How did the Hungarian government fare in the European Parliament today?

Today I would like to concentrate on two topics: Fidesz’s relation to the European People’s Party, an umbrella organization of right of center parties in Europe, and the Orbán government’s current situation within the European Union. Let me state at the very beginning that I’m more upbeat about today’s hour-long discussion in the European Parliament on the Hungarian situation than some of the people who commented right after the event on Hungarian Spectrum. Let me also add that I consider  Fidesz’s status within “the family” of the European People’s Party less secure than most people are inclined to believe.

Let’s start with the parliamentary debate. György Schöpflin, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, predicted a couple of days ago that this debate would be “a third-rate affair” and therefore it was wise of Viktor Orbán not to do attend the session. Subsequently we learned that no invitation was extended to either Orbán or any member of his government. Enikő Győry, undersecretary in charge of European affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was present in observer status only.

Schöpflin seemed to know that neither the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, nor any of the leaders of the parliamentary caucuses would be present. Well, Schöpflin was wrong. Martin Schulz  presided over the session, and for the most part the heads of the parliamentary delegations were present and delivered speeches. The notable exception was Joseph Daul of EPP, who only a year ago fiercely defended Viktor Orbán during the last grilling of the Hungarian government in the European Parliament. In his place Frank Engel, a member of  the EPP caucus, spoke; his defense of the Orbán government was muted. He basically asked his fellow parliamentarians to delay their judgment until the legal analysis of the Hungarian constitution is completed by the European Commission.

Viviane Redings delivering her speech in the European Parliament  MTI  / Photo Patrick Seeger

Viviane Redings delivering her speech in the European Parliament
MTI / Photo Patrick Seeger

Viviane Reding gave a brief talk in which she outlined the European Commission’s position on the issue of Hungarian compliance with EU law. At the very beginning she made it clear that she represents President Barroso and the opinion of the European Commission. She emphasized that the Commission has been closely monitoring developments related to the Hungarian Constitution ever since 2011. The Commission “has played a very active role as guardian of the Treaties” and “is currently conducting a detailed legal analysis of the amendments.”

But, continued Reding, the Hungarian constitution, quite aside from not being compatible with European laws, has serious flaws as far as the rule of law in general is concerned. And then she added:  ” Hungary will also need to take due account of the opinion that the Council of Europe/Venice Commission will deliver in June, in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values. The Commission expects a responsible answer from Hungary to this opinion.” In addition, there is the work of Rui Tavares (Portugal), an independent member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament who has been preparing a resolution “on the situation of Fundamental Rights in Hungary: standards and practices.” (I might add here that Frank Engel, who delivered the EPP’s message on the Hungarian situation today, is also a member of  LIBE and, like Reding, a Luxembourgian.) Reding said that “the Commission expects the Hungarian authorities to engage in a political dialogue with this House.”

So, this is just the beginning. As things stand now, the legal experts of the European Commission are studying the Hungarian constitution and its amendments, as is the Venice Commission. And the LIBE resolution will be ready by early summer. So, it looks as if by June there will be a concerted effort on the part of organizations of the European Union and the Council of Europe to take up the issue of Hungarian non-compliance with European law and the Orbán government’s transgression of democratic principles and the rule of law in general.

The criticism from the socialists, the liberals, and the greens was naturally hard-hitting, but the general consensus was that ¶7, which could deprive Hungary of its voting rights, shouldn’t be the first step. Lucia Creighton of Ireland, the country currently serving as president of the Union, emphasized that Ireland supports the point of view of the Commission. Moreover, she thought that it might be worthwhile to discuss a possible “new mechanism” that would be entrusted with the enforcement of union law in member states. She suggested putting the topic on the agenda of the meeting of the foreign ministers next Monday.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the results. Since the final analyses of the Commission, the Venice Commission, and LIBE were not ready, nothing more could have been done.

