The European Union addresses rule of law issues: Hungary is center stage

Interestingly, it was The Irish Times that first got wind of the news that Vivien Reding, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, will announce a new mechanism to make it easier for the EU to deal with countries whose governments repeatedly abuse its judicial and legal framework and thereby threaten the rule of law in member states of the European Union. It is no secret that one of these countries is Hungary; the other is Romania. In Hungary, the Orbán government threatened the independence of the courts in addition to limiting freedom of expression. In Romania, Victor Ponta wanted to abolish the Constitutional Court altogether.

We knew, at least since José Manuel Barroso’s “state of the union” speech last fall, that the Commission was working on some kind of mechanism that would close the gap between repeated infringement procedures and the invocation of Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union. Article 7 states that in case of serious and persistent breach “the Council, acting by a qualified  majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council.” This is the most powerful weapon the EU has in its arsenal, but it has never been invoked because it is considered to be far too harsh. Leaders of the “rogue states” know that they will never face the threat inherent in Article 7. Accordingly, EU officials have pointed out that they either have to break the taboo concerning Article 7 or have to come up with alternative measures. Vivien Reding in the presence of President Barroso and Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner of Home Affairs, announced such an “alternative measure,” a mechanism that would close the gap between the lengthy and most of the time ineffectual infringement proceedings and the draconian but never used Article 7.

At first glance, the measures outlined by Vivien Reding seemed toothless to me. I was especially disappointed when I read about the “dialogue” the Commission will conduct with the government of any rogue member state. I recalled the endless dialogues between Brussels and Viktor Orbán that led nowhere while the Hungarian prime minister danced his peacock dance. But then I discovered a sentence that might give us hope. Reding said that “the Commission, as guardian of the EU treaties, also had to become the guardian of the rule of law in the Union.” They envisage an extension of the Commission’s competence.

The Commission will not deal with individual cases or miscarriages of justice, only with “systemic threats” to EU values. That is, a distinction will be drawn between individual infringements that don’t threaten the fundamental democratic structure of the state and grave, all-embracing changes that affect the entire body politic. As we know, in the last four years the Hungarian government fundamentally changed the whole “system.” In fact, Orbán only a few weeks ago admitted that the system that exists now is fundamentally different from what Hungary had prior to 2010. Indeed. Then Hungary was a democracy. Today it is not.

The photo Napi Gazdaság used for its article on the  Brussels's move against rogue states

The photo napi.hu used for its article on Brussels’ move against rogue states

How does the European Commission propose to deal with systemic threats to democracy? As a first step, it will collect evidence of “a systemic threat to the rule of law.” If such an assessment is made, “it will initiate a dialogue” by sending a “rule of law opinion” to the government in question. At that point the member state will have an opportunity to respond. In the second stage, “unless the matter has already been resolved, the Commission issues a ‘rule of law recommendation’ to the country concerned.” At this point the country will be given a fixed length of time in which to remedy the situation. These recommendations, unlike the “rule of law opinions,” will be made public. If the issue is not satisfactorily resolved, “the Commission can resort to one of the mechanisms set out in Article 7 of the EU treaty.” Whether this new three-tiered system ends up being as ineffectual as the former procedure remains to be seen.

The Hungarian media is in no hurry to report on this particular bit of news. Only two Internet sites published something on Vivien Reding’s announcement: Index and napi.hu. Both point out that the announcement is the consequence of the European Union’s endless and mostly fruitless struggles with Viktor Orbán’s systemic attack on the rule of law. Index specifically mentions Rui Tavares’s suggestion that the EU establish a new supervisory Copenhagen mechanism assessing member states’ compliance with the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy. As you can see, the Copenhagen suggestion was not included in the proposal. Instead, the Commission itself assumed the role. Whether this is a better solution or not, I cannot determine.

In any case, the European Union made the first move. Of course, it will be many months before the new mechanism is in place, but I think that this time the Commission means business. Reding even announced “the need for an EU Minister for Justice taking the helm at a central level, giving EU justice policy a face and, of course, held accountable to the European parliament.”

Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.

55 comments

  1. Finally, a preemptive regime change can be created by the EU community from outside.

    The ordinary Hungarians received help from the EU against their mega thieves political class.

    I hope that most honest Hungarians will greet this.

  2. How on earth can Index be considered “close to Fidesz?” Only by people who don’t read it or by those fundamentalists who regard any article that criticises the opposition in any way meaning Index is pro Orban. Sorry, rant over.

