Tibor Navracsics’s nomination to be one of the commissioners of the European Commission met with negative reviews from the start. Andrew Gardner of European Voice, a regular commentator on European affairs, wrote a scathing article about Navracsics and the man behind him on July 31. Hungary was eyeing the post of Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, but in Gardner’s opinion that would be precisely the post Navracsics should not get. “Reforms relating to the rule of law–including fundamental values–are now the alpha and omega in the EU’s enlargement talks…. [and] Navracsics would not be a credible spokesman for those principles, both given the record of Orbán’s government and Orbán’s stated intent to experiment with a different approach to democracy.” It is even more worrisome, he argued, that “Navracsics could choose to spin elements of enlargement talks to promote Hungary’s own rancorous policy agenda with its neighbors.” In addition, Gardner continued, “Orbán and Navracsics are using Ukraine’s multi-headed crisis to increase Hungarian influence and push an agenda that, as Orbán’s speech on Saturday suggests, is not an agenda based on liberal democracies’ advocacy of minority rights.” As the headline in Stop said, “Navracsics [is] in the shadow of Orbán.” And it’s a very dark shadow.
In comparison to some other high Fidesz politicians, Navracsics even seems moderate, but one cannot forget what was going on in the Hungarian judiciary under his watch as minister of justice. The chief prosecutor’s office staged dozens of politically motivated trials, and hundreds of laws were introduced without any serious discussion in parliament. The Constitutional Court was stripped of most of its power. It was with Navracsics’s assent that the Azeri murderer was freed from his Hungarian jail cell and returned to Azerbaijan. So, it was no wonder that DK immediately objected and announced that they found the nomination unacceptable. The same argument is now being used by Tibor Szanyi, one of the two MSZP EP members, who claims that the whole socialist EP delegation will refuse to vote for Navracsics. Of course, the opposition’s objections did not deter Viktor Orbán from nominating Navracsics, and it was most unlikely that Juncker would not accept Orbán’s choice. So, the only question was what kind of portfolio he would get.
It was clear from day one that the desired portfolio of enlargement and European neighborhood policy was out. An early, preliminary chart showed Navracsics as the possible commissioner of trade, which is an important position. Commentators treated that piece of information with caution. A few hours later Magyar Nemzet reported that Navracsics will most likely be Commissioner of Taxation, Customs, Statistics & Anti-Fraud, which is considered to be a lowly position in the Commission. You may recall that between 2004 and 2009 that position was occupied by László Kovács (MSZP), who was originally nominated for the post of commissioner in charge of energy, a very important post, which in the end he didn’t get because of his dismal performance at his hearing. Kovács claimed that Fidesz EP members did their best to discredit him. It will be a cruel fate if Viktor Orbán’s nominee receives the same post that Kovács occupied.
Whether the socialist EP delegation will refuse to vote for Navracsics’s nomination is difficult to say at the moment because there is no official word on the subject, but it looks as if the Fidesz EP members are somewhat concerned. They called upon the four Hungarian members of the socialist caucus–two MSZP and two DK members–to support Navracsics’s nomination. They called attention to the fact that if Navracsics’s nomination is vetoed the fate of the whole commission will be in jeopardy. The European Parliament votes for all the members of the commission en bloc. If Navracsics is rejected, the whole procedure must be repeated. Népszabadság made fun of Fidesz’s argument in a headline: “Europe can be terrified if Navracsics does not become commissioner.”
The opposition papers were also gleeful over the fact that Navracsics may have to be satisfied with a less than weighty post. One online portal noted that the Hungarian nominee was grouped together with the nominees of Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, and Portugal, which are considered to be less important countries. Stop, a newspaper close to the socialists, made fun of his possible position on the commission, saying that “Tibor Navracsics may putter around with taxes,” forgetting that the socialist Kovács filled the same post a few years back when the socialists certainly did not think that he just puttered around.
In any case, the list is complete and on Friday Jean-Claude Juncker sent it to Matteo Renzi, prime minister of Italy, the country that is the current president of the European Union. On Tuesday we should know what post Navracsics is getting.
But he still cannot be entirely confident that the “shadow” of Viktor Orbán will not dampen his chances. The European socialists might play the same game as the Fidesz EP members did in 2004 when they made Kovács appear totally unqualified for the post of commissioner for energy matters. There is nothing in Navracsics’s background that is remotely connected to taxation, customs, or statistics. I’m sure that he can be made to look inept and unfit for this post.
If Navracsics encounters serious opposition in the European Parliament, we can be pretty certain that the real cause is Viktor Orbán’s relations with the “bureaucrats in Brussels.” Just yesterday at the traditional Fidesz picnic in Kötcse that he claimed that “if there is unity, we will conquer the crisis, the flood, the bureaucrats in Brussels, the financial powers and the banks.” He is ready to take on Brussels. Is Brussels ready to take him on?