Tibor Navracsics’s political “coming out”

Tibor Navracsics, who is EU commissioner in charge of education, culture, youth and sport, doesn’t appear too often in the Hungarian media, and when he does he is asked mostly about matters relating to Hungary rather than the work he does in Brussels. Thus, the Hungarian public knows very little about Navracsics’s views on and role in the European Union.

Last November Navracsics gave an interview to Mandiner’s András Stumpf in which he said that he has always been committed to the idea of the European Union, adding that “on the Hungarian right I am pretty much all that remains.” This sentence made a big splash as proof that, at least in Navracsics’s opinion, none of his former colleagues in the Orbán government is committed to the idea of European integration.

Navracsics had a rough time being confirmed as an EU commissioner. As I said at the time, “the long shadow of Viktor Orbán” followed Navracsics. After all, Orbán named him deputy prime minister in 2010, and he was also minister of justice between 2010 and 2014 when the European Union had serious reservations about the legality of several Hungarian laws. As a result, Navracsics received a post that came with very little actual power. Education and culture are fields handled exclusively by the individual nation states.

Since the Hungarian media pays mighty little attention to Navracsics’s role as commissioner, I thought I should say something about one of his tasks that, as a result of the refugee crisis, has given him greater freedom of movement and the possibility of making a more substantial impact.

Navracsics’s job description includes, among other things, “empowering young people of all social and cultural backgrounds so that they can participate fully in civic and democratic life.” It is this sentence that allowed Navracsics to expand his role considerably after the January 2016 Paris terror attack. By March Navracsics called together the EU ministers of education and urged them “to use education more effectively in building open, tolerant societies.” He talked to them about social inclusion, about combating prejudice, about encouraging critical thinking. Of course, this sermon made not the slightest dent in the Hungarian government’s policies at home.


Then there is the refugee crisis. Navracsics proposed a program of “integration of refugees and migrants,” which the Commission acted on. Navracsics received  €1.6 billion “under the Creative Europe program for cultural projects promoting the inclusion of refugees and migrants.” So, what Navracsics is doing in Brussels is the exact opposite of what the Orbán government stands for. While he is working for the integration of refugees and migrants, Orbán is fighting tooth and nail for their exclusion.

In light of this, Navracsics’s most recent interview on June 6 with Péter Zentai on KlubRádió’s “Eurozóna” shouldn’t have been such a revelation. But suddenly the Hungarian media realized that Navracsics doesn’t agree with Viktor Orbán on either the refugee issue or Hungary’s relations with the European Union.

In the interview he expressed his optimism about the future of the EU. Its history has been full of clashes of interests among the member states, but at least until now the result was always deeper integration. He believes that “if common sense prevails in the majority of the member states” the current problems will be solved. This didn’t convince the interviewer, who said that the situation in Europe is “dramatic,” especially in light of a possible Brexit. Navracsics admitted that the European Union is at a turning point, but whatever happens with the British referendum, it is his “conviction that there are far more strategic interests in favor of the continued existence of the Union and its continued integration than against them.”

Perhaps the highlight of the interview was Navracsics’s criticism of the Hungarian opposition, which has been far too timid in standing by a common European policy on the refugee issue. Politicians supporting the European Union should argue as loudly in favor of common action as those do who promulgate a policy based on individual nation states. “We must clearly explain that membership in the Union and the continuation of integration is in Hungary’s national interest…. I regret that on the domestic political stage pro-EU politicians constitute only a soft-spoken tiny minority which doesn’t argue forcefully enough in favor of the point of view that I’m trying to express here.”

Finally, Navracsics, unlike many of the politicians of the democratic opposition, decided to go on record as agreeing with the Commission’s stand on quotas. It is, he said, “an absolutely acceptable solution which only means that if the number of refugees exceeds the regular numbers in a given country—which so far has not occurred anywhere—then the other members would come to its assistance and help in the placement of those affected. Therefore it is not the same as a mechanically enforced compulsory quota.”

Echoing Navracsics, Júlia Mira Lévai in HVG admonished those opposition politicians “who don’t dare to go against the current public mood and who are not brave enough to represent their own values.” In Lévai’s opinion, Navracsics’s “coming out” will play a significant role in the disintegration of Fidesz, which might be near, especially if leaders of the democratic opposition follow Navracsics’s advice.

I agree with Lévai that the timid response of the democratic opposition to Orbán’s refugee policies is mistaken. Always trying to follow a middle ground, as MSZP leaders usually do, will not satisfy the growing number of voters who are turning against the government and Fidesz. But I disagree that it is the refugee issue that will be the catalyst for the inevitable disintegration of Orbán’s power structure. A more likely candidate is the government’s disregard of the Hungarian National Bank’s highly illegal financial dealings, orchestrated by the chairman of the bank, who is exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior. And to the bank scandal one can add the boorish behavior of the newly created Fidesz media, which even some members of the inner circle find distasteful. But more about these developments tomorrow.

