The European Parliament’s debate on Hungary

I spent almost three hours watching the debate in the European Parliament on the Tavares report. We discussed this report at length at the time of its passage in the LIBE Commission of the European Parliament. In addition, I published Rui Tavares’s letter to the Hungarian people both in English and in Hungarian. So, the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are aware that the report is a thoroughly researched document that in many ways echoes the findings of the independent judges of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

I found two good summaries of the debate, both in Hungarian. One appeared in Népszabadság and the other on the new Internet website called 444! But it is one thing to read a summary and another to see the debate live. Just to watch Viktor Orbán’s face was itself educational. Sometimes he looked vaguely amused, but most of the time his smile was sardonic. Who can forget that disdainful expression on Orbán’s face when one of his critics, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals in the European parliament and former prime minister of Belgium, mentioned the name of  György Konrád, “the great Hungarian writer”? And when he heard something he didn’t like, Orbán raised his eyebrows and shook his head in disbelief. He considered all criticism utterly baseless and, through body language and facial expressions, made no secret of it. It’s too bad that most of the people in the chamber didn’t see all that since Orbán sat in the front row.

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Unfortunately the camera didn’t show Orbán when several people tried to explain to him that his concept of democracy is peculiar. He believes in the “dictatorship of the majority” or “majoritarian rule.” Verhofstadt even invoked John Stuart Mill’s words on the subject in his work On Liberty. In fact, one of the major criticisms centered around the nature of democracy and whether Hungary can still be called a democracy. If one were to ask Verhofstadt he would say: “No, Hungary is not a democracy anymore but ‘demokratúra’ as György Konrád called it.” Several other critics agreed with Verhofstadt although they may not have been so explicit.

A second core topic was the question of freedom and the Orbán government’s “war of independence” against the European Union. Several people expressed their bafflement at the very idea of defending the country from a Union to which Hungary belongs. Actually, here again two worldviews clashed. The one held by Viktor Orbán and his entourage maintains that nation states are the only legitimate formations and that they shouldn’t be superseded in any way by a supranational entity such as the European Union. If one holds this view, as Orbán does, then it is perfectly understandable that he defends his nation against the encroachment of the European Union. The problem is that Hungary joined the European Union of its own volition and thereby its government is obliged to follow EU rules. Orbán attempts to resolve this apparent conflict by claiming that the Union is overstepping its authority, and therefore he has every right to resist its attempt at a “guardianship” that he will never accept.

Another important topic of discussion was Orbán’s interpretation of the criticism of his government as an attack on Hungary and the Hungarian people. Several critics rejected this view, making it clear that their criticisms are directed against the Orbán government and not the Hungarian people. In fact, some of the speakers argued that in their opinion it is the Hungarian people who must be shielded against the authoritarian behavior and laws of their own government.

As for Viktor Orbán, he had two opportunities to speak. At the beginning, right after Rui Tavares and Juán Manuel Barroso, and at the end, just before the leaders of the various parliamentary caucuses could answer him. In his first speech he was quite polite and a great deal less aggressive than is his wont. However, after listening to the debate where the Christian Democratic and Conservative voices were drowned out by speeches delivered by the liberals, socialists, and greens, Orbán returned to his true self. As Gabriella Zimmer (a German socialist) said, Orbán didn’t come to Strasbourg “to debate”; he came to express his anger at what he considers to be interference in Hungarian domestic affairs that are within the sole jurisdiction of the Hungarian government, parliament, and courts. He finished his speech with a refusal to accept tutelage from Brussels. For good measure he accused them of  having double standards and of defending the multinational corporations and banks. I had the feeling that by that time Orbán believed that he had nothing to lose. It was no longer necessary to try to mollify the EU parliamentarians. No matter what he does, I suspect he reasoned, the vote will go against him.

And a few more words about the performance of Fidesz and Jobbik MEPs. What can I say? It was embarrassing. Szájer’s comments were the most outrageous. He was not on the list of official speakers but he asked to be recognized perhaps three times. In the first instance he outright lied when he announced that foreign investment was never greater in Hungary than in the last two or three years. Then he claimed that the members of the European Union are afraid of the truth and that’s why they don’t want to give Orbán the opportunity to speak. Both Verhofstadt and Martin Schulz, the president of  the EP, corrected Szájer. After all, they were the ones who asked Viktor Orbán to come to the plenary session of the European Parliament. But that was not enough for Szájer. He retorted that even in Stalin’s show trials more time was allotted to the accused than to the accusers. Well, that’s when Martin Schulz’s patience ran out. He reprimanded Szájer for making any comparison between Stalin’s show trials and the European Union. But Szájer is not the kind of guy who knows when to stop. He got up again and tried to explain away his unfortunate remark. He repeated his reference to Stalin’s show trials and added that it was only the time limit that he had in mind. Schulz was not impressed and rebuked him again. Szájer did a disservice to the Fidesz cause.

