Viktor Orbán’s ongoing fight with the European Union. It’s time to end it!

Yesterday I reported on two speeches that Viktor Orbán gave last Thursday and Friday. I didn’t mention his usual Friday morning interview on the state radio station. But this interview was certainly important, perhaps more important than his ruminations about a “work-based” society or likening his government’s economic policies to building a Lego structure full of fantasy and inventiveness.

It was more important because the better part of the interview was about the European Commission’s objections to the Fourth Amendment to the Hungarian constitution.

As far as the Hungarian prime minister is concerned, there is nothing wrong with the Hungarian constitution or any of the new laws passed by his two-thirds majority. The alleged legal objections are no more than “pretexts.” The real reason is a disapproval of his government’s economic policies. And he doesn’t beat around the bush. “Hungary stepped on the toes of [the western countries]. This is clear. Every time in the interest of the Hungarian people we introduce, for example, bank levies or we tax multinational companies, attacks on Hungary come immediately. Now that we have decreased the price of utilities, these attacks intensify.”

So, the western countries of the European Union are putting political and legal pressure on Hungary in defense of the economic interests of their own capitalists. The pressure must be kept up because “the multinationals, especially some of the largest ones in the world, cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that they have to give up their extra, luxury, and guaranteed profits. They don’t want to accept the fact that we, meaning the current Hungarian government, will not resign ourselves to a situation in which people in Hungary should spend more for basic services than these firms charge in their own countries. This is unacceptable.”

In case some of you don’t know what Viktor Orbán is talking about when he mentions “luxury profit,” extra profit, and guaranteed profit, don’t worry. He doesn’t either. “Luxury profit” doesn’t crop up too often in Hungarian texts, but it seems that Fidesz politicians created this new “concept.” I found references to it from 2005 when Lajos Kósa and others used the word. I guess it means high profit. “Extra profit” is a hangover from the earlier socialist times when Marxist economists talked about a kind of ceiling on profit; any profit above that was a sign of capitalistic excess and exploitation. Unfortunately, one can still hear the term far too often.

Another comment I would like to make here is that utility prices are not really higher in Hungary than in other countries. In fact, they are a tad below the European Union average. The profit margin of foreign utility companies is pretty low. After all, prices are set by the government. Yes, the average Hungarian family spends a larger portion of its income on utilities, but not because the prices are extraordinarily high but because Hungarian wages are very low. So much for the tirade against foreign owners of utility companies.

The journalist who conducts these Friday interviews is well trained. He formulates his questions in such a way that Viktor Orbán has total freedom to talk about whatever he wants.  So, there was plenty of opportunity for the prime minister to express his total astonishment that there are no reasoned arguments on the part of the European Commission. Moreover,  “there are no concrete criticisms.”

A little later, however, Orbán forgot his contention that there was nothing concrete in either José Manuel Barroso’s letter or in Viviane Reding’s  speech in the European Parliament. Orbán admitted that  he knows “about three concrete questions mentioned by Mr. Barroso…. Two of them have no significance, so we are quite ready to accept his–in my opinion, wrong opinions.  But in the third question, we don’t want to engage in any discussion [with the Union].” The first two questions address the very severe limitations on political advertisement at election time and the transference of certain court cases at will from one court to another. If you recall, the Orbán government was willing to change these two laws slightly. There would be no limitation on advertisement for the European Parliamentary election and cases that involve European Union law would not be transferable.

