Viktor Orbán meets Angela Merkel: What really happened?

It was a busy day in Hungarian politics. The long-planned Orbán visit to Berlin finally took place, and after a lot of wrangling two of the opposition civic movements, Szolidaritás and Milla, agreed to hold their October 23 demonstrations together. This news gained added importance when it turned out that former prime minister, Gordon Bajnai, will be one of the speakers at the demonstration. Although we don’t know what Bajnai will say, those who believe that he is the only person who could gather the various groups and democratic parties into a common fold hope that he will announce his return to politics.

Initially I thought that I could squeeze both topics into today’s post, but after rereading my notes I came to the conclusion that this was an impossibility. So, let’s deal with international affairs today and continue tomorrow with the new domestic developments.

A growing number of people would like to see the whole Orbán regime disappear, and these people fervently hoped that “Merkel would tell Orbán off.” They are most likely very disappointed because it seems that all’s well between Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán. At least this is what we could discern from the joint press conference held after a private luncheon, also attended by György Matolcsy and Zoltán Balog.

Let me start with an article by Mátyás Eörsi (earlier SZDSZ and now a DK politician) that appeared in Magyar Narancs. Eörsi, who has diplomatic experience (he served as undersecretary in the foreign ministry for a while), expressed his belief that although Angela Merkel most likely has a very bad opinion of Viktor Orbán she is not going to focus on Hungary’s foundering democracy because she needs allies for her EU policies. And, Eörsi added, Viktor Orbán will be a willing and “constructive partner” in this endeavor of hers.

Of course, we don’t know whether this is how the conversation went. My personal feeling is that Hungarian domestic affairs were discussed, at least in passing. That this discussion might have been less than congenial is also likely. I don’t know what German word Merkel used to describe the tone of the discussion, but the Hungarians translated it as “nyitott” (open). “Open” in this context means “candid.” When we hear the word “candid” attached to diplomatic negotiations we interpret the word to imply that the conversation was frank and outspoken.

The German Chancellery is fully aware of what is going on in Hungary. Only yesterday the spokesman for the German government sent a message to Orbán: “Someone with a two-thirds majority must know that with that majority goes great responsibility towards those who are in the minority.” The German media while preparing for the Orbán visit also published scathing articles about Orbán’s attitude toward democracy. The authors of one opinion piece predicted that Merkel most likely will “admonish” the Hungarian prime minister. Well, if she did we didn’t hear a thing about it. The Hungarians also anticipated a scolding from Angela Merkel. Otherwise why did Foreign Minister János Martonyi feel that he had to emphasize to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur that although the Hungarian government might have made some errors “during the enormous transformation that has occurred in the last two years,” the Orbán government is fully committed to democratic principles? The same message was delivered to the German public by Orbán himself in his interview with the German paper Handesblatt, where he described himself as “a zealous believer and supporter of democracy.”

How friendly / MTI-Office of the Prime Minister

Admittedly, Merkel went out of her way to be pleasant to Orbán, perhaps, goes one line of reasoning, because the usual diplomatic language of understatement has no effect on the Hungarian prime minister. Now, it seems, Merkel decided on a new strategy. To give the impression that she understands, partially at least, “the motives behind the reforms.” Hungarian observers think that Merkel went too far here. Because the Orbán government is currently in trouble with the European Court of Justice and the European Council, just to mention two of the most important institutions of the EU. Yes, in the past Orbán under pressure did make changes to some of the laws that the European Commission found most objectionable, but these changes were neither substantial nor fundamental.

So, what did Orbán promise to Merkel? We don’t know, but I’m almost certain that the soothing words of Angela Merkel came with a price tag, though probably more Wal-Mart than Neiman Marcus. László Lengyel, an economist and political commentator, thinks that perhaps Matolcsy’s latest austerity program may have something to do with the Merkel-Orbán meeting. After all, Matolcsy made a complete turnabout. The latest attempt to balance the 2012 and 2013 budgets contains no “unorthodox” items. It is also possible that for German support Orbán promised certain changes in the most controversial new laws on the judiciary, the media, and elections.