June 15, 2016
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Alex Kuli
“I disagree that it is the refugee issue that will be the catalyst for the inevitable disintegration of Orbán’s power structure.” I disagree as well. But why “inevitable?” Orban has total control over all the levers of power — Parliament, the media, the government, the army, the election office, the prosecutor’s office, the economic elite, the police, the “constitution.” Moreover, a relative majority of Hungarians support his continued control; in opinion polls, combined support for all non-Jobbik opposition parties does not surpass Fidesz’s popularity. This allows Orban to continue passing himself off as a “democrat.” True, the judiciary has handed the Orbanites a slap on the wrist in certain cases, but I’m sure the judges can be managed, given the proper incentives. Every oligarch who has dared stand up to Orban has been duly slapped down. Orban has got at least three political savants backing him – Lazar, Rogan and Habony. None of these would get far in mature European democracies, but they understand the mechanics of the System of National Cooperation and how to mobilize voters. In addition, Szajer, a truly brilliant legal scholar, has got Orban’s back in Brussels. At this stage, the only “inevitability” I see is… Read more »

Relative majority of Hungarians? I think not. Look at the numbers of those who refuse to answer polls, and think: If they supported Fidesz, would they refuse to answer a poll?

Just based on personal experience, on comments I hear made on the streets in parts of E. Hungary and in Budapest, I would say a majority of Hungarians hates this government. That’s a subjective experience, admittedly.

Another subjective experience I have after I hear the odd comment indicating hatred of Fidesz is a knee-jerk complaint about the opposition parties. They do not inspire confidence (Fidesz’s media does seem to work in this way).

Alex Kuli

relative majority (n) (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) Brit
The excess of votes or seats won by the winner of an election over the runner-up when no candidate or party has more than 50 per cent. (Compare absolute majority)


I bet they will not have the relative majority in 2018. That is what I was saying.
That said, I do not discount the ability of the opposition to pull itself to pieces (with the help of Fidesz moles).


Re: ‘At this stage, the only “inevitability” I see is Viktor Orban’s continued control over the country’

And which will unfortunately continue policies inimical to the country’s relationship to the EU and how it rides the path to modernity. A modernity which is apparently feared much since its development started in the West with ‘western values’ that are now deemed suspect. The government looks terribly uncomfortable under the wheels which roll towards the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. And not only in Magyarorszag but all over the world. From a cultural perspective it appears the country will be overrun.

Mr. Navracsic in his post has an interesting job as a catalyst and influencer for change. If he is realistic he’s got his cv all ready to go. Success in his position will more than like give him the ‘bounce’. Goes perfectly in stride with political life in a country heading towards a more insular existence.

I agree with Alex. Navracsics has “gone native”. Common problem with EU commissioners and with some diplomats. It has little overall significance. The migration issue will not bring down the Orban regime. Xenophobia is a common sentiment much used quite unscrupulously by politicians. Even amongst the normally moderate and politically mature English it has been whipped up to fever pitch in the referendum campaign by overstating the significance of the issues raised by freedom of movement in the EU. Hungary is an exporter of people, so the same problem does not exist as in the UK. The migration issue has been domestically well managed by Orban. By contrast Cameron has never properly addressed the fears generated by immigration. He is a shallow and lazy thinker who has always been far too well off and comfortable to feel the need to address issues properly. Whilst he is an agreeable man he has much to answer for in the almost inevitable destruction of the EU and of the Tory Party. The latter we can live without, but less so the former. Corruption is also unlikely to be politically decisive in Hungary. When I was a child in Hungary the grown ups joked… Read more »


The monster fly in the ointment is the hunger in European countries for ‘cheap labour’. It is that alone chiefly responsible for all the African immigration to France and Britain earlier; and Germany’s ‘hunger’for immigrants today. Let’s leave the rosey glasses of idealism off–governments in democracies largely do the bidding of the rich and powerful and cheap labour, aside from all of its other advantages, is a death knell for labour movements…

Jean P.

We have been told at least once a week by certain commenters that Orban is liked by a large majority of the population because he has made the Hungarians proud again.

Well, now the Hungarians have got something more to be proud of.

A foreign businessman has with his own money and skills resurrected the former pride of the country, the Zsolnay ceramics factory. When the Orban mafia observed that a foreigner had turned around Zsolnay, something a succession of Hungarian managers had failed to do, they decided to take Zsolnay away from him. The splendid Fidesz experts on the methods of Russian robber capitalism made a plan which is unfolding right now. With all state authorities as willing helpers they will win, Orban always wins, and the pride of the Hungarians will reach new heights. They don’t know shame.

Eva, doesn’t this scandal warrant a post ?

Alex Kuli

Interestingly, when I did a brief interview with Navracsics back in 2007 or so, he mentioned “ceramics factories” as one of the industries Fidesz would like to nationalize. I can’t quite remember whether which company he mentioned – it was either Zsolnay or Herendi, or both.
I remember quite clearly that he ended the interview by saying, “Állami kéz, biztos kéz.” (“The hand of the state is a secure hand,” or some such). To me, this was clear evidence of Fidesz’s socialistic leanings, even when they were working hard to pass themselves off as market-oriented progressives.


Such is the success of this Szolnay ‘reincarnation’ that if you re-tiled your bathroom with tiles from IKEA – they very possibly came from the Szolnay factory.

This dim Orban government just can’t understand the damage it is doing to commerce in Hungary.

Paintings seized, companies seized, banks nationalised – just who will invest if Hungary seizes its own indigenous manufacturing?



Zsolnay, pr. Zholnaee
not szolnay, which would be pr. solnaee


Yes ok! Sorry!


One of my partner’s Karate trophies is a beautiful piece of Zsolnay pottery fashioned into a victory cup and has pride of place in the display cabinet.

You would have thought I’d know how to spell it by now!