Tag Archives: Jean-Claude Juncker

Viktor Orbán’s first day in Brussels without his British prop

Today, after a meeting of the European Council sans David Cameron, several European leaders gave press conferences, starting with President Jean-Claude Juncker. From his brief summary of the meeting, we learned that there had been unanimity on two important issues.

First, there will be no internal à la carte market. “Those who have access have to implement all four freedoms without exceptions and nuances”: the free movement of goods, the free movement of services and freedom of establishment, the free movement of persons (and citizenship), including free movement of workers, and the free movement of capital.

The second point was that while the European Union does need reforms, they can be neither additional nor contrary to what has already been decided. What he has in mind is the strategic agenda of the European Council and the ten priorities the European Commission declared earlier. Here I will mention only four of these priorities that are not at all to the liking of the Visegrád 4 or countries that sympathize with the group: (1) a deeper and fairer internal market, (2) a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union, (3) an energy union, and (4) a common European agenda on migration. From the Hungarian point of view, perhaps the most significant announcement by Juncker was that “it is about speeding up reforms, not about adding reforms to already existing reforms.”

Viktor Orbán also gave an “international press conference,” as the Hungarian media reported the event. Normally, after an ordinary summit, there are only a couple of Hungarian media outlets that are interested in Orbán’s reactions, but this time the prime minister’s press conference was conducted in English and with a larger group of journalists.

The Associated Press’s short summary concentrated on “personnel changes,” which without additional background information didn’t make much sense. In order to have a better understanding of what Orbán was talking about, we must interpret his words in light of Jarosław Kaczyński’s demand for the resignation of Jean-Claude Juncker and other EU officials a few days ago. Orbán, who talks so much about the unity of the Visegrád 4 countries, doesn’t seem to be ready to support the Polish leader’s attack on Juncker and the Commission, at least at this time. The Hungarian prime minister thinks that “time, analysis, thought and proposals are needed” before such changes are discussed. In his opinion, “it would be cheap and not at all gallant in these circumstances to suddenly attack any leader of the Commission or any EU institution.” In addition, Orbán doesn’t stand by Kaczyński on at least two other issues. Kaczyński severely criticized Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, while Orbán praised him. Orbán also rejected, for the time being, the Polish politician’s call for a rewriting of the EU constitution.

Viktor Orbán at his press conference / AP Photo

Viktor Orbán at his press conference / AP Photo

Hungarian summaries of the same press conference are naturally a great deal more detailed and therefore more enlightening when it comes to an analysis of Viktor Orbán’s current thinking on the situation in which he finds himself. Here I will concentrate on two of Orbán’s priorities.

The first is his hope that future negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom will be conducted not by the European Commission but by the European Council. Even if the European Parliament and the Commission were willing to agree to such an arrangement, which I very much doubt, the complexity of these negotiations precludes such an arrangement.

Orbán’s second priority is the introduction of an entirely new set of what he calls “reforms.” He, as opposed to most European politicians, has a different notion of what constitutes “reform.” Instead of the European agenda that aims at deepening integration, he would like to see a loosening of ties among member states. During the press conference, Orbán repeated several times a Hungarian saying, allegedly first uttered by Ferenc Deák, the architect of the 1867 Compromise with the Crown who was famous for his figures of speech. Deák, after the 1848-1849 revolution, likened the absolutist administration to a hussar’s dolman which was buttoned incorrectly and which could be fixed only if the hussar unbuttoned all the buttons and started anew. In plain language, the whole structure of the European Union is wrong and it is time to undo everything and begin again from scratch. But, as we learned from Juncker, this is not what the majority of the European Council has in mind. In sum, I don’t believe that either of Orbán’s two important goals has the slightest chance of being accepted.

There is one issue, however, on which he fully supports Juncker’s position. As far as he is concerned, there can be no question of Great Britain limiting the immigration of citizens of the European Union. In his opinion, the East European countries went beyond what would have been a reasonable compromise when in February they accepted Cameron’s very tough demands on European citizens working in the United Kingdom. But now there can be no concession on this issue. If Great Britain wants to enjoy certain trading privileges with the European Union, its government must allow EU citizens to live and work there.

Restricting immigration from Europe, especially from its eastern part, has been a topic of long-standing political debate in the United Kingdom. Theresa May, the home secretary who has a chance of becoming David Cameron’s successor, has been talking about limitations for a number of years. Both Boris Johnson and Theresa May want to close the door on unskilled labor from Europe without Britain’s losing access to the single market. They interpret the EU’s free-movement principle as the freedom to move to a specific job rather than to cross borders to look for work. And there is no question, the pro-exit Conservatives are not talking about Middle Eastern refugees here. They decry the fact that “a third of Portugal’s qualified nurses had migrated, 20% of Czech medical graduates were leaving once qualified, and nearly 500 doctors were leaving Bulgaria every year.” The Brexit leaders could talk about Hungary as well, which saw about 500,000 people leave for Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, and other countries in the West.

Viktor Orbán did touch on immigration to the British Isles as one of the causes of the anti-European sentiment that has spread across England and Wales, but he maintained that “in British thinking migrants coming from outside of Europe and the employees arriving from the European Union are conflated, the result of which the voters felt that they didn’t get satisfactory answers from the European Union for their questions.” British Conservative politicians’ opinions on the subject, going back at least a year if not longer, leave no doubt that they were not been concerned with the refugees but with those EU citizens already in the country. The person who does conflate the two is Viktor Orbán. Last Friday he, who only a few days earlier had campaigned for David Cameron, manifested a certain glee in blaming EU’s refugee crisis for Brexit. I wonder how he will feel when one of the key sticking points in the U.K.-EU negotiations turns out to be East European immigration to Great Britain.

