Tag Archives: European Parliament

Márta Pardavi’s testimony at the EP hearing on the Situation in Hungary

Márta Pardavi is co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. A lawyer by training, she leads the organization’s work in the field of refugee protection. She also serves on the board of the PILnet Hungary Foundation, a project funded by the International Visegrád Fund, which supports NGOs in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and the Verzió International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. Between 2003 and 2011 she was a member of the board, and later vice-chair, of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a pan-European alliance of 96 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons.

Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)
European Parliament
Brussels, 7 December 2017

Dear Chair, Minister, members of the European Parliament,

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today, it is an honor.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee was founded in 1989 and has been working to defend human rights in Hungary. Our work focuses on protecting refugees and protecting human rights in detention and in criminal justice and the rule of law. This year, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee was shortlisted for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Vaclav Havel Prize and also was the recipient of the Gulbenkian Foundation’s prestigious Prize in Human Rights, in Portugal.

The common values in Article 2 of the Treaty are core values that are both the pillars and the drivers of our European community and European integration.

In Hungary, the government has systematically weakened checks and balances and the rule of law. The fundamental values of the EU have come under increasing threat and are being systematically disrespected.

Where independent institutions of governance have been dismantled or weakened, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society are essential to counterbalancing excessive power. Public participation in democratic processes and holding government accountable cannot be ensured without free and plural media and a free civil society.

Civil society has many roles, but one is particularly important here today. We speak truth to power. As a human rights organization, we protect individuals and society as a whole against the overreach of power and breaches of our common values as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty. When it says this discussion is nothing but a political attack and interference in domestic affairs, what the Hungarian government questions is exactly the shared nature of our common core European values. However, civil society’s role is to encourage also the European institutions, and others, to act in the interest of upholding our common values.

Space for expressing and accessing critical and pluralistic views in Hungary has been rapidly and alarmingly shrinking in the past year.

Beginning back in 2013, a series of measures began to target, discredit and intimidate civil society organizations that strive to hold the government to account on its obligations concerning anti-corruption, environmental protection, fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. You will remember the series of unjustified investigations and even a police raid in 2014 against NGOs that had received funds from the EEA and Norway Grants NGO Program.

Other measures putting pressure on independent civil society include unfounded allegations by members of the Hungarian government or the ruling party as well as misleading or untrue reporting from government-controlled and government-aligned media. The national consultations and government communication campaigns held this year, you will recall, plastered Hungary in billboards calling to ‘Stop Brussels’ which attacked European institutions, or the currently finishing consultation that has been scaring the country with a sinister plot on migration.

These measures are meant to focus on and attack individuals and groups that express views about public affairs which are different from that of the government. This is no way to respect our common values in a European democracy.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst expressed concern in March 2017 about the continued stigmatization of human rights defenders and about the chilling effect of the inflammatory language used by senior government officials on the public perception of the value of civil society.

In its May resolution, the European Parliament called on the government of Hungary to withdraw the then proposed Act on the Transparency of Foreign-Funded Organizations. Nevertheless, on 13 June, the Hungarian Parliament proceeded to adopt the anti-NGO law.

Under the Anti-NGO Law, any civil society organization that receives over about EUR 23,000 per year from foreign sources should register as an “organization receiving foreign funds” in a state register. Foreign funding can come directly from the European Commission, UN bodies, private foundations or Hungarian citizens who are living abroad. The ‘foreign-funded’ label has to be displayed on all of its publications, print and digital alike. Failure to comply with the law could lead to a judicial procedure that could impose fines or even result in the court dissolving the organization.

The Venice Commission issued its final opinion a week after the law was adopted. It stressed that despite its legitimate aims, the law may not be used to stigmatize NGOs or restrict their ability to carry out their activities. The law causes disproportionate and unnecessary interference with freedom of expression and association, the right to privacy and non-discrimination.

In July 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure on account of the law on foreign-funded NGOs. The Commission found several violations of EU law, namely that the Law interferes unduly with fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular, the right to freedom of association. The Commission concluded that the new law could prevent NGOs from raising funds and would restrict their ability to carry out their work. The new registration, reporting and publicity requirements are foreseen by the law are discriminatory and create an administrative and reputational burden for these organizations. These measures may have a dissuasive effect on the funding from abroad and make it difficult for the concerned NGOs to receive it.

To date, 233 Hungarian NGOs have publicly condemned the Anti-NGO Law as we believe it is unnecessary, stigmatizing and harmful. Unnecessary, because Hungarian civil society organizations are already transparent in their operations, provide accurate information about their donors and finances in annual reports and carry out their activities before the public. Stigmatizing, because the law implies that organizations which work for the benefit of Hungarian society by receiving international grants for their work pose a threat to the country. Harmful, because it undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.

There is a reason to fear that the newly adopted law will not be the endpoint of the several years’ long governmental campaign against independent civil society organizations. On the contrary, this is a new step in a long process that aims at fully discrediting and hindering independent civil society organizations.

This anti-NGO law is closely modelled after the Russian ‘foreign agent law’, which has made the work of independent pro-democracy and human rights NGOs extremely difficult. In many cases, good NGOs doings highly important work have had to close down.