At the press conference
Reuters / Photo Thomas Peter

After the meeting with Merkel Orbán made a speech at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. In the audience of 200 sat Imre Kertész, the only Hungarian Nobel Prize winner for literature and no friend of Viktor Orbán. His speech, which naturally had been written before his conversation with Angela Merkel, repeated all the clichés we’ve heard from him of late: nation building, self-pity as an obstacle to success, and that Hungarians shouldn’t feel that they belong to a small nation.

What was interesting was that after the speech he got some hard questions. Keep in mind that at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Orbán was among friends. However, he wasn’t fazed by such comments as that German firms don’t trust the Hungarian government because of its erratic and unpredictable attitude toward the business world. Yes, answered Orbán, the extra levies hit the service sector especially hard, but he “has bad news for the players in this sector”: their situation will not change in the future. There will be no higher profits.

When a German constitutional scholar said that Hungarian judges in the last year or so had rendered some very brave decisions and added that “in Germany a judge doesn’t have to be brave,” he just has to do his job, Orbán rather impertinently answered that in the minds of Hungarians the role of judges is different than it is in Germany. Moreover, he “doesn’t consider the German situation the standard” to which Hungary has to adjust.

All in all, if Merkel quietly achieved something during her talk with Orbán, it couldn’t have been a heck of a lot. The man seems to be feeling on top of the world.

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Penny Oswalt
Guest

Chancellor Merkel shows great charactor and poise in dealing with the PM. However, time will tell all.

bernard de raadt
Guest

Seem to me victor id doing just fine

bernard de raadt
Guest

your article is presuming. not based on facts

An
Guest

As much as I had hoped more from Merkel (more support of Hungarian democracy and less support of the Orban regime, that is), the “good” thing about Orban feeling confident is that when he feels (over)confident, that’s when he commits the biggest mistakes. So just sit back and watch him self-destruct. (It won’t be pretty though, as the country is being destroyed as well.)

cheshire cat
Guest
Angela Merkel will not stand in front of the cameras and say: “This guy has been a right pain in the bum, we’re angry now and we’re sooo going to remove him if he doesn’t behave.” She is speaking to the rest of the world as well, and it is in the EU’s interest to understate the problems, to project the image that they are in control of Orban and everything is going fine. What actually is said and what politicians agree to tell journalists are two different things. It was an “open” discussion = we talked about the problems. “I now understand the reason behind the laws” = I asked him why he did them and he told me his version. It doesn’t mean we “support him”. “I welcome the fact that he has been complying with the EU regulations” = he must comply with EU regulations. Etc. But two things are likely. Orban wants Merkel not to reduce Hungary’s cohesion support in the EU budget for the following years. The EU wants to go ahead with their “Economic and Monetary Union 2.0” for the euro area (fiscal union, taxing union, banking union, common banking supervision etc). They don’t… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest

An, of course Orban feels confident – he has been invited somewhere important for the first time in two years…an achievement indeed.

bernard de raadt
Guest

or Merkel is afraid from the time Hadik took Berlin

Guest

Cheshire cat is right:

Merkel told Orbán that the EU is watching Hungary and the courts are looking at Hungarian laws, but as long as Hungary isn’t part of the € community its economic problems are not really relevant outside of Hungary …

So Merkle is probably grateful that she doesn’t have to deal with Orbán too much/too often.

The media in general reiterated all the criticisms however – they are looking much more carefully at what’s going on here. If you read the SPIEGEL or SÜDDEUTSCHE you find scathing reports on the Hungarian government and its laws.