The other topic I would like to cover, however briefly, is Fidesz’s position vis-à-vis the European People’s Party. The Romanian Hungarian-language paper isn’t backing down on its story of a discussion between Joseph Daul and Viviane Reding about the possible removal of Fidesz from the EPP caucus. First, the spokesman of the EPP caucus denied the “rumor,” but a day later Joseph Daul himself wrote a letter to the Új Magyar Szó. He claimed that the “articles in question are both distorted and without foundation.” I would suggest that it would have been wiser to say that they were either distorted or without foundation, not both. And if one wants to deny that the topic of the conversation was Fidesz, one doesn’t claim that “the main topic of the conversation was Croatia and not Hungary” because that doesn’t preclude the possibility that Hungary was discussed. In brief, it looks more and more as if Daul did initiate a talk with Reding in Dubrovnik and that the fate of Fidesz was discussed there. The spokeswoman of Redding didn’t deny the existence of a  private conversation between the two politicians. She only said to Magyar Nemzet that she is not at liberty to reveal the contents of the conversation.

There are signs that Orbán’s appearance before the EPP caucus wasn’t as jolly as Viktor Orbán tried to make out. In his usual fashion he cast it as a huge victory. He claimed that “it was good to be Hungarian tonight.” It turned out, however, that after a fifteen-minute talk he received about twenty questions. Apparently, most of the questions came from German and Polish members of the delegation, which leads me to believe that Új Magyar Szó’s information that it was the Polish delegation that informed EPP about Fidesz’s exploratory talks with another caucus was most likely correct.

As for the exploratory talks, the EPP members of parliament asked Orbán about this rumor, but he refused to answer it directly. Instead, his answer was formulated as a question: “EPP is the best place, so why should [I] leave it?” And the 50-50 split within the EPP caucus also seems to be on target. Even József Szájer admitted that “not everybody supports Hungary” in the body. According to an EPP member, earlier there was a fairly large group of people within the caucus who tried to mediate between supporters and critics of Viktor Orbán. By now the EPP is much more divided on the issue. You are either for or against Orbán and his government. There is no longer a middle ground. I predict that EPP will not vote en bloc against whatever resolution the European Parliament adopts later this year.

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26 comments

  1. Eva, I agree that this EP debate should not be trivialized. Anybody who expected more were probably misinformed.
    It wasn’t even a “debate” and it wasn’t going to be. Everybody prepared their speeches ahead and read it out. Additional comments were not even allowed.
    In politics and diplomacy, often the fact that something took place is significant. The commissioner presented what has been happening and what the EC has done about it, and what else is going to be done. All the MEPs who spoke agreed that if the concerns turn out to be true, then it is a grave situation, something that requires action.
    This will be on the record and can later be referred to. Body language, tone of voice – all matter. Reding seemed very determined. And the fact that the No7 is even discussed as a possible option is depressing.
    It feels terrible to be Hungarian, that things have got this far.

    (Anyone who thinks MEPs support EuCommission action based on what party a commissioner comes from, should watch the “Cyprus” part of the session. See how the liberal Verhofstadt shakes his fist and shouts at the liberal Olli Rehn because of the first round of the Cyprus package.)

    About the EPP – the fact that they didn’t discuss removing Fidesz from the caucus in Dubrovnik doesn’t mean that they are not considering it. 🙂 The fact that Orban stepped down as a vice president recently was certainly a significant step.

  2. I understand Nasa is looking for people to sign up for a one-way trip to Mars.

    Viktor…?
    A chance to plant the Hungarian flag, Mr. OV..

  3. I am in total agreement with your “more upbeat” mood – perhaps, because it was only midnight here on the left coast when the debate was shown, and not 3 AM – because I was provided with an English translation of Lajos Bokros’ statement, by a friend in his newly formed party who knows I am Magyar-challenged. And, for those expressing disappointment with Mr. Bokros a few days ago for his sitting with ERC, I believe a quick read-through of his statement might lift your spirits, too. As I have it only as a Word doc, I have no link, and must copy it in full here:
    Debate on the Constitutional Situation in Hungary

    The Hungarian government has been waging a war for freedom against the European Union in the last three years.