  3. Ki Olvas Helyesen? :

    Who can read in Hungary?
    Who can understand a newspaper article?
    http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/gyurcsany-ferenc-eroszakot-vizional-1215406#comments
    It is clear from the comments that only few people advanced beyond the headline, and understood this twisted MNO article.
    The picture is very very sad.
    Where is Akos Kertesz to write about it?

    A good summary of the conversation between Gyurcsány and Kuncze can be found on Galamus:

    http://www.galamuscsoport.hu/tartalom/cikk/365215_ez_a_kurzus_nem_fenntarthato

  4. @ Ms. Balogh: “Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.”

    And one may add that bureaucrats in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg are mainly concerned about self-preservation and increasing their self-importance (the latter could be seen as the corollary of the former). So they take on more tasks and increase staff to entrench themselves and become “indispensable.”

    The Commission does not have an impressive track record at dealing with thorny issues. It probably needs an enlightened Putin (as the original Cesar of ancient Rome) with what it takes to just do it. This (un)fortunately is not in the genes of the Commissioners, whose recruitment and mode of appointment, let’s not forget it, is precisely meant to ensure that they are bland and would not want to tackle serious problems (other than the proper shape and size of cucumbers or diameter of tomatoes) lest they offend a member state. Moreover, Fidesz can count on the People Party, so it is unlikely that the marshmallows in Brussels could do anything decisive.

  5. I am not a ‘bit optimistic. So, what if the government does not comply? What will they really do or can do? Are they going to invade Hungary? Will they kick Fidesz out? How many paragraphs had to be changed in the Basic Law (constitution) just to have Fidesz get around it, reword it and put it right back in. Jobbik does not care at all if Hungary separates from the EU, and Fidesz would just use any negative action from the EU as propaganda to “protect Hungary” such strengthening their position as the protectors of Hungary. Matolcsy will write an other book about the conspirators, and that would be that.
    Whatever the EU will comes up with at this point is too late. Orban and his friends don’t care about the average citizens. THey only care about he votes, and they will get that with the anti-liberal, anti-EU propaganda. Orban and his friends are rich by now from the EU contracts, land deals, etc. and hold onto probably 80% of Hungary’s wealth. Now, they just have to make sure to cling onto power as under a new government they may have to answer, and they can loose everything.

  6. Rablok Nelkul Legy Boldog Magyar :
    Finally, a preemptive regime change can be created by the EU community from outside.
    The ordinary Hungarians received help from the EU against their mega thieves political class.
    I hope that most honest Hungarians will greet this.

    Stop dreaming! The EU is not in the business of overthrowing member state governments. This is the role of the people and if they don’t do it, then they probably have the government they want and deserve. And isn’t it a reinforcement of the prevalent Hungarian syndrome of victimization to expect help from the outside?

    The only worrying thing is that previous institutions, as we have seen until 2010, allowed a legal change of government while the current system would appear to prevent such change through legal means. This is a recipe for disaster as in such situation change comes through social unrest and violence. One of the main goals of liberal democracy with fair mechanisms in place for change of governments is precisely to avoid a situation where the people would exercise their inalienable right to revolt against tyranny. And then we have a revolution.

  7. Does this mean that the European Union will not let PM withdraw Hungary from the EU?
    Someone assist me in understanding this article better.

  8. qaz :One of the main goals of liberal democracy with fair mechanisms in place for change of governments is precisely to avoid a situation where the people would exercise their inalienable right to revolt against tyranny. And then we have a revolution.

    I would argue that you can call Hungary “liberal democracy”. It is obvious that systematically all the checks and balances have been removed. For argument sake, let say North Korea suddenly introduced a two party system, do you think the election would of been fair? Of course Hungary is not North Korea. I am only saying that the PR machine and the fear does the trick. Orban installed fear into people. Teachers are loosing their job because they are MSZP supporters, small merchants are loosing their stores (tobacco shops) in favour of Fidesz supporters, farmers are loosing the access to lands that are leased out to Fidesz friends who have never touched an shovel in their lives, health benefits are withdrawn from people who do not support Fidesz initiatives, and the list goes on. I am sure many Hungarians are worried about how much Fidesz knows about them, and will they know if they cast there vote for an other party? When the Fidesz buddies cam for the signatures I know at least one family who signed for them but would never vote for them. They were worried what the consequences will be if they don’t sign.
    Does this sound like any kind of democracy?