Meanwhile, I understand that the number of Hungarians planning to make the journey to the United Kingdom has grown enormously since the British exit vote. The hope is that anybody who arrives in Great Britain while the country is still part of the EU will be safe, but who knows what will happen later.

June 29, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s democracy: Nationalism, pure and simple

We should have gotten accustomed to the fact that by now that news about Hungary and its prime minister is an everyday occurrence. Just today I encountered well over 100 articles about Viktor Orbán in newspapers as well as on internet news sites, from Azerbaijan to Sweden. Most of the articles I came across were from Germany where Viktor Orbán’s interview with Kai Diekmann, the publisher of Bild, created quite a stir.

Kai Diekmann and Viktor Orbán / Business Insider

Kai Diekmann and Viktor Orbán / Business Insider

From Orbán’s awkward and occasionally wrong word usage, I assume that the interview was conducted in English, with not the best results. For example, the sentence that is most often commented on in the German press is: “Today, the voices coming from Berlin are coarse, rough, and aggressive.”

Orbán has never been known for his diplomatic skills, and since he has achieved a certain, in my opinion dubious, fame in Europe he thinks he can say practically anything with impunity. For example, when Diekmann quoted Jean-Claude Juncker’s claim that “history will prove Ms. Merkel right,” Orbán’s answer was rude and demeaning. He said, “I think the course of history will not be bothered by Mr. Juncker…. Let us see how history one day will judge Chancellor Merkel without Mr. Juncker’s help.”

The German people will read with delight Viktor Orbán’s opinion that “we owe nothing to Germany, and the Germans owe nothing to us. Germany has supported us in becoming a member of the EU. We are grateful for that. But then Hungary has opened its market for all EU states. Everybody has profited from that. So we are square.” When asked about Hungary’s relations with “the controversial Polish government,” Orbán answered: “I can only say that the peoples of Central Europe and Hungary are a community in fate, to the death. Many of us would spill our blood for Poland any time. And vice versa: in an emergency, many Polish people would give his life to protect Hungarians. This has happened more than once over the course of history.”

Two days ago I brought up my puzzlement over a sentence that Viktor Orbán uttered at the quickly organized press conference at which he announced his decision to hold a referendum on the compulsory refugee quotas. He said at that time that voting against this question would be a proof of loyalty to the country. “Because how could someone be loyal as long as others decide the most important questions?” I added that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to follow Orbán’s logic, I couldn’t see the connection between loyalty and the matter on hand. This interview sheds some light on the subject. Orbán has a very strange definition of “the basic principle of democracy,” which “in the end is loyalty to the nation.” What an incredible, unfathomable statement. Democracy according to this confused man equals nationalism.

At this point I would like to interject a quotation I jotted down from Ian Kershaw’s masterful two-volume biography of Hitler, which I’m in the middle of reading. These lines are from the first volume, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris:

It was more than anything else the ways nationalism had developed in late nineteenth-century Germany that provided the set of ideas that, if often in distorted–even perverted–form, offered the potential for Nazism’s post-war appeal…. Crucial to the character of German nationalism was the pervasive sense … of incomplete unity, of persistent, even widening division and conflict within the nation. What, in the changed conditions after the war, Hitler was able most signally to exploit was the belief that pluralism was somehow unnatural and unhealthy in society, that it was a sign of weakness, and that internal division and disharmony could be suppressed and eliminated, to be replaced by the unity of a national community. (p. 136)

Compare that with Viktor Orbán’s speech at a Fidesz picnic in September 2009 in Kötcse:

Today it is realistically conceivable that in the coming fifteen-twenty years, Hungarian politics should be determined not by the dualistic field of force bringing with it never conclusive and divisive value debates, which quite unnecessarily generate social problems. Instead, a great governing party comes in place, a central field of force, which will be able to articulate the national issues and to stand for these policies as a natural course of things to be taken for granted without the constantly ongoing wrangling.

In brief, differences of opinion, any kind of political division, are signs of weakness in Orbán’s worldview just as the German variety of nationalism feared ethnic and religious differences. So, it is no wonder that Orbán called his regime the “System of National Cooperation.” If you don’t cooperate, you are not part of this nation. Fidesz and its supporters defend the national interest so if someone criticizes Orbán’s policies, this person is the enemy of the nation. As we know, this kind of striving for national unity usually ends in disaster.

By defending the nation Orbán claims to be defending democracy. When Diekmann pressed him on his policies, which may lead to the division of Europe, Orbán’s answer was that “the quota is reframing the ethnic, cultural and religious profile of Hungary and Europe. I have not decided this way against Europe, but for protecting European democracy.”

From these statements we learn that Orbán is defending not democracy but nationalism. At least this time he told the truth.

February 26, 2016

Viktor Orbán: Hungary is at war

Viktor Orbán is in his element. At last we are at war with ISIS. François Hollande said so, and a few hours later French planes bombed important targets in ISIS-held Raqqa in northern Syria. And since in Viktor Orbán’s interpretation it was not only France that was attacked but the whole European Union and thus also Hungary, the prime minister could triumphantly announce that Hungary is also at war. That pronouncement must have buoyed Orbán, who feels best when he imagines himself in a warlike situation.

