The latest scandal: The Orbán government and the Norway Fund

On May 9 we learned that Norway had suspended €140 million of aid funds to Hungary. Most Hungarians, I’d wager to say, have no idea that, in addition to funds coming from the European Union, Hungary receives aid from Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. In fact, Hungary is the second largest beneficiary, after Poland, of the so-called EEA and Norwegian Grants. The money that Hungary receives is the result of an agreement that Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein signed in 1994, the “Agreement on the European Economic Area,” which allowed these three non-EU states to join the common market of the European Union. Joining the large EU market was financially advantageous to these countries because within the EU their products were no longer subject to tariffs. In return, the three countries agreed to extend aid to less developed countries of the Union. After 2004, a large portion of the funds went to former Soviet-bloc countries. EEAUnder the arrangement Hungary will receive €153.3 million over the next few years. A large portion of the money that has already been received was under the supervision of the Hungarian government, while a smaller amount, the Norwegian Civic Fund, was handled by an NGO called Ökotárs Alapítvány (Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation). This organization was chosen by a Brussels-based office to be the lead NGO in disbursing funds within Hungary.

For reasons unknown, the Orbán government unilaterally decided to change the way it handled the aid received from the EEA and Norwegian Funds. As of January 1, the office that had been in charge of the distribution of the grants closed its doors and a private non-profit organization took over its duties.  This new organization has strong ties to Századvég, a Fidesz-related think tank.

The Norwegian government considered the move a breach of  the agreement the Hungarians signed with the Norwegian government, which supplies 97% of the funds. The Norwegians did not mince words. Vidar Helgesen, minister of EEA and EU Affairs who is also the chief-of-staff of the prime minister’s office, said that “Hungary’s actions in this matter are unacceptable” and added that “the Hungarian government has shown little willingness to find solutions that comply with the agreements entered into. We have therefore decided to suspend payments until this matter has been resolved.” He insisted that “the monitoring and implementation tasks in connection with the programs and funds under the EEA and Norway Grants scheme must be transferred back to the central government administration in Hungary, in line with the practice used in all the other beneficiary countries.” Up to now there is no sign that the Hungarian government is ready to oblige.

And that is not the only issue in dispute between Norway and Hungary. The Hungarians are also unhappy about Ökotárs Alapítvány’s administration of the Norwegian Civic Fund. According to Origofriction between the Orbán government and Norway over the Civic Fund goes back to 2012 when Tibor Navracsics complained to the Norwegian foreign minister about Ökotárs Alapítvány. He alleged that  this so-called independent organization has strong ties to LMP, the Hungarian green party, and therefore its distribution of funds favors the opposition forces.

The Hungarian government also complained about the process that selected Ökotárs as the lead NGO. Indeed, Ökotárs was the only organization that was found to be acceptable by the members of the jury, although originally there were seven applicants. Some of the groups had close ties to the government, while others were brand new creations with neither history nor reputation. Two were actually owned by the Hungarian state. The owners of two others were involved with CÖF, the government-created Civic Forum, the organization of the peace marches and sponsors of the pro-government election campaign. In any case, Navracsics’s complaint fell on deaf ears. The Norwegians were satisfied with Ökotárs.

Then, sometime after January 1, János Lázár again tried to convince the Norwegians to “renegotiate” the agreement on the basis of the new status quo. In addition, he wanted to take the Norwegian Civic Fund out of the hands of Ökotárs. The Norwegian government wasn’t impressed. So, Lázár began harassing Ökotárs Alapítvány. First, the government released nine names from the 50-60-member staff who, according to them, had had some kind of relationship with LMP, MSZP, or an anti-government university organization that was active for a short while in 2012. What they neglected to mention was that several employees had had close relations with Fidesz. Second, the government compiled a list of recipients who, in their opinion, should not have received any financial support from the Norwegian Fund, including the Roma Press Center, the Association of Liberal Youth, Women for Women against Violence, Transparency International, TASZ, the investigative journalism portal atlatszo.hu, Foundation for Democratic Youth, and two gay organizations that received small sums of money, Labris Lesbian Association and  the Rainbow Mission. Obviously, for the Orbán government, grants should go only to pro-government organizations. Critics should not get a penny as far as they are concerned.

