The silence in the Hungarian media about the Leaders’ Meeting in Brussels has been deafening. After searching for well over an hour, I managed to find two op/eds and a couple of interviews with former diplomats. Both op/ed pieces, in my opinion, misinterpret both the significance of the meeting and the role of Viktor Orbán.
If you were to ask even the most diligent follower of the Hungarian media, I’d bet he/she would be hard pressed to tell you what actually happened at the mini-summit. The only thing he/she would know is that Viktor Orbán was there only as an observer. The op/ed in Népszabadság is full of ambivalent sentences like: “Officials in Budapest talk contemptuously about the results of the meeting while part of the German press seems to discover the basis of a common migrant policy in the 17-point action package.” Keep in mind that the media hasn’t given the Hungarian public any details of what is in this package. Viktor Orbán’s role is barely touched: “Orbán nodded [to the proposals] but didn’t take part in the debate.” The headline uses even stronger language: “Orbán got out, Merkel in trouble, Tsipras attacks.” The discrepancy between Orbán’s rhetoric and his obediently signing the document is ignored. György Sebes of Népszava in an opinion piece titled ” Viktor–Victory” is convinced that the Hungarian prime minister won this latest battle as he wins them all. He managed to gain popularity at home by successfully diverting attention from the serious domestic problems to the migrant crisis. And now he has saved the country from participating in the solution to the migrant crisis.
As far as the Hungarian media is concerned, there was a meeting of eleven prime ministers and they signed something, but nothing has really changed. Indeed, the greatest news seems to be that someone discovered the youthful Viktor Orbán spinning the wheel of fortune on TV2 in 2001. The only substantive news item came this afternoon from the new pro-government Magyar Idők, which reported that the government named Tibor Lakatos, a police colonel who works in the ministry of interior, to be Hungary’s coordinator. Mind you, the paper learned about this appointment only from the website of European Commission. The government didn’t consider it necessary to inform the Hungarian public of Lakatos’s new role.
Tibor Lakatos, who until fairly recently was deputy police captain of Vas County, will be an odd addition to the list of coordinators who, by and large, currently occupy high positions in their governments. All seem to have diplomatic experience. The European Commission is represented by the diplomatic adviser to Juncker’s cabinet. Albania is sending the prime minister’s adviser on security matters. There are a number of undersecretaries and several so-called sherpas or personal representatives of a government whose job is to prepare international summits. It is hard to tell whether Lakatos’s appointment is supposed to be a snub to Juncker and the Commission or just an example of the Hungarian’s government ineptitude when it comes to diplomacy. I just hope that this police colonel can speak English.
At the mini-summit, in the words of the European Commission, “the leaders … committed … to increasing the capacity to provide temporary shelter, rest, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need, triggering the EU Civil Protection Mechanism where necessary.” Yesterday Croatia activated the protection mechanism, which means financial support from the European Union. (For more information about the EU Civil Protection Mechanism there’s a detailed description of it on the European Commission’s website.) In the past, 55% of the cost of the necessary steps was covered by the European Union, but as of yesterday the decision was made to raise the level of support to 85%. In addition to Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia have also activated the mechanism for material support for such items as tents, blankets, sanitary equipment, and other essentials to help refugees this winter. Yesterday the Commission also awarded €5.9 million in emergency assistance to Greece from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. None of the above was reported by the Hungarian media.
In vain was I searching for any statement by Viktor Orbán, but Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó had a busy day. He gave interviews to Kossuth Rádió as well as to MTV’s M1 news channel. In the latter interview he complained about certain prime ministers in the European Union who are not paying the slightest attention to the rules and regulations of the Union. Their governments aren’t registering the refugees and aren’t providing for them but are simply moving them across the border to the neighboring country as soon as possible. Szijjártó seems to have forgotten about the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who were moved from the Croatian border straight to Hegyeshalom on the Austro-Hungarian border.
According to him, the European Union has an easy task: “they should adopt the Hungarian model with lightning speed in Greece; in plain language they must defend the external borders of Greece.” On Kossuth Rádió he revealed that today he will travel to Lebanon and during the week he will be talking with his Cypriot and Greek colleagues about “the possibility of Greece accepting the assistance of the 28 Union countries in the defense of Greece’s borders.” So, Hungary is now trying on its own to negotiate with Greece concerning the country’s border defense. We will see what comes of this meeting–if, that is, the Hungarian media finds out anything about it. I don’t predict a roaring Hungarian success in Athens.