Viktor Orbán is getting ready for a fight

If anyone thought that a second victory, especially with two-thirds parliamentary majority, would slow Viktor Orbán down, he was sadly mistaken. In fact, if it is possible, since his reelection he has been surpassing his own past performance as far as attacks on the European Union are concerned.

In the last few weeks numerous articles have appeared, especially in Népszabadság, on the possible shape of the third Orbán government. Most of the reporting is based on hearsay, but a couple of personnel changes seem to be certain. First, Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary for public education, has finished her controversial activities in the Ministry of Human Resources. Second, the mysterious minister of national development about whom nobody knew anything turned out to be a flop. If you recall, no one knew her first name for weeks because she was introduced to the public only as Mrs. László Németh. By the way, she was the one who signed the agreement on Paks with Gazprom. And then there is János Martonyi, the one cabinet member in whom European and American politicians still had some trust. Mind you, his words didn’t mean much because he was stripped of practically all power to conduct Hungary’s foreign policy. According to the latest, it looks as if his replacement will be Tibor Navracsics.

I consider Navracsics’s move to the foreign ministry a demotion for the former close associate of Viktor Orbán. By now the foreign ministry is largely impotent, and I hear rumors to the effect that it might be further stripped of its competence. Earlier Navracsics had a position of real power. He was entrusted with the position of whip of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation. The ministry of administration and justice, which Navracsics headed during Orbán’s second term, had a dual mandate. On the one hand, it was supposed to oversee the restructuring of the entire public administration and, on the other, it was responsible for preparing bills for parliament. At least in theory. Most of the hundreds of bills presented to parliament in the last four years were in fact proposed by individual members. Their authors were most likely outside law firms. It seems that the ministry’s chief job in the legal field was not so much drafting bills as battling with Brussels over legislation the Hungarian parliament enacted.

In the third Orbán government the ministry of administration and justice will be dismantled. In its place there will be a separate ministry of justice, and the section of the ministry that dealt with the country’s territorial administration will be transferred to the prime minister’s office. This ministry’s chief job will be, according to Viktor Orbán, to concentrate on future legal battles with the European Union. He already warned his people that the European Union will try to force the Hungarian government to undo the lowering of utility prices which assured Viktor Orbán his resounding victory at the last election.

Hungary seems to lose one legal battle after the other in the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, which functions under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe. The latest is the question of  life sentences without the possibility of parole. The European Court of Human Rights, in a unanimous ruling, found the law inhumane and degrading. The court is not against life sentences as such, but they held that courts should be allowed to review life sentences in order to assess whether prisoners had made such significant progress toward rehabilitation that their continued detention might no longer be justified. There are perhaps 40 such cases in Hungary at the moment, and if all the “lifers” turned to Strasbourg it could be a very costly affair for the Hungarian state.

Viktor Orbán remains adamant in the face of the court ruling since he knows that, if depended on the Hungarian public, the majority would be only too glad to reintroduce the death penalty. Therefore, Orbán fiercely attacked the ruling and blamed the European Union for preventing Hungary from having its own laws. He repeated his favorite claim that in the European Union “the rights of those who commit crimes are placed above the rights of innocent people and victims.” Friday morning during his customary interview on Magyar Rádió he elaborated on the theme and went even further. He said that the European Union forbids capital punishment, although he personally is convinced that it is a serious deterrent.

In cases like this, one is not quite sure whether Orbán is ignorant of the facts or for political reasons is simply lying. It is not the European Union that forbids the death penalty. Article 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms specifies that “The death penalty shall be abolished. No-one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed.” The Council of Europe is a signatory to this convention. Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights functions not under the European Union but under the Council of Europe of which Hungary is a member. And quite aside from all this, the Hungarian Constitutional Court on its own volition abolished the death penalty in 1990. So, either Orbán doesn’t know any of this or he for political reasons is trying to turn his people against the European Union while he is campaigning for the European parliamentary election. He must know that the reintroduction of the death penalty in Hungary is out of the question.