@bernadette:

Business as usual – Hadik won one battle but he and the Austrians lost the war and Prussia went on to become Germany’s leader while Austria started its slide into obscurity …

And Hungary stayed a “second rate partner” of Austria – doing much of the dirty work for the Austrian emperors.

petofi
Guest

Let’s not be fooled by the ‘noblesse oblige’ of Merkel: she wasn’t going to stoop to reprimanding the Felcsutian in public.
Orban was called on the carpet to explain himself (privately) and to be forewarned that he’s being watched. The only thing Merkel
allowed him was not to embarrass him in public. For this contued ‘generosity’, Orban was required to make some appeasing sounds toward the EU and the euro.

petofi
Guest
INTEGRITY LESSON #1 FOR HUNGARIANS Lawrence Ferlinghetti (age 93) has refused the 50,000 euro prize of the Hungarian PEN organization. Here’s the article (and Ferlinghetti’s letter of refusal) from the website of the University of Rochester: After doing some research on the Pannonius Prize, Ferlinghetti discovered that a sizeable portion of the prize money had been provided by the Hungarian government, which has been widely accused of officially and unofficially stifling free speech. In light of this news, Ferlinghetti decided to decline the award, and sent this message to the President of the Hungarian PEN Club: Dear Geza Szocs, After careful research into the Pannonius Prize and its sponsors, including the present Hungarian government, I have come to the following conclusions: Since the Prize is partially funded by the present Hungarian government, and since the policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties, I find it impossible for me to accept the Prize in the United States. Thus I must refuse the Prize in its present terms. However, assuming the total devotion of the Hungarian PEN Club and yourself to freedom of speech and social justice, I propose… Read more »
Guest

Merkel gaved Orban precisely what he had come for: A photograph where they are both smiling. It is woth at least +1.9% on the HUF exchange rate, 0.1% being deducted because of the color of his necktie.

petofi
Guest

Jean P :
Merkel gaved Orban precisely what he had come for: A photograph where they are both smiling. It is woth at least +1.9% on the HUF exchange rate, 0.1% being deducted because of the color of his necktie.

Yes, 1.9% gain on the exchange while the country continues to blow billions on raising government funds–a Hungarian deal if ever I saw one!

Member

Eva S. Balogh :

Jean P :
Merkel gaved Orban precisely what he had come for: A photograph where they are both smiling. It is woth at least +1.9% on the HUF exchange rate, 0.1% being deducted because of the color of his necktie.

He loves this hideous necktie. He wears it at every important occasion.

Presnet from his wife maybe?

Member
Somehow off subject. At this point many people who I have spoken to for the last few days are very sceptical of anything Orban does or tries to do. I think the turn out for October 23rd will be very large. There are a very few people who did not participate in any demonstartions but they lost their hope and will go on the street. I am not sure if it has been mentioned here (as I was away from mz computer for a while) but two days ago the governemnet took out full page ads in every daily, including Nepszabdasag, to put in huge text about how the Hungarian government is declining the pressure and demand from the IMS that was discussed on this blog before. THis ad campaign that has no merit cost 200,000,000 Forints. All the demands listed are demands that only exist in the troubled, psychotic mind of Orban. An other lie of Fidesz that older people are discussing even in the waiting rooms of doctors has to do with the pensions.Orban keep promising to keep the “shopping power of pensions”. Well,from November pensions will be raised above 1%, while the Hungaran inflation rate is above… Read more »
Rigó Jancsi
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :He loves this hideous necktie. He wears it at every important occasion.

And I was already wondering whether I am the only one who noticed this ugly piece. It was best in the EP, when Matolcsy had the same tie, they looked like some comedian twins.

Guest

There’s really scathing comment on “Orbán the Betyár” on the site of German Public Radio WDR, written by Stephan Ozsvath:
http://www.wdr5.de/sendungen/politikum/s/d/12.10.2012-00.05/b/wie-kann-das-sein.html
“How is this possible” is the title. It describes how the Fidesz gang is plundering Hungary …

Guest

London Calling!

Merkel is a procrastinator par excellence.

In the financial environment she has ‘kicked the can down the road’ many times before conceding the inevitable – as evidenced by the ECB only now underwriting EU countries debt with ‘unlimited’ bonds – a move which could have stopped the slide of many countries who now find themselves in very dire positions – Greece, Portugal, Ireland etc.

She is almost certainly procrastinating with Orban – even though Hillary Clinton has intervened and Hungary is getting a bad press in Germany.