  9. Does this mean that the European Union will not let PM withdraw Hungary from the EU?
    Someone assist me in understanding this article better.
    Parable of the apple tree:” It takes a mighty strong tug to pick the apples off the trees, and great balance at high altitudes to pick the highest apples on the tree. But it takes great wisdom to pick the apples off the ground and eat them”-Penny Oswalt

  10. Guess, better than doing absolutely nothing. In reality, this is almost absolutely nothing.

    “Dialogue” — this is the point where any smart politician like Orban, Lazar, or Ponta or whoever would just lough his butt off and immediately stop reading any further, as the lawyers will take care of it if and when…so never gonna happen.

    Let’s just think for a second. A crazy dictator would come to power in an EU state and would attack another EU member state. “Nothing big”, he would just quickly occupy an area the size of a county, no bloodshed. Still, armed action. What would the EU do? Yes, dialogue, negotiations, summits, task forces, procedures, proceedings, lawsuits and whatnot. Or in short: nothing. They would hope the US would get tough and force that country to back-off.

    Commenter qaz sees it correctly, the EU is all about the cushy jobs.

    I have difficulty to link the info, but there was something I read about the UN recently. There is apparently a great problem at the headquarters in NY because no official wants to be assigned to the “field” (i.e. conflict countries where poor people live). They worked all their prior lives to get to NY, so sure as sh*t they won’t go to some hellhole like South-Sudan or Niger, when they could spend their time instead on the Upper-East Side.

    The same with the EU.

    It is now exceedingly difficult to get a real, permanent job at the EU administration. Smart people with advanced degrees and language skills flunk the tests, and even if they pass them, there is no opening.

    So once they get in, however lowly the job is, they stay. They have to. I know several people with advanced degrees in essentially secretarial jobs which anybody with a high-school diploma could actually perform perfectly. And they toil in those jobs for years until there is an opening somewhere higher up the food (intellectual) chain. And there is no turning back now, there has been so much sacrifice that now they have to justify their spent efforts before their families and friends (who have been questioning the rationality of these career choices), so they have to stay. They can’t look like failures now.

    Plus, it’s great. No pressure, lot of perks and free time, it’s tax-free, and there is a job security unknown anywhere else.

    Orban and his people see this clearly. Well-fed, comfort-seeking burocrats at the EU think they can dupe tricky Eastern European lawyers into thinking they (at the EU) have the leverage. They have no idea.

  11. Little election arithmetic.

    Average voters / district = 76000

    If the turnout is 60%, this means 45600 voters.
    If the winner of the plurality district voting system gets 20,000 votes,
    the “remainder” votes add up to 2.71 million.

    ([Party list votes + ethnic list votes] + ethnic Hungarian votes from Transylvania and Serbia + “remainder” votes) = 4.83 + 0.22 + 2.71 = 7.76

    THerefore one can easily win an election district seat by 20 thousand votes, but it takes 83.4 thousand (= 7760/93) to win a “list vote”, and 20.9 thousand (= 7760/(93*4)) votes to get a [fidesznik] “ethnic” list vote.

  12. The March 11 count of the voters for the ethnic minority lists:

    Gypsy: 11.2 thousand
    German 8.1 thousand
    Croatian 1.3 thousand

    Source: (new location!)
    http://valasztas.hu/hu/ogyv2014/766/766_5_3.html

    The ethnic Hungarian registration to vote stands at 205.1.
    At this pace, the number can reach 220-230 thousand by the March 22 deadline.

    Romania 45.0%
    e-landia 35.2%
    Serbia 12.9%
    All other countries 6.9%

    Source: (new location!)
    http://valasztas.hu/hu/ogyv2014/766/766_5_1.html

  13. When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country it will be too late to do anything about it short of revolution, and revolutions in Hungary usually fail.

    When it dawns on people in other EU member states what is going on in Hungary with well informed EU bureaucrats as passive lookers on, then the EU will loose its public support and fall apart. No use to stay as a member of an organization that does not do what it was created for.

  14. 1.
    We should not forget the 100 thousand [82 thousand a month ago] “new” citizen voters who registered at a Hungarian address, I bet in opposition-leaning districts, strategically.

    see my note on February 8, 2014 at 5:48 pm | #4
    http://www.hirado.hu/2014/02/06/nvi-elnok-szavazzanak-gyorsan-a-kulhoniak/

    By the new election law, they do not have to appear at the voting booth of their address, they can vote in any border village for their nominal district.