But before his fight against Brussels and Strasbourg on utility prices, pálinka distillation, acacia trees, and life sentences without parole, Orbán has another fight ahead of him which he may easily lose. It is his opposition to the election of Jean-Claude Juncker for the presidency of the European Commission. Juncker is the candidate of the European People’s Party, which currently has the largest caucus in the European Parliament. It has been clear for some time that Juncker is not the favorite politician of Viktor Orbán. Already on Friday in his interview he mentioned that just because Juncker is the head of the 212-member EPP caucus it doesn’t mean that the Christian Democrats have to nominate him. Juncker is far too liberal for Orbán, who would prefer the far-right Joseph Daul, the Alsatian farmer who is an admirer and defender of the Hungarian prime minister. Orbán thus made up his mind that he and the Fidesz MEPs will try to prevent the election of Juncker in the likely event that EPP is again the largest bloc in the European Parliament.

Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz

Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz

Today he announced his decision to try block Juncker’s nomination and/or election. I myself doubt that he will succeed at the nomination level. As for the election, currently EPP has 212 seats and Fidesz’s estimated 10-12 MEPs will vote against him. Juncker will have to get at least 376 votes to be elected, so he will need supporters outside of EPP. The socialist Martin Schulz will also look for supporters outside of the socialist caucus. It looks as if the Fidesz group will lobby against both Juncker and Schulz in favor of some other EPP politician. I’m sure that Orbán’s favorite would be Daul, but I think he is too far to the right to have a chance at either the nomination or the election.

So, what will happen if Juncker wins? Orbán, even if Fidesz MEPs were to support Juncker, would have a harder time with him than he had with Barroso. The same is true if Schulz becomes president. Actually the two men’s views are rather close. Both are miles away from Viktor Orbán’s worldview. In either case, Orbán will be even more unhappy with Brussels than he has been until now.

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Jeremy Wheeler
Guest

There is undoubtedly quite a bit of confusion over the relationship between the political institutions of Europe but may I make a minor point: it is true that abolition of the death penalty a prerequisite for membership of the Council of Europe, but the EU itself does indeed forbid the death penalty. That prohibition was enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, ratified in 2009.

That treaty also provides for the EU to join the Council of Europe and the EU court already treats itself as bound by the ECHR.

Jeremy Wheeler
Guest

Well, it undoubtedly is enshrined in law in The Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 2 – Right to life
1. Everyone has the right to life.
2. No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.

It is true that a handful of jurists have suggested that the death penalty for insurrection could be introduced, and they refer to the ECHR, which says, at Article 2(2):
‘Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
(a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
(c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.’

The vast majority of jurists, though, see that, as it always has been under the ECHR, as allowing application of force in the moment, not by way of execution.

The point here is that if the Treaty of Lisbon doesn’t prohibit the death penalty then neither does the ECHR. I’d be interested to read Tamás Lattmann’s argument if you have a source I could refer to.

Martin3
Guest
Ohhh, it’s not that Juncker is too liberal, it’s that he may be too influential, experienced and pro-EU and he would command a great respect within the EU administration and among the prime ministers. As such he could make life very-very difficult for Orban (so he fears), whereas a German-lefty (who roll over more quickly than the German conservatives who are similarly hopeless softies) Schulz, let alone a completely inexperienced Daul could not get anything done against Orban, who is much smarter than any of the two. I don’t think Juncker would be too tough, Western European leaders never are, but Orban fears so and he must control potential risks as all good lawyers must do. Orban wants to continue his crusade against the EU and Schulz or Dual would let him, Juncker might be tougher because, among others, he could influence EPP members who are usually beholden to Orban (given his votes). For Hungary, Juncker would be the best obviously. Also, equally importantly, if Schulz would get to be the president Orban could blame the lefty 68’er Marxists for all ills of the EU for the next five years, a fantastic target for hatred, with a right wing politicians… Read more »
Balázs
Guest
@Martin3 Totally agree. Orban can’t imagine a worse president than Juncker. Juncker had been a prime minster for 20 years and thus remembers and knows Orban. Juncker knows Brussels intimately as well, having spent so many years in the Council. He is a conservative who can work with EPP members who normally rely on Orban and will have to rely on him more than ever before. And if Juncker is not elected the other EPP members will quickly forgive him, after all they will need his votes badly. Meanwhile Orban want nothing more than a leftist president, fideszniks might even vote for such a candidate. Orban’s next four years will be about his (nothing less than a) war against the tyrannic EU — of course in the meantime he and his cronies will siphon off untold billions to be received from the EU, but the EU is OK with that. Thus there would be no better enemy than a leftist, ‘communist’, marxist EU leadership, an EU that is lead/personified/represented by “people who have been consistently trying to smother the nation, since 1919, the short-lived Hungarian soviet”. It would be the perfect combination as rural jobs will still be lost as… Read more »
Goll
Guest

