On May 25 Hungary will hold its election for the European Parliament. The government party opted to hold the national election on April 6 and a separate EP election seven weeks later. There was nothing that would have prevented the authorities from holding both elections on May 25, but such an arrangement wasn’t deemed advantageous to the governing party. There were at least two reasons why a single election did not suit Fidesz. First, it would have given the disorganized opposition more time to put its affairs in order and to campaign. Second, it would have increased the number of voters participating in the EP election, which might not have been good for Fidesz. Of course, holding the two elections at the same time would have been a great deal less expensive, but such monetary considerations never enter the minds of Fidesz politicians.
At the EP election voters can opt only for parties, not individuals. Eight parties will be represented on Sunday’s ballot; each managed to get the requisite 20,000 endorsements. Of these eight only six have a chance of actually receiving at least 5% of the votes necessary to qualify for parliamentary representation in Strasbourg: Fidesz, Jobbik, MSZP, Együtt2014-PM, DK, and LMP. According to the latest polls, Fidesz leads the pack and, depending on the poll, it is followed by either MSZP (socialist) or Jobbik (far-right). Fidesz actually might win about half of the 21 seats Hungary is entitled to. The latest scandal of a possible spy case involving the #3 man on the Jobbik list might have a deleterious effect on this far-right party at the polls. The fates of Együtt2014-PM, DK, and LMP are in limbo, although according to at least one poll each will send one delegate; others are less optimistic about the chances of these smaller parties.
Although according to one poll 40% of the electorate is thinking of participating in the forthcoming EP election, I doubt that turnout will be so high. By way of comparison, in 2004, the first EP election Hungary participated in, out of the 8 million registered voters only 3 million actually voted. In 2009 participation was even lower: only 2.8 million bothered to cast a vote. I predict that the situation is going to be even worse than at earlier elections because of general disappointment with the political process and the fairly steady anti-European Union propaganda that comes from Fidesz and Jobbik, the two right-wing parties.
As for the different parties’ attitude toward the European Union, Fidesz, or more precisely, Viktor Orbán, is quite capable of piling abuse on the Union one day while, on the next, he can go on and on about the virtues of the Union. If he could, he would abandon the EU, which ties his hands. Since he is not capable of leaving the Brussels bureaucrats behind, his aim is loosen the ties that hold the member states together. Or, if that is not possible, to slow down or prevent any closer union. His emphasis is always on the nation-state instead of internationalism as expressed in the European Union. Jobbik is outright euroskeptic and makes no secret about their anti-Union and pro-Russian feelings.
The other parties all stand by the European Union, but most are frightened by the effect of Orbán’s anti-EU rhetoric on the population and therefore, in my opinion foolishly, try to take a more nationalistic view of Hungary’s place in Europe. They are not campaigning for a stronger and more effective European Union. The lone exception is the Democratikus Koalíció (DK) led by Ferenc Gyurcsány. DK is campaigning for a future United States of Europe. The reaction even on the left to that idea is negative. Attila Mesterházy (MSZP) declared that his party cannot support the formation of a United States of Europe, which enemies of the idea consider a complete abdication of all sovereign rights.
I don’t think that there are too many people who think that the EU as it functions today is a good solution for Europe. In its present form it is not really competitive in economic terms against large industrial nations and it would be incapable of defending itself in case of aggression. It has no foreign policy, no army, and no common finances. Because of EU’s structural problems more and more attention is being paid to the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a possible model, naturally with many modifications.
I know that some of you will say: “What are you talking about? The Monarchy collapsed ingloriously under its own weight.” Yes and no. In the spring of 1914 there were no signs of extraordinary tensions within the monarchy. Or at least no more than usual. Yes, nationality questions were troubling, but they were not worse in 1914 than they had been at any time since 1867 or even earlier. Many historians point out that, despite all the nationality problems and four years of a terrible war, the soldiers of different nationalities fought for king and emperor to the last minute. Others, however, are certain that the Monarchy’s demise was inevitable even without the lost war. That may well have been the case if nothing had changed, but we know that there were serious attempts at reform. Politicians were just waiting for the death of the eighty-four-year-old Franz Joseph I (Ferenc József I in Hungarian and Franjo Josip I in Croatian) to move ahead with reform. Unfortunately, World War I interfered.
I cannot go into the details of the structure of the monarchy, but one key feature of its structure was the existence of certain joint (k. und k. kaiserlich und königlich) ministries: ministry of the exterior and the imperial house, the war ministry, and the ministry of finance. The ministry of finance was responsible only for financing the royal household, the diplomatic service, and the common army and navy. Each half of Austria-Hungary had its own parliament with its own prime minister and cabinet, but there was also a common ministerial council that oversaw the common government. It was comprised of the three ministers of the joint responsibilities (finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some of the archdukes, and the monarch. The language of the common army was German, but Hungary and Austria also had a home defense force. The language of command in the Hungarian “honvédség” was Hungarian.
Austria-Hungary with all its shortcomings had the necessary ingredients (common foreign policy, defense and finances) of a functioning state. Despite home rule in Austria, Hungary, and to some extent Croatia, the monarchy functioned quite smoothly for half a century.
Some people believe that the Dual Monarchy merits closer analysis because it may serve as a starting point for a stronger union of the member states of the European Union. Whatever its deficiencies, it was still one of the great powers of its day. Independently of each other, the member states could have never achieved that status.