Right after the terrorist attack in Paris Orbán cancelled a scheduled trip to Montenegro. Instead, he decided to stay at home and deliver a speech today in the Hungarian parliament that he promised would be tempered given the tragic events that took place in Paris on Friday night. Well, the speech didn’t turn out to be low-keyed. On the contrary, most commentators consider it his most brutal attack against the asylum seekers. Or, as András Jámbor of kettosmerce.hu said,”Orbán is waging war not against the terrorists but the refugees.” The speech that was posted with record speed on the prime minister’s website has practically nothing to do with the terrorist attack in Paris or its victims. After announcing that “the European Union was attacked and we are also in danger,” he immediately launched into outlining the nature of this danger. It is not that one day some tourist-filled sections of Budapest will suffer the same fate as Paris. Rather, the real danger is allowing asylum seekers into Europe.

In the speech Orbán justified his decision to close Hungary’s borders in light of the French terrorist attack and criticized the politicians of the European Union who didn’t listen to him. Instead of coming up with practical solutions, “the leaders of some countries to this day are trying to contrive ways of importing masses of immigrants” into Europe. In Brussels the politicians still insist that immigration is “a good thing” while there is more and more proof every day that it is “a bad thing.” Brussels sends “invitations to the migrants” instead of sending the honest message that life here is not at all what they expect.

What kinds of dangers does Europe face with the arrival of these asylum seekers? First, their presence increases the danger of terror attacks, “just as we learned Friday night.” Thus, way before we know much about the people who committed the crime, Orbán draws a direct correlation between the current flow of refugees and the terrorist attack in Paris. Second, this mass migration adds to “the growth of criminal activities” in countries with large immigrant populations. Statistics and opinions vary on that score, but as far as the United States is concerned, immigrants commit fewer crimes than their American-born counterparts. Studies in the United Kingdom showed that the presence of immigrants made no appreciable difference in crime statistics. However, it is true that in some other countries this is not the case. By this evening, Orbán was frightening his listeners on state television with the specter of rape that is awaiting Hungarian women if immigrants are allowed to settle in the country. Third, immigration poses a danger to “our culture, life style, customs and traditions.”

Among Orbán’s objections to immigration from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria there is a curious item that needs further elucidation. After calling attention to the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive without identification and “without knowing what they want,” he said: “They are coming from territories where military action is going on. Such a thing has never happened before. We allow, nay transport, into Europe people from places that are at war with the European Union.” The only way I can interpret these sentences is that he considers the asylum seekers active belligerents who, instead of being given shelter, should be put into prisoner-of-war camps. Certainly a unique interpretation of the situation.

The next item he addressed was the quota system. As we know, the Hungarian government is dead against any quotas. Viktor Orbán has made that eminently clear. Critics of Orbán’s steadfast refusal to admit even one asylum seeker consider his stance dangerous because the majority of the member states might punish Hungary by excluding it from the Schengen zone, with all the adverse consequences of such a move. Orbán himself sees the danger of this possibility, but he arrives at this conclusion in a circuitous way. He argues that compulsory quotas will not “decrease the pressure of immigration” but will instead increase it. “And if it goes on much longer, this pressure will result in the end of the Schengen system and borders will be reintroduced within the Union.” So, it is not his refusal to cooperate that might lead to the breakup of the Schengen zone but the pressure the immigrants put on the member states.

Finally, Orbán announced that there is no use tinkering with the present political system of the Union. “There is a need for a new European political system.” When it came to specific suggestions, Orbán was unable to provide any practical solutions to the ills of the current setup. Yes, we must defend the borders, culture, and economic interests of the European Union. That’s all the wisdom he could offer. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any ideas about what to do with the almost one million people who are already within the European Union.

Lajos Kósa: "How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?"

Lajos Kósa: “How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?”

Some of the most outlandish comments by Viktor Orbán and Lajos Kósa, the newly elected leader of the Fidesz caucus, came during the discussion period after the speech. For example, Orbán compared dismantling nation states to Nazism. To quote him verbatim: “Yes, we need intellectual originality. This is true. But racial theory and Stalinism came from the madness of European intellectuals. Today the undoing of the nation states, which is the current mad and dangerous idea [of intellectuals], is similar to national socialism or communism.”

Kósa is known for his outrageous statements, some of which have had outsize consequences. It’s enough to remember his irresponsible words on the state of the Hungarian economy during the summer of 2010 when he managed to create a mini financial crisis in the international markets. This time he called upon all European Union leaders to resign. “How many dead people do we need for Juncker to resign,” he asked. And if that were not enough, he also suggested Greece’s expulsion from the Union. I have the feeling that in this new setup it will be Kósa who says what Orbán either can’t or doesn’t want to say.

At the moment Orbán is riding high. The question is for how long.

Hungary was not an observer at the mini-summit. Orbán signed on the dotted line

Well, the emergency mini-summit is over. It was convened to take the first practical steps toward regulating and slowing the migrant flow from Turkey to Greece and from there to Germany and beyond. Hungary was one of the countries that were invited to discuss and approve a 17-point plan prepared by the staffs of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany.