Completely OT. A short but very wise article, among others, about the importance of *resolve* in international relations. Or to use another word: about *care*.

http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2014/05/22/Explaining-Chinas-behaviour-in-the-East-and-South-China-Seas.aspx?COLLCC=2086836929&

Max
Guest

A major battle is brewing that will pit the European Parliament against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her colleagues in Europe’s national capitals. The winner of that fight will earn the right to shape the EU political system for years to come.

The dark horse in this race is Donald Tusk, Polish PM. He is the real candidate of the European Council for the position of Commission President.

And that means a new round of harsh EU institutional infighting after the 25 May EP elections.

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141426/r-daniel-kelemen-and-anand-menon/fight-club

Rossz
Guest

@Max

The article unfortunately does not contain any serious new insights. I don’t think Tusk will go to the EU, he wants to work on his domestic situation. Of course Sikorski is also rumored to take the place of that foreign affairs lady whose name nobody knows (not that she would have any powers), I find that more plausible.

Why would there be any more infighting than there has been until now? Merkel is almost pathologically cautious why would she be more assertive in EU matters and enter more conflicts?

As in most cases, a “compromise” president would mean “leadership” as represented currently by people like Rompuy and that lady: nonexistent, laughable, amateurish. Orban is hoping exactly for such a compromise.

Guest

Just a short “thank you” for the insightful comments, especially Balázs and Martin!

As a “Greenie” I of course would prefer Schulz who btw is not liked at all by Fidesz (they repeatedly called him an alcoholic among other things …) but I also would be happy with Juncker, he’s quite liberal.

I just returned from the election – not only the EU parliament but also our local representatives (we have a green Mayor in our little Schwab university town) and I’ll be anxiously waiting for the results tonight in my favourite bar …

formal
Guest
“Today he announced his decision to block Juncker’s nomination and/or election. Currently EPP has 212 seats and Fidesz’s estimated 10-12 MEPs will vote against him. Juncker will have to get at least 376 votes to be elected, so he will need supporters outside of EPP. ” Eva from the above, it seems you do not understand the situation because you do not understand how the European Union works. Let me explain briefly, how the process works: The EU has 28 countries. Each country has a top leader, most often the Prime Minister. These 28 leaders of countries get together and they nominate a person for election to the presidency of the European Commission. Orban is one of the 28 European leaders who will decide the nominee he might have already discussed it with others that Juncker will never get nominated. So if Orban is right, Juncker will never be voted on because he is not the nominee, so it does not matter how Fidesz 10-12 MEPs vote on Juncker because they will never vote on him, the question will not be put to them. And so if Juncker fails to get nomination from the 28 European top leaders he could… Read more »
Karl Pfeifer
Guest
Guest

@formal:

I don’t believe that the other EU politicians will give in to Orbán re the new president – anyway he just needs a qualified majority! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_the_European_Commission

It would reflect very badly on them, after all the whole EPP campaign was centered around Juncker and if the EPP members won’t accept Juncker then Schulz might be elected – I don’t believe they’d want that.

kerenyi
Guest

Have you noticed the guy named Márton Gyöngyösi? He has been Jobbik’s EP representative since 2010, and he is still pretty youngish.