Not only is the anti-NGO legislation itself strikingly similar in Russia and Hungary. The smear campaigns against prominent NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, are also very similar to what goes on in Russia.

Now, the government has begun to make references to national security risks. Already at the end of October, the Prime Minister and other government ministers spoke about having instructed the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies to look into how the so-called Soros-network has links to what it calls ‘Brussels’, European institutions such as the Parliament and the Commission.

As a Hungarian, it makes me upset that instead of fostering tolerance, the government of Hungary fuels intolerance — with taxpayer funds.

In addition to the constant Brussels-bashing in the billboards and full-page advertisements that I am sure you have seen pictures of as well, the hugely expensive taxpayer-funded national consultations are driving intolerance and xenophobia in Hungary to alarmingly high levels. Fearmongering against migrants and refugees, against Muslims, against foreigners who might look different than an average Hungarian, has created widespread hatred and fear in society. In small communities, locals have prevented a handful of recognized refugees from holidaying in their village. Elsewhere, foreigners staying in local bed and breakfasts must show their vaccination certificates under a local decree.

While radical, extremist and racist views like these are found in many parts of Europe, it is not governments themselves who fuel and disseminate them with taxpayer funds.

Politicians and governments can lead by example. However, the government of Hungary is setting a worrying and dangerous example when it comes to human rights and rule of law protection. My country has become a widely quoted example of an illiberal state in the heart of Europe, in the European Union. We are witnessing how this example is being followed elsewhere in the EU, most notably in Poland, but not only there.

Over the years and this year, the European Commission has launched infringement measures for a significant number of rules of law and human rights issues in Hungary. However, these infringement measures have not been able to address, let alone remedy the systemic breaches of rule of law and human rights in Hungary. In our European toolbox, we have further tools to address the broader concerns — of which I have highlighted a few here, but for lack of time, not all.

I haven’t spoken about refugee protection; independence of the judiciary, corruption, equality between men and women, minorities — the list of concerns goes on.

The tools to fix them need to be taken out before it’s too late.

Thank you for your attention.

December 10, 2017

European Union salvo against Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state

Yesterday an editorial appeared in Magyar Hírlap, a government-sponsored daily paper. The author reassured the paper’s readers that “yesterday nothing new happened; nothing was decided; the political, financial, legal, and communication war [between the EU and Hungary] will continue.” And in any case, next week there will be an important EU summit where “the power relations between Brusselites and the camp of those countries that defend sovereignty can shift further toward the latter.”

Admittedly, it is important for a government publication to spread optimistic messages, but the fact is that official statements belie these hopeful predictions. Viktor Orbán rarely gives “extraordinary” television interviews, but after the barrage of bad news coming from Brussels he felt it necessary to explain his version of the events.

What is the Hungarian government facing at the moment? Two different proceedings against the country are underway. The first is a triad of infringement procedures. The second, the beginning of the Article 7(1) process.

Infringement procedures are legal actions against a member country that fails to implement EU laws. There are stages to these procedures, which basically involve an exchange of legal opinions. After the second such unsatisfactory exchange the Commission sends the case to the European Court of Justice. In the event the judgment goes against the country and that country doesn’t rectify the situation, the Commission will propose that the Court impose financial penalties which, depending on the seriousness of the infringement, may be quite high, especially if the penalty is imposed for each day the country is not in compliance.

Hungary at the moment has three serious infringement cases under consideration at the European Court of Justice: the country’s refusal to accept a small quota of refugees, its modification of the laws regarding foreign-financed civic groups, and the amendments to the education law that placed Central European University in a precarious position. Its continued existence is still very much in question.

The other “drama” is being played out in the European Parliament, where a resolution was adopted earlier that calls for launching Article 7(1). It instructs the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to draw up a formal resolution for a plenary vote. On December 7 there was a hearing on the issue, where Péter Szijjártó represented the Hungarian government. The adoption of a resolution calling for the initiation of Article 7(1) proceedings, which could result in the suspension of voting rights for the targeted country, is a first in the history of the European Parliament.

These are significant matters, so I wasn’t surprised that Viktor Orbán, who rarely initiates television appearances, decided to grace the newly appointed Echo TV with his presence. Of course, Orbán’s interviews are so obviously staged that one can easily pick out all the “key words” that were supplied to the anchors ahead of time. And naturally the interviewers never ask “difficult questions.” One of the messages of government communication from here on will be that none of these “attacks” on Hungary has anything to do with the Orbán government’s transgression of European laws and values. They are inflicted on Hungary either because the Orbán government’s actions have had an adverse effect on the economic interests of foreign multinational companies or because they interfere in some mysterious way with the goals of the bureaucrats in Brussels.

In this interview Orbán renewed his claim that economic interests triggered the Tavares Report of 2013, which was a sharply worded, hard hitting report on the state of democracy in Hungary. After the European Parliament accepted Rui Tavares’s report, the Hungarian government wrote a resolution of its own which was then submitted to parliament. It was a verbose, clichéd piece of writing which included a sentence that struck me as odd at the time. It claimed that the Tavares Report was an answer to Hungary’s “reducing the cost of energy paid by families. This may hurt the interests of many European companies that for years have had windfall profits from their monopoly in Hungary.” That claim was ridiculous in 2013, if for no other reason than that the Tavares Report, which had nothing to do with economics, had been in the making for a year and a half while the Orbán government’s lowering of energy prices took place about two months before the release of the report. I really wonder whether by now Viktor Orbán actually believes this lie since he used the same kind of rationalization to explain away the report that is currently being drafted in the European Parliament.

