Tag Archives: United States of Europe

Orbán’s struggle will continue, but there might be a new enemy: Martin Schulz

Viktor Orbán has never been fond of answering questions. When accosted by journalists at home, he either says nothing or comes up with some flippant answer. Until recently, however, he was quite ready to talk to journalists while abroad. He has always been willing to give long interviews, mostly to German papers, and to hold press conferences after European Council summits. On these occasions he normally bragged about the important role he played during the negotiations, often claiming that he “vetoed” certain otherwise unanimous decisions. But on the last two occasions, he skipped his customary appearance before the journalists altogether.

This was the case this time as well, but the Hungarian prime minister, perhaps imitating Donald Trump, decided to communicate directly with “his people.” The only difference is that he uses Facebook instead of Twitter, which is a great deal less popular in Hungary than in the United States. Short videos are available on Orbán’s Facebook page, with English subtitles provided.

Yesterday I summarized his messages, but since then three more Orbán announcements were posted. The first was recorded right after the working dinner of the prime ministers/chancellors at which the question of migration was discussed. He described the meeting as a “political hand-to-hand combat” in which “the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, and we managed to defend our positions.” The military theme is even more obvious in the Hungarian original, in which he used the word “hadállás,” which signifies a military position. No one argued against the necessity of secure borders, he continued, but “the great and strong ones want to bring the migrants into Europe and distribute them on a compulsory basis.” In his final video, he thanked those who had expressed their opposition to placing migrants in Hungary, which helped him “to repel the assaults that nearly managed to violate the sovereignty of Hungary again.”

Orbán’s description of the meeting conjures up a noisy, passionate verbal fight between two antagonistic sides, but other participants called the discussion dispassionate and calm. No charge against the military flanks at all. If I interpret the majority view on the matter of distribution of refugees correctly, the best the Visegrád Four can hope for is a slight modification, not an abrogation of the decision that had been accepted by the European Council earlier. It is possible that “qualified majority rule” will suffice for approval, which would mean defeat for the Visegrád Four’s position.

Viktor Orbán might not like to expound in front of local journalists, but János Lázár, his chief-of-staff, is quite happy to go on for a couple of hours every week to entertain the troops. Lázár is known for his brashness and his hyperbole. He might be amusing at times, but a few hours after these meetings one usually learns that what Lázár claimed was simply untrue or at best misleading. The Budapest correspondent for the Associated Press, who speaks Hungarian, is usually on hand for these Thursday afternoon press conferences. He immediately sent out the news that János Lázár and László Surján, the former vice-president of the European Parliament, had compared Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament and currently head of the German Social Democratic party, to Adolf Hitler. It didn’t take more than an hour for me to be able read this juicy story on ABC’s news site.

What happened that prompted this outrageous comparison? On December 7 Schulz wrote the following message on Twitter: “I want a new constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe. A Europe that is no threat to its member states, but a beneficial addition. A convention shall draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member states. Any state that won’t ratify this treaty will automatically leave the EU.” This tweet was discovered a week later by two members of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party–Péter Harrach, the whip of the KDNP parliamentary delegation, and László Surján, who, as far as I know, by now plays no official political role. Péter Harrach, who is anything but flamboyant, compared Schulz to Ferenc Gyurcsány. Both men are “lots of talk without substantial achievement.” Surján said that Schulz’s voice “reminded him of Adolf Hitler,” which he “found unacceptable.” The two held a press conference to announce their disapproval of Schulz and his United States of Europe.

It seems that Lázár especially liked Surján’s comment and decided to use the comparison at his press conference a few hours later. He added a few extra words. He not only heard “Hitler’s voice” but claimed that “the last time Hungary received such an ultimatum was from Adolf Hitler.” Of course, such a comparison is ridiculous, and we must assume that the sudden interest in Schulz is not independent from the likelihood that a grand coalition will be formed in Germany and that Schulz will be part of the cabinet in some important position. Schulz is known to be a very harsh critic of Viktor Orbán. Perhaps after Soros the new devil will be Schulz and his plans for a United States of Europe.