    2.
    Here is another interesting tidbit.

    If you vote in person, your ballot sheet must be validated (stamped) on the spot.
    If you are an ethnic Hungarian in Romania or Serbia, your ballot sheet will not bear a validating stamp.

  15. tappanch :
    Little election arithmetic.
    Average voters / district = 76000
    If the turnout is 60%, this means 45600 voters.
    If the winner of the plurality district voting system gets 20,000 votes,
    the “remainder” votes add up to 2.71 million.
    ([Party list votes + ethnic list votes] + ethnic Hungarian votes from Transylvania and Serbia + “remainder” votes) = 4.83 + 0.22 + 2.71 = 7.76
    THerefore one can easily win an election district seat by 20 thousand votes, but it takes 83.4 thousand (= 7760/93) to win a “list vote”, and 20.9 thousand (= 7760/(93*4)) votes to get a [fidesznik] “ethnic” list vote.

    tappanch, let me rephrase:

    Given the current party structure, It takes about 20,000 votes to obtain one parliamentary seat from the districts, but it takes about 80,000 votes to obtain one seat from the party lists (of course, these new members of parliament will have the same one vote).

    Since the first-past-the-post based districts are gerrymandered to favor Fidesz, any vote for the losing candidates will automatically be lost (for the very wonkish readers: there will be a minor so-called “compensatory” mechanism but – in a perverse way – it will actually favor the winner of the district prong of the election system).

    The above numbers were based on a hypotethic 60% turnout rate, but the bottom line is that it takes many times more votes to gain a seat from the party lists than from the districts.

    Since the Left is traditionally more popular in limited areas such as Budapest and some bigger country towns, in this system even a disproportionate strength in certain limited areas cannot possibly compensate for Fidesz’ advantage which comes from the fact that its voter base is more evenly spread all over the country (that is in the gerrymandered rural districts).

  16. Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal

    The MSZP criminal, Simon was the 2. leader of MSZP, now he rots in a cell. Apart from thieving, corruption, stealing hundreds of millions he also had fake passports from Guinea-Bissau under a fake name. It is still not clear how he could have gotten so much money in many different accounts. This is just the tip of the iceberg he possibly hid billions in this way. The only logical explanation that this was the MSZP black money and he was only doing safekeeping.

    The MSZP party could be considered a criminal organisation after so many of its leaders were revealed to be criminals.

  17. Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal :
    Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal
    The MSZP criminal, Simon was the 2. leader of MSZP, now he rots in a cell. Apart from thieving, corruption, stealing hundreds of millions he also had fake passports from Guinea-Bissau under a fake name. It is still not clear how he could have gotten so much money in many different accounts. This is just the tip of the iceberg he possibly hid billions in this way. The only logical explanation that this was the MSZP black money and he was only doing safekeeping.
    The MSZP party could be considered a criminal organisation after so many of its leaders were revealed to be criminals.

    Good morning!

    Another day at Feri Kumin’s office. And campaign periods are pretty busy times, aren’t they?

    MSZP is already a “criminal organization” under the current Basic Law.

    Please check the amendments, it is clearly there. (hint: Article U of chapter titled Alapvetés)

    I don’t think there is any such constitution in the world, but we have it, so MSZP can, legally, be shut down at any time, it will surely be constitutional.

    (Plus we have all the fidesznik party commissioners sitting at the constitutional court who would rubberstamp anything anyway.)

  18. I, like many others, have benefitted from Hungary being in the EU – not from multi-million kickbacks, but from ease of travel, work visas, residency conditions etc. But reading all this, combined with the ongoing situation in Ukraine, I wonder about the EU’s expansionism. If the EU was engaging in firm expansionism, then that is one thing; prepared to enforce a particular model of liberal democracy and ensure that all countries with EU aspirations have adherence to that model at a popular, grounded level. However, what we have here is a case of ungrounded expansionism, whereby cracks are papered over and problems with education and participation are ignored in the interests of quick accession. At the very least, the EU 10 accession countries should have spent ~10 years in an ‘airlock’ before being granted access to the rest of the ship, to illustrate that democratic habits were being adopted and that societal dialogue was possible.