His parents, Iike those of Béla Kovács, must have been in foreign service during the communist era, as he spent his youth all over the world, from Iraq to India, Egypt to Afghanistan. The guy has an extremely international resume and in Hungary he worked for KMPG (2005-2007) and Ernst and Young (2007-2010). He joined Jobbik in 2006.

It is not usual that one joins Jobbik in 2006 and starts to hate multinationals and foreigners, Jews and whoever, when one had studied in Dublin (B.A. at Trinity College) and is working for the most multinational of all companies, two of the big four companies. Interestingly, while most of Jobbik’s supporters are from rural working class, there are very international people from reliable families also working for Jobbik.

Together with Béla Kovács Gyöngyösi was spearheading Jobbik’s strategy to focus on Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan instead of the decadent West. With Kovács now out of the picture, Gyöngyösi is Vona’s point man for international relations. It seems he is destined to great things.

http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gy%C3%B6ngy%C3%B6si_M%C3%A1rton

Gsp
Guest
I want to talk about the life imprisonment issue because is important. “There are perhaps 40 such cases in Hungary at the moment, and if all the “lifers” turned to Strasbourg it could be a very costly affair for the Hungarian state.” I deny this, in my view it does not cost anything. THINK. Think about a “lifer” who win 1000 billion trillion dollar at court. What can he buy? Nothing. Can not buy houses cars, nothing. Maybe better prison food if lucky. It is the same when he has 0 dollars. But this can be only small thing. More important: “The latest is the question of life sentences without the possibility of parole. The European Court of Human Rights, in a unanimous ruling, found the law inhumane and degrading. The court is not against life sentences as such, but they held that courts should be allowed to review life sentences in order to assess whether prisoners had made such significant progress toward rehabilitation that their continued detention might no longer be justified. ” This is very dangeros inhumane and terroristic. Think about ppl who killed Roma in series, many Roma. Now they want to make that in 20 years… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Sometimes it seems as if Orbán has a team of advisers seeking out the most reactionary positions possible, the death penalty being yet another case in point. Here in the State of Illinois where I live we eventually abolished the death penalty, not because it doesn’t have a small deterrence value, or satisfy the deep longing for vengeance on the part of victims, but rather because of many people proven innocent after conviction and the issuance of death sentences by courts. The common reasons for false convictions was forced confessions, followed by fabricated evidence, and then the use of corrupt witnesses by police. The poor in America get free public defenders some of whom do very poor work for their clients. The police in America are under immense pressure to solve crimes and resort to corrupt practices to do so in some cases. Once a convicted criminal is executed there is no going back and this is why here in Illinois currently we do not have a death penalty. There are many here who want it back, the desire for vengeance is a driving force for it. Orbán apparently being the great Christian he claims to be has forgotten Romans… Read more »
from budapest to tubingen
Guest
from budapest to tubingen

Just today, I realized that Wolfi lives in Tubingen.
After Budapest, Tubingen is the second place, I know best.
Tubinga has got an importance in Hungarian history, it was the educational home of many Hungarian protestant students. Magdalena Marschovski is also a graduate of its university.
This Neckar university town is one of the greatest places on earth, where I found my first great job at Erbe Elektromedizin.
The Schwab Tubingen offered all what Hungary did not. It was an education in integrity.