Viktor Orbán claimed in 2013 that the very thorough analysis of the Orbán government’s transgression of democratic norms was nothing but a series of political attacks. Today he claims the same. As far as he is concerned, all disputes about democratic norms were closed before 2013. The Hungarian government has “the paper” to show that the European Commission and the Venice Commission were totally satisfied with all the changes that had been made to the media law and the constitution. It is not a lack of democracy that the Commission and the Parliament are really worried about today. EU politicians are concerned that Hungary’s stance on migration will hurt “their interests.” As if it was in the interest of the European Union to be faced with a million and a half refugees and immigrants. It is hard to fathom that anyone believes such nonsense or, for that matter, that any self-respecting politician can utter such an absurdity. And yet Orbán, with a straight face and in all seriousness, discussed the European Union’s plans to create a “continent of mixed population.” I assume I don’t have to add that George Soros and his network are behind this diabolical plan.

The key word, by the way, in this interview was sovereignty, which was kindly supplied by Orbán’s old friend Zsolt Bayer, one of the two anchors. Often, when Orbán encounters a word that is borrowed from abroad, like sovereignty (szuverenitás), used in Hungarian since 1786, he feels compelled to explain what the word actually means. This time he came up with “freedom” (szabadság) as a good equivalent. “At stake is the question of Hungarian freedom,” he claimed. The debate in the Union “touches on the question of freedom.”

With this switch from sovereignty to freedom, Orbán moved the discussion to an entirely different plane. Sovereignty means complete independence and self-government. Freedom, on the other hand, has many meanings, including “the condition of not being subject to a despotic or oppressive power,” and that can conjure up all sorts of xenophobic reactions in Hungarians. “Brussels is after us.” And indeed, some of the comments I read today in right-wing papers were revealing. One genius announced that the reason for the five-times higher living standards in Austria is Vienna’s exploitation and oppression of Hungary for five hundred years. The same can also be heard about the European Union’s plutocrats. Hungarian nationalism can easily be awakened by an appeal to “freedom,” a ploy Orbán loves to use. And it always does the trick.

December 9, 2017

Jobbik’s Krisztina Morvai: A portrait

I promised a post on Krisztina Morvai, one of Jobbik’s three members in the European Parliament. Her name came up a few days ago when she gave a lengthy interview to Magyar Idők in which she spoke so fervently against the Soros Plan that she received the greatest compliment possible from Fidesz’s very own Zsolt Bayer. In his opinion, the golden words of Morvai could have come from Viktor Orbán himself.

So, let’s take a look at the career of this woman, who was born in Budapest only a few days after Viktor Orbán in 1963. On paper, she has had a sterling career. After attending one of the best high schools in Budapest, she received a law degree cum laude from ELTE. She joined the faculty of her alma mater where she still teaches. In 1989 she got a scholarship to study at King’s College, where she earned a master of law degree. During the 1993-1994 academic year she taught law at the University of Wisconsin as a Fulbright scholar. Her main interest is criminal law, dealing with victims’ rights, child abuse, sexual exploitation, discrimination, and domestic violence.

Between 2003 and 2006 she was a member of the Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee of the United Nations where she took a very pro-Palestine position and called attention to what she called the “inhumane living conditions” of Palestinian women, which was followed by an official complaint by the Israeli government. In 2006 the Hungarian government refused to endorse her for another four years. What followed was truly disgraceful. She wrote to all the national missions to the UN, accusing her own government of giving in to Israeli pressure in nominating not her but Andrea Pető, whom she called “a well-known Zionist,” which was a lie. The affair is well summarized in an English-language article in HVG from August 2006. She became filled with hatred toward Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose government withheld its endorsement. After her return to Hungary she participated in all the anti-government demonstrations and was one of the founders of the Civil Jogász Bizottság (Civic Legal Committee), which was subsequently used to discredit the Gyurcsány government’s handling of the disturbances that took place during the fall of 2006.

Krisztina Morvai / MTI / Photo: Bea Kallos

As she kept moving to the right and was an outspoken anti-Semite, Jobbik found her to be a choice addition to the party’s followers. She didn’t actually join the party, but she headed Jobbik’s list for the 2009 European parliamentary elections. In addition, she became Jobbik’s candidate for the post of president in 2010.

By 2009, her reputation had plummeted in better circles. In November of that year The Guardian called her a “neo-fascist MEP.” It turned out that she was one of the invitees to a conference organized by the Palestinian Return Center, but several politicians who were scheduled to speak at the conference protested and the organizers withdrew their invitation to her. Because, as the director of the group said, “She is one of Europe’s leading neo-fascists … and Jobbik is a revolting party.”