We know from a press release of the European Commission that the leaders who gathered at the mini-summit “agreed on [the] 17-point plan of action” they had received ahead of time. The press release explicitly states that “today, leaders representing Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia met in Brussels at the Commission’s Berlaymont Headquarters and agreed to improve cooperation and step up consultation between the countries along the route and decided on pragmatic operational measures that can be implemented as of tomorrow to tackle the refugee crisis in the region.”

Yes, you read it right. Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, who only a few hours earlier announced that he was there only as an observer, agreed to the terms of the document. Yesterday I quoted his humorous exchange with foreign journalists about his so-called observer status, but in fact Orbán was there as the prime minister of a country very much involved in the refugee crisis, not as an observer. According to the Hungarian media, however, Orbán refused to take part in the discussions and declined Juncker’s invitation to express his opinion on matters under discussion. Yet he signed.

It is hard to tell whether Orbán’s decision to act as if he were merely an onlooker was decided way before the meeting or whether it was a sudden inspiration prompted by the question from an unnamed journalist: “Why are you here?” To which Orbán’s first response was “It’s a good question…” In any case, the first session of the meeting ended sometime around 6:00 p.m., and two and a half hours later the following announcement was posted on the prime minister’s office website:

The Western Balkans migration route no longer directly affects Hungary, and it is therefore now attending the summit on this purely as an observer, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said upon arriving at the meeting on Sunday.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the number one reason for the crisis is that some countries in the European Union and the Schengen Area are unable or unwilling to keep their word. Mr. Orbán further said that he had suggested on several occasions that if Greece is unable to protect its borders, the European Union should do so in a joint effort, “but no one listened to us.”

Since then MTI reported only one relevant sentence about the fact that the Hungarian government wants, it seems, to keep secret as long as possible: that Hungary, the so-called observer, signed the agreement and within 24 hours will have to move into high gear. This MTI report, which appeared right after the marathon meeting ended at 1:06 a.m., carried the headline “Migration Summit–Merkel: The migration crisis is one of Europe’s greatest trials.” The short summary of what Merkel and Juncker had to say after the meeting was followed by this sentence: “At the summit the participating countries accepted a 17-point action plan in the interest of handling the migrant crisis.” An hour later there was a much longer and more detailed summary of the outcome of the meeting, but the fact that all countries present signed the agreement again received only one sentence, this time hidden in the middle of a longish text.

What followed is also interesting. This morning at 10:00 the prime minister’s office told MTI that “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made clear at the summit of the Western Balkan leaders held in Brussels on Sunday that Hungary is ready to assist the states that lie along the migrant route with equipment and technical devices.” Bertalan Havasi, head of the press department, repeated that Hungary, in accord with the decision of the summit, will nominate a coordinator who will be in touch with countries affected by the migrant crisis. He emphasized, however, that Viktor Orbán stated at the summit that Hungary will keep the so-called green border closed. Hungary will accept only those asylum seekers who are entitled to cross the Schengen borders according to EU rules.

So, this seems to be the latest communication trick. Orbán Viktor was there only as an observer and the country will only assist with technical devices, whatever this means. But let’s look at the agreement that Viktor Orbán signed, according to the press release of the European Commission. My question is how Hungary can possibly restrict its participation to technical advice and devices on the basis of this document.

leaders meeting

Leaders’ Statement

 At the invitation of the President of the European Commission, the Heads of State or Government of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia, in the presence of the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Council, the current and incoming Presidencies of the Council of the EU as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), agreed the following statement:

“The unprecedented flow of refugees and migrants along the Eastern Mediterranean-Western Balkans route is a challenge that will not be solved through national actions alone. Only a determined, collective cross-border approach in a European spirit, based on solidarity, responsibility, and pragmatic cooperation between national, regional and local authorities can succeed. Unilateral action may trigger a chain reaction. Countries affected should therefore talk to each other. Neighbours should work together along the route, as well as upstream with countries such as Turkey, as host to the largest number of refugees. This is the only way to restore stability to the management of migration in the region, ease the pressure on the over-stretched capacity of the countries most affected, and to slow down the flows.

All countries have responsibilities and obligations under international law, in particular the Geneva Convention, and EU Member States have to fully respect EU law. Refugees need to be treated in a humane manner along the length of the Western Balkans route to avoid a humanitarian tragedy in Europe. Migrants who are not in need of international protection should be swiftly returned to their countries of origin.

We welcome the readiness of the European Commission, the UNHCR, Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), in accordance with their respective mandates, to support us in the swift implementation of the following operational measures as of Monday:

Permanent exchange of information and effective cooperation

1/ We will nominate contact points reporting directly to us to facilitate the exchange of information and coordination; we will nominate these contact points within 24 hours to allow daily exchanges and coordination to begin immediately to achieve the gradual, controlled and orderly movement of persons along the Western Balkans route;
2/ We will work with the European Commission to make use of all tools available at European and international level, including financial assistance, based on joint needs assessments to be launched within 24 hours; immediate efforts should be focused on the provision of temporary shelter and support for all arrivals as well as on organising swift and effective returns of migrants not in need of international protection.

Limiting Secondary Movements

3/ Under the current circumstances, we will discourage the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region. A policy of waving through refugees without informing a neighbouring country is not acceptable. This should apply to all countries along the route.