Since neither Ökotárs Alapítvány nor the Norwegian government was intimidated, this morning the Hungarian government ratcheted up its campaign against the four NGOs that have helped Norway disburse the grants. It said that it would audit Ökotárs, the lead NGO. And today employees of the state audit department appeared at two partner organizations. At Autonómia Alapítvány, employees cooperated with the auditors but announced that they found the procedure illegal. The Hungarian State Audit Department does not have the right to investigate non-state funds, and clearly whatever small amounts of money these organizations received came from Norway. At the second organization, Demnet, the two men who showed up claimed that the investigation might take weeks. Demnet also put its objections in writing, claiming that the State Audit Department lacks jurisdiction.

Already on Friday Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, wrote: “To János Lázár, the non-government sector is just another area to occupy. LMP rejects the charges.” And atlatszo.hu board member Attila Mong told Reuters that the government had set out to “cut that lifeline from the organizations it considers unfriendly, adding there were almost no other financial sources to replace these grants. Orbán’s message is clear: he wants his hands to be the only ones to feed NGOs. If you don’t want it, you will starve.”

This is where we stand now. Another unfinished chapter in the endless war of independence. Shameful, utterly shameful. Viktor Orbán and his henchmen have been systematically ruining what little remains of the reputation of Hungary.

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Heaven Can Produce A Miracle One Day
Guest
Heaven Can Produce A Miracle One Day

The history of Hungary has been characterized by a mad mutual eternal destruction.
Upper class against lower class, communists against conservatives, racists uberHungarians against minorities, catholics against protestants…
Left and right preaches, and fails to see the human being in the others.
The mortal enemy is always the other Hungary.

Member

I have no explanation (and not much hope) for the shameful absence of any sense of decency or justice in the majority of the Hungarian citizenry. But I cannot believe that the Norwegians or the Europeans will put up with these escalating Orbanian outrages for much longer.

Barni
Guest
Nothing has happened yet. Orbán will slowly turn up the heat. It’s a great game and it only just started. Some people will get into pre-trial detention, police will invite a bunch of people for interrogation. National security agencies will join (my guess is that they have long ago, as they, just like the Russians, think these organizations are foreign agents) and harass with their little clicks on the phone line, strange things start to happen with their emails and software. This will drag on, guys, Orban just loves these games, to torment the “Budapest-based liberals”. Non-lawyers, as all of these NGO-peopel are, will be intimidated and shit into their pants. They will give up. Their predecessors broke in the 1950’s and they will break again. It is only a question of time. Just wait and the NGO’s will literally beg to the Norwegians to allow the Government to control the money and give it to the Christian, conservative NGOs like CÖF, the MMA (the arts academy), you name it. Let’s hope the Norwegians are not the dumb, weak, decadent, brainless but extremely rich West-Europeans Orban think they are and that they will resist. Orban and his people are extremely… Read more »
Nandor Csepregi
Guest
Hey, hey, hey, the liberals just can’t stop complaining that there is “no freedom of speech” in Hungary. They just can’t. Just because origo.hu’s editor in chief was sacked? I mean Lázár had to complain many times. Why? Why would origo.hu be out to get him? Why can’t origo.hu cooperate and behave kindly? Origo.hu is owned by Magyar Telekom which is owned by the German Telekom. How could poor Lázár kick out this editor, what’s his name, when he is protected by a real big German corporation, which are really tough and big and known to resist Orbán fiercely. I just don’t get this constant complaining, this whining: in Hungary the media is absolutely free and the freedom is robust. Orban still does not own Lapker (the media distribution company which holds back right-wing print media), the cinemas, where Israelis show only American movies, not truly valuable Hungarian or Russian films, and Orban still doesn’t own origo.hu. Also, Heti Válasz and Magyar Nemzet are actually quite liberal, I don’t know why these are not good to the liberals. Why would they instead want to listen to the lies of foreign media? Look at the constitution, our new Basic Law (which… Read more »
Guest

Nandor Csepregi:
“Hungary is a high-speed train ..”

.. rolling on a too narrow track gauge. It will soon be converted to Russian standard gauge.