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his 2912 debate in the European Parliament  Reuters, photo  Vincent  Kessler

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his 2012 debate in the European Parliament
Reuters, photo Vincent Kessler

Let’s see what Viviane Reding said about these two newly worded paragraphs. On the issue of restrictions of political advertisement she said: “Whilst limitations may be acceptable in some cases, they would only be lawful if they are duly justified and proportionate. It should be noted that the audience share of private media where the restriction would apply represents almost 80% in Hungary.” As for the amendment enabling the president of the National Office for the Judiciary to transfer cases from one court to another, she said: “If applied to a case concerning EU law, it could raise issues of incompatibility with the EU obligation to provide for remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection and to the right to a fair trial as foreseen by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The third concrete issue mentioned in the Barroso letter was Article 17 of the Fourth Amendment that deals with fines for infringement of European Union laws. Reding argued: “The implementation of this provision would mean that Hungary would introduce an ad-hoc tax on Hungarian citizens should Hungary be fined for breach of EU law. Is it really sensible to make citizens pay for a tax whenever the state would fail to be in compliance with EU law? In practice citizens would be penalised twice: once for not having had their rights under EU law upheld and a second time for having to pay for this. This could undermine the authority of the Court of Justice and could constitute a violation of the duty of sincere cooperation in Article 4 (3) of the Treaty on the European Union on the part of Hungary.”

Orbán refuses to budge on this third point. If Hungary has to pay a fine because its government violated European law, the government has a right to tax the people because otherwise the deficit might not be kept under the magic 3%. And Hungary can’t afford this. “This is a rule that is perfectly compatible with European efforts to keep the deficit low. This is an important limit on overspending. We will not retreat on this point. If necessary we are ready to go to the European Court of Justice on this issue.”

This is where Viktor Orbán stands at the moment. Let’s see where the European Commission stands: “As for the rule of law. Hungary will also need to take due account of the opinion that the Council of Europe/Venice Commission will deliver in June, in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values. The Commission expects a responsible answer from Hungary to this opinion. “

I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with. Orbán is cunning, combatative, and ruthless. He might alter a word here or there in the constitution, but fundamentally nothing will change. He is standing firm. I don’t think he would even care very much if Hungary were stripped of its voting rights in the Union. What he cares about is EU money. Practically every penny that Hungary receives from the European Union in one way or another ends up in the pockets of his cronies and/or is spent on useless frivolities. EU subsidies help keep this man in power. And that’s a crime against the Hungarian people.

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cheshire cat
Guest
I have just written this to the previous thread: I find it quite alarming that more and more Hungarians believe that “Europe” has gone down the drain. (By Europe, they mean the West, of course.) Democracy, market economy, “excessive liberalism”, welfare states, Western culture, secularism etc. have failed, the West is looking for new directions economically, socially and politically. This, for Hungarians. also means that the model they wanted to take over, the West they wanted to catch up with has failed, and there is no point trying any more. The best thing is to get independent, get our sovereignity back, chase the Western “colonizers” out of the country, get rid of the financial vultures, let’s just support ourselves. Orban of course feeds this, because it justifies his freedom fight and “unorthodoxy”. But the average Hungarians need to realize that “democracy” and “market capitalism” has not failed. There is a global financial crisis, yes, quite severe in some countries – but the “West” has had economic crises before, and sooner or later they recovered. And they were rarely caused by “excessive democracy”… At the beginning of 2000s, Germany was the “sick man” of Europe economically. In the early 1990s, Finland… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest
“I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with.” Oh, I think they have known it for a long time! 😀 The question is: how do they prove it, and what are they going to do about it? It is not in the EU’s interest for a member state to leave. For various reasons. Orban knows this, so he knows he has space to manuevre for some time. Orban never really planned to leave the EU, and Hungarians don’t really want it to happen. But what with all the propaganda, more and more people are beginning to believe that they would be a heroic, brave nation to carry on fighting with the EU – or even to loosen up the membership. I have read somewhere on a blog that “we stood out from the previous camp, we stand out from this camp – who had a better life then? its going to be the same case now.” They referred to goulash communism, but they failed to see the difference that being an EU member is voluntary. If you don’t want to keep the rules, you don’t stay and start a freedom… Read more »
Member

I can’t believe my ears hearing the same things as in my mandatory “Pol Gaz” (Political Economics) in college in the 80’s. This is the mirror image of communist brain wash rhetorics. Evil capitalists in cylinder hats, sitting on big sacks with a huge dollar sign on them, taking you money in form of extra-profits. The luxury profit is pretty funny. I think the breakdown is like expenses/profit/extra-profit/luxury-profit/orbans-bank-account.