Supporting refugees and providing shelter and rest 

4/ We commit to increasing the capacity of our countries to provide temporary shelter, rest, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need. Where these fall short, we commit to make our needs clear to the European Commission and, where appropriate, to trigger the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Sufficient temporary accommodation should then be ensured along the Western Balkans route. We commit to immediately exchange information about our capacity to provide shelter to ensure its optimal shared and coordinated use, where requested;

5/ We welcome Greece’s intention to increase reception capacity to 30.000 places by the end of the year and commit to supporting Greece and UNHCR to provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20.000 more. Financial support for Greece and the UNHCR is expected. This is an important precondition to make the emergency relocation system work;

6/ We will work with the UNHCR who has committed to support our efforts in improving our capacities. An additional capacity of 50.000 would allow for a better and more predictable management of the flow. We request that the UNHCR support be strengthened immediately in particular as regards reception capacity and the provision of humanitarian support. We will work with EASO on an exchange of information in this regard;

7/ We will engage in immediate operational contacts with International Financial Institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Development Bank of the Council of Europe which are ready to support financially efforts to provide shelter of the countries willing to make use of these resources. We commit to engaging with these International Financial Institutions to act in a coordinated manner. We welcome the readiness of the European Commission to call a coordination meeting with these International Financial Institutions within a week.

Managing the migration flows together 

8/ We will ensure a full capacity to register arrivals, with maximum use of biometric data, notably fingerprints; this is vital in particular at the point of first entry into the EU. Registration does not replace the obligation for EU Member States of mandatory registration in line with the common European asylum system rules;

9/ We will immediately exchange information via the contact points on the size and movement of flows through our countries, in particular the number of refugees and migrants belonging to vulnerable groups, and where requested on all arriving refugees and migrants on our territories;

10/ We will work with EU agencies in particular Frontex and EASO to swiftly put in place this exchange of information; these EU agencies are invited to provide technical assistance in this endeavour and to advise on the information to be exchanged and on the frequency of exchanges;

11/ We commit to step up our national and coordinated efforts to swiftly return migrants not in need of international protection in full respect of their dignity and human rights. This is vital in particular at the point of first entry into the EU. Frontex and EASO are invited to provide technical assistance;

12/ We will work with the European Commission and Frontex to step up practical cooperation on readmission with third countries; cooperation will be intensified with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in particular in the area of returns. We call for full implementation of the existing readmission agreements. We invite the European Commission to start working on readmission agreements with relevant countries with which such agreements are not yet in place.

Border Management 

13/ We commit to immediately increase our efforts to manage and regain control of our borders and increase the coordination of our actions relating to border management. This will include our strong support to the following measures to be decided and agreed in the relevant institutions and in accordance with the relevant procedures:

  • Working closely with Turkey to finalise and implement the EU-Turkey Action Plan;
  • Making full use of the potential of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the visa liberalisation roadmap;
  • Upscaling the Poseidon Sea Joint Operation in Greece, in particular Frontex’s presence in the Aegean Sea, and strengthening significantly Frontex support to Greece in registering and fingerprinting activities;
  • Reinforcing Frontex support at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey;
  • Immediate bilateral border-related confidence-building measures, in particular the strengthening of border cooperation, between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia;
  • Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania will strengthen the management of the external land border. Frontex should assist Greece in the registration of refugees and migrants who have not yet been registered in the country;
  • Increased UNHCR engagement at the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia;
  • Working together with Frontex to monitor border crossings and support registration at Croatian-Serbian border crossing points;
  • Strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network with intensified reporting from all participants;
  • The deployment in Slovenia within a week of 400 police officers and essential equipment through bilateral support;

Where appropriate, countries will make use of the Rapid Border Intervention Team (RABIT) mechanism, which should be duly equipped;

14/ We reconfirm the principle that a country may refuse entry to third country nationals who, when presenting themselves at border crossing points, do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection (in line with international and EU refugee law, subject to a prior non-refoulement and proportionality check).

Tackling smuggling and trafficking 

15/ We commit to enhance police and judicial cooperation and to step up actions against migrant smuggling and trafficking of human beings. We call on Europol, Frontex and Interpol to support Western Balkans route-wide operations to combat people smuggling.

Information on the rights and obligations of refugees and migrants 

16/ In order to discourage perilous journeys and recourse to smugglers, we commit to make use of all available communication tools to inform refugees and migrants about existing rules, as well as about their rights and obligations, notably on the consequences of a refusal to be registered, fingerprinted and of a refusal to seek protection where they are. We call on the UNHCR to support national authorities in this regard.

Monitoring 

17/ We invite the European Commission to monitor the implementation of these commitments on a weekly basis, in coordination with the national contact points.”

Viktor Orbán reveals himself to be a racist

The Hungarian media, as usual, are split when it comes to evaluating Jean-Claude Junker’s state of the union address. Those on the left consider it a very tough speech with pointed messages to Viktor Orbán. After all, he condemned the Orbán government even though he didn’t explicitly mention Hungary, but everybody knows about the appalling conditions the asylum seekers have to endure once they cross into Hungary. He promised to look into the fate of the money given to member states that may not have been used for its intended purpose. He stressed that giving assistance to the asylum seekers is a humanitarian and not a religious question. He warned EU member countries to obey EU law, which includes offering asylum to those who are eligible for refugee status. As for the defense of EU borders, Juncker said that the answer lies in a joint effort at border defense. Juncker announced the introduction of the quota system. Moreover, he indicated that, if necessary, the European Commission has the means to force reluctant member states to comply with the directives of the European Union.

