Another summit, another battle: Viktor Orbán forges on

In this post I’m covering an unfinished story: the Brussels summit of the European Council that is taking place today and tomorrow. I believe, however, that I have enough Hungarian material to make some tentative predictions about the outcome as far as the Hungarian prime minister is concerned.

First, I want to emphasize that today’s summit looks very different from Budapest than it does from Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States. The western media considers this particular meeting to be “a minefield” of “sensitive, explosive” stuff, but the topics so identified bear no resemblance to the ones described in the Hungarian press. The top challenges, seen from the West, are sanctions against Russia, the situations in Ukraine and Syria, and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Naturally, the migrant crisis will also be on the agenda, with the discussion centering on how to stop further migration from the Libyan coast to Italy.

Someone who relies exclusively on Hungarian sources would be surprised to hear this because Viktor Orbán’s clever propaganda machine has shifted the emphasis to topics that best serve his political interests at home. He is moving onto a battlefield populated with his self-created phantoms.

What do I mean by this? Orbán has been making sure that everybody in Hungary understands that he will wage a life and death struggle against compulsory quotas. Every important government official in the last few days has stressed that the “pressure” on Hungary is tremendous. The prime minister left Hungary this morning with the firm resolve to veto such a resolution. He will fight to the bitter end. Since the question of compulsory quotas will most likely not be on the agenda, it is an empty resolve. He can come out of the meeting and announce to the few Hungarian journalists waiting for him that he successfully defended the country from the Muslim peril, at least for the time being.

Orbán obviously thinks that the idea of Hungary, a small country but one that can threaten the mighty European Union with a veto, resonates at home. He made sure that everybody understands the significance of such a move. The Fidesz and KDNP parliamentary delegations specifically asked the prime minister to veto such a resolution if necessary, reinforcing the gravity of the situation. Of course, it was the prime minister’s office that gave the orders to the delegations and not the other way around.

For good measure, Orbán also threw in another issue he was going to fight for in Brussels: the European Union’s alleged decision to abolish government-set prices for electricity retailers. Initially, the plan was to lift price controls over a five-year period, but lately the word is that, once the proposal is accepted, it will be introduced immediately. Such a move would tie the hands of the Orbán government, which in the last three years has been using price controls as an effective way to lower prices and thus gain popularity. But as far as I know, the issue will not be discussed at the meeting. And for the time being, it is just a proposal. To become law the support of both the European Parliament and the qualified majority of the European Council is necessary.

Once Orbán arrived in Brussels he immediately began to trumpet his own importance to the Hungarian journalists waiting for him. Back in October in Vienna he proposed the establishment of guarded refugee camps under EU military control, an idea that was flatly rejected by the countries present at the meeting. Since then he has somewhat modified his original idea and is now just talking about refugee camps financed by the European Union situated in Libya and Egypt. He admitted during this short press conference that his proposal hasn’t been accepted yet by the majority, but he indicated that he is optimistic that his suggestion will soon be supported by most of the member states. He is equally optimistic about another suggestion of his: “the return of migrants rescued from the sea to wherever they came from.” The defense of borders he demanded was once a “forbidden point of view,” but by today attitudes have changed and “it has become a recognized common task.”

Viktor Orbán enjoying the limelight / Source: MTI/EPA

Orbán’s Hungarian critics believe that the prime minister has arrived in Brussels significantly weakened after his recent domestic setbacks. Despite the incredible amount of money spent to achieve a valid referendum on the compulsory quota question, Orbán ended up with a large majority but, because of lackluster voter turnout, an invalid referendum. Nonetheless, he went ahead with his plan to amend the constitution, allegedly to prevent the settlement of large numbers of unwanted foreigners in the country. But he was thwarted in this effort by Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, an extremist party that has been trying with varying degrees of success to become a respectable right-of-center party.

Orbán therefore can’t portray himself as the voice of a groundswell of anti-migrant sentiment. The Hungarian voters didn’t give him a mandate, nor did the Hungarian parliament. And the Visegrád countries are no longer solidly behind him.

Instead, Orbán seems to be grasping at straws. For example, he urged Hungary’s mayors to sign a letter addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, which the mayor of Kaposvár, Károly Szita, a devout Fidesz loyalist, would like to hand to the president of the European Commission in person.