Now knowing how well this works on the average Joe and Mary in the Land of The Goulash I began to think that the country believed in Janos Kadar and the greatness of the socialism the same way. That 800,000 members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party (MSZMP) were real believers not capitalists after all. Probably the same people.

Member

“… real believers not capitalists”. Make it “real believers not careerists“.

Mechanist
Guest
Orbán feeds on the combat with the EU. In Hungary, intellectually he does not have a similar fight with anyone, so he gets bored. He loves to fight and attack and create strategies. In Hungary the opposition is full of conformist bores, intellectually no match to him. Try to remember what he did during opposition: one action, another, every day agressive carpet bombing of the media with condemnation of this and that, attacking on various fronts (national referndum, demonstartion, media attacks what have you). Currently for him It’s like playing chess with a four year old. For a great player it’s not very exciting. With the EU, it’s better. It does not matter if he has to retreat in minuscule issues, he will sell it as a proper compromise all wise person has to enter into. His upporters will just love hime more. He just can’t lose. The EU could only win this war if it was not the EU. But like in the tale with the frog and the scorpion, the scorpion says that he just can’t help it that is his nature, the EU also can’t help it, it is just its nature to be ineffective, divided, beholden… Read more »
Mechanist
Guest

Actually EU ‘s frustration is not with Orbán (I don’t think they specifically care about Orbán that much, any more than about Ponta), but rather with itself, that the EU is so incapable to discipline a rogue member state, and try as they might , the EU is a loughing stock of impotency.

The funniest thing is that there are these new positions like Rompuy’s and that lady’s in external relations (I seriously can’t remember her name, but who can?) or what, during the last two years I don’t think I even read their names in the FT or the Economist, that is how effective they and the EU are.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Hypothesis: now that foreign investors have been sufficiently deterred, it would make ‘sense’ to organize the takeover of a number of big companies by some national friends, through junk loans blessed by a puppet MNB. Wouldn’t Hungary become more Hungarian? Obviously it would also be bankrupt before the end of the decade, Argentinian style. At that point, amidst critical civil unrest, just blame everything on the damn külföldiek and get out of the EU.

Now, to achieve this you need to control a significant part of the banking sector. Watch out for the next step.

Kirsten
Guest

Eva: “any profit above that was a sign of capitalistic excess and exploitation. Unfortunately, one can still hear the term far too often.”

Exactly. Across the political spectrum. This is what I mean when it say that there is a problem if transition is managed by ex-Communists. Most of them, even with undoubted leanings towards the West, have come too close to Marxist, politically cynical and power driven thinking.

Hetman
Guest
Marcel, I guess all foreigners would be happy to leave in an instant if they were offered some kind of money (like EON was), some would leave for much smaller amounts. Essentially no energy and service assets are saleble except to the Russians, who at least have the gas and oil and enriched uranium so they can always protect their investments in Hungary and elsewhere. I know it for a fact that many international investment banks don’t even bother to put together a slide show if they get a RFP (request for proposal) from a multinational investor hoping to unload Hungarian assests (bank, energy company etc.), as very simply no Hungarian asset can be sold separately (only if the entire CEE-package is sold and the Hungarian assets are part of the package; even in that case there are efforts to handle the Hungarian assets separately). Contrary to Russian investors, investors from Western countries have the EU’s procedures after procedures to protect them. Thank you very much. With Fidesz, always follow the money and you can figure what they want in every policy idea. Rest assured that MNB’s cheap loans will be used for building yet another bunch of hotels. I… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
Eva: “I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with. Orbán is cunning, combatative, and ruthless.” The most direct way how to replace OV and Fidesz is still – at the voting booths. Arithmetically this is possible. People would have to appear and to vote accordingly. So, some EU officials have doubtless learned their lesson up to now (others will have had no doubts already in 2010, because there were numerous people warning, btw also warning Hungarians and getting as an answer: Be not afraid, Orban will not dismantle democracy.), but that does not change anything in the assessment who has to move the most (if that is too cryptical: the Hungarian voter). But as regards the EU, my impression is that there are several aspects mixed up. The first is: the EU and all its limitations. That is a serious problem, and to remedy this, Europeans (in all member states) should be more willing to think about potential avenues of how to make the EU more potent. The general experience is that most people are sceptical of more integration (not only in Hungary), and they do not believe that workable… Read more »
Ivan
Guest