    Why is it necessary to fight against a community which Hungary joined after a referendum and which is a community of values for democracy, rule of law, fundamental human and civic rights?

    The only logical answer is that the Hungarian government does not share these values. It speaks about the decline of Western democracies and sees the future in the Eastern authoritarian regimes.

    The Fidesz regime is building an authoritarian system in Hungary. The new basic law and many cardinal laws reflecting exclusively the will of the ruling party were introduced just for that.

    The recently enacted fourth amendments to the basic law are part of this trend. The abolition of the rule of law can be considered complete in Hungary by now.

    Among the four amendments carried out within fifteen months the last one is the most serious in its consequences. Fidesz claims that everybody misunderstands or willfully misrepresents the enacted changes. According to Fidesz propaganda, the government has done nothing else but transfer the transitory provisions, which had been annulled by the Hungarian Constitutional Court (HCC) only on procedural grounds, into the main text of the basic law.

    The facts show a completely different picture.

    The fourth round of amendments to the Hungarian basic law includes many changes which have nothing to do with the transitory provisions of the basic law. There are several important provisions which were declared null and void by the HCC for their content.

    The fourth amendments prohibit the HCC to examine the basic law and any of its amendments in the future. That means that any provision whatsoever can henceforth be included in the basic law. For example, Fidesz may decide to prolong the mandate of the present parliament for twenty years!

    Substantive decision making by the HCC has been abolished because the jurisdiction of the HCC has been emptied out. Moreover, all rulings of the HCC made in the last 22 years have been declared null and void.

    The Fidesz-regime has returned to the old-fashioned Communist concept of constitutionality. According to this concept, all power belongs to the people and it is exercised by the parliament in an unconstrained manner.

    Who will protect the citizens of Hungary from unrestricted power? According to the sincere opinion of Fidesz, it will be the European Union and the Council of Europe. We have a fundamentally different view on this issue as well. Hungarian democracy will be defended and promoted by its own people. There is no bread without freedom and liberty.”

    Lajos Bokros, MEP, ECR
    April 17, 2013
    Strasbourg plenary

  4. I respectfully disagree. Let’s not treat this as this is the first time the Orban government ended up in Brussel for all the wrong reasons. How did those problems resolved? THey did not. Let’s not pretend that anything got solved after the first round. Yes, Orban promised everything. THe Venice Commission already gave its opinion, and what happened after? They took out some stuff, and they put it back in. THey are playing games, while the time runs out on the opposition. Let’s pretend that Orban will make a promise that he will change everything on the way how the EU wants it. Everybody will be happy, Orban goes home, tells Hungarians that the EU is incompetent, then two months later they pull an other trick, and it will take an other six months for the EU to send the same BS through its process. By that time Orban will spent all the EU money, and he will be back as a celebrated Prime Minister of Hungary, who showed the EU and all the lefties what a great Hungarian man he is. Orban is a lawyer and the EU has a floor full of them too, and they circling each other, like this would be a wrestling competition.

  5. Thank you, Ms KKA: I stand re-invigorated. Well done, Bokros!
    (And a wonderful, well-muscled English, too.)

  6. J. Szájer argued that only with the new amendment of the constitution the anti-Semitic “give gas!” rally could be stopped. It surprised me that H. Swoboda did not point out that in Györ 70 Hungarian and German Neo-Nazis could congregate and even demonstrate in the main streets “against the crimes of the Allied powers” protected by five policemen on April 13.
    The Hungarian government was defended in UE parliament by Jobbiks “üdvöske” Krisztina Morvai with ad personam attacks against Viviane Reding, a disgusting performance.