Kinga Gál, another Fidesz MEP, was one of the official speakers. She didn’t fare any better than Szájer. In her speech she challenged the democratic nature of the European Parliament that voted in committee for the Tavares report. Schulz gave her a piece of his mind. He told her that it is impossible to claim that majority rule in Hungary is perfectly legitimate while questioning the democratic nature of majority rule in the European Parliament. After all, the majority of LIBE members voted for the Tavares report.

The third Fidesz MEP, Ágnes Hankiss, asked to raise a “question.” It turned out that she in fact planned to deliver a lecture on the injustices of the Tavares report. Schulz interrupted her, saying that she was abusing the privilege of posing questions. Hankiss tried to go on but was stopped.

And if that weren’t enough, we had the privilege of listening to Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) twice. No EU parliamentary caucus accepted Jobbik and therefore they sit as unaffiliated members. Thus she had the privilege of speaking twice, just as the other leaders of the various parties. She sported a blouse adorned with Hungarian folk motifs and held up a sign reading “HUNGARY ≠COLONY.” Otherwise, although Orbán emphasized that he is the one who is most fiercely attacked by the far-right Jobbik, Morvai defended Fidesz and its policies all the way while accusing Viviane Reding of meddling in Hungarian affairs. Her second speech was especially remarkable. She recalled her days working with battered women who often thought that they could change their abusive husband’s behavior by pleasing him, working harder, and being the best of housewives. But eventually when the husband’s behavior remained the same, they came to the conclusion that there was only one remedy: divorce. So, Hungary should pack up and leave the Union if this abuse continues. After that ringing defense of Fidesz it will be difficult for Orbán to maintain his fierce opposition to the far right. After all, they speak the same language and Jobbik fights alongside Fidesz for the “honor of Hungary.” Frank Engel (Luxembourg EPP member) sarcastically remarked immediately afterwards that he hoped that “Ms Morvai has not just offered to go into coalition with Fidesz.”

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11:30 European time or 5:30 EDT. I will be watching.

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Minusio
Guest

I watched the whole debate as well.

“Just to watch Viktor Orbán’s face was itself educational. Sometimes he looked vaguely amused, but most of the time his smile was sardonic. Who can forget that disdainful expression on Orbán’s face when one of his critics, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals in the European parliament and former prime minister of Belgium, mentioned the name of György Konrád, “the great Hungarian writer”? And when he heard something he didn’t like, Orbán raised his eyebrows and shook his head in disbelief. He considered all criticism utterly baseless and, through body language and facial expressions, made no secret of it.”

I cannot but agree. It was disgusting to see. – At the same time, I thought Schulz was handling his chairman job very well. Generally speaking, the European Parliament can be a model to many a country.

Still, the EPP members of the European Parliament – although they didn’t muster many speakers – followed their traditional pigheadedness. And there are many of them.

We will see the result of the vote tomorrow.

Charles Gati
Guest

Another very informative blog, well-structured and clearly written, Eva. Thank you.

________________________________

Guest

London Calling!

Damn! Missed it!

Is there a video for this please Eva?

Verhofstadt and Schulz really are not letting Hungary off the hook.

Tell it like it is chaps!

Regards

Charlie

petofi
Guest

I am staggered by the incompetence of the Hungarian opposition–if it is indeed incompetence and not complicity–in not raising Hungary’s continued presence in the EU as the chief topic of next year’s election.
Because, if by some miracle, Orban hasn’t effected Hungary’s ouster from the EU, he surely will in the following years….and the cheers will be echoing only from Moscow-

Minusio
Guest

@ petofi. There is little to be said about the Hungarian opposition except for Lajos Bokros who with his speech honoured his country. The other defendants of a democratic Hungary were all foreigners…

Hungary will never be ousted from the EU. That is not in the books. But its voting rights might be curtailed. Orbán will never leave the EU because he knows on which side his bread is buttered. Once Hungary leaves the EU and thus loses its internal market privileges, the same day all FDI company will shut down immediately, leaving him with 750 000 more unemployed and no tax income and no exports whatsoever. He knows this, and so it won’t happen.

Guest

BTW whilst searching I found this – apologies if you’ve already flagged it.

Rui Tavares being interviewed about his report:

http://www.vieuws.eu/citizens-consumers/hungary-fails-to-meet-eu-values-says-rapporteur-rui-tavares-mep/

Member

Alternative Morvai banner: http://bit.ly/12DwaTT

oneill
Guest

From what I have heard they (Fidesz-Jobbik) have won the vote if not the argument; with next year’s election in mind the EPP are being pulled in on a very strong whip and the Euro-Sceptics and other assorted fascists and oddballs have fallen behind their natural Hungarian allies. One or two of the more principled EPP will dissent but almost all are following the party line.

