A new political coalition in Hungary? Let’s hope so!

As I sit here to write about the latest and perhaps the most important political development of 2013, the situation is still far too fluid to be able report on the final outcome of this new round of negotiations among the democratic opposition forces.

Yesterday Gordon Bajnai on ATV and Attila Mesterházy on Magyar Rádió practically simultaneously announced that the negotiations that resulted in the ill-fated bilateral agreement between E14-PM and MSZP proved inadequate to strengthen the anti-Fidesz forces and therefore a renegotiation of the terms is necessary. MSZP has been languishing while E14-PM has been losing support. At the same time Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) has been gaining ground. According to some polls, it has garnered more potential voters than E14-PM which, in its agreement with MSZP, received 31 electoral districts out the available 106 in which the party could name its own candidates. At one point MSZP offered only two losing districts to DK and told the DK negotiating team that several of the party’s top politicians, including the party chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány, were not welcome on the MSZP list. Not surprisingly, DK refused these offers and demands.

In the last couple of months those voters who would like to get rid of Viktor Orbán and his corrupt and incompetent government have become discouraged and dispirited. By mid-December it seemed that at least four democratic opposition parties would run with separate lists and their own candidates, which would make a Fidesz victory in the coming election inevitable. Saner observers pointed out that as long as the anti-Fidesz voters don’t see a united and hence strong opposition, they will not be inspired to either work for the cause or vote for opposition candidates. After all, their efforts and votes would be wasted.

Yet both the Bajnai and the Mesterházy camps remained adamant. They not only refused to listen to “the voice of the people” but also attacked Ferenc Gyurcsány with such vehemence that at one point it looked as if any understanding with DK was impossible. Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), for example, called Gyurcsány “a mentally disturbed Bolshevik billionaire with whom one cannot build a future.” Bajnai accused him of betraying the aspirations of the democratic opposition. László Puch, the powerful MSZP politician who handled the party’s shady finances, said that “Gyurcsány all his life uttered only stupidities.” Gyurcsány stood fast. He has good political instincts and knew that these would not be the final words if events dictate otherwise. Moreover, he claims to be impervious to insults. He considers them part and parcel of politics.

Some people might complain that opposition politicians could have saved themselves a lot of headaches if they had realized the force of Gyurcsány’s opinion on the issue at the very beginning: given the new electoral rules, one can win against Fidesz only if there is a common list and one candidate for the post of prime minister. Mesterházy claimed yesterday with some justification that MSZP’s original idea was indeed to have a common platform, and negotiations to that end even began about a year ago. At that time it was Gordon Bajnai’s team that decided not to attend these meetings. And so the idea withered away.

negotiations2In fact, E14-PM kept postponing negotiations with MSZP in the hope of making the party stronger and thus having a stronger negotiating position. Mesterházy also indicated yesterday that it was E14-PM that was dead set against the participation of DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány in the negotiations. Apparently, it was not so much Gordon Bajnai who felt so strongly against his former friend and political ally but the few former LMP politicians who had left their party and joined Együtt 2014. This antagonism was understandable because, after all, LMP was a political formation that came into being in direct opposition to Ferenc Gyurcsány and his policies.

But finger pointing doesn’t lead anywhere. It is possible that originally it was E14-PM that was the obstacle to wider cooperation, but MSZP’s Mesterházy and some politicians around him were quick to follow the lead of Bajnai’s party. In fact, in the last few weeks one gained the distinct impression that E14-PM had had a change of heart and instead of the earlier harsh talk against Gyurcsány, E14-PM politicians were carefully leaving the door open for a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement signed by the two parties.

According to yesterday’s Népszava there were a number of influential liberal intellectuals who helped Gordon Bajnai make up his mind. Népszava mentioned by name László Bitó, formerly professor of ocular physiology at Columbia University and writer of fiction since his retirement in Hungary; Ágnes Heller, philosopher; Bálint Magyar, SZDSZ politician and former minister of education; Sándor Radnóti, literary historian; and Iván Fischer, conductor and music director of the renowned Budapest Festival Orchestra. These people have argued passionately for some time that the opposition’s ticket should include all parties and individuals who could contribute to an electoral victory in April.