Her reputation in Israel also hit rock bottom, especially after she advised the “liberal-Bolshevik Zionists” to “start thinking about where to flee and where to hide.” Or, when she distinguished between “our kind” and “your kind” in a context where “your kind” could only be the Jews who, in her opinion, were ruining her country. “Our kind,” she insisted, will not allow the colonization of Hungary. The Guardian also got hold of a Morvai quotation from one of those numerous political discussion groups that existed before the advent of social media. The group consisted mostly of Fidesz supporters, but the “list-owner” let people join without checking their ideological preferences. So, I signed up and read the incredible conversations that took place there. One day I noticed that Morvai, a fairly frequent contributor, in an argument with an American Hungarian who happened to be Jewish, wrote about “so-called proud Hungarian Jews who should go back to playing with their tiny little circumcised tails” instead of doing this or that.

In February 2009 she wrote a letter to the Israeli ambassador to Hungary in which she objected to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, calling it a “mass murder” and genocide. She claimed that “the only way to talk to people like you is by assuming the style of Hamas. I wish all of you lice-infested, dirty murderers will receive Hamas’ ‘kisses.’”

She has been a member of the European Parliament ever since 2009, where she is pretty active. She records her activities on her blog as well as her Facebook page. She is also usually on hand in Hungary whenever the country’s far right is threatened in any way. The latest outrage was her behavior at the trial of György Budaházy, a right-wing extremist, who received a 13-year jail sentence for terrorism. The prosecutor apparently found the verdict too lenient, at which point Morvai, who was in the audience, got up and created a scene. When everybody was ordered out of the courtroom, she refused to leave. ELTE, where she is an associate professor, initiated an “ethical investigation.” The investigation ended in a slap on the wrist.

Liberal commentators object to Morvai’s presence on the faculty. Apparently, she has been on unpaid leave ever since 2009 when she became a member of the European Parliament, but she still gives lectures on the abuse of children, terror in the family, and similar subjects. According to students, “she is a superb lecturer” and her lectures are “exciting. The blogger “Mr. Flynn Rider,” however, thinks “this well-known extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic lecturer should have been kicked out a long time ago” from the law school.

As I said in my post titled “Do we know what Jobbik is all about?” Morvai gave a long interview in Magyar Idők which was welcomed by Zsolt Bayer, who wrote an opinion piece in the same issue. Morvai subsequently expressed her surprise about the splash this interview made because “for my Facebook community and visitors to my blog there was nothing new in this interview.” Clearly, Morvai is trying to downplay an important move on her part.

At the moment, Fidesz and Jobbik are at each other’s throats. A couple of weeks ago there was talk of the government’s likely plans to withdraw mandated financial support to the party on the basis of possible financial irregularities. Jobbik at the moment is Fidesz’s favorite whipping boy. The personal attacks on Gábor Vona are incessant and ugly. One reason is that Jobbik is just as harsh a critic of the Orbán government as the liberal-socialists parties are. For instance, Jobbik ironically insisted that the Hungarian police investigate George Soros if he is such a serious threat to national security.

It is in these circumstances that a Jobbik member of the European Union gives an interview in which she agrees with every move the Orbán government has made in the last two or three years. Moreover, the publication of that interview is accompanied by the simultaneous support and praise from one of the best known Fidesz journalists, Zsolt Bayer.

In the interview Morvai supports the government wholeheartedly. While her party criticizes Orbán over the lack of democracy, she finds the EU’s criticism of Hungary on that score unacceptable. She agrees with the argument that the Orbán government does its share in attending to the root causes of the problems in the Middle East by helping “our Christian brethren on the spot.” As for the Soros Plan, “the European migration policy is so absurd, unreasonable, and inhumane that there must be some evil, demonic plan behind it,” although she doesn’t know whether Soros is the #1 organizer or not.

What is Bayer’s supporting piece about? It is about Jobbik, which is no longer the party that deserves his admiration because “its chairman led his people to betrayal and sleaze.” But not Krisztina Morvai. She has remained what she has always been. That is a great relief to Bayer because he was afraid that Morvai, following Vona, had been lost. The very fact that she gave an interview “for us” is a mortal sin because Jobbik politicians refuse to “talk to us.” This interview could have been given by Viktor Orbán. “Krisztina Morvai has come home” or “actually it seems she has never left.”

A day later Magyar Idők was still on the subject of that interview. A journalist in an opinion piece wrote: “Unbelievable, people in Jobbik are not curious about the interview their party’s MEP gave to our newspaper.” Obviously, this Morvai interview is considered to be a major win in Fidesz’s political duel with Jobbik. And, of course, Morvai is not as innocent as she tries to portray herself.

October 31, 2017

Viktor Orbán on his role at the European Council Summit

Yesterday I tried to make sense of a garbled newspaper article in Pesti Srácok giving details of allegedly newly discovered documents that implicate certain Hungarian nationals who are in the pay of George Soros, the sworn enemy of Viktor Orbán and his migration policy. As I pointed out, the documents actually surfaced in August 2016, but the powers-that-be deemed it necessary to reintroduce them to the public. A day after the appearance of the article, two government and party officials picked up the story and threatened members of NGOs that receive financial help from the Soros Foundation with investigation by the national security forces. A day later, on October 27, Viktor Orbán himself devoted part of his bi-weekly radio interview to the subject.