I have lived here for ten years. Amongst my current circle of acquaintances I know almost nobody who doesn’t have an (at least mildly) xenophobic worldview. I know no-one who is not planning to vote Fidesz or Jobbik at the next election. And I know nobody who is not rabidly against the European Union (and ALL Hungarians, ringmastered by the ‘traitor’ Imre Kertesz(!), who have LEFT Hungary) .

What does this tell us?

Two things.

One, that non-Fidesz voters now feel utterly unable to honestly express their political views in public.

Two, that brainwashing (especially with a monolingual population) seriously works.

Kirsten
Guest

Ivan, can you recall whether these people had other opinions earlier?

Kirsten
Guest
There is an argument by Nancy Bermeo in her book “Ordinary people in extraordinary times. The Citizenry and the Breakdown of Democracy” that is as follows: “I show that…mass defections to extremist parties are rare. Where support for extremist parties does rise, it is often the result of either an expansion of the franchise or the mobilisation of nonvoters. Those who have attributed the breakdown of democracy to popular defections have mistaken changes in the composition of the electorate for changes in mind and heart.” And also: In countries where “public polarisation ran high, the responsibility for democratic breakdown lay with elites as well. Sometimes, their own democratic convictions were so weak that they used public polarisation as a rationalisation for creating their own authoritarian regime.” (The cases that are studied are interwar Europe and South America after WWII). From that I am confident that even if people do not say so in public, there are still sufficient people who could be mobilised against OV and for a return to democracy, and second, that the most important thing is to gather those people who want change in NEW organisations and not in those where democratic convictions have also been (demonstrated… Read more »
Hetman
Guest
Ivan, I guess your friends are happy and like what they live in. Good for them. Ther are a lot of such people, it seems. And the nice thing is that people voted for the left because of the money they received in the form of increase pensions etc. (not because of any enthusism for ideology), with the right they get the votes even if people are altogether much worse-off and even then more so. The worse the situation is, the more nationalistic and more anti-capitalistic peopel get which is just great for Fidesz/Jobbik Fidesz deep down is also a nationalistic and strongly etatist party, if somewhat less so than Jobbik, which is outright Nazi, Fidesz is a tad, just a tad less socialistic). It is a win-win for Fidesz. In fact, I would say that the default ideology/politics in Hungary is a strongly right leaning position (especially in election systems where Budapest cannot compansate for the conservatism and backwardness of the country) and any leftist government must be seen as an anomaly. Why does Hungary have to like Germany, Austria or France, where government of differing ideology change places regularly. Hungary may be like the one-party states like Alabama… Read more »
Guest

@Hetman, I think you’re right 100 %!

I just asked my wife – she is sure that no one in her family voted for Fidesz and most of them are not in Budapest but mostly live in a small town in the East …

But probably several family members didn’t vote at all in 2010 because they were so disappointed with the left – including SZDSZ and LMP.

Their frustration is obvious when they talk about politics (which doesn’t happen too often) – last time was while we were watching one of those political broadcasts on ATV. I really like those though my wife has to explain what they’re talking about – the minister with that “red/blue spot” thing was really funny …