Martin3
Guest
Because Orban could fight with Schulz and that warring/defense of the people against the great enemy is the very narrative Orban is building on his image and politics. Schultz could perfectly represent the “Marxists dictators who rule from Brussels”. “They ruled from Moscow, but now they do that from Brussels, thank you very much EU.” Schulz may be tough on the merits, but the merit does not matter at all to Orban because after all most of these issues like palinka and acacia do not matter to Orban, as those are for show only. They are just easily imaginable issues to which the media turns exactly because they seem petty and silly. This media attention in turn, however, creates a discourse in which Orban is fighting for symbolic issues which is his very image. (As opposed to the image of the left-wing which is of a weakling blindly executing any and all orders from Brussels and rolling over immediately if that is what the West demands.) Thus Orban needs causes against which to fight, he thrives on conflict. A tough presidency would give him that opportunity (which is not an argument against a tough presidency, a weak leadership by people… Read more »
pollop
Guest
@gsp Please calm down. The judge in his/her verdict/sentence sets a minimum term before the convict can be up for parole if the sentence is not a “real life” sentence. The 20-year eligibility for parole was abolished at least 15 years ago, since then if I am not mistaken parole is set beyond 25 years, which is anyway just an opportunity. It does not mean that the convict can get out. Even if they get out they are supervised and are on parole for 15 years, they are not free. It is, however, now routine for murderers who do not get a real life sentence to be eligible for parole only after 35-40 years. Any change after the ECHR would just mean that judges would continue to issue 40 perhaps even 50 year limits. If you add the fact that the convicts tend to be between 20 and 40, you can easily figure out that the earliest eligibility is most often beyond their life expectancy (which tend to be shorter for people in prison anyway). The question is have you ever seen 60-70-80 years old active murderers? There aren’t many, because people at old age don’t go out killing others… Read more »
Guest

@from budapest to tubingen:

Thank you for your kind words re Tübingen, it really is a beautiful town with very friendly people, many of which have been to Hungary and enjoyed it. Also my wife was immediately accepted – many Schwabs even try to speak “Hochdeutsch” to help her understand them …

Re Juncker vs Schulz:

I’m sure that one of them will be president – if the EU politicians renege on them, many people would be very angry (me included), after all they were very prominently featured during the election campaign !

Torma
Guest

OT for Hungarian speakers. A great blog, and a great post about the realities in the Roma communities, where people lack understanding of even the mos basic issues like they don’t even heard about things like a tax return (obligatory for more than 25 years), or what an official warning means (i.e. you get a letter that if you don’t pay the service actually will be cut) or what a debt is (i.e. it will not disappear with time).

Most people, not just the roma, have zero clue about the modern world. Let’s not forget that.

http://nyomorszeleblog.hvg.hu/2014/5/24/419-tanult-tehetetlenseggel-elni/

kommentelo
Guest

Does anyone know if this verdict has any retroactive power? Let’s say someone was convicted in 1988 for life imprisonment when even the death penalty was lawful and acceptable by those times standards. Doesn’t have to be a Hungarian person can be anywhere in Europe because this decision is for the whole of Europe too. What would happen now to that person considering this new verdict?

Max
Guest

@ Rossz “I don’t think Tusk will go to the EU, he wants to work on his domestic situation.”

Tusk had apparently not consulted you personally before he started to learn French half a year ago.

Instead, he was specifically asked by some unnamed EU bigwigs to start to learn that language in order to prepare himself for a new high-flying EU assignment after 25 May.

democracy finishes oligarchs
Guest
democracy finishes oligarchs

We must blame Orban, but the bigger blame goes to his wealthy allies, who are the people really in control.

Orban has been mismanaging/destroying the poor Hungarian state, while mostly serving his grateful greedy bunch of oligarchs.

Hungarians will have decide who their enemies are?

The enemies are not the businessmen, who want to earn their money on steel making, or transportation or manufacturing.

The enemies are those who recklessly manipulate and blackmail the political leadership for undeserved profit.

Hungary is not the only very troubled place. This is the case in Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, Sudan and many other corrupted countries.

We need a worldwide attempt to assist these suffering nations to get on the right track, to defeat their own national enemies.

The third word absorbed wast assistance, and only a few nations managed to improve their lots.

China, Jordan, Rwanda, Angola, Colombia, Costa Rica, Singapore were the lucky ones maybe.

One thing is clear, our glorious Secretaries of State, Hillary, or John Kerry have failed on this task.

tappanch
Guest

Let me remind everyone of the results of the 2009 EU election:

Fidesz 56.36% (1.632 million votes)
Jobbik 14.77% (0.428 million votes)

MSzP 17.37% (0.503 m)
MDF 5.31% (0.154 m)
LMP 2.61% (0.076 m)
SzDSz 2.16% (0.063 m)
Munkasp. 0.96% (0.028 m)

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