I will spend relatively little time on the part of the interview that dealt with George Soros’s network in Hungary because I discussed some of this yesterday on the basis of two press conferences, one given by Balázs Hidvéghi, Fidesz communication director, and the other by János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office. Viktor Orbán made quite an issue of the alleged novelty of the documents. He acted as if the great news all over Europe was the release of these documents and that therefore one could not be surprised that eventually they found their way to Hungary. The truth is that these documents had been a topic of interest in the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security in late September 2016. Deputy chairman Szilárd Németh (Fidesz) was greatly disturbed by what he read in the Hungarian press about the DCLeaks documents and suggested holding a meeting on it. So much for the truthfulness of the prime minister of Hungary.

Viktor Orbán distinguished several levels of influence of the Soros Network. We already know that he is convinced, or pretends to be convinced, that the whole European Commission is under the thumb and in the pocket of George Soros. Tibor Navracsics doesn’t know about Soros Plan, which only shows how well hidden it is. Then there is the European Parliament, where 226 members were identified as receptive to the ideals of the Open Society, including five Hungarian members from the opposition parties. He is particularly disturbed by the fact that a fair number of these people are members of LIBE (Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs), including Péter Niedermüller of the Demokratikus Koalíció. This committee just lately passed a report that would impose mandatory migrant quotas and strip non-complying member states of funding. Viktor Orbán cannot do much about this. He is after those “who, according to the newly emerged documents, work in Brussels against the Hungarian government.” These people try to influence decision makers in order “to punish Hungary and force it to change its migrant policy.” As he put it, the Hungarian government “must find these people who through various channels manage to influence organs of the European Union, which eventually lead to legal proceedings against Hungary.” He, unlike Lázár, didn’t talk about journalists, but let’s not exclude the possibility of extending the investigation to members of the press, especially those who receive or used to receive money from the Soros Foundation. We have arrived at a new phase in the anti-Soros campaign. New attacks on NGOs–like Transparency International, the Helsinki Commission, and TASZ–are forthcoming.

More interesting for those of us interested in Viktor Orbán’s political ambitions on the international scene is the lecture he gave about the workings of the European Council and his own role in the process. Keep in mind that he attended a two-day summit on October 19-20 in Brussels and that, breaking his habit, he didn’t give a press conference to the three or four reporters who accompanied him to Brussels. Therefore, he most likely thought that a “report” on his attendance was in order.

Orbán explained to the Radio’s reporter that the politicians of the European Union are an overly refined, genteel lot who like to cover up disagreements. For example, after a summit the European Commission publishes a set of “conclusions.” If something is not in the “conclusions,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was not discussed, just that there was no agreement on the subject, he claimed. Thus, the EU is hiding what actually happens at these meetings.

There is a problem with this contention because it is clearly stated that “ahead of the European Council meeting, the President drafts guidelines for the conclusions. These are then discussed in the General Affairs Council and later adopted at the European Council meeting.” That is, there is a set of items which is given out ahead of time to the participants.

The conversation about the conclusions took an interesting turn. The reporter pointed out that the issue of compulsory quotas was not among the items in the conclusions. Orbán assumed that the reporter had concluded that the reason it was missing from the conclusion was a lack of consensus in the European Council. “Yes, you’re correct. I’ve been fighting for the last year and a half so that no item would ever appear in the ‘conclusions’ at the end of the negotiations of the prime ministers that would violate Hungarian sovereignty.” The implication is that the question of compulsory quotas was on the agenda but, thanks to Orbán’s strenuous efforts, no consensus was reached.

The European Council Summit in session

The European Council’s conclusions are public, so he could not ignore a crucial sentence: “The European Council welcomes the progress achieved so far on the reform of the Common European Asylum System and calls for further convergence towards an agreement which strikes the right balance between responsibility and solidarity and ensures resilience to future crises, in line with its June 2017 conclusions.” The Council will return to this point in December and “will seek to reach a consensus during the first half of 2018.”

Orbán in his interview claimed that during the session there was tremendous pressure on him “to compromise and agree to some kind of compulsory quota which might be part of a future general regulatory arrangement.” But he “managed to deflect this attempt.” Instead, however, of repeating his resolve to continue his fight in December, he simply said, “We will see.”

I have an additional reason to doubt that there was an extended and contentious debate over compulsory quotas. According to one of the diplomats present, the most important issue on the agenda was relations with Turkey. Those present spent altogether three hours on this one subject alone. It is hard to imagine that another highly-charged issue like compulsory quotas could be squeezed into the meeting, which had a very full agenda. It would be good to know exactly what happened, but I’m almost certain that no extended discussion of compulsory quotas took place at this particular summit.

October 28, 2017

Another European summit, with special attention to the Visegrád 4

The official word sent by the Hungarian government to foreign news agencies about the meeting of the Visegrád 4 prime ministers with President Jean-Claude Juncker over a lavish dinner, which included Jerusalem artichokes and foie gras, was that the meeting was a “success.” Viktor Orbán claimed that the V4 leaders presented a united front on every issue and succeeded in demonstrating to the EC president that the V4 is “a tight, effective, and successful alliance.” It is almost certain that, over and above the migrant issue, the “accelerating drift … toward authoritarianism” in some of the East European countries which most diplomats in Brussels consider “a more serious threat for the EU than Brexit” was also discussed. According to Bloomberg, the dinner “yielded a promise that the commission will seek to build an environment of consensus” between the Visegrád 4 countries and the rest of the European Union.

