After spending some time on foreign policy issues, I will return to domestic affairs by analyzing two Tibor Navracsics interviews given a day apart, to mandiner.hu and Magyar Nemzet. As you most likely remember, Tibor Navracsics at one point was Viktor Orbán’s right-hand man who in the second Orbán government was named deputy prime minister in addition to his post as minister of justice. Currently, he is EU commissioner for education, culture, youth, and sport.
Tibor Navracsics was considered to be a moderate, although I find it difficult to forgive him for assisting Viktor Orbán as minister of justice in the destruction of Hungarian democracy. His encounters with Vivian Reding, EU justice commissioner, are hard to forget. On many occasions, with his “reasonableness” and polite manner, he served Orbán well. And let me quote myself here, from the first part of my review of Eleni Kounalakis’s memoirs: “He could explain in a most reasonable manner how Orbán’s undemocratic policies were not undemocratic at all. A case in point is a conversation between Attorney General Eric Holder and Navracsics that resulted in Holder’s not bringing up the question of the Hungarian media law because Navracsics ‘eloquently explained the government’s position.’ (p. 163)”
These two interviews are not the first Navracsics gave this year. A couple of months after his appointment as EU commissioner he gave one to 444.hu, in which he addressed many of the same points he dealt with in the two new interviews. But today, eight months later, in the middle of the refugee crisis, Navracsics’s criticism of political life in Hungary has sharpened. Although theoretically it would be possible for Viktor Orbán to recall Navracsics from Brussels because of his open disagreement with the prime minister’s views, in reality it is unlikely that Navracsics will not complete his full five-year term as an EU commissioner. He is liberated in a way.
The first interview was conducted by András Stumpf, an aggressive fellow whose style doesn’t appeal to me. Stumpf tried his darndest to make Navracsics condemn the European Commission as a useless body headed by a drunkard who was chosen by the “great powers” to be their puppet. He rather undiplomatically called the Commission insignificant. Not the best way to start a conversation with one of the commissioners.
During the conversation, while Stumpf kept denigrating the Commission as a weak, bureaucratic mediator between the European Parliament and the European Council, Navracsics took a strong stand in defense of the Commission as well as of the European Union. The Commission’s role as a mediator is powerful and Juncker is perfect for that job, he claimed. After his last round of EU bashing, Stumpf pretty well gave up and moved on to presumably less risky topics, mostly about the relationship between the member states and the Commission. And at this point Navracsics began his complaints about the Orbán government’s methods of dealing with Brussels. “The greatest problem the Commission encounters with the Hungarian government is that it is ready to talk to the officials of the Commission only when there is already trouble (balhé).”
Navracsics doesn’t share Viktor Orbán’s mistaken notion that Hungary has never been a multicultural state. Unlike Orbán, he doesn’t see danger in immigration either. The problem is that the two sides take extreme points of view: either no immigrant can come or all can come. In the West people are accustomed to receiving large numbers of immigrants, while in Eastern Europe, because of invasions and unsuccessful attempts at integration, people see them as dangers. Stumpf got the impression that Navracsics considers “western integration a success story,” surely a sin in Stumpf’s eyes. In any case, although Navracsics nowhere called western integration a success story, he certainly stands by the Commission against those individual member states who refuse to cooperate.
It was at this point that Navracsics made a statement that has shaken the Hungarian media and public. He revealed that he is practically the only leading Fidesz politician who is pro-European Union. So, that means that the whole Fidesz leadership by now is Euroskeptic, and if they could, they would gladly leave the European Union.
In connection with Navracsics’s “exile to Brussels,” Stumpf brought up the rumor that circulated in 2013-2014 that Viktor Orbán was not convinced of Navracsics’s loyalty. Hence, the story went, he was sent to Brussels so he couldn’t build a base of support in Hungary. If we can believe Navracsics, he was chosen because by then he was the only possible candidate who would have accepted the job. His faith in the future of the European Union is still strong, and in the struggle between the institutions of the European Union and the European Council he takes the side of the former.
Navracsics’s second interview with Magyar Nemzet is also revealing. Although some of the topics were repeated, this time he leveled even more specific criticisms of the Orbán government’s dealing with the European Union. “Double standard” is the usual Hungarian complaint. The Hungarian government claims that the European Union deals with Hungary more severely than with other member states. The question was whether this is still the case. Navracsics was unwilling to blame the EU for treating Hungary unfairly. Instead, he said that he is convinced that the government’s unyielding attitude and harsh, antagonistic communication alienates EU officials. A willingness to cooperate is totally missing, and as long as this is the case Hungary will not be successful in Brussels. In fact, in Navracsics’s opinion the Orbán government has defined itself in opposition to the European Union.
Another topic that came up in the Magyar Nemzet interview was the role of the United States in the refugee crisis. Is the United States trying to turn EU member states against one another? What is the new U.S. offensive against Hungary all about? Navracsics was not about to fall into this trap, and he refused to engage in any kind of U.S. bashing. In fact, he noted that the United States actually accepted the Hungarian solution of building fences around the perimeter of the country. He defended Merkel as “one of the most significant politicians” today. Viktor Orbán is among the strong political actors, “but those who believe that a leader must consider all circumstances and factors think he is far too radical.” One has the feeling that Navracsics is among them.