klt
Guest
Nobody thinks that Origo is even for sale. If it is not for sale it cannot be bought too. The owner is a German multinational company who is interested in profits. When you want to generate profits which segments of the population do you have to liked by? The radical ultra-left 5% of population? Or the vast majority of average people? The average people are in the center or on the right origo is so far away from them in the political sense that it can seriously hurt profits. Frankly I am surprised that they didn’t realize this sooner. The interenet media is 100% dominated by ultra-left liberal and leftist portals and media companies while the population is mostly right wing. There is good money to be made if there was as serious portal which is centrist and acceptable to right wing readers. That space is essentially empty while leftist readers are already served by at least 15 different news portals. As more and more people buy computers in the country side the makeup of internet users is shifting as well so it would make economic sense. But origo will not make any shift any time soon the journos there… Read more »
Mártika
Guest
@klt You seem to be deranged. What ultra-liberal left are you talking about? That origo.hu dared to write about Lázár personal escapades at taxpayers’ money (which, let us add, he probably carried out with his male/female mistress when he is supposed to be a god-fearing father of two)? When origo.hu wrote just before the election enthusiastically about Ms. Orban’s and Rasi Orbán’s cute joint girls night out? (Let us add János Áder’s PR interview yesterday in index.hu in which of course he talked not a word about real issues, but about fishing and suchlike). Origo has been up for sale not even once. It has been a stated intention of its owner to sell it once it reaches profitability, because the shareholder – logically – thinks it can get a better price if it is not loss making. If you bring cash now, the shareholder will sell you right away — as it has been eating Magyar Telekom’s profit for years. Not that it wouldn’t be obvious that only Simicska or other strohmen of him can be potential buyers. There is no idiot in the world who seriously wants to invest in Hungarian media when it is controlled by Fidesz’… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Gross debt of the Hungarian central government:

2010.05.31.: 19,933.4 billion forints
2014.05.30.: 24,317.6 billion forints + 2,600 billion nationalized retirement funds

So the Orban government “reduced” the debt by growing it by 22% + spending the retirement funds completely.

22% = 4.7% compounded yearly
35% = 6.8% compounded yearly (with the retirement funds)

Please tell me: if the deficit was below 3% every year, how is it possible that the debt grew by 4.7% on the average? (The depreciation of the forint against the euro does not explain this fully)

Sources:
http://www.akk.hu/ktgvetesadossag.ivy
http://akk.hu/object.8F795A09-653C-4C74-A293-63A17D6EEC49.ivy
http://akk.hu//kepek/upload/2014/NYRA_pf_honlapra_20140331.pdf

Grape
Guest

@tappanch:

doesn’t matter. Until there is QE some cokehead hedge fund manager will gobble up Hungarian debt. And QE, well, it cannot ever stop.

Fitch will upgrade Hungary. Why? I don’t know, but they must be smart as these economists were:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/14e323ee-e602-11e3-aeef-00144feabdc0.html#axzz330HiG5UA

tappanch
Guest

New opportunity for election fraud hidden in a new bill:

People will not be allowed to check whether their data was used to fraudulently support fake parties.

http://tasz.hu/node/4175

anti
Guest

List of leftist and liberal controlled media outlets:

Weeklys:

Élet és Irodalom (ÉS)
Magyar Narancs
168 óra
Heti Világgazdaság (HVG) (largest circulation weekly)
Hetek
Figyelő
Vasárnapi hírek

Dailys:

Népszabadság
Népszava
Blikk (chief editor, the ultra-left Marcell Murányi. This is also the largest circulation newspaper in Hungary)
Bors
Vilaggazdasag
Kisalföld
Sonline

TVs completly under leftist control:

ATV
RTL Klub (largest TV station in Hungary)
Story 4
Viasat3

Internet portals:

Origo.hu (largest internet portal)
index.hu (second largest internet portal)
napi.hu
galamus.hu
hvg.hu
444.hu
vs.hu
hir24.hu
cink.hu
atlatszo.hu
hirstart.hu
velemenyvezer
egyenlito
kettos merce
and many others…

So it seems that the problem is not from not having enough propaganda outlets, the problem is people are not buying the message.

“When there is a problem with the brothel, you have to change the girls, not the decoration.”

The same applies here.

whoever
Guest

‘The radical ultra-left 5% of population? Or the vast majority of average people? The average people are in the center or on the right origo is so far away from them in the political sense that it can seriously hurt profits. Frankly I am surprised that they didn’t realize this sooner.’

Please note that Fidesz is supported by less than a quarter of the Hungarian electorate. Fidesz are the largest political party in Hungary (in no small measure, thanks to their manipulation of public service information) but they do *not* speak for all Hungarians.

Ron
Guest

Today Obama is arriving in Warsaw, Poland to talk about Ukraine with East European partners. I wonder if Hungary (Orban) is invited.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2014/06/03/obama-warsaw-poland-russia-ukraine-europe-trip/9900447/

tappanch
Guest

The inspiration for the Nazi eagle sculpture came from Jászberény.

This is the same town where Orban’s good friend and Speaker of Parliament Kövér’s image appeared on a new sculpture dedicated to chieftain Lehel a few days ago.