December 15, 2017

The Hungarian government media’s portraits of Macron

Two days ago, when I wrote a post about Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election and its reception by the Hungarian government, I had rely on the relatively few analyses that appeared in the government media. They didn’t address most of the reforms Macron proposes but were preoccupied with his ire against the Polish and Hungarian governments and his support for a two-speed Europe, both of which concern Hungary directly. Still, the basic message was (and still is) that with Macron’s victory, everything will remain the same. The decline of Europe will continue. The French voted for the wrong person.

Macron has ambitious plans for revitalizing France, especially in economic terms, and even more ambitious ideas for restructuring the European Union. We don’t know whether any of Macron’s ideas will materialize, but nothing is further from the truth than that Macron is a man who is stuck in the present. Here are a few of Macron’s ideas for the Eurozone, premised on a two-speed Europe, as outlined in the Eurobserver. He would like to see a Eurozone parliament, finance minister, and budget, which we already know Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, opposes. Jean-Claude Juncker doesn’t seem supportive of Macron’s plans either. He warned that “not all euro member states agree that someone based in Brussels or somewhere else should call the shots on budgets instead of national parliaments.” Macron also wants to have a set of social rights introduced at the European level, setting up standards for job training, health insurance, unemployment benefits, and the minimum wage. At the same time he would like to see closer cooperation on defense, security, and intelligence. In brief, he wants “more Europe” than perhaps even Orbán’s “bureaucrats in Brussels.”

So, when Tamás Ulicza in Magyar Hírlap claims that “Macron’s answers are the same as all the earlier unsuccessful attempts to date except only to a higher degree,” he is misrepresenting Macron’s position. In Ulicza’s view, the European Union is still heading toward the abyss. Macron’s election is only giving the leaders of the EU a false sense of security. Le Pen, Ulicza writes, almost certainly wouldn’t have led France out of the European Union, but “she wouldn’t have swept the existing problems under the carpet.” Macron lacks a political vision for his own country; “he can think only in terms of Europe,” he insists, although even Híradó, the official news that is distributed to all media outlets, fairly accurately reported on his plans for revitalizing the French economy. Macron proposes cuts to state spending, wants to ease the existing labor laws, and wants to introduce social protection for the self-employed.

Magyar Idők offered no substantive analysis of Macron’s economic or political ideas. The editors were satisfied with a partial reprinting of a conversation with György Nógrádi, the “national security expert,” a former informer during the Kádár period about whose outrageous claims I wrote several times. I especially recommend the post titled “The truth caught up with the ‘national security expert,’ György Nógrádi.” But at least Nógrádi did tell the television audience, accurately in this case, that Macron wants to reduce the size of the French government by letting 120,000 civil servants go.

Perhaps the most intriguing article appeared in the solidly pro-government Origo with the title “We are introducing the French Gyurcsány.” According to the unnamed journalist, “the career of the former banker and minister of economy eerily resembles the life and ideology of Ferenc Gyurcsány.” As we know, there is no greater condemnation in Orbán’s Hungary than comparing anyone to the former prime minister. What follows is a description of the two politicians’ careers, starting with both entering the political arena only after successful careers in business in the case of Gyurcsány and banking in the case of Macron. Both, the article continues, are followers of third-road socialism, following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder.

One thing is certain: both believe in an eventual United States of Europe. They believe there should be a European government with a prime minister and a strong parliament and a second chamber made up of the heads of the member states. “Neither of them stands by the idea of strong nation states.” The article claims that both men belittle the culture, history, and heritage of their own countries. Macron, for example, stands against the view that French culture is superior to all others. Mon dieu! And what did Gyurcsány say? In 2007, when Merkel visited Hungary, he told her that the Holy Crown’s place in not in the parliament. Macron has a disparaging opinion of boeuf bourguignon, a favorite of the French. Gyurcsány is guilty because “to this day he would take away the voting rights of Hungarians living in the neighboring countries.” And what was obviously his greatest sin: in a speech delivered in 2013 he said that “we [the democratic opposition] are the real patriotic heirs of St. Stephen.”

