I was planning to write about Hungary’s battle with the European Commission over the deficit, but the news turned out to be pretty much of a fizzle. The government claims success because the Commission accepted the figures provided by the Hungarian government for their projected 2012 and 2013 deficits. The Union’s demand is a deficit that is under 3% of the GDP, and Hungary has been one of the worst offenders in this respect in the last eight or ten years. Year after year the Hungarian numbers were closer to 10% than to 3% and Brussels’ patience has been running out. At last they told the Hungarian government now or never. If Hungary doesn’t want to or can’t oblige, the cohesion funds will be withdrawn.
After several tries Economics Minister György Matolcsy came up with the “right” numbers, but the results were achieved by introducing measures that included reneging on a pledge to halve Europe’s highest bank levy, doubling a new financial transaction tax, and special levies on public utilities. Brussels seems to be satisfied, although the communiqué announcing the decision mentioned that “the net effect of these corrective packages is estimated to be around 1.5 percent of GDP but they also include negative growth effects.” In plain language, the structure of the package doesn’t ensure sustainable economic growth accompanied by low deficit numbers.
As usual, the Hungarian government and the European Commission don’t see eye to eye on the exact figures. Since we are quickly approaching the end of the 2012 fiscal year, one can fairly safely say that this year’s deficit will not exceed 2.5%. However, there are small differences in numbers for the year 2013. Hungary projected a deficit gap of 2.7% while Brussels thinks it will be more like 2.9%. The two sides, however, disagree widely on what will happen in 2014. Brussels is certain that Hungary will not be able to keep the deficit under 3% and that the whole vicious cycle will begin anew.
Matolcsy is extremely pleased with the results, while the opposition has an entirely different opinion of the matter. MSZP interpreted the Brussels reaction as “an objective criticism”; the European Council granted six months of reprieve for Hungary to correct its figures. Indeed, it will now be next May that the final decision about the cohesion funds will be made. This alleged criticism is most likely accurate because Matolcsy talked about the possibilities of “new measures” that might be necessary.
Since this particular issue between Brussels and Budapest is in limbo for a while, I would like to move on to a domestic issue. Medián came out with its latest poll on the population’s party preferences and that poll included Gordon Bajnai’s “Együtt 2014” (Together 2014), a civic movement that aims to be an umbrella organization for those opposition forces that are serious about winning the elections despite all the roadblocks Fidesz and the government are relentlessly setting up against the anti-Fidesz forces.
Medián conducted its survey in the last week of October. Let me remind everybody that the formation of “Együtt 2014” was announced at the Milla demonstration on October 23. As Medián put it, perhaps the “war of numbers” was won by Fidesz, but public opinion considered the Milla demonstration and the formation of Együtt 2014 more important. Sixteen percent of the people considered Gordon Bajnai’s appearance on the political scene the most important event of the week. Moreover, although the Hungarian public seems to be seriously under-informed in general, 61% of the people knew about the new movement and 53% also knew that Gordon Bajnai had a role to play in it.
The appearance of this new movement completely changed the balance of forces in the long stagnant Hungarian political scene, especially on the left. While Fidesz’s support in the adult population didn’t change at all (22%), MSZP lost quite a bit. Without the appearance of Együtt 2014 MSZP would have stood at 17%, its best performance since the elections. Instead, the party’s popularity sank to 10%. Let me add that Jobbik also stands at 10%. Another party that suffered is DK. Gyurcsány’s party polled a mere 1%. However, one must keep in mind that Gyurcsány announced even before October 23 that if Bajnai is ready to enter the ring, DK will support him unconditionally. One cannot make such an excuse for MSZP because there were unwilling to commit themselves to a common platform and some of the more sanguine MSZP leaders proclaimed that, standing alone, MSZP could win against Fidesz even under the new electoral law that highly favors Fidesz.
If MSZP’s ambivalent attitude toward unity might have caused its huge drop in popularity, it is also true of LMP which by now has only a 3% share of the votes. The number of undecided voters is still high (37%), but less than it was previously.
When it comes to the popularity of individual politicians, Viktor Orbán is down to the ninth place while Gordon Bajnai is in second after President János Áder. The president’s popularity most likely has little to do with Áder’s personality. Traditionally Hungarians feel that they must like the president. Regardless of whether the president is well regarded or not, he always heads the list.
A few more words here about LMP. As I’ve mentioned several times, LMP doesn’t have a single party chairman. It is led by a kind of collective leadership with all the problems and frustrations such a decentralized arrangement can cause. Lately, as I was able to figure out, the party leadership seemed to be split over cooperation with other parties at the 2014 elections. The most adamant against cooperation was András Schiffer, and he was followed by all the others with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Eventually Schiffer resigned his leadership of the LMP parliamentary delegation and the post was taken over by Benedek Jávor whose utterances until now didn’t reveal any differences of opinion on the matter. That is, until today.
I suspect that Jávor learned earlier about the Medián survey that showed the spectacular 14% popularity of Együtt 2014. Yesterday Jávor announced that “Hungary is in serious crisis and it is facing a very important election.” In this situation “it is our historic responsibility to examine all possible instruments that would create the opportunity to defeat the Orbán government.” He announced that the party has to make a decision on its relationship with Gordon Bajnai’s movement. Therefore, he suggests beginning negotiations with Együtt 2014!
A few days ago deep disappointment could be sensed in liberal circles about the willingness of politicians on the left to cooperate, but it seems that they are not as stupid as some people think. They are coming to realize that under the current circumstances there is no other solution but to work together. Otherwise they will witness the systematic destruction of Hungarian democracy and the ruin of the country’s economy. A lot of people think that four more years of Viktor Orbán would do irreparable harm to Hungary.