At the moment it is impossible to predict the final outcome of the struggle between “national egotism” and “Europe,” although Juncker optimistically predicted that the former “will be defeated in this migration crisis.” Still, he had to admit that at present “there is neither Europe nor Union.” Europe in this context means “European values” and Union, “solidarity.”

Juncker avoided any reference to “Christian values.” By contrast, one of Viktor Orbán’s arguments against accepting refugees from the Middle East is their non-Christian religious background. Slovak and Hungarian attitudes are very similar in this respect. Robert Fico announced that his country is willing to accept 250 migrants, but they must be Christians. The Hungarian government, which incessantly talks about “Christian Europe,” wasn’t that blatant until yesterday. Zoltán Balog, while attending a conference in Paris, defended the current Hungarian immigration policy by revealing that during 2013 and 2014 1,000 Egyptian and Iraqi Christian families received asylum and citizenship in Hungary. All this, he said, was done in secret. I must say that I am dubious about the truthfulness of this piece of news. I can’t see how in a relatively small country the government can grant citizenship to 1,000 families (or approximately 4,000-5,000 people) without anyone noticing it.

The newcomers’ faith is not, however, the only disqualifying criterion as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned. Orbán’s critics claim that racism is the moving force behind his steadfast opposition to admitting any of the asylum seekers. As we have discussed earlier, Viktor Orbán didn’t always oppose immigration. In fact, he thought it would foster economic growth. Most likely he still thinks that an additional 100,000-150,000 immigrants over the next few years would benefit the Hungarian economy. But not these kinds of people. Not people whose skin color is a shade darker than our own.

On what basis can we charge the Hungarian prime minister with racism? In the past, Orbán has always been careful to draft his speeches in such a way that it would be difficult to accuse him of racism, irredentism, anti-Semitism, fascism, or Nazism. But, according to his critics, in the speech he delivered to the Hungarian ambassadors on September 7 his caution abandoned him and he revealed himself to be an outright racist. Here is the passage:

Hungary’s historical given is that we live together with a few hundred thousands Roma. This was decided by someone, somewhere. This is what we inherited. This is our situation, this is our predetermined condition…. We are the ones who have to live with this, but we don’t demand from anyone, especially not in the direction of the west, that they should live together with a large Roma minority.

The first comment on this speech, as far as I could ascertain, came from András Jámbor of kettosmerce.blog.hu. He called Orbán a racist because he treats the Roma as separate and distinct, perhaps even a burden.

In my opinion, an analysis by one of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum is much more astute. According to Gábor Tóka, professor of sociology at the Central European University, this is “a clear plea to consider the Roma in Hungary an equivalent of refugees from Syria: ‘I do not ask you to take a quota of the Roma, so in return you should not ask me to take a quota of the refugees.'” There is only one way to avoid this interpretation but, in his opinion, it is not any better. Perhaps Orbán considers “both [the Mid-Eastern refugees and the Roma] a burden, an economically unproductive mass living on welfare. Here the problem is not simply with how wrong, prejudiced and evil this premise is, but with the idea that ethnicity means (under)class and vice versa. Whichever of the two interpretations you take, the end result is the same: Orbán declared himself to be not simply like-minded with the far-right on immigration but specifically highlighted his racism as a reason for this policy choice.” I consider Gábor Tóka’s analysis to be spot on.

This is what Viktor Orbán wants to avoid

This is what Viktor Orbán wants to avoid

In Hungary this crucial passage was largely ignored, perhaps because the “Roma issue” is something few Hungarians like to talk about. But this passage provides a window into Viktor Orbán’s mindset. Orbán is not so worried about the fate of Christian Europe as he is about racial purity, which has already been compromised by former colonial powers like Great Britain and France and lately by countries like Germany and Sweden.

And so the European Union now has a prime minster who not only embraces illiberal democracy if not worse but who also espouses racist sentiments.

Viktor Orbán went but didn’t conquer: His trip to Brussels

Yesterday I expressed my belief that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would arrive in Brussels with a proposal seeking the European Union’s blessing of his hermetically sealed Hungarian borders, in contravention of European values and the Geneva Convention, in return for accepting a few hundred refugees. I was not very far off. It seems, however, that Orbán’s strategy is not working. He might receive some money to ease the strain caused by the large number of refugees in Hungary, but the EU leaders don’t want to be partners in his scheme.

It is hard to tell whether the chaos in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary is the result of the government’s total incompetence or whether it has been artificially created. The utter confusion everywhere is a source of anxiety, even panic for the refugees. It is hard to fathom that a government chock-full of officials in charge of trivial matters hasn’t figured out that there ought to be a commissioner of refugee affairs. Is it the case, as many commentators suspect, that the Orbán government wants to have as much confusion as possible to show the population the horrible fate that awaits them if they are stranded with these screaming strangers? Moreover, if it becomes obvious that Hungary’s resources are inadequate to handle the situation, more money will come, money to replace the 23 million euros the government has spent thus far on the useless barbed-wire fence.

The reputation of Hungary is in ruins when pictures like this can be found in all foreign newspapers

The reputation of Hungary is in ruins

It seems that Orbán will get money but not much more than that. His proposals were rejected by the three important EU leaders he met with today in Brussels: Jean-Claude Junker, Donald Tusk, and Martin Schulz.