It is true that Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, are totally committed to the European Union. Only a few days ago DK organized a conference in which Frank Engel (EPP), Ulrike Lunacek (Greens), and Josef Weidenholzer (Socialists and Democrats) participated. DK’s slogan as a counterpoint to the “Stop Brussels!” campaign is “Let’s catch up with Brussels!” Gyurcsány would like to see a new European constitution, dual citizenship, joint border defense, and common social security. The final goal is a United States of Europe.

As far as Macron’s ideas on the economy are concerned, he seems to me a combination of Ferenc Gyurcsány and Lajos Bokros.

Of course, Viktor Orbán also wants to reform the European Union, but what he would like to achieve cannot be called “reform.” He would like to go backwards, taking away the present prerogatives of the European Commission and Parliament and giving more power to the 27 member states. The EU does need reform, but not the kind that Poland and Hungary are proposing. Macron might not succeed in everything he hopes to do, but he is correct in his belief that the solution lies in more, not less integration.

May 10, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s latest foray against European values

Yesterday Fidesz held its twenty-sixth congress. Almost 2,000 delegates gathered, and they voted almost unanimously to reelect Viktor Orbán as chairman. They also elected four deputy chairmen: the 34-year-old Gergely Gulyás, whose career has been spectacular in the last five years; Gábor Kubatov, the campaign manager of the 2010 election; Szilárd Németh, the government spokesman for lower utility prices; and Mrs. Pelcz, née Ildikó Gáll, the token woman who has been safely tucked away in the European Parliament ever since 2010. All of them ran unopposed.

The speakers, headed by Viktor Orbán himself, found everything absolutely perfect in the country that they lead with great expertise and self-assurance. They are brave politicians who are able to achieve things other people would find impossible. In fact, according to Orbán, “bravery is the most important thing in life. It is said that a coward cannot be happy. So, in a way, freedom is really the right to be brave.” Don’t ask me to analyze the logic of these sentences.

Since by now Viktor Orbán cannot come out with too many fresh ideas and for the most part just rehashes his old pearls of wisdom about the bright future of his imaginary world, I will concentrate on only a few crucial passages.

A fair amount of time was devoted to the migrant crisis. He maintained that all western politicians are idiots and that he is the only man who had the guts to act, not asking anybody’s permission. The result is total victory. The rest of Europe is a “battlefield” while Hungary is the land of stability and peace. Yes, we’ve heard that before. What, on the other hand, was new was his analysis of the spirit that has taken over European thinking.

The European spirit and its people believe in superficial, secondary things, such as human rights, progress, openness, new kinds of families, and toleration…. These are nice and amiable things but really only secondary ones because they are only derivatives…. Europe doesn’t believe in Christianity, in common sense, in military virtues, and doesn’t believe in national pride.

Well, this is at least brutally honest talk. The politicians who consider all those “derivative” things to be the bedrock of the European Union should realize that none of the virtues they cherish means anything to Viktor Orbán, who dismisses them in favor of more “fundamental” principles, such as military virtues.

Another passage in Orbán’s speech also merits consideration. It is about the idea of a United States of Europe.

Europe is an old but fertile continent that survived many frightening ideas. Some of these caused great harm, in fact, tragedy…. When Europe turned out to be weak and couldn’t resist mad ideas. For example, it was unable to oppose the idea, which was planted into people’s heads, that mankind can be categorized by race. Thus Europe became the home of national socialism. It couldn’t resist the idea that people should be divided up by their social origin and that all people should be transformed into homo sovieticus. Thus, Europe became the home of the ideology of class warfare and communism. All this today seems absurd, but, my friends, in those days it didn’t seem absurd. Serious people with serious countenances, believing in their moral superiority, wrote a library full of books on these subjects. Today I again see a whole army of serious people with serious countenances who, convinced of their moral superiority, want to disparage the nation states of Europe and campaign for a United States of Europe. Trouble is waiting for us.