Kövér’s head and the Nazi eagle were created by the same artist, Mr Párkányi Raab.

http://cink.hu/jaszberenyben-bukkant-ra-az-ihlet-forrasara-a-naciemlek-1584694796/all

He and various Fidesz governments obviously like Nazi topics:

Here is the memorial to the Nazi writer Wass in Mátészalka, erected in 2009:

http://www.kozterkep.hu/~/11537/Wass_Albert_emlekmu_Mateszalka_2009.html#photo-59265

kommentelo
Guest
I agree with many things said here and in the comments but I think that one thing is problematic: resisting investigations. How does resisting investigations look from the outside? Guilty, and corrupt, right? So I just do not understand why the Norwegians and the NGO-s decided to pick this tactic, it is against their own self interest. They should proclaim in all press releases that they welcome all investigations, they have nothing to hide and similar, that is always the best defense. And questioning the authority of the state to conduct investigations if foreign money is involved, is just plain dumb. Let’s imagine that Putin starts to like this Norwegian style and decides to copy it. He creates some fund and selects a Hungarian NGO to distribute the funds. He could pick an NGO of any pro-Jobbik civilian if they were members of parliament earlier it is even better. And you would deny the right of the Hungarian state to investigate such an NGO? Just because it has only foreign money in it? I am not trying to equate the Norwegians with Putin, far from it, but a position that says “all foreign money is off limits” is a dangerous… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@Anti

Blikk, Fidesz faction leader Rogan’s favorite tabloid is a leftist paper in your count…

Daily circulations (1st quarter 2014):

Népszabadság (not leftist any longer) 45,000
Népszava 14,000

Magyar Hírlap (oligarch Széles’s extreme right-wing daily) 8,000
Magyar Nemzet (Orbán’s semiofficial daily) 38,000

http://www.mfor.hu/cikkek/A_Heti_Valasz_es_a_Bors_tartotta_magat_a_sullyedo_lappiacon.html

I think we can agree that genuine leftist newspapers, the only opposition radio Klubradio and the only balanced and not apolitical television channel ATV can reach no more then 20% of the population, while Fidesz propaganda affects 110% of the population (100% + Hungarians in Transylvania and Voivodina)

D7 Democrat
Guest
Barni, You are letting your over-excitement, ignorance of the true situation and quite possibly that early-morning palinka cloud your judgement again. “Non-lawyers, as all of these NGO-peopel are, will be intimidated and shit into their pants.” Au contraire, most of them, are at this moment sniggering at Orban and Lazar. And that’s what bothers the regime most. Its leader has an inferiority complex that is quite frightening and that in turns drives his hatred and irrationality. An an irrational dictator is generally not one who enjoys a long and fruitful reign. Also you must be extremely naive to believe that the NGOS haven’t seen this coming and planned accordingly since the arrival of Fidesz government. You don’t have to be a “smart lawyer” (as you would define it) to see into the dark heart of this regime and know what their ultimate purpose is. Now, you think they have sat on their backsides (like almost everyone else has done in Hungary over the last 5 years) and not made preparation for that eventuality. The intimidation you reckon is on its way has been taking place since 2011, showing once again, my friend, that you are somewhat fact-deprived in this area.… Read more »
D7 Democrat
Guest

“Many of the projects and programs haven’t been operating behind double security systems for some time now. Threats on the phone and online are commonplace as are the bi-annual MAV inspections”

Orbanistan may be bad but even there the railway comoany isn’t making tax inspections yet;)

Should read:

Many of the projects and programs have been operating behind double security systems for some time now. Threats on the phone and online are commonplace as are the bi-annual NAV inspections

D7 Democrat
Guest

Daily circulations (1st quarter 2014):

Népszabadság (not leftist any longer) 45,000
Népszava 14,000

Magyar Hírlap (oligarch Széles’s extreme right-wing daily) 8,000
Magyar Nemzet (Orbán’s semiofficial daily) 38,000

Those figures are truly astounding in a population of 10 million.

Even if someone is brave enough to be an investigative journalist here, there is no one that interested in reading their articles?

kommentelo
Guest

“Many of the projects and programs haven’t been operating behind double security systems for some time now.”

D7 as you seem to be involved somehow in the projects, let me take a guess at what “double security systems” mean.