Paul
Guest
Orbán isn’t stupid. He knows he can only take this anti-EU nonsense so far. I predict we won’t hear quite so much of it we’ll hear after next April. But, until then, we will get it both barrels. And the ‘opposition’ will say nothing. We have a similar situation in the UK, where smoke-screen topics popular on the extreme-right are being constantly discussed, whilst the economy limps along and the debt and the punishment of the poor increase – almost unnoticed. And what of the ‘opposition’? Do they attempt to make a case for being pro-EU, or not blaming everything on immigration, or defending gay marriage as a civilising step forward, or even opposing the cuts in welfare, etc to the most vulnerable? No, they don’t – they keep their heads down and, only comment when absolutely forced to. And then they say nothing that can be seen as anti-government. And why? Because they are scared that the government will pounce on their anti-populist position and they will lose support – and possibly the next election. I assume the ‘opposition’ in Hungary is aware of exactly the same trap, and is even more desperate not to fall into it. Can… Read more »
Sandor
Guest
I was also watching the debate, found it fascinating and exciting. Probably because I don’t do this often enough. The overwhelming impression I came away with was the poor performance of the Fidesz MEPs, and the same of Orban. Yes, Orban proved clever with his words, his chummy phrases, but the more he spoke, and the craftier he got, de more obvious it became that he refuses to deal with the facts and the details. Instead, he settled as usual, for the cheap sloganeering. Ultimately it is not surprising that he considered tomorrow’s vote a foregone conclusion, although for a reason that has nothing to do with reality: the conspiracy of banks, multinational interests and the evil Left. He also returned more than once to his “overhead expense reduction program,” as some panacea of the country’s ills and as the grounds for anti-Hungarian conspiracies. This was outright pitiful. In the performance of the Fidesz MEPs the most painful lesson to learn was that this limited bunch of yahoos, (the best of whom are sitting in the EU Parliament), are able to turn an entire country upside down with these and similar deplorable rhetorics. All of them, most of all Szajer,… Read more »
Sandor
Guest

Paul writes: “The ‘opposition’ know they are going to lose in 2014, but they still want to retain enough seats (and pride) to be able to remain a functioning political force afterwards, and to be able (hopefully) to put up a better fight in 2018.”

I beg to differ. A few weeks ago perhaps it may have been the case, however, the land and tobacco debacle have penetrated to an extreme degree the social consciousness. In fact the tobacco affair is known to an astonishing 90% of the people, if polls are at all to be believed.
You are correct in blaming the opposition for sluggishness, but I sense a change in the air and perhaps slowly, an upswell of dissatisfaction. Is all that enough for a change? No, I don’t think so. But it may be the sought-after turnaround that might materialize in e couple of months. This is not a promise, just a possible prospect.

Member

I agree with Sandor. The land deals, and the tobacco shops will backfire. I am also not sure if Orban will be forgiven by the teachers even though he is giving out some raises now. Students who will have to pay from now on for university will not be happy either. I am not sure if a coalition with Jobbik would help. Those who are looking to Jobbik as a solution for a more nationalistic approach, will not vote for a coalition if with that they would express their approval of the land and tobacco deals.
What I am afraid of is the turnout. As it stand I see a very low number.

Guest

London Calling!

Found it! – Starts at 15:05hrs

Regards

Charlie

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?debate=1372770326149&streamingLanguage=en

andysomos
Guest
The TV signal during the period of the EU hearing, by ominous design or otherwise via UPC, the largest cable-provider was of unusual bad quality! Perhaps in my neigborhood but more likely nationally.. Before you accuse me of paranoia, let me assure you that the Orbán goverment is constantly playing favoritism toward its allies and mortal enemies of anyone not actively aiding their cause. Hard to believe? Absorb this information then: The principal anti-government ‘opposition’ TV news channel ATV has been relegated on the UPC digital cable to a place way after all the standard Hungarian channels — to a place floowing ALL the movie channels, to channel no. 91… Whereas m1, m2, RTLKlub TV2 and both Duna channels are all betwee the fist 12 or so locations on the chaneel list. So, to get your news you have to go through the channels right to 91… Statistically therefore you have 4 governmnet-sponsored channels in the fist bit and a threatened RTL andTV2 the commercial stations. Remember these 2 have been levvied an additional 10% tax on any money made… (Taxes on state TV dont matter as the state can make up for it at will… The number of ill-willed,… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

My guess is OV was just a tad bored: he knows there’s no majority in favor of the report.