  7. Just like the Senate did not and will never vote on any gun meaningful control measure (I told it to every naive liberal after the Sandy Hook massacre), the EU will never apply any meaningful sanctions against Hungary, or the People’s Party against Fidesz. (Well I admit the chances are somewhat higher for the latter two, but still extremely low).

    For those who are interested in gun control. Since you probably don’t care about guns that much, you missed the strongest and most influential constitutional movement (!) of the past half a century (after the civil rights movement).

    It was not the gay rights movement (though note the anti-abortion movement too, to overturn Roe, it is gathering steam and many states now openly defy Roe) but the movement (aided by lobbyists and gun nuts, as well as professors and ‘historians’) to accept and redefine the 2nd Amendment as an individual right (when previously for more than 200 years it was understood as a collective right for state militias only). Of course, it is said that there has been no redefintion at all, this new ‘interpretation’ is only the original intent (so it looks more acceptable and less radical). Anyway, the US happily accepts thousands of annual gun deaths as a price of this freedom and they are happy about it.

    It is again the lack of strategic vison on the left. While W put hundreds of conservative judges to federal positions, Obama and the liberals (Clinton) in general have been extremely unsuccessful (or just did not care) in this regard. They simply do not put liberals in enough numbers to federal judicial positions. This is a very srategic area for the conservatives, however, where they fight and tend to win their battles (see Bush v. Gore to realise how important these positions are). The results after decades are clear: the 2nd amendment was reinterpreted, corporations can spend as much on politics as they want and they are just getting started (affirmative action will be phased out I guess).

    Same with the Hungarian left. They are still defending the constitutional court (where conservatives outnumber ‘liberals’ 12-3) — when they would have to fight the court.

    But again, no medicine for stupidity.

  8. Also please read Szabolcs Panyi’s article about Reading in today’s Index. I can’t copy the link due to some browser thing, but it is currently the main article.

    Bottom line: Reading lost her tactics. And the People’s Party hates the left much more, and wants to keep its power againt the left more, than risk Orbán’s leave. Since Orbán-bashing is popular on the left, Reding and Barrosos cannot do so, because they seem to be helping the left, which is a no-go on the right. The enemies of our enemies are our best riends, you see.

    People deluding themseleves if they think Orbán will or can be expelled. He and his bully friends like Deutsch, Lázár, rogán are having the time of their lives. I am telling you.

    Hell, I remember when in the eighties Caucescu was doing great business all over Western Europe and in the US. Why would the West care about the crazy Cau or about Orbán, for that matter.

    We don’t give a ***t about what happens in Syria. It is more important what happened at the Boston Marathon when in Syria the body count is 10 bigger in any given hour.

    But those are the Arabs. Well, we are the Hungarians. The West does not care and Orbán is happy as can be.

    Oh, in case you missed, Mugabe and his totally coopted Tswangirai (the new Mugabe after Mugabe) are getting reelected.

  9. London Calling!

    Hungary’s actions seem to oscillate between malicious intent – mainly to hobble the ‘opposition’ and consolidate their power – and pure incompetence – not realising the full ramifications of their, mainly legal, moves.

    It is sometimes difficult to know which is which (but whenever Szájer is involved it’s probably the latter).

    Like advertising – you know half is effective – but don’t know which half.

    I believe even Hungary will only know the full ramifications of their ‘smart’ moves after the various EU parties have deliberated – including Helsinki, of course.

    Some sort of ‘Copenhagen Commission’ will be needed – and Hungary must be its first case. But it doesn’t even exist yet!

    So delayed justice then, if the deserved sanctions – the ‘nuclear’ option (Article 7 and withdrawal of funds) against Orban are not used.

    Slimeball Orban will continue to play his games as he runs rings around the EU – to the detriment of the poor Hungarian people – particularly the ‘underclass’.

    Bokros’ speech is very interesting (Thank you Ms KKA for the translation.)

    “………For example, Fidesz may decide to prolong the mandate of the present parliament for twenty years!……..