I guess that it means that another financier (possibly Soros?) already agreed to continue financing the project should some problems arise. Did I guess correctly or did I horribly misunderstand.

antiantianti
Guest
@anti Please don’t lie and don’t be so dumb. The entire “leftist” print media is consumed by approximately 150,000 people. That is it. Those who pay for these media are leftists and thus these declining print titles with 5,000-15,000 copies will not have any affect on the undecideds or right wingers. Media does not matter if news is read by the leftists, it matters to Fidesz if it crosses over to the undecideds — that will not happen as Fidesz makes that sure. (Blikk, of course which is the favorite media of Rogan and Orban is a lie, it is not opposition at all.). Fidesz owns or controls every piece of electronic media (tv and radio, except for the limited-reach klub radio and Atv) in one way or another (including state channels and RTLKLUB which is blackmailed not to deal with political current event at all so it cannot possibly affect viewers who hear TV2s or MTV’s biassed news at any given evening) which have a reach of 10,000,000 as they reach the entire country. Most people, about 80%-85% of the population, have no other source of info other than those owned by Fidesz and in fact multiple titles of… Read more »
D7 Democrat
Guest

No, you misunderstood.

I don’t work in this area but I was speaking more about physical not financial security-
for example: no entry without ID cards *and* in addition alarmed doors. Or security guards and constantly locked doors.

I do know that the amount of direct threats (whether this directly originates from the regime or not, difficult to say) has increased manifold since 2010 so it would be very difficult for Fidesz (if it is indeed them behind it) to up this level of intimidation without it becoming obvious from whom was originating.

Main point I was hoping to make was, contrary to what Barni was saying, NGO workers tend to bear up to this kind of intimidation better than, eg lawyers or teachers.

tappanch
Guest

Re: Welsz’s death in a police car in March.

Blikk spread the rumor everywhere yesterday that “it is official. Welsz committed suicide.”

Almost every news outlet picked up this story and reprinted it without questioning its validity.

http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/ez-mar-hivatalos-mereggel-lett-ongyilkos-welsz-2256065

Now I am reading that the doctors’ report is inconclusive on the death certificate sent to his father:

“elhunyt természetes halállal, valamilyen betegség következtében, balesetben hunyt el, avagy önkezével végzett magával. Ez utóbbi esetén közlik a halál okát: esetünkben mérgezés.”

The deceased died a natural death, some kind of disease [or] accident or suicide. If it was suicide it must have been poisoning”

Fudging to such degree on a death certificate is incredible!

http://nol.hu/belfold/hany-bissau-guineai-utlevele-van-a-kozponti-nyomozo-fougyeszsegnek-1465651

D7 Democrat
Guest

Have I understood it correctly that Fidesz are thinking about also charging Facebook, google, twitter etc advertising tax??!!!

That’ll be interesting;)

kommentelo
Guest

D7, where did you hear this, this is just too funny. Facebook does not have any taxable activity in Hungary, Germany or Britain or anywhere else in the EU but Ireland. They do not pay even the Value Added Tax (AFA) anywhere. The British were complaining about this for a long time, but it is all completely legal:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/10/09/facebook-is-not-avoiding-tax-no-really-it-isnt/

D8 Democratic Movement
Guest
D8 Democratic Movement

Today, most of these comments are fit into the well directed circus.

To know the truth, it is advisable to read the most hated Scheppele, Jan Werner Muller, Eva Balogh, Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine…

Our pro-Fidesz visitors have got no decency.

Have we got any smart Hungarian leaders who could nurture a new solid Western Europe oriented civil society?

Perhaps, they will pop up in these Norwegian NGOs.

D7 Democrat
Guest

“D7, where did you hear this, this is just too funny.”

Kommentalo,

I have translated “common” or “community” pages as meaning facebook et al and “megadoztatnak” as “they would tax” (if possible or not).

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20140603-a-kozossegi-oldalakat-is-megadoztatnak.html

My translation could be shakey.
If correct, it confirms my opinion that a great deal of the Orban inner circle or either not very clever or just plain bonkers.

Tobias
Guest
@antianti “Most people, about 80%-85% of the population, have no other source of info other than those owned by Fidesz” This obvious, idiocy and stupidity that you write is proof that the message is wrong not the delivery systems. You managed to prove the problem. You write that 80%-85% of Hungarians have no SOURCE OF INFO other than owned by Fidesz. Yet the Internet is available to (at least) 8 million Hungarians. It IS a source of information. Everyone can CHOOSE which websites to visit, just as we chose this one. We can also go to the party website of Demokratikus Koalicija or any other website. If a website writes interesting good articles, it will become popular. If a website writes obvious propaganda, idiocy, stupidity, people can easily see through them just as your comment. It is against common sense in this day an age to try to portray a society that is locked out from sources of information. And to write it right on the internet… So maybe the problem is not that we don’t have enough channels, the problem is that by writing stuff that is not liked, not accepted, not believed by the population. By first having… Read more »
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