Gordon Bajnai announced his willingness to abandon the idea of becoming the next prime minister of Hungary. Actually, if the old agreement between E14-PM and MSZP had remained in force, even then it would have been unlikely that Bajnai would have become prime minister given the large difference in size between the two parties.

Mesterházy in theory also showed his willingness to talk about all possible issues, even including giving up his candidacy for the post of prime minister. Lately there has been a lot of talk about both men stepping back and finding a third attractive and inspiring candidate. What we heard this afternoon, however, after a three-hour meeting between the negotiating teams of Bajnai and Mesterházy belies the latter’s openness to giving up his claim to the leading position on the common ticket.

MSZP seems to be rather inflexible in other respects as well. According to some socialist sources, the party doesn’t want to give a place on the common ticket to Ferenc Gyurcsány. We know enough about the membership of DK to realize that neither the membership nor the party’s other leaders would ever agree to his exclusion. I can’t believe that MSZP will be able to maintain that position. People are sick and tired of politicians in general and are especially tired of those politicians whose political ambitions seem to override the needs of the country. Too much insistence on the premiership may backfire. Moreover, Fidesz’s spokesman concentrated her criticism of the announcement on the selfishness of the politicians involved, whose only concern is personal gain.

We don’t know what the final result will  be. After three hours of negotiations this afternoon the two teams decided to continue talks this evening. We will see what tomorrow brings. And the next day. And the day after that….


  1. I am sorry for occupying the space here.

    The 2013 actual deficit was €3.7 billion – €0.6 billion from the former private retirement funds.

    The remaining (10.31.2013) private retirement funds are €0.4 billion, i.e. 4.5% of the amount nationalized in May 2011.

    Click to access NYRA_pf_honlapra_20131031.pdf

  2. @HiBoM

    I agree about the mayor–a strong candidate in western terms; but let’s not forget that Hungarian politicos (with very rare exception) are in it for the bucks. They won’t like lilly-clean, and believe that post-election troughs will be small and mostly bare. That won’t do. Better to play footsie with Viktor and accept the rich droppings from a full table. I believe Mesterhazy has been a convert to that thinking. Sandor’s vehement anti-Gyurcsany tirade suggests that he’s carrying Viktor’s water, too. Since Gyurcsany seems to divisive we’re back with Bajnai. Certainly, his modesty is becoming.

    Perhaps a Bajnai/Tetenyi ticket is the thing…

  3. Genuine deficit in billions of euros (minus spent retirement funds) (minus EU support)

    2002: 6.3 (0) (0)
    2003: 5.4 (0) (0)
    2004: 5.5 (0) (0.2)
    2005: 7.6 (0) (0.6)
    2006: 9.5 (0) (1.1)
    2007: 6.7 (0) (1.6)
    2008: 5.0 (0) (1.1)
    2009: 6.9 (0) (2.7)
    2010: 6.8 (0) (2.7)
    2011: 7.7 (7.5) (4.4)
    2012: 8.2 (1.2) (5 estimate)
    2013: 8.7 (0.6) (5 estimate)

    We can see that the budget deficit, cleaned from EU support and depleted retirement funds, was the second worst on record in 2013.

  4. Please consider:
    “Your’ !!! (above comments) ‘pick-and-choose’ in-fighting for the “BEST PREFERRED” candidate has already brought us to within 3 months of elections with NO soild, opposition candidate to stand against the MEGA-CROOK ORBÁN and cohorts.

    This is not funny any more. Hungary could sink into being a 3rd world country for 50 more years.

    The purpose AT THIS POINT is NOT to find the BEST opposition but to HAVE 1 single person (or MONKEY for that matter) that people can select as THE ALTERNATIVE.

    A PIG will do for all I care. It’ll will STILL be better than ORBAN.

    So PLEASE stop waiting TIME.
    MESTERHÁZY is in charge of the most popular opposition. All other candidates need to IMMEDIATELY abdicate in favor of a single MONKEY.

    It dont matter if you like this guy named Mesterházy or not

    WHAT DOES COUNT is to give peole an ALTERNATIVE to Orban.