Perhaps tomorrow we will learn how much of Orbán’s agenda was approved by the European Council. Personally, I don’t think it’s a cliffhanger.

December 15, 2016
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
e-1956
Guest

master of disinformation!
good to amass personal fortune.
but failed 99% of hungarians.

petofi
Guest

And even the Hungarians who’ve profited…are hanging by a thread (ie. like Lazar).

Guest

Obviously Fideszniks live in a different kind of dream world – I wonder when the rude awakening will come.

e-1956
Guest

Wolfi – you are moving around, and you can see reality in close distance.

The history is changing, and it is time to update.

In case of the Hungarian events, the opposite is necessary.

The past is the key to see it correctly.

Russia interfered in the times of Hapsburgs, and in the 1919 uprisings, as well as after WWII.

It is the same again.

Guest

I don’t see it that way – Horthy had his way while Russia was down and out and he gladly embraced Nazism – and not too many Hungarians disagreed.

e-1956
Guest

Patience, please.
We have got a good 150 years to review.
The Russian terror was omnipresent at all times.
Have you looked at the wiki entry on active measures?
Besides Hungarians, also the Germans were the unfortunate receivers of the Russian active measures.
PS I missed to visit the Boulangers.
https://www.yelp.de/search?find_desc=Bar+%26+Kneipe&find_loc=T%C3%BCbingen%2C+Baden-W%C3%BCrttemberg

Guest

OT

There is no end to the madness.

Lazar: The government approved a request from the Ministry of Defense to create 197 firing ranges over the next three years, at a cost of HUF 27 billion, that is, USD 91.6 million, or USD 465,000 per firing range. Twenty-five-, 50- and 100-meter-long ranges would be installed, and shooting clubs created along with clubhouses. There is a real chance, Lázár said, that within three years every major county town will have a 100-meter shooting range.

http://budapestbeacon.com/news-in-brief/hungary-to-invest-92-million-building-firing-ranges-with-clubhouses/43028

Guest

The shooting clubs that Lazar promises to create in every major county town and surely intents to keep under Fidesz control may be the seeds for an armed Fidesz militia. They anticipate a civil war.

Istvan
Guest
It is my understanding that Hungary wants to significantly increase its reserve military forces. So the Lazar gun range proposal seems to fit with that vision. It seems idiotic to me as an American gun owner and National Rifle Association (NRA) member. It would be far cheaper to allow for profit entities to easily open such gun ranges and then rent out time to militia or reserve forces for target practice. Hungary unlike Switzerland, Serbia, or Croatia today lacks for better or worse a private citizen gun culture, Russia is similar to Hungary in its total suppression of a gun culture. Young Hungarians who enter the military are largely only familiar with weapons from video games, the same is largely true throughout Europe due to highly restrictive gun laws. While there is some hunting in Hungary, particularly for boar, it not very significant and that goes back to the hunting restrictions placed on the peasantry by the Hungarian nobility similar to restrictions elsewhere in Europe. The USA has a massive gun culture and our soldiers and marines are on average the most accurate combat shooters in the world due in part to having been raised in that culture. Gun possession… Read more »
Guest

I never heard the expression “gun culture” before. It seems to me a contradiction in terms.

Istvan
Guest

It is commonly used in the USA.

Istvan
Guest

Here is the broad definition as used in the USA https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_culture_in_the_United_States

Observer
Guest

Istvan

I’m sorry to say you’re way off the mark here.

Range shooting, even on a large scale, hardly contributes anything towards the “increase of reserve military forces”. A modern military requires much more and quite else.

Gun culture is also off since such regimes actually restrict gun ownership.

It is good, however for the increase of gung-ho or aggression, which is the fertile ground for future militias or simple goons. Both are time proven tools of internal political violence and goons have already been used by the Orban regime on several occasions.

Istvan
Guest

Is there evidence that Fidesz is creating a paramilitary wing? Clearly the gun range idea does not constitute that, the expanded reserves have been discussed by the Ministry of Defense and accepted by NATO.

Since reserve units would be located all around Hungary they would require multiple gun ranges.