    Why stop there? As I said in an earlier post Kim Il Sung’s 101st birthday was celebrated nationally this week – and he’s been dead 19 odd years.

    ‘God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform’

    So does the EU – and snail-pace like too.

    Regards

    Charlie

    (btw Ms KKA “….who knows I am Magyar-challenged.” – wonderful humour!)

  10. I tell you what.

    The moment you have to invoke terms like ‘Copenhagen Commission’ or ‘Article 7 procedure’, you are (the EU is) lost.

    You need credible, quickly applicable powers to sanction, otherwise people like Orbán and his lawyer pals will just lough at you.

    These very terms invoke overly complicated (and thus hopeless) procedures and appeals and what not.

    You may not have missed a nice Hungarian proverb (I will try to be polite in its translation):

    Threatening a lawyer with a suit is like threatening a prostitute with a penis.

    Now, that’s how much Orbán is afraid.

  11. London Calling!

    Yes Riolit – agreed.

    But if you only have a hammer in the tool kit – you may have to use it as a screwdriver.

    It takes time to go out and acquire more tools.

    I also agree that nothing will ‘frighten’ Orban – but that’s not what the EU is trying to do.

    (It is clear to all that he suffers from some kind of ‘political autism’ – ruthless disregard for the rules of the club he voluntarily signed up to – and a willingness to manipulate the rules to squeeze every last ounce of advantage. Regardless of its effects on the rest.)

    (Like the proverb!)

    Regards

    Charlie

  12. Zsolt Moldovan :

    Thanks for the thumbs up. The story is far from being over, I’m expecting important answers these days from Poland and Germany.

    Hi Zsolt, So, I might be on the right track with the Germans and Poles. Good to hear.

  13. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

    OV spoke at an EPP meeting about Hungary on the eve of the EP discussion. According to French regional daily DNA, it wasn’t exactly a stroll in the park. Several MEPs apparently boycotted the session.

    http://www.dna.fr/politique/2013/04/18/hongrie-linge-sale-en-famille

    You can fool some of the people all the time, etc.

    Very interesting. As soon as I heard that there were twenty questions I immediately sensed that, as usual, Orbán is not telling the truth about the meeting. “It was good to be Hungarian today!” Sure thing!

  14. (See link below from BBC)

    The right – both on the EU level and in the member states – succeeds and they know that this is the reason, because they are more loyal and disciplined than the left is.

    With actions like Orbán’s the EU-level left would have kicked out any party. Not the right. Let the left self-destruct in criticism and in endless debates and internal positioning, the right says.

    And the best is that should there be any leftist government in Hungary, they would not be able to dismantle the Fidesz-regime. It would exactly be the very EU-level left and the EU itself that would insist on keeping the ‘rule of law’ (i.e. following Orbán’s entrenched laws and keeping Orbán’s cronies). And the weak and hopeless Hungarian left would do as they would be told from the EU and from the righteous EU-level left, falling apart in 6-12 months after which Orbán would return with a vengeance.

    (Note for all those who are not Hungarians and are naive about the operations of Fidesz. Fidesz is not a real party as this term is understood in the West, it is Orbán’s possession, he owns it the way he owns his socks, and he will not leave from Fidesz even if loses another election. Until he is alive he will remain the ruler of Fidesz.)

    The Hungarian left would self-destruct (as it is just impossible even to govern, let alone dismantle the Orbán-system in a formally legal way, so entrenched this new Orbán-system is; again this is difficult to understand from the West), but the EU and the EU-level left would sleep well in the knowledge that they stood up for the ‘rule of law’ (ie. as they interpret it). They just don’t give a ***t about Hungary or the Hungarian, the righteous ‘principles’ are much more important for them.

    What many people misunderstand is that the debate in the EU Parliament is about Hungary or Orbán. Totally wrong.

    The debate – the discourse – in the EU Parliament is always about the contest between Right and Left.