He played it ‘well’, I mean rhetorically, by saying from the start the whole thing was fueled by partisan politics – just before another debate on Bulgaria upon which the Socialist group is torn apart. Last week’s PACE vote was mentioned at the beginning as a proof there was nothing to fear. We heard nothing but support from EPP members. Then in his closing speech, OV changed subjects by talking about the economy and minorities – then returned the ‘abuse of power’ argument.

Old antics? Perhaps, but efficient to secure EPP loyalty, get the ECR vote, and mollify the Socialist group so they won’t fight too much anyway. The ALDE & Greens can huff and puff and be intellectually right, they can quote Konrád and Tocqueville. Who cares.

tappanch
Guest

The fideszization of the judicial system is going ahead:

http://index.hu/belfold/2013/07/03/a_bizalmasok_kaszaltak_a_politikai_ugyeket/

F2013
Guest

Ordinary Hungarians must start a campaign in favor of the EU, EP and other European institutions.
Wear the EU symbols, display it on lapels, houses, and cars.
Show solidarity with the Princeton LAPA director, Kim Lane Scheppele.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Well, I was quite wrong: the Tavarès report was adopted by 370 votes over 249!

Minusio
Guest

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :
Well, I was quite wrong: the Tavarès report was adopted by 370 votes over 249!

Rejoice!

This means that the stubborn EPP support for Orbán has crumbled. I’d never thought I’d live to see this.

Minusio
Guest

For those who missed this finely crafted Tavares report, here is the link. It is the most detailed report on Hungary yet.

Minusio
Guest

Minusio :
For those who missed this finely crafted Tavares report, here is the link. It is the most detailed report on Hungary yet.

There was a mishap with the pasting.

Minusio
Guest
Minusio
Guest

Explanation: I had to take it to Word and remove the . Sorry for the mess.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

82 abstentions… #EPPfail

Tyrker
Guest

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :
Well, I was quite wrong: the Tavarès report was adopted by 370 votes over 249!

Not sure why you thought otherwise. The EPP has only 269 MEPs. The ECR’s support for VO was questionable from the start and never materialised – and even if it did, that still wouldn’t have been enough for an absolute majority.

Index says there is nothing suprising about the outcome of the voting: http://index.hu/kulfold/2013/07/03/megszavazta_az_ep_a_tavares-jelentest/

tappanch
Guest

Published today : 1st quarter deficit was 3.8%. (The EU believed Orban’s word in June that the deficit is below 3%)

http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/gyor/krm/krm21303.pdf

LwiiH
Guest

tappanch :
Published today : 1st quarter deficit was 3.8%. (The EU believed Orban’s word in June that the deficit is below 3%)
http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/gyor/krm/krm21303.pdf

I don’t know howmuchevidence you need to know that the books are being cooked. But, you can only cook them so far before serious audits will show the gaps. As has been stated repeatedly the economic miracle is a mirage.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Tyrker: from last week’s PACE vote, I thought there was more dissent within the ALDE and S&D groups than among the EPP. Moreover, EDG MPs in the PACE voted quite unanimously against monitoring, and the same parties belong to the ECR or EFD groups in the EP. Not to mention the ‘non-inscrits’, among which Jobbik and Front National members… which were certainly present yesterday.

But then, I’m glad it turned out this way. For it means that, although OV will probably go on claiming so, a substantial number of EPP MPs chose to either abstain or vote for. In contradiction with their group leader, by the way…

To me, it means at least part of the European ‘classic right-wing’ is not surrendering to the current ‘duck and cover’ rhetoric, according to which they should stop actively promoting union values for fear it might profit the far-right.

The Hungarian opposition should seize the opportunity, instead of shying away from the E. word. It’s not about the ‘balliberálisok’ – it’s about all those, including conservatives, who think the right of all European citizens to democratic institutions is worth a fight.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Erratum, §2: “although OV will probably go on claiming its the damn ‘balliberálisok’.”

Member
tappanch : The fideszization of the judicial system is going ahead: http://index.hu/belfold/2013/07/03/a_bizalmasok_kaszaltak_a_politikai_ugyeket/ To summarize for the English speaking: In 2009 (before Fidesz came on full blown power) the City Councillor of the XVIth district “demanded” in a letter that he personally wrote that all his employees participate in a Fidesz organized demonstration against Gordon Bajnai (then Prime Minister). Many who did not show up ion the demonstration were fired later. Of course the reason given was not the missed demonstration. All six of them filed a lawsuit, and they brought in witnesses who have testified that the dismissed employees were replaced with Fidesz supporting officers. Now, the interesting part is that although the law suits were played out in different courts (after Fidesz took power), each case was lost based on the fact that a person who was also fired in fact did attend the Fidesz demonstration. THe small problem is that by accident they misspelled the name of this one witness in one of the court’s decision, and then in the next one, and in the next one…. Each court pulled a Pal Schmitt (copy and paste from each other). THe decisions were not independent, but “guided” from above,… Read more »
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