Orbán went to Brussels full of wrath. I suspect that on the way he rehearsed his main talking points, trying to phrase his message in the sharpest possible terms. He succeeded. Perhaps too well. What struck me most listening to sound bites was the primitive language in which he chose to convey his equally primitive ideas on the refugee issue. “The moral, human thing is to make clear ‘please don’t come! Why you have to go from Turkey to Europe? Turkey is a safe country. Stay there, it’s risky to come! We can’t guarantee that you will be accepted here.'”

Prior to his arrival in Brussels, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he described Europe’s response to the crisis as “madness.”  He reiterated his opposition to allowing Muslims into Europe. “Those arriving have been raised in another religion and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims…. This is an important question, because European identity is rooted in Christianity…. We have no option but to defend our borders.”

I’m sure that Orbán hoped that Donald Tusk at least, being a politician from Catholic Poland, would sympathize with him. He turned out to be mistaken. At a press conference in Brussels, Tusk had the following to say on the subject: “Finally let me make a personal comment with reference to PM Orbán’s article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I want to underline that for me, Christianity in public and social life carries a duty to our brothers in need. Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean in the first place the readiness to show solidarity and sacrifice. For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.”

Tusk was equally negative on Orbán’s “solution” of banning all refugees who reach the borders of Hungary. While he admitted that the borders of the Union must be more effectively defended, he added that “our attitude to refugees is in fact an expression of European solidarity.” He also said that “EU countries will not change their migratory policies overnight.” Translated into plain English, Orbán, if he wants to stay in the Union, will have to allow asylum-seekers across that fence.

Orbán’s meeting with Martin Schulz didn’t go any better. After the meeting, Schulz told reporters that “the Schengen treaty is under threat.” And he warned people that “a deeper split of the union is a risk we cannot exclude.” This indicates that during the meeting Orbán showed no willingness to compromise. Since in Orbán’s opinion the flood of refugees is not a European problem but a German one, since everybody wants to go to Germany, he believes that Hungary should not be obligated to adjust its policies to those demanded by the European Union. After the press conference Schulz appeared on ZDF, the German public television station, where he expressed himself more forcefully. According to HVG, Schulz announced that Viktor Orbán’s position on the refugee crisis is “totally unacceptable.”

We know relatively little about the meeting between Viktor Orbán and Jean-Claude Juncker since no press conference was scheduled, which usually means that the meeting was not exactly a roaring success. The spokesman of the European Commission called the talks “constructive,” which pro-government Hungarian papers heralded with great fanfare, as if “constructive” in this context means something positive. “Constructive” usually means that each man expressed his opinions and there was no meeting of the minds. Apparently, Orbán talked about his idea for a sealed border, which Juncker disapproved of, while Juncker lectured Orbán on the necessity of a common European solution. At least this is my interpretation of the very brief description I read of the meeting.

After this trip Orbán can reassess what he wants to do: face the threat of the abrogation of the Schengen Treaty, which means the end of free movement and labor within the Schengen borders, or give up the promised legislative package on the refugees, whose provisions would greatly restrict basic democratic rights.

Meanwhile German-Hungarian relations are on the rocks as well. Neither Martin Schulz nor Angela Merkel appreciated Orbán’s accusations. First, Orbán accused Germany of being responsible for Hungary’s current problems with the refugees, and then came the accusation that the refugee crisis in general is a German problem. Chancellor Merkel didn’t wait long to respond: “Germany is doing what is morally and legally required of us, no more and no less,” she said in Bern.

Meanwhile at home János Lázár used the strongest language against Germany’s behavior, which he found to be “beyond words.” It is Germany that is opening and closing the doors of Keleti (Eastern Station) with its irresponsible statements about accepting Syrian refugees.

It was only a couple of months ago that we heard that Hungary’s foreign policy is anchored in the excellent relationship between Hungary and Germany. Moreover, Hungary is heavily dependent economically on Germany. Is it worth attacking the strongest power in the European Union for the sake of playing the role of Defender of the Faith and Europe?

Viktor Orbán has managed to maneuver Hungary into an untenable position. The country’s reputation is in tatters. Finally the whole world can see what kind of a country Viktor Orbán and his fellow Fidesz politicians have created in the last five years. I’m sure that a lot of people thought that the opposition parties and commentators critical of Orbán’s regime were exaggerating. They kept saying: “But Hungary is still a democracy.” The democratic features of the Orbán regime, however, are only skin deep, beneath which one can find many features reminiscent of Mussolini’s Italy.

Hungarian politicians on the European Union

We must abandon the refugees who are waiting in vain to board a train to Vienna and beyond because at the moment no one knows what the Hungarian government’s plans are regarding their fate. By the time I could finish a post about them, my report would be hopelessly outdated. Therefore, I’d rather move to a seemingly “safer” subject: Fidesz politicians’ view of Hungary’s position vis-à-vis the European Union as the source of Hungary’s current grievances over the refugee crisis.

Two or three days ago I talked about the growing chasm in attitudes between East and West as far as the refugee crisis is concerned. The dividing line is more or less where the iron curtain used to be. A huge difference in public attitudes on many issues still exists even between West and East Germans. Almost half a century of Soviet influence left a lasting mark on national psyches.