Observer
Guest

We disagree then. I haven seen few technocratic detection/decisions by this regime. Every day we witness ulterior actions dressed, often in fig leaf only, who serve a completely different purposes, invariably more power grab/centralization and embezzlement.
Eg Yesterday it was the $35 voucher which in reality is a propaganda action which costs dearly.

Re military training, I suggest team paintball. Much closer.

Guest

And – I’ve said it before:

There is no consistent strategy of any kind behind these quick ideas – just a thought by the boss or someone else in the hierarchy:

Let’s do this, it sounds good, people will like it, it will give us more power, it will make money for some of our friends or whatever …
And the next day it’s signed into law by the Fidesz sheep in Parliament, without any discussion …

Like all these new taxes or changes in taxes, sometimes up – sometimes down, no logic at all!

Observer
Guest

It’s not madness, it’s Orbanistan. Here’s more:

The in-your-face arrogance of the regime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yubxRHwCGYg

The original 0.9% pension raise for 2017 announced by Minister M.Varga was illegal, since the law prescribes at increase equal to the MNB inflation forecast, i.e. 2.3%. Legality notwithstanding Orban promised a 1.6% increase and a gov. decree was issues in contradiction to the Budget Law which did not provide for this. Orbanistan.

The EUR 33 worth of a Erzsebeth voucher, “present” to the pensioners trumpeted by Orban, comes in two envelopes: one from the Hungarian Government and the other from Viktor Orban , PM. The letters are delivered personally, as registered mail, to all pensioners. The cost of this action is about 1/3 of the “present”. Orbanistan.

Orban’s Choo Choo train in Felcsut carried on average 8 passengers/DAY in September, October. The number of tickets sold was tenfold 50/day for teh same period. Orbanistan.

James
Guest

Honestly though, does anyone really believe Jobbik would be better? XSure, they may clean up their act a little until in power.
Hungary has self-degraded to the point where the choices are between the devil…and the devil.

Observer
Guest

James

It is not that Jobbik as a package of views and people would be better in the Fidesz’ current position. I don’t think Jobbik would be anytime soon in a position to form government alone. (eventually in coalition with Fidesz, or, very unlikely with LMP).

Jobbik can turn a legit party one day, but even until then they may play the positive role of helping bring down the current regime and this is the first and foremost goal.
Hence, Jobbik has to be supported in this role/endeavor (which doesn’t mean their occasional outrageous statements and acts shouldn’t be opposed).

Istvan
Guest

Curious Observer, one Hungarian liberal worries about Fidesz training its cadres for civil war and another supports blocking with Jobbik to get rid of Fidesz. The Magyar Gárda Mozgalom was lead by Vona and in 2009 Tamás Gergő Samu, president of the Békés County Jobbik organization stated: “[…] if the Jobbik gains power […] the members of the Gárda will form the backbone of the [new] Hungarian gendarmerie, will be invested with public authority, and will march here, on the streets of Sarkad with weapons on their side.” I think Vona gave him those thoughts and still believes them.

I think Vona will be happy to put his liberals who go into an electoral block with him up against the wall as soon as feasible.

Guest

I am not at all a Hungarian liberal. I am a Scandinavian conservative.

Observer
Guest

Istvan

It’s a long discussion, but suffice to say that what is said to the public and what is done or can be done are two different, sometimes very different things.
Then consider the time factor – the Joibbik drive too the center has been on for three years, in time this will become their nature, more or less.
Last, consider the difference in the position of a small opposition party and that of a party in gov.

And, again, the first priority is to get rid of the Orban regime robbing and rotting Hungary NOW.

Guest

A bit OT but relevant – Bloomberg’s latest, really scathing analysis of Hungary and its economy:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-16/populist-magic-fades-in-economy-of-europe-s-big-trump-supporter

The economic outlook is clouded by allegations of cronyism
and intervention that undermine competitiveness, hamstring growth and drive away investors even after Hungary regained its investment-grade debt rating.

And it continues in a similar vain:

The country ranked ahead of only Madagascar and Venezuela in government transparency among 138 countries in the 2016 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, which is based on a survey of executives.

Hungary is becoming a sort of Potemkin economy

Guest

And here a very pessimistic article on the future of Europe:

http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-12/democracy-european-union-nato-brexit-donald-trump
The author Jan Zielonka is prof of European Politics in Oxford

wpDiscuz