Hetman
Guest
Oh, and lest you think peole will vote for Fidesz because of cheaper chimney sweeping fees and/or electricity prices. No. But this sustained campaign on utility fees reinforces people’s view that Fidesz is on the side of the average joes and not on the side of big bad corporations. And that it is Fidesz and not MSZP which cares about the little people. It is an image campaign and not direct voters’ purchase campaign (although I guess we will see that one too, when they will increase the salary of teachers or the pensions; after all 70% of the polled think it would be absolutely justified to increase the pensions, as people deserve it). So, MSZP or Bajnai will have a long way to persuade people that it would be better than Fidesz or Jobbik for the average people. There is a well-known behavioral effect in play here. The price reductions are very concrete and very easy to imagine. You get the yellow invoice (you imagin the chimney or the flowing water) and the figure is smaller. At least you have that. But to imagine that the “economy” as such will get better and that you may perhaps find a… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest
Mechanist: “there are these new positions like Rompuy’s and that lady’s in external relations (I seriously can’t remember her name, but who can?) or what, during the last two years I don’t think I even read their names in the FT or the Economist, that is how effective they and the EU are.” I think you mean Catherine Ashton? 🙂 Ashton is a commissioner (or “high representative”), the commission is the executive arm of the EU. The civil service, if you like. They are politicians but they simply draw up policies, then supervise the member states. The decisions are mostly made by the Parliament and the Council. Rompuy is the president of the council, and I have read his name in the Economist 🙂 What we often don’t realize is that the most important decisions are made by the council of government members of member states. Prime ministers or financial ministers etc. So it’s not “Brussels” who makes decisions, it’s the prime ministers of 27 countries who meet IN Brussels. Of course, in every member state, politicians like to pretend that “Brussels” is the evil law- maker, who dumps stupid legislations on their heads, out of nowhere. Orban also mentioned… Read more »
Member

punish the left for their absolute political incompetence and being an unmitigated wuss without any imagination and charisma.

Sounds like a call for a Hollywood blockbuster or a hyped fad brand product that everyone can be demagouged into wanting, instead of competent, honest, democratic governance. So if this is not just Carpathian Basement Barbarism then maybe it’s the harbinger of the death-knell of democracy in the pervasive media age.

Ivan
Guest
@Hetman Fascinating possible explanations.Thank you. There is certainly an innate conservatism, set up by the educational system, that understandably only the right is able to tap into. Enforced patriotism, for example. Glazed-eyed standing for the anthem at New Year, for example, is not actually powerful at all, since one is not allowed to dissent. One of the stranger commonly-held beliefs is that the media is left-wing, which is palpable nonsense, but not palpable here. If one wants to dissent, therefore, it is towards Barikad and its increasingly large stable of rival far-right publications. @Kirsten Certainly, closer in time to the start of democracy, some actively and openly supported other parties (SZDSZ in particular). But they have learned ‘the error of their ways’ and are now more ‘patriotic’. For British people in particular, with a social tradition of respectfully disagreeing with their circle of friends (but not taking it personally) it’s all very weird. Maybe Hungary just lack a Wollstonecraft, a Godwin (or even a Mandela) in their history? Maybe it’s as simple as that. But pluralism is certainly not seen as a good thing. I think it’s all to do with the 2002 election – when symbols, such as the… Read more »
Member

Orban administration is not willing to put back forcibly retired judges into their original position – Hungarian and EU court rulings notwithstanding.

http://nol.hu/belfold/hando_szerint_nincs_ket_torvenyszeki_elnok_tatabanyan

Hetman
Guest
Ivan, I continue to believe that people actively desire and expect a community (ie. more or less nationalism) in times when they are anxious and have personal time to be anxious (are not preoccupied with consuming stuff, building houses etc. — as they lack jobs and loans). I think it’s a consequence of capitalism in general (so most people are actually anxious most of the time), and as it currently affects Hungary in particular. To these challenges the leftist/liberal side in Hungary has no real response whatsoever. In fact there is no leftist ideology at all in Hungary. Leftism perhaps appears as a middle of the road pragmatism as an approach to the world, but other than that there is nothing (and this is absolutely insufficient for people to get enthusiastic about it). Jobbik’s politics (and the very emergence of the party) is as much anti-capitalistic as it is nationalistic (which anti-capitalism in pre-WWII-Hungary manifested itself in a direct desire to obtain the wealth and assets of Jewish Hungarians, through the killing of them if need be; these days it appears as the desire to take wealth from the multinationals, as there is no indigenous, identifiable class of capitalists, enterpreneurs;… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