We have of course long been aware of the political, economic, and cultural differences between East and West, but there was always the hope of “convergence,” to use a term officials of the European Union are especially fond of. But now, under the weight of the refugee crisis, seemingly irreconcilable differences have surfaced. The western countries are ready to cooperate and adhere to the common values upon which the Union was built. The former socialist countries think only in terms of nation states, which is no answer to a pan-European crisis.

Clinging to national sovereignty, thinking only in terms of the particular instead of the general is an attitude that doesn’t bode well for the health of EU. How can there be unity if the politicians of the former socialist states don’t come to their senses? And in Hungary’s case the politicians aren’t showing any such inclination. In fact, if anything the opposite is true. As time goes by, statements by leading Fidesz politicians are even less  acceptable to those who believe in the future of Europe as a more closely knit union of member states where the common good overrides purely national interests.

Let’s sample some of the prevailing attitudes within Fidesz. János Lázár, who heads the prime minister’s office, is more or less responsible for the everyday management of the country, if you can call it management. Most critics would call it floundering, which is not too harsh a judgment if we look at the government’s handling of the registration of refugees. In any event, he is the most important man in the country after Viktor Orbán, and he is also the de facto voice of the prime minister. In Lázár’s opinion the European Union is an institution under the influence of the left, and all politicians of the left are incompetent. The result: economic and political ruin.

The same theme crops up in a much cruder form in a press release by the Antal Rogán-led Fidesz parliamentary delegation. According to the Fidesz delegation, the leadership of the European Union is not merely influenced by the mistaken notions of the European left; European politicians are actively working against the Christian, national right-wing Orbán government in order to weaken it. As proof of their position they cite the “fact” that the European Union gave a lucrative job to a company owned by Ferenc Gyurcsány for the express purpose of strengthening the Hungarian left against the legitimate government of Hungary. As the press release put it: “The European Commission bought Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalícó by the pound, and therefore it is not surprising that Gyurcsány parrots the failed immigration policies of the European Union.” It’s hard to respond to such a ridiculous conspiracy theory from a high-level politician.

Help, humanity

Rogán elaborated on the same theme in an interview he gave to Napi Gazdaság, which as of yesterday has been renamed Magyar Idők (Hungarian Times). He severely criticized the European Union for its immigration policies, which practically amount to encouragement to emigrate. Rogán seems to sense that the western big guns are getting mighty annoyed and making noises about the restoration of internal borders within the Schengen frontiers, but he believes that Hungary’s current plans to stop all asylum seekers at the Serb-Hungarian and perhaps later the Croatian-Hungarian border will be the remedy. If Rogán’s ideas reflect Viktor Orbán’s notions, then I’m sure the prime minister is on the wrong track.The introduction of harsh measures, the deployment of the army, and the enactment of undemocratic laws is no solution.

In the same interview Rogán bared his feelings about the Middle Eastern refugees when he declared that he wouldn’t want “his grandchildren to live in the United European Caliphate.” This kind of talk only reinforces the population’s worries about the refugees, which is undoubtedly the intention of the government. The Hungarian intelligence services have already informed the Parliamentary Commission on National Security about the large number of terrorists they identified among the asylum seekers even though real terrorists are unlikely to arrive in Europe on foot and climb under or over Orbán’s fence. Unlike the refugees, they can buy plane tickets.

The same theme was echoed by Szilárd Németh, an important Fidesz politician. According to him, those members of parliament who don’t support the Fidesz amendments to the criminal code “unequivocally prove that they place the interests of the immigrants ahead of those of the Hungarians.” The situation that developed at the Keleti (Eastern) Station “will not be solved by politicians,” especially not by those irresponsible EU politicians like Jean-Claude Junker “who practically encourage people to come without fear because there will be no problem once they are here. . . . We, on the other hand,” he added, “stand by the current laws” of the European Union.

At the end of his press conference Németh indicated that it was Viktor Orbán who initiated the meeting with Jean-Claude Junker, Donald Tusk, and Martin Schulz scheduled for tomorrow. I’m not so sure that this was the case. Given the firm stand of the western member countries on the immigrant issue, I have the feeling that the invitation came from Brussels. It is becoming increasingly obvious that they are seeking a common policy that would entail each country taking a certain number of refugees, the kind of quota system Viktor Orbán earlier categorically rejected. Those who refuse to play ball will be in one way or the other “disciplined.”

A few days ago I suggested that I would not be shocked if Viktor Orbán, despite all the noise he has been making, would eventually cave. He certainly hasn’t caved yet, but the Hungarian ambassador to Berlin, József Czukor, in an interview with ZDF, a public television station, suggested that perhaps under certain circumstances a solution that would distribute the immigrants among member states could be discussed after all. The interviewer was greatly surprised and asked Czukor again about the issue. The ambassador repeated that “this problem must be solved together.” The interview can be seen here.

What kinds of “certain circumstances” was the ambassador talking about? I fear that what the Hungarian prime minister has in mind is the acceptance by the European Union of Hungary’s plan to seal the Serb-Hungarian border so tight that no one would be able to enter the European Union on land through the Balkans. In that case, Hungary would accept a few hundred refugees. If that is the case, Viktor Orbán’s trip might not be a success. I am sure that the western democracies are demanding close cooperation and humane treatment of deserving refugees and will reject the solution, with its attendant draconian measures, advocated by the Hungarian government.