of a scheduled talk at the European Policy Center. In the wake of widespread criticism of his authoritarian tendencies and wrong-headed economic policies, the Hungarian prime minister should have been somewhat humbled and subdued, but in typical Orbán fashion he answered attacks on his policies with attacks of his own on the European Union. In fact, he portrayed Hungary as a “laboratory” for transforming the European Union economically and politically.
I wonder how his audience reacted to this boasting. Here is a small, relatively backward and poor country in the throes of a serious economic crisis whose prime minister wants to lead the way toward the renewal of all of Europe. I bet that the common reaction was: “This man has gall.”
So, a combative Viktor Orbán went to visit José Manuel Barroso this morning at 11:30. We have only the Hungarian prime minister’s description of the meeting who, as his wont, was most optimistic. However, there are signs that perhaps not everything went as well as Orbán indicated.
First of all, the meeting lasted only half an hour. Such a short meeting can mean either that the two sides agreed on everything and there was no need to waste time or, just the opposite, they couldn’t agree on anything so there was no need to continue a fruitless exchange. I suspect that this particular meeting fell into the second category of short encounters.
First of all, it looks as if Orbán arrived in Brussels without a new, concrete agenda on the three infringement procedures. The Hungarian government is not willing to make further changes ensuring the independence of the judiciary and promises alone are unlikely to satisfy Brussels. As far as the independence of the Hungarian National Bank is concerned, Budapest is sticking to its guns on the salary and oath of the bank governor. The case of the ombudsman in charge of data protection is also an issue the Hungarian government refuses to deal with. Orbán made no secret either before or after the meeting that Hungary expects some of these issues to end up in the European Court of Justice. Thus it is unlikely that the infringement procedure against Hungary will end any time soon.
Although Orbán in his usual fashion talked about a real “breakthrough” and announced that “in essence” the negotiations with the IMF can begin within days if not weeks, I wouldn’t bet on such a happy outcome of today’s meeting.
Not only was the meeting short, the scheduled joint press conference was also cancelled.
Early morning in Budapest Tibor Navracsics tempered expectations of arriving at a political agreement between Hungary and the European Commission. In fact, Navracsics indicated that the prime minister doesn’t even want to have an agreement because “the issues at stake are just not that pressing.” But if they are not that pressing, why did Viktor Orbán look so mournful in Brussels?
Viktor Orbán’s arrival at José Manuel Barroso’s office
And the Hungarian prime minister didn’t look any better even later.
Somehow the scene doesn’t suggest that “there are no more obstacles in the way of an agreement,” as Orbán indicated to the newspapermen after the meeting. Orbán admitted that some of the questions will end up in court but was optimistic about the IMF negotiations. We know from Péter Szijjártó that Orbán made promises concerning all three disputed questions, but one is not at all sure whether anyone still believes Viktor Orbán’s promises in Brussels. Everything that has happened in the last three or four months suggests that promises will not do. Brussels wants to see the changed pieces of legislation, and for the time being I don’t see any Hungarian willingness to fulfill the demands of the European Union.
We won’t have to wait too long for the answer. Tomorrow the Hungarian issue will be on the agenda of the meeting of the European Commission. Perhaps the politicians of the Union are so tired of wrangling with Viktor Orbán that they will give the nod to the loan negotiations. I think this would be a mistake, but anything is possible in politics. It seems to me that Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, might be satisfied with a partial fulfillment of Brussels’ demands concerning the central bank. But that is only one of three issues on the table.
What does the Hungarian opposition think of the Orbán-Barroso meeting? Naturally, they are not as sanguine as Viktor Orbán seemed to be after his meeting with Barroso. Both MSZP and LMP are convinced that nothing was accomplished in Brussels because Orbán refuses to compromise. The euroskeptic Jobbik, on the other hand, is convinced that Orbán gave in to the EU and thus further enslaved the country to foreign interests.
Meanwhile the forex market believed Orbán Viktor and the Hungarian forint strengthened considerably today. We will see what happens tomorrow after the meeting of the European Commission.