    And call this alternative Mr Better-than-crook-orban!

    But tomorrow it should happen.l

    And because Mr Bajnai has gout out-a-da-way now YOU the infighters need to get outa the way —

    YOUR TURN not to choose and pick but to let the largest opposition party the MSZP take the reigns !!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Irrespective if you like the party, or their approach.

    Its 1 figure-head against the other. That is ALL that counts. And START criticizing ORBÁN and Co — no need to build up pro MSZP. JUST RUN A NEGATIVE ANTI_FIDESZ CAMPAIGN.

    Theres enough meat there to WIN !!!!!

  5. This question of a leader to rally behind is interesting, and I think I have the ideal candidate: ANGYAN (if they can convince him).

    It might best be to have a joint ticket with Angyan on top and Bajnai as deputy. Now, wouldn’t that be something…

  6. tappanch :
    Genuine deficit in billions of euros (minus spent retirement funds) (minus EU support)
    2002: 6.3 (0) (0)
    2003: 5.4 (0) (0)
    2004: 5.5 (0) (0.2)
    2005: 7.6 (0) (0.6)
    2006: 9.5 (0) (1.1)
    2007: 6.7 (0) (1.6)
    2008: 5.0 (0) (1.1)
    2009: 6.9 (0) (2.7)
    2010: 6.8 (0) (2.7)
    2011: 7.7 (7.5) (4.4)
    2012: 8.2 (1.2) (5 estimate)
    2013: 8.7 (0.6) (5 estimate)
    We can see that the budget deficit, cleaned from EU support and depleted retirement funds, was the second worst on record in 2013.

    Who estimates these 5 billion euros? Don’t you think that your table is a little absurd? According to your table Hungery gets 0.5%-1% of GDP from the EU in the MSZP-SZDSZ era and it suddenly jumps to 5%? Who would allow a payout structure like this? If this would be true it would show a completely bizarre and idiotic way of doing things by the EU. Also every country, Hungary included has to pay various fees and portions of income into the EU. Assuming the country pays in 1% of GDP, the data in your table would show that then Hungary would pay more than it gets in 2004, 2005 about break even in 2006 2007 2008, gain minimally in 2009 (when crushed by the economic crisis anyway) and then gain handsomely in subsequent years.

    If your data is true then it could be argued that the EU wanted to crush MSZP-SZDSZ by minimizing funding and it suddenly institutes a 5x increase in funding as soon as Fidesz comes to power. Anything seems wrong to you with that picture?

  7. @Ted – Sorry, my intended irony went out of fashion too!
    Actually I was thinking on a more personal level, three leader at once, as in the antic Rome a few times.
    My next best proposition would be something along these lines, albeit with a few more legs:

  8. Mr. Paul: Who estimates these 5 billion euros? Don’t you think that your table is a little absurd? According to your table Hungery gets 0.5%-1% of GDP from the EU in the MSZP-SZDSZ era and it suddenly jumps to 5%?

    Tappach is right with the net EU support. http://www.eu-oplysningen.dk/euo_en/spsv/all/79/

    Please note hat not included are the agricultural grant. They are not part of the EU budget calculation. The 5 billion is based upon the GDP, and its an estimate as it is settled always a bit later. Has to do with bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

    As to Hungary receiving little money in 2004 to 2007. This was due to the fact that Hungary was first a net payer, and later on a net receiver.

  9. @Mr.Paul

    There is nothing absurd here. Hungary joined the EU in 2004. The support was phased in.

    The EU support comes from the official EU publication called “Financial Report”

    It is in Appendix, sorry called “Annex 3”, titled “Operating budgetary balances”

    I just found the 2012 numbers, published in late November 2013.
    The actual net support was just
    3.3 billion euros as opposed to the planned 5 billion (data provided by the EU) OR
    3.75 billion (1088.5 HUF) (data provided by Hungary)

    I guess this is one of the reasons why Lazar disbanded the agency “NFU” and took over in September the handling of EU moneys.