I understand that it is tempting currently to stress all the influences that make Hungary structurally conservative. And yet, as it is true also that MSzP won three elections after 1989 and lost after a personal and political disaster, perhaps explanations that focus on the actual failure of the left should be taken seriously also. And only because now OV seems to be so powerful, does not mean people will remember they are ‘structurally conservative’ when the economic miracles will fail to materialise. So instead of searching for further explanations why Hungarians might prefer to fall behind their neighbours in terms of living standards, I think it makes sense to think about how democratic alternatives to Fidesztan should look like and how cooperation between the democratic opposition should be brought about.

Kirsten
Guest

I think I wrote it implicitly, but write it explicitly also: think about democratic alternatives that are attractive for the voter also. Because who values democracy, would typically not stress the ‘insecurity’ stemming from changing governments but quite on the contrary the ‘security’ stemming from the trust that individual rights are respected and that ‘bad’ governments can be routinelly replaced (not only after revolutions or other mass mobilisation). So whatever ‘security’ people believe to feel in an autocracy, I believe this is very much related to the insecurity they feel because so few people from the ‘elite’ are able to responsibly work towards broad majorities, balancing of interests etc.

Ron
Guest

Dear Eva I agree with the title”Viktor Orbán’s ongoing fight with the European Union. It’s time to end it!”.

The questions is how and when, but mainly how. I did not see or hear ideas, which in my opinion would work.

Petofi1
Guest

To all those people wondering how Fidesz pulled off wins in those two by-elections….the answer is not readily available to the modern mind. Simply, it comes from Fidesz’ success
in totally brow-beating (also try, ‘intimidating’, and ‘outright threatening’) the populace. Fidesz (Orban) has succeeded in making people aware that if there’s opposition at the local level, it transforms itself into a myriad of problems for their schools, their sanitation, in the form of local developmental funds, or lack of it, from the central government. This is the reality that has come home to the average Hungarian wherever he lives in the country.

Esztergom has served its purpose. By golly, it might be embarrassing in western Europe, but in Hungary, it has driven fear into the hearts and minds of the people. Kafka’s world.

Petofi1
Guest

Addendum..

Opposing the very real threats of Fidesz, we have the political promises of the opposition…of ‘democracy again’…Problem is, it has been made abundantly clear the Orban has filled government positions with Fidesz members for NINE YEARS and that aboslute mayhem will follow an opposition victor. ‘Who wants that? Better to stay with Fidesz…’

Now try and find a way to fight out of that little trap that the wiley coyote, Orban, has constructed…

cheshire cat
Guest

“I think EU should stop cut the convergence subsidies. Or stop them altogether. Orbán doesn’t understand anything else.”

I agree that the EU should do something radical soon.

If they had done something like that 1-2 years ago, most Hungarians, even most Fidesz voters would have sobered up, because they didn’t want to leave the EU.
But as his anti-EU propaganda strengthens, more people will think that they’d rather leave the EU than “being treated like this”.

The EU’s opinion is that the more radical steps they take, the stronger the anti-EU sentiment grows in Hungary.
But the anti-EU sentiments are growing by the day anyway – Orban stirs it because while Hungarians are busy critizising the EU, they are not noticing the dangers of his politics.

I’m not sure Hungary will not end up leaving the EU one way or another, eventually.

Guest

We must not only consider the direct EU money to Hungary (every day when we go for a walk we see a lot of signs: financed with a grant from the EU …)

Leaving the EU and its economic system would be surely terrible for Hungary’s economy. I just read somewhere that one quarter of Hungary’s exports is to Germany alone (can’t remember the amount in € though) – for most of these products we could find other suppliers in the EU. So where would Hungary sell their products if they no longer have the EU advantage in taxes, duties etc ?

I’m sure German companies would think twice about buying from a “renegade country” …

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