    Hungary is just a temporal topic (a small theatre of war) like fisheries or trade policy with Vietnam.

    And the right knows how to fight and will never give up an inch of position, it’s the left that does this.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22183871

  15. Karl Pfeifer :
    in Györ 70 Hungarian and German Neo-Nazis could congregate and even demonstrate in the main streets “against the crimes of the Allied powers” protected by five policemen on April 13

    Have you got the details? We saw a bunch of blackshirts (or similar characters) on Győr’s Széchenyi tér in the afternoon that day (about 30 or so) but did not wait to see what they were up to. I don’t recall reading anything about them in the press, either.

  16. Csendes :

    Also please read Szabolcs Panyi’s article about Reading in today’s Index. I can’t copy the link due to some browser thing, but it is currently the main article.

    I read it and I don’t buy most of it. Far too speculative and far too complicated scheme which echoes Fidesz’s claim about Reding’s motives.

  17. Tyrker :

    Karl Pfeifer :
    in Györ 70 Hungarian and German Neo-Nazis could congregate and even demonstrate in the main streets “against the crimes of the Allied powers” protected by five policemen on April 13

    Have you got the details? We saw a bunch of blackshirts (or similar characters) on Győr’s Széchenyi tér in the afternoon that day (about 30 or so) but did not wait to see what they were up to. I don’t recall reading anything about them in the press, either.

    I do not want to publish the URL of the Neonazi. So I’ll send it to Éva and I hope that she can send it to you.
    I have not translated the whole nazi rubbish.
    I have published on http://www.hagalil.com/archiv/2013/04/17/gyor/ my take on the duplicity of Fidesz. In Budapest they ban an anti-Semitic rally while in Györ German and Hungarian Neonazi can be flocking together. Disgusting.

  18. Szabolcs Panyi, who wrote the article on Reding is now with Index.

    He has been and still is the person behind the influential Véleményvezér blog.

    He is conservative, anti-left, though from the – in Hungary, at least, rare – Western oriented conservative kind.

    He is also quite young, and is a bit awe-struck by Orbán’s power.

    Let’s hope the EU will rise to the challange, though if history is any guide, the chances are rather low.

  19. Eva S. Balogh :
    Very interesting. As soon as I heard that there were twenty questions I immediately sensed that, as usual, Orbán is not telling the truth about the meeting. “It was good to be Hungarian today!” Sure thing!

    The meeting took place behind closed doors, so everything is deniable of course. Yet Die Welt, Le Monde and Der Standard (I think) also mentioned it yesterday. From what I could gather from those three, German / Austrian / Dutch / Swedish MEPs were critical, Bulgarian / Romanian / Italian MEPs showed support. And the French were split – my guess is it’s members of the centre-left UDI subgroup who didn’t attend the discussion, since two of them (Mr. Cavada & Mrs. Striffler) openly criticized the current Hungarian government in their blogs.

    DNA in another piece also reported that before the meeting Mr. Gollnisch incidentally crossed paths with OV, reportedly addressing him by saying “Don’t let it go!”. Mr. Gollnisch is a MEP for Le Pen’s Front National party, where he leads the “old guard” and has always been close to Jobbik – he for instance was a guest speaker at Deák tér last October.

    This is anecdotal, yet a hint at OV becoming a poster boy for the European populist right. Within the EPP itself, some national delegations are rather consistent on that angle but others aren’t, depending on their respective political spectrum. The sum of it all seems hard to compute.

  20. “Who will protect the citizens of Hungary from unrestricted power? According to the sincere opinion of Fidesz, it will be the European Union and the Council of Europe. We have a fundamentally different view on this issue as well. Hungarian democracy will be defended and promoted by its own people.”

    Full support for the last sentence because who else should supply the staff of the courts, offices and the parliament. (But the whole comment is very good). But what I do not understand is why he says that Fidesz believes that the EU will defend Hungarians’ rights?

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