As in the financial universe – she will let things drift in the Hungarian universe.

It is said of the Americans – they always do the right thing in the end – but usually only as a last resort.

Orban will have a relatively free hand still – until the EU problems become less pressing – or things deteriorate so much that the ‘American-last-resort’ solution kicks in.

The KSH has just announced inflation at 6.6% – and is a rising trend.

Orban’s Waterloo (Mohács?) is getting closer.

Regards

Charlie

Member

petofi :

Jean P :
Merkel gaved Orban precisely what he had come for: A photograph where they are both smiling. It is woth at least +1.9% on the HUF exchange rate, 0.1% being deducted because of the color of his necktie.

Yes, 1.9% gain on the exchange while the country continues to blow billions on raising government funds–a Hungarian deal if ever I saw one!

It is more like a 0.2% boost for HUF

October 11, 1:50 PM 281.9 EUR/HUF
October 12 1:50 PM 281.4

Member

Let us examine the economic performance of the Orban government.

The probability of bankruptcy of the Hungarian State within 5 years as measured by the CDS:

2010. May 17%
2012. Jan max 40%
2012. Oct 12 20%

So the risk of state bankruptcy is about the same as two and a half years ago.

But most people are much worse off. To start with, their private pension funds have been taken away. Their real net income is less.

Ivan
Guest

Seems to me that the “Peace March” is exceedingly ill-timed, celebrating, as it will seek to do, some sort of “victory” at not becoming a “colony” of the new recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Member

Ivan :
Seems to me that the “Peace March” is exceedingly ill-timed, celebrating, as it will seek to do, some sort of “victory” at not becoming a “colony” of the new recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The pro-Orban “March” will march a long way, from Hosok tere via Oktogon to Parliament.

The organizers of the Milla are not smart enough or are not allowed to march.

Why is it important? The subjective estimate of a moving crowd is always bigger than a standing one. And only these subjective numbers count, since Orban makes sure that the elections will not.

If your crowd marches, it looks much more numerous than when it is squeezed in a small area like the Pest side of the Erzsebet bridge.

Member

Ivan :
Seems to me that the “Peace March” is exceedingly ill-timed, celebrating, as it will seek to do, some sort of “victory” at not becoming a “colony” of the new recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

They should add the “We won’t be Nobel Price Winners” banner … Especially now, when the government television called Imre Kertesz, the nobel price winning author, non-Hungarian because he lives in Berlin. Is this going to happen to all of our nobel price winners who emmigrated? Don’t take my national pride away …

Member

Prize not price …

petofi
Guest
Some1 : Somehow off subject. At this point many people who I have spoken to for the last few days are very sceptical of anything Orban does or tries to do. I think the turn out for October 23rd will be very large. There are a very few people who did not participate in any demonstartions but they lost their hope and will go on the street. I am not sure if it has been mentioned here (as I was away from mz computer for a while) but two days ago the governemnet took out full page ads in every daily, including Nepszabdasag, to put in huge text about how the Hungarian government is declining the pressure and demand from the IMS that was discussed on this blog before. THis ad campaign that has no merit cost 200,000,000 Forints. All the demands listed are demands that only exist in the troubled, psychotic mind of Orban. An other lie of Fidesz that older people are discussing even in the waiting rooms of doctors has to do with the pensions.Orban keep promising to keep the “shopping power of pensions”. Well,from November pensions will be raised above 1%, while the Hungaran inflation rate… Read more »
Member

tappanch :
Why is it important? The subjective estimate of a moving crowd is always bigger than a standing one. And only these subjective numbers count, since Orban makes sure that the elections will not.

Good science project for tech savvy high schoolers. Put up a camera on the Andrassy street and run the footage through a face recognition software to count to faces.

Ooops. I hope the TEK is not reading this …

Member

Search for a new life outside Hungary as represented in Google Trends

http://www.gvi.hu/data/research/migracio_2012_google_elemzes_121012.pdf

The peak seemed to be in March 2012.

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