Source: Népszava / Photo: AFP/Dario Pignatelli

Viktor Orbán, who is capable of staging a fight even with a nonexistent foe, couldn’t go home empty-handed and simply say that the meeting was useful and that he, together with all the others, signed the closing document of the summit. Therefore, the Hungarian government media focused attention on a report by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) of the European Parliament, which would impose mandatory migrant quotas and strip non-complying member states of EU funding in an effort to revamp the present asylum law. The rapporteur of the report is Cecilia Wikström, a Swedish liberal member of parliament.

What is this new plan all about? It does demand a “permanent and automatic relocation mechanism without thresholds,” calculated on GDP and population size. Refugees with relatives in countries will be able to join them; others will be offered four countries on a rotating basis, from which they can choose one where their case will be decided. As Wikström explained, “it means if the person enters Greece, chooses to go to Hungary, God forbid, then that person is allocated to Hungary.” I’m sure that the committee members spent a great deal of time and effort on this report, but anyone who has been following the ups and downs of the refugee crisis in Europe knows that this plan is dead in the water, especially since the day after it passed Donald Tusk made clear that any and all distribution of the refugees must be voluntary.

The Hungarian government papers are full of stories about the limitless compulsory distribution of migrants, without explaining the status of a parliamentary committee report, which may or may not be approved by the European Parliament. And even if it sails through the plenary session, it must be approved by the European Council, that is, all the heads of governments of the member states, including Viktor Orbán. It was only HVG that pointed out that a committee report means little in the legislative process. Looking upon it as a weighty final decision is just a political ploy. So, Viktor Orbán’s talk about “the bullet already in the barrel,” which will force all countries to accept migrants without limit, merely serves his political agenda. He knows as well as anyone that the general drift of thinking in Europe has been moving away from compulsory quotas and toward effective border control and limited acceptance of bona fide refugees. The European Commission would still like all member countries to participate in the processing of the refugees and their distribution, but only on a voluntary basis.

The closing statement which Orbán signed urges the implementation of Turkey’s acceptance of ineligible migrants; it presses for the strengthening of the EU borders; it doubles efforts at the curbing of human trafficking; it supports easier transfer of information between member states; and, finally, it advocates financial assistance to Libya and other African countries. According to news reports, Viktor Orbán suggested setting up a common fund to assist Italy in the defense of its borders.

The domestic propaganda effort is concentrating on the Wikström report. Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman, was dispatched to the state radio where he assured listeners that “the Hungarian government intends to oppose [the suggestions of the report] by all means possible.” What “LIBE is doing is nothing other than what we call the Soros plan.”

Kinga Gál (Fidesz), one of the deputy chairpersons of LIBE, gave an interview to Magyar Idők in which she called the report a “European invitation to all the migrants of the world.” She added that she hopes that “the European Council will have a sense of responsibility and common sense” and will, if it ever comes to that, refuse to endorse this plan. The Hungarian government still has to struggle “to save a small slice of the country’s national sovereignty.” Orbán described the Wikström report as “the strongest attack against the sovereignty of the country” to date.” National unity would be needed, but “the opposition parties support the migrant policy of Brussels that is based on compulsory quotas,” a false claim, by the way.

What did Viktor Orbán have to say about the Visegrád 4-Juncker dinner? He came to the conclusion that the difference between East and West is “worrisome, almost hopeless” and that “these differences are not so much political in nature but are rooted in cultural differences.” Nonetheless, the meeting was useful because “we could tell Mr. Juncker that we would like to receive more respect for the citizens of the Central European states, including the Hungarians.” Mina Andreeva, spokeswoman of EC President Juncker, called the meeting “friendly and constructive.” As Népszava’s correspondent in Brussels put it, “the president of the European Commission offered compromise and consensus as the main course to the four guests.” Since they agreed to repeat the meetings in the future, I assume the offers were accepted.

Viktor Orbán gave no press conference to the four or five Hungarian reporters who were waiting for him both after the dinner and a day later, at the end of the summit. With his refusal to talk to the reporters, he broke with his past practice of showering reporters with a litany of complaints about the decisions reached or trying to convince them of his own importance during the negotiations. Perhaps his silence indicates a less belligerent stance as far as the European Union is concerned. In any case, his attacks at home this time were directed only against the European Parliament and not against the “Brussels” bureaucrats.

October 20, 2017

Fidesz and gender inequality

A fascinating article appeared yesterday in 24.hu about József Szájer’s voting habits in the EU parliament. István Ujhelyi, an MSZP member of the EU parliament, noticed that Szájer, who is one of the nine vice-chairmen of the European People’s Party (EPP), often refrains from voting, although he is the one who instructs members of EPP to vote for or against an issue. Szájer explained that he, as vice-chair of EPP, in order to avoid self-contradiction, refrains from voting when the Fidesz caucus within the EPP cannot support the delegation’s majority decision. Thus, from Szájer’s non-votes one gets a fair idea of how often Fidesz members stray from the majority opinion. The resulting count revealed that in the last two years there have been 58 occasions when Szájer had to resort to this practice, which means that for the EPP leadership the Fidesz caucus must be a royal pain in the neck. It’s no wonder that a few months ago there was talk of their expulsion from the delegation.