In brief, the dangers lurking behind a tighter constitutional arrangement for the member states of the European Union can be compared only to the disasters Hitler’s national socialism and the Soviet Union’s communist experiment brought to the world.

Some people on the internet already design the flag. Here is one of the many

Some people on the internet have already proposed designs for the flag of a United States of Europe. Here is one of the many.

I would like to quote one more sentence from this long speech that might be of some interest. “European liberal politics by today has turned against freedom and therefore has inevitably come up against the people and against democracy. What was formerly liberal democracy has become non-democratic liberalism.”

These are the ideas that are being transmitted, often in a simplified, even more incendiary form, via the Fidesz propaganda machine to the population. Magyar Idők, the government mouthpiece, specializes in the genre. I could easily find hundreds of examples but I picked an editorial by Dávid Megyeri titled “Tragicomedy: Migration game without borders,” which appeared in the Saturday issue of the paper. This article is an excellent example of where Viktor Orbán’s demagoguery leads: to gutter journalism.

The article is mostly about Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, who is described as an uneducated man who, despite many tries, couldn’t even matriculate from high school. Not only is he ignorant, he also shows signs of psychopathological disorders. What are the telltale signs of these disorders? Schulz considers the behavior of some of the member states, in the middle of a serious European crisis, injurious to the stability of Europe. Although for most of us Schulz’s observation is self-evident, for a devoted Viktor Orbán fan this is an unforgivable sin. And by the end of the article we learn that it is actually in Germany’s interest to eliminate nation states since it is Berlin that “considers the whole European Union its own nation state. Just as in the olden days when the great Russian Empire nicknamed the Soviet Union ruled over the forced marriage of [the Central European countries]. They are the models of Merkel.”

Here one finds bits and pieces of Viktor Orbán’s primitive ideas further simplified and distorted. Orbán’s attacks on Merkel and his equation of communism with the United States of Europe fuse into incomprehensible nonsense. Unfortunately, however primitive we find all this, it seems to work with an awful lot of people.

United States of Europe?

On May 25 Hungary will hold its election for the European Parliament. The government party opted to hold the national election on April 6 and a separate EP election seven weeks later. There was nothing that would have prevented the authorities from holding both elections on May 25, but such an arrangement wasn’t deemed advantageous to the governing party. There were at least two reasons why a single election did not suit Fidesz. First, it would have given the disorganized opposition more time to put its affairs in order and to campaign. Second, it would have increased the  number of voters participating in the EP election, which might not have been good for Fidesz. Of course, holding the two elections at the same time would have been a great deal less expensive, but such monetary considerations never enter the minds of Fidesz politicians.

At the EP election voters can opt only for parties, not individuals. Eight parties will be represented on Sunday’s ballot; each managed to get the requisite 20,000 endorsements. Of these eight only six have a chance of actually receiving at least 5% of the votes necessary to qualify for parliamentary representation in Strasbourg: Fidesz, Jobbik, MSZP, Együtt2014-PM, DK, and LMP. According to the latest polls, Fidesz leads the pack and, depending on the poll, it is followed by either MSZP (socialist) or Jobbik (far-right). Fidesz actually might win about half of the 21 seats Hungary is entitled to. The latest scandal of a possible spy case involving the #3 man on the Jobbik list might have a deleterious effect on this far-right party at the polls. The fates of Együtt2014-PM, DK, and LMP are in limbo, although according to at least one poll each will send one delegate; others are less optimistic about the chances of these smaller parties.