    The problem now is that they are totally in, most of them (with partial exceptions of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia) are on a sliding scale of corruption/incompetency. The financial crisis has also sapped much of the existing EU’s commitments to more abstract details relating to human rights, as elites in Spain and Italy increasingly panic about the consequences of mass youth unemployment. As it stands, accession and expansionism towards the East could well be considered by historians of the future (let’s assume they will exist) as the time when ‘The West’ began to demonstrate the limits of its power. In this sense, with his opportunistic and hare-brained ‘ostpolitik’, Viktor Orban may have inadvertently hit on a point. Yet it is a useless point for Hungary, unable to offer China or foreign investors anything other than the scraps of a fragmenting EU membership. Hungary’s eventual and lingering descent into a failed state seems set to quicken following the 2014 election.

  19. I should also add Estonia to that list of (partially) successful new EU member states. The point is that over time, the fortunes of these 4 countries is set to increasingly diverge from that of the other 6. The continuation of a lack of ongoing capital investment will propel countries in different directions.

  20. A little OT:

    “Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.”

    An interesting (and rather damning) view of the EU from the other side of the Atlantic. It’s always beneficial to see ourselves through the eyes of others – if a little discouraging!.

    I had (still have) high hopes for the EU, so I hope that it can reform itself into something more functional and useful. But if it has to take the US route (i.e. moving more towards a United States of Europe), too many countries (like the UK) will opt out altogether, and the chance of a unified Europe will be lost for a long time.

  21. Jean P :
    When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country it will be too late to do anything about it short of revolution, and revolutions in Hungary usually fail.

    Totally agreed.
    Just let us spread these thoughts.

  22. Egy Magyar Gondolkodo :

    Jean P :
    When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country it will be too late to do anything about it short of revolution, and revolutions in Hungary usually fail.

    Totally agreed.
    Just let us spread these thoughts.

    Here is the thing. People like it this way. They know Fidesz is corrupt, they have no illusions.

    But they still prefer to be ruled by Fidesz and even sucked dry by the fideszniks than ruled by the communists.

    (In rural areas this is not a joke, anybody leftist is still seriously called a communist).

    Nobody will revolt. You misunderstand the average people, because you do not meet them.

    The election system now depends on rural people (effectively those living outside of Budapest) and they like it this way.

    Of course, like all Hungarians, they too, love to complain, but that’s another issue, but they still like Fidesz and the world it created. The Hungarian is an “Eastern” culture, according to all recent cultural research/polls, Hungarians seem much closer culturally to Azerbaijanians, Bosnians, Georgians than to Slovaks, let alone to the Baltic people. Orban is catering to this majority.

    Get used to it.

  23. OT: on 15 February, we discussed the looming memoirs of Helga Wiedermann, former chef de cabinet of central bank governor Matolcsy.

    And indeed, even PM Orbán attended the launch of the memoirs on Tuesday. Matolcsy boasted at the event that the memoirs provide a true account of the country’s economic freedom fight.

    It was only a couple of hours later when the political scandal erupted: Wiedermann claims in the book that Matolcsy had leaked the start of the talks with the IMF during a business lunch to Goldman Sachs before its official announcement….

    The deeply embarrassed central bank has now published a statement, claiming that Widermann’s memoirs is in fact a (science?) fiction:

    http://www.mnb.hu/Sajtoszoba/mnbhu_pressreleases/mnbhu_pressreleases_2014/mnbhu_sajtokozlemeny_20140313_1027

    An incredible story indeed, albeit not really surprising. I find it extremely difficult though to imagine a similar surreal story / scandal erupting at Bundesbank or at the Bank of England.

  24. “When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country…”

    People keep missing the point: the problem, essentially, is deeply-rooted in the national character, or predilection, to finesse situations. This was particularly true in communist times
    when Hungary was, indeed, known as the ‘happiest barrack’ in the communist sphere. Other countries marveled at the small-scale capitalism and the degree of liberty the Soviet papa afforded its (favorite) child. And Hungarians revelled in their ‘cleverness’ at getting away with so many things other communists countries could not.

    The problem now is that ‘finesse’ loses its efficacy in the harsh reality of Capitalism–you either produce and compete or you’re fried. Hungarians did not care for the loss of their wiggle-room. Hence the present-day flight from the reality of the 21st century, and Fidesz’ s headlong rush into the comforts of bygone days. Of course, the demons have to be explained as ‘jews’, ‘multinationals’, ‘foreign banks’ (same as ‘jews’) who seek to soil the spotless Hungarian soul. This alone may explain the great allure of Fidesz to the average Hungarian,
    and the absolute helplessness of the opposition to fight it.