A careful study of those issues on which Fidesz went against its own delegation is by itself a fascinating undertaking. No one will be surprised to hear that many of the contrary votes were about issues connected to migration. But the Fidesz delegation also went against the majority opinion on anything related to Turkey. Fidesz members didn’t quite dare to vote against the resolution condemning the repressive measures introduced by President Erdoğan; instead, they consistently abstained on all issues related to Turkey. The same was true of any piece of legislation connected to the rights of NGOs.

József Szájer at work / MTI / Photo: László Beliczay

Given the Orbán government’s views on migration, its outright friendly relations with Turkey, and its antagonism toward NGOs, none of these “nay” votes or abstentions is surprising. What is startling, however, is the Fidesz MEPs’ consistent anti-women stance. Fidesz MEPs either vote against or abstain when gender equality is at stake. In April of this year they abstained when the European Parliament approved the Arena report on female poverty. They did the same when it was the question of the Kuneva report on domestic workers. They also abstained on accepting the Honeyball report on sexual exploitation and prostitution. All this hasn’t gone unnoticed, and István Ujhelyi learned that the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) will send a delegation to Hungary soon to learn more about the situation on the spot. A similar delegation visited Poland just lately, and therefore I assume that the trip to Hungary is not far off. I should mention that FEMM has only one Hungarian member, Jobbik’s Krisztina Morvai.

Here are some of the women-related issues on which Fidesz members voted “nay” or abstained: (1) supporting girls’ education in the EU, (2) the implementation of the principle of equal opportunity and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation, (3) the enforcement of gender equality in the work of the European Parliament, (4) strengthening gender equality and women’s rights in the digital age, (5) preventing and combating human trafficking and defending the victims, (6) the development of labor market conditions favorable to a balance between work and private life, (7) the promotion of gender equality in mental health and clinical research, (8) the Report on Equality between men and women in the European Union—2014-2016, and (9) the Report on EU subsidies for promoting gender equality. As you can see, they wouldn’t even support the fight against human trafficking or research on the mental health of women.

What emerges from this list is a consistent and deliberate government policy against anything that would promote gender equality. It is not just Viktor Orbán’s ambivalent feelings toward women in politics, as expressed a couple of years ago at his meeting with students. And it is certainly not the delicate nature of women that would make them unsuitable for political life in Hungary, as Orbán claimed at the time. It is a hard political decision. As long as Viktor Orbán and his ilk are in power in Hungary, the situation of Hungarian women will not improve. Mind you, as far as the number of women in politics is concerned, the situation wasn’t exactly rosy even before 2010. Their numbers in parliament have been hovering around 9-10%. Hungary is close to the bottom of a list of 189 countries comparing the percentage of women in the legislative process. It is among countries like Gambia, Samoa, Botswana, and Belize. Nothing to be proud of. But at the same time Hungarians, on the whole, share Viktor Orbán’s belief that the reason for the scarcity of women in parliament is their unsuitability for the profession.

Hungarian women don’t fare well in general. The European Institute for Gender Equality, an EU agency situated in Lithuania, published its latest report on gender equality in the European Union. Since 2005 three such reports were published, and the report noted that progress in this area has proceeded at a “snail’s pace” in general.

The report ranked all 28 states on an index score from one to 100 in terms of work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health. It also looked into the issue of violence. Sweden heads the list with an overall score of 82.6, followed by Denmark (76.8), Finland (73), and the Netherlands (72.9). At the bottom is Greece with a score of 50. And where is Hungary? Second to last with a score of 50.8. Over time scores increased in most member states, though some were stagnant (Czech Republic, Lithuania, Finland, Slovakia). There were, however, a few that managed to lose ground: Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Spain, and the UK. The 2017 interactive equality index is available online.

Hungary’s low scores were predictable, as was the fact that in the last few years Hungarian scores have decreased. The worst score Hungary received was in the political, economic, and social power category. Here are some figures: for women’s political power Hungary received a score of 14.3, while the EU average is 52.7. That put Hungary last on the list. The same is true of women’s social power (20.9). Hungary did somewhat better in the economic sphere, where the EU average is 39.5 and Hungary received a score of 22.1. That better score, however, didn’t make up for the very low scores in the other two categories, and thus Hungary ended up at the bottom of the list with an overall score of 18.7 as opposed to 48.5 for the 28 member states.

It is depressing to see Hungary at the bottom or very close to the bottom in comparative lists. It is especially jarring in light of the constant bragging of Fidesz politicians about the fantastic achievements of the country. I wonder when the people of Hungary will notice that something has gone very wrong and that a better future is not likely any time soon.

October 14, 2017

National consultation on the Soros Plan: Questions and infoboxes

On September 27 Magyar Idők, the flagship paper of the vast government media, released the text of the seven questions that will appear on the questionnaire to be distributed, to the tune of 6.5 billion forints, to approximately 8 million Hungarian citizens. The issue to which the Orbán government is seeking reactions is the so-called Soros Plan. The paper explained that this “national consultation” will be different from earlier ones because after each question there will be an “infobox” containing background information.