Although according to one poll 40% of the electorate is thinking of participating in the forthcoming EP election, I doubt that turnout will be so high. By way of comparison, in 2004, the first EP election Hungary participated in, out of the 8 million registered voters only 3 million actually voted. In 2009 participation was even lower: only 2.8 million bothered to cast a vote. I predict that the situation is going to be even worse than at earlier elections because of general disappointment with the political process and the fairly steady anti-European Union propaganda that comes from Fidesz and Jobbik, the two right-wing parties.

As for the different parties’ attitude toward the European Union, Fidesz, or more precisely, Viktor Orbán, is quite capable of piling abuse on the Union one day while, on the next, he can go on and on about the virtues of the Union. If he could, he would abandon the EU, which ties his hands. Since he is not capable of  leaving the Brussels bureaucrats behind, his aim is loosen the ties that hold the member states together. Or, if that is not possible, to slow down or prevent any closer union. His emphasis is always on the nation-state instead of internationalism as expressed in the European Union. Jobbik is outright euroskeptic and makes no secret about their anti-Union and pro-Russian feelings.

The other parties all stand by the European Union, but most are frightened by the effect of Orbán’s anti-EU rhetoric on the population and therefore, in my opinion foolishly, try to take a more nationalistic view of Hungary’s place in Europe. They are not campaigning for a stronger and more effective European Union. The lone exception is the Democratikus Koalíció (DK) led by Ferenc Gyurcsány. DK is campaigning for a future United States of Europe. The reaction even on the left to that idea is negative. Attila Mesterházy (MSZP) declared that his party cannot support the formation of a United States of Europe, which enemies of the idea consider a complete abdication of all sovereign rights.

I don’t think that there are too many people who think that the EU as it functions today is a good solution for Europe. In its present form it is not really competitive in economic terms against large industrial nations and it would be incapable of defending itself in case of aggression. It has no foreign policy, no army, and no common finances. Because of EU’s structural problems more and more attention is being paid to the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a possible model, naturally with many modifications.

I know that some of you will say: “What are you talking about? The Monarchy collapsed ingloriously under its own weight.” Yes and no. In the spring of 1914 there were no signs of extraordinary tensions within the monarchy. Or at least no more than usual. Yes, nationality questions were troubling, but they were not worse in 1914 than they had been at any time since 1867 or even earlier. Many historians point out that, despite all the nationality problems and four years of a terrible war, the soldiers of different nationalities fought for king and emperor to the last minute. Others, however, are certain that the Monarchy’s demise was inevitable even without the lost war. That may well have been the case if nothing had changed, but we know that there were serious attempts at reform. Politicians were just waiting for the death of the eighty-four-year-old Franz Joseph I (Ferenc József I in Hungarian and Franjo Josip I in Croatian) to move ahead with reform. Unfortunately, World War I interfered.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I cannot go into the details of the structure of the monarchy, but one key feature of its structure was the existence of certain joint (k. und k. kaiserlich und königlich) ministries: ministry of the exterior and the imperial house, the war ministry, and the ministry of finance. The ministry of finance was responsible only for financing the royal household, the diplomatic service, and the common army and navy. Each half of  Austria-Hungary had its own parliament with its own prime minister and cabinet, but there was also a common ministerial council that oversaw the common government. It was comprised of the three ministers of the joint responsibilities (finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some of the archdukes, and the monarch. The language of the common army was German, but Hungary and Austria also had a home defense force. The language of command in the Hungarian “honvédség” was Hungarian.

Austria-Hungary with all its shortcomings had the necessary ingredients (common foreign policy, defense and finances) of a functioning state. Despite home rule in Austria, Hungary, and to some extent Croatia, the monarchy functioned quite smoothly for half a century.

Some people believe that the Dual Monarchy merits closer analysis because it  may serve as a starting point for a stronger union of the member states of the European Union. Whatever its deficiencies, it was still one of the great powers of its day. Independently of each other, the member states could have never achieved that status.