    So the corrected 2012 data: 6.5-6.9 (1.2) (3.3-3.7)

    The Orban government fudges the numbers a lot. THere are at least 4 sources that give numbers and they always contradict each other. (MNB, AKK, NGM, KSH)

    I hope there are still people in the agencies that keep track of the real numbers.

  10. @Ron
    You are right.

    The Hungarian source gives
    1088.5 billion HUF in EU support going to the budget and an additional
    347 billion HUF in EU support outside the budget for 2012.

  11. Interesting byline information by Bajnai caught my attention in today’s “Egyenes Beszéd” (Straight Talk). When Olga Kálmán asked, how could she – or anyone – vote to someone from a such mixed bag of candidates, technically speaking, Bajnai answered, that “there will be a name with all the party-logos behind who support him/her” – or something similar.
    See it for yourselves, around 17.30 comes this part:


    If its true, and if I’ve got it right, then it pretty much the breakthrough what I think could be a game changer.
    Imagine, that there is no party rivalry in the ballot both within a block – if you put your X on a candidate, it will certainly count! Of course, it will only work, if everyone agrees in such unity, but then it’s a winner concept.
    What still remains to be seen, – besides the participating parties agreement – how they manage to communicate it to the wide public, in order to get through to everyone.

  12. @Mr.Paul

    “Who estimates these 5 billion euros?”

    Answer: the Orban government.

    Minister Varga submitted the 2014 budget plan in September 2013.

    On page 724
    (how many MPs got to this point 🙂 ?)

    (how many journalists got to this point 😦 ??)

    you can find the hoped 2014 EU support of 1,546.1 billion HUF,
    I converted this number as 5.2 billion euros, using a rate of 297.3.

    So our enemy, the EU provides 10.1% of the total revenue that is
    proclaimed proudly on page 1.

    [The hoped number for 2013 is also here, 1,285.7 billion HUF.]

  13. “I just found the 2012 numbers, published in late November 2013.
    The actual net support was just
    3.3 billion euros as opposed to the planned 5 billion (data provided by the EU) ”

    Yes the 3.3 billion euros seem a lot more realistic than the 5 billion. And somehow the data still seems a bit weird. Someone linked a whole table showing all countries but only up to 2011.


    It showed that large countries like German only pay in 6-9 Billion euros to the whole of the EU. That doesn’t really seemed like a lot for a country with 82 million citizens which are supposedly “paying for the EU project”. This would also mean that if the 5 billion “estimate” were to be realized Hungary would take out almost as much as the main financier, Germany puts in. This shows that these numbers even though 3.3 is lower than the 5 estimated, are not sustainable.

    For Hungary and others to be taking out anywhere close to these numbers in the long run, Germany and others have to pay in a lot more than the numbers show in that table.

    We might get more realistic numbers if we average out the numbers for all the years since Hungary is the member of the EU in the table.

    I think that comes out to about 1.7 % of GDP or something like that. That is what I think will be what the number is like in the longer term.

    It seems 4.4 was the plateu(2011) and the 3.3(2012) is already a large decrease in the following year.

  14. The financial report also gives the net support as a % of the Hungarian GNI.

    2004: 0.25%
    2005: 0.70%
    2006: 1.32%
    2007: 1.74%, adjustment to 1.71%
    2008: 1.13%, adjustment to 1.09%
    2009: 3.11%, adjustment to 3.17%
    2010: 2.99%
    2011: 4.66%
    2012: 3.59%

  15. Biggest net contributors in 2012:

    Germany 11.95
    France 8.30
    UK 7.37

    Biggest net recipients:

    Poland: 12.0 (So basically Germany gave 12 billion to Poland)
    Portugal: 5.0
    Greece: 4.5

  16. Biggest recipients as % of their GNI in 2012:

    Estonia 4.84%
    Lithuania 4.82%
    Latvia 4.29%

    Hungary 3.59%, so Hungary was the 4th on this list
    Bulgaria 3.43%
    Poland 3.30%
    Portugal 3.12%

    Biggest contributors:

    Sweden 0.46%
    Denmark 0.45%
    Germany 0.44%

    France 0.40%
    UK 0.39%
    Belgium 0.39%
    Netherlands 0.39%

Comments are closed.