Source: abouthungary.hu

The background information comes largely from two essays George Soros published in 2015 and 2016 on the subject. The first one, titled “Rebuilding the Asylum System,” appeared in Project Syndicate, and the second, “This is Europe’s last chance to fix its refugee policy,” was published in Foreign Policy. These two sources are readily available. For a full appreciation of the depth of the mendacity committed by the Orbán government when compiling this “national consultation” I highly recommend taking a look at these articles.

Here you can read the complete text of the questionnaire, including the content of the infoboxes. To each point of the alleged Soros Plan the respondent will be asked whether he supports that idea.

Here is the text. The translation is my own. I tried to track down the quotations in the infoboxes, but there were a couple of instances where I couldn’t locate them in their original English version. In these cases I had to resort to translating the text from Hungarian.

  1. George Soros wants to persuade Brussels to resettle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East onto the territory of the European Union, including Hungary.
  • Infobox: Soros for years has been working to change Europe and European society. He wants to achieve his goal through the resettlement of masses of people from other civilizations. At the time of the introduction of his plan he stated that “the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” (Project Syndicate 2015.09.26). The European Parliament shares the same view. The organization supported resettlement programs and the creation of migration routes (2015/2342 [INI]).
  1. George Soros, together with the officials in Brussels, also wants to achieve the dismantlement of the fences and the opening of borders to the migrants.
  • Infobox: Well-guarded borders provide an effective defense against illegal immigration. It is no coincidence that one of the important goals of the Soros Plan is the dismantlement of the fences. As the billionaire put it, “the goal of our plan is the protection of the refugees and national borders are barriers” (Bloomberg Business 2015.10.30). Certain Brussels officials also attacked the closing of the borders. In June of this year, the Commissioner for Migration stated that “it is not a good solution if EU Member States erect fences at the external borders.”
  1. One part of the Soros Plan is the compulsory distribution by Brussels of immigrants who conglomerated in Western Europe, especially in respect to the East European countries. Hungary would have to take part in this.
  • Infobox: George Soros wrote the following about the distribution of immigrants: “If they do not become permanent and mandatory features of a common EU asylum system, it will fall apart” (Financial Times 2015.07.26). In 2015, a decision was taken in Brussels that, as a first step, Hungary should accept 1,294 immigrants. In 2016, the European Commission proposed the dispersion of an unlimited number of immigrants (IP/16/1620). The EU Asylum and Migration Agency, in line with the proposal of George Soros, has been weakening the national competence on immigration. Once the entry quotas are in place, Hungarians will no longer have a say about whom they will live with in the future.
  1. According to the Soros Plan, Brussels should force all EU Member States, including Hungary, to pay each immigrant HUF 9 million in welfare payments.
  • Infobox: According to Soros, significant amounts should be spent on the immigrants. “The EU should provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs—and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states” (Project Syndicate 2015.09.26). According to the billionaire, this sum should be covered by taking out loans. Soros believes that in order to repay the loans taxes should be raised. The billionaire would raise VAT and taxes on gasoline and tourism. Soros also proposed, while visiting Brussels last year, that the EU should reduce the agricultural and cohesion support for the countries of Central Europe in order to solve the problem of the migration crisis.
  1. Another goal of George Soros is to make sure that migrants receive milder sentences for crimes they commit.
  • Infobox: George Soros is supporting organizations that assist immigration and defend immigrants who commit crimes. One such organization is the Helsinki Commission, which argued that “the use of serious sanctions in the case of illegal border crossing is troubling.” Another Soros organization, Amnesty International, repeatedly demanded the release of Ahmed H., who attacked Hungarian policemen guarding the border and therefore was convicted. Amnesty would want the Hungarian state to pay damages.
  1. The aim of the Soros Plan is to de-emphasize the languages and cultures of the European countries in order to achieve faster integration of the illegal immigrants.
  • Infobox: George Soros, in his book Open Society, wrote that “the decline of the authority of nation states is a welcome development.” Soros has also talked about “not abandoning our conviction that migration is good for Europe.” He called on NGOs and companies to become immigration sponsors. He also said that the continent must finally take active steps toward developing open societies. In some European countries and in multinational companies European and Christian symbols are voluntarily removed nowadays so that they do not harm the sensitivity of immigrants.
  1. It is also part of the Soros Plan to initiate political attacks against those countries that oppose immigration and to severely punish them.
  • Infobox: The main obstacles to the implementation of the Soros Plan are the governments that stand up for national independence and take measures against illegal migrants. Today, George Soros is unable to bring millions of immigrants to Europe because there are some governments that raise their voices against it. When the Hungarian government complies with the Schengen Agreement, when it protects the borders and builds a fence, it hampers the implementation of the Soros Plan. Soros and several Brussels decision-makers are therefore attacking our country. The European Commission proposes that Member States that do not participate in the resettlement program pay a fine of 78 million forints for each immigrant [they refuse] (2016/0133 COD). A Hungarian employee works decades for that amount of money.
October 1, 2017