Horst Seehofer, minister president of Bavaria and the leader of Christian Social Union, has been pursuing an independent foreign policy of sorts lately. In December he paid a visit to Moscow where he met Vladimir Putin, a trip he is planning to repeat in the near future. His visit to Hungary yesterday was interpreted as a sign of Seehofer’s attempt to gain allies in his fight against Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. Politicians in his own party were uneasy about this trip. They were especially puzzled why the minister president decided to pay a visit to Budapest only three days before an important European summit dealing with the refugee crisis. One might add that not all Seehofer’s colleagues are happy with what has been an expensive Bavarian-Hungarian friendship. Some time back Seehofer championed establishing a subsidiary of the state-owned Bayerische Landesbank in Hungary. It flopped and was eventually purchased by the Hungarian state at a loss of two billion euros to Bavaria.
Der Spiegel was especially critical of Seehofer’s trip to Budapest, which it called “a mini-summit” against the European solution to the crisis. But almost all the German papers criticized his overly friendly relationship with Orbán, who was described by Die Zeit as “the chief ideologist of national closure.” Liberal papers especially considered the trip an outright provocation of Angela Merkel. They described Seehofer as two-faced. He keeps repeating that he and Merkel are in constant touch, but when it comes to supporting Merkel’s refugee strategy he refuses to answer questions concerning the issue.
It seems, however, that the assumption that Seehofer and Orbán are co-conspirators was misplaced. In fact, Seehofer went to Hungary to have a heart to heart with Orbán. Or at least this is what we learned from an interview with Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. The message he carried to Orbán was that “the essence of Europe is compromise” and that “if we want a European solution [he] must also move away from [his] current position.” That may mean that the EPP is no longer ready to shield Viktor Orbán from well-deserved criticism.
The press conference that followed the conversation between Seehofer and Orbán confirmed that Seehofer delivered Berlin’s message. Both men, as Index put it, “ swore allegiance to Angela Merkel.” Orbán said practically nothing about the meeting itself except for some of his ill-phrased comments that are inappropriate and embarrassing. For example: “When two men get together, everybody is curious what their opinion is of the lady who is not present. But we know that this is man’s fate.” Otherwise, Orbán in his remarks didn’t show much inclination to follow the policies of Angela Merkel vis-à-vis Turkey, except to say that Hungary is willing to give money for the upkeep of the refugees. However, when it comes to moving Syrians out of Turkey and granting visa exemption to Turkish citizens, Orbán’s solidarity with Turkey, which he considers a strategic ally, seems to be totally absent. I wonder what President Erdoğan will think of his friend’s unyielding posture toward his country.
Seehofer was equally tight-mouthed, but he wished “with all his heart” that Merkel will succeed at the summit on Monday where she is planning to convince the prime ministers of the member states to accept as many refugees as possible. Hungarian observers noticed disappointment in Orbán’s demeanor because it seems that he lost his most influential ally in the Bavarian minister president. Orbán’s only remaining ally is Robert Fico, who is in the middle of a national election campaign.
Although Seehofer said little at the press conference, what he said in a speech delivered at the Andrássy Universität, a German-language university in Budapest, was, in my opinion, very important. He talked about the rule of law as a prerequisite of European solidarity. He called on everybody to stop “the erosion of law” in Europe. One cannot help thinking that he was referring to Hungary itself or perhaps Poland because I cannot think of any other European country that has serious problems as far as the rule of law is concerned.
After these introductory remarks he returned to the question of solidarity, the absolute necessity of European integration, and the continent’s low birthrate which, since 1946, reduced its population to only 7% of the world’s. The countries of Europe, he maintained, can achieve their individual interests only through a common policy. When it comes to important issues the European Union actually needs more integration, not less.
Seehofer went against Orbán not only on the question of integration but also on the treatment of the refugees. Bavaria’s immigration policy is built on three pillars, he said: humanity, integration of those who are deemed to be true refugees, and limits on immigration. In the past 25 years Bavaria has taken in two million immigrants. The integration of these people has been a great success.
He concluded by saying a few nice words about Hungary’s economic recovery and its generosity in 1989 when the country opened its border with Austria to the East German refugees.
Seehofer’s speech was followed by László Kövér’s harangue against the refugees, against immigrants in general, and against integration. According to him, “today the national, religious, family, and sexual identity of the European people is under attack.” If artificial European identity devoid of national consciousness materializes, it would be as unrealistic as the artificial Soviet or Yugoslav identity. It could be maintained only through force, relative well-being, and geopolitical interest which can collapse once force no longer can be sustained, the welfare state ceases to exist, or global interests change.” He went on and on in this vein. His tirade was dutifully reported at length in the far-right Magyar Hírlap, which found his message much more palatable than Seehofer’s. I wonder what Seehofer, who is a very conservative man, must have thought of Kövér’s speech, since it went against everything that European politicians west of Hungary think about the world.
All in all, I don’t think Orbán is a happy man today, especially since his fence, which he is planning to extend along the Romanian-Hungarian border soon, has turned out to be porous. Daily at least fifty people break through the “impenetrable” fence, which was supposed to save Hungary from the bandits who want to rape Hungarian women, from the migrants who can no longer be shipped off to the Croatian or the Austrian border. One temporary shelter after the next is being built and Orbán, I think, will soon enough have to ask for help from his enemies in Brussels.