    Personally, I have come to the conclusion, like the main character in the film, The Man In The Glass Booth, that it’s no use fighting the tide.
    Thus, I will vote Fidesz.
    That’s what Hungarians want.
    That’s what Hungarians deserve.

  25. Max: c’mon, there is no scandal.

    You read it as did some other people. But these people have no relevance in reality. And we all knew even 5 years ago that in a normal country Matolcsy would have been committed to an insane asylum long ago.

    The majority will not know about this incident, however. But even if they knew they would not understand it. I do not think more 5,000-10,000 people could understand its significance even if you explained to them.

    People are way past these stories.

    They like reality show-like stuff like Simon and Zuschlag. “F***ng commies, nothing changes.”

    Other than those they value utility price cuts and such simple, blunt matters.

    Like showing that you are powerful: that you would stand up to the banks, the West, the IMF who are hell-bent on hurting Hungarians.

    The Left does not exude this kind of power, people will simply not believe that they are capable or willing to protect Hungary from dangers.

    Szonda Ipsos shows that Jobbik has been on a roll (it’s for real), and Fidesz also increased its popularity (though not by much) since last month. The Left stagnated yet again. The Left still has probably a lot of secretive voters, but there seems to be a huge momentum for Jobbik (as well as some for LMP) but there is nothing for the Left. That is the issue, the utter lack of momentum.

    Hungary will be a failed state, as Fidesz can’t possibly improve the economy and very soon Jobbik will be the most important Hungarian party in the polls (actually after the elections Jobbik will claim victory at least compared to itself) and then when the government starts to be unpopular, Jobbik will fly: the untested, non-corrupt, powerful, new white Hope. (Believe me right wing people would vote Vona even if he really was gay. They hate the Left more than the gays.) Buckle your seatbelts.

  26. Paul :

    “Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.”

    An interesting (and rather damning) view of the EU from the other side of the Atlantic. It’s always beneficial to see ourselves through the eyes of others – if a little discouraging!.

    I had (still have) high hopes for the EU, so I hope that it can reform itself into something more functional and useful. But if it has to take the US route (i.e. moving more towards a United States of Europe), too many countries (like the UK) will opt out altogether, and the chance of a unified Europe will be lost for a long time.

    I remember well when it all began. How excited I was. I’m not against the EU. Far from it. I’m just saying that it cannot go on as it is now. A loose confederation. It has to become the United States of Europe if it wants to survive. They must curb the competences of the member states and strengthen the power of the central government. A good example would be actually the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy where foreign affairs, defense, finances were handled centrally and the two countries of the monarchy had home rule only.

  27. Some postings of the blog from 4 years ago:

    https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/the-morning-after-the-hungarian-elections/#comments

    https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/hungarian-election-results-and-how-from-here/#comments

    It turns out some commenters were here several years ago as well, like the commenter Paul and “whoever”.

    The commenter known as “Paul” wrote comments 4 years ago such as:

    Paul :
    as the results sink in, attention turns to the second round.
    if the socialists really want to stop fidesz from getting a 2/3 majority, they would withdraw from any constituencies where they came in 3rd place, and advise their supporters there to vote for jobbik. in these places, (Ózd, Sajószentpéter, Tiszavasvári, Heves in particular) the mszp can either help fidesz get their 2/3 majority (by standing), or help jobbik get a few extra seats (by withdrawing). in areas where mszp does not have a realistic chance of winning, its a bitter choice for them indeed.
    at this stage it seems most likely that mszp WILL contest these seats, and thereby help fidesz to get its supermajority.

    and

    Paul :
    according to the current situation, fidesz will win all these seats, unless mszp withdraws – in which case fidesz may lose some to jobbik, and miss the supermajority.
    “an extremist and anti-democratic party” yes we have all heard these catchwords repeated in the media ad nauseum. repeating it constantly makes you sound brainwashed.
    the mszp was born from a brutal communist dictatorship – do you also refer to them constantly as “extremist” and “anti-democratic”? i think not. so keep the slurs to yourself unless you have some compelling evidence we don’t know about. certainly what the mszp’s forebears did to many innocent hungarians was “extreme” and “anti-democratic” but that doesn’t get a mention in your post. having read the entire jobbik program myself, i didn’t find anything “anti-democratic” in there at all.
    as for jobbik being “extremist” – well thats merely personal opinion. i could argue that the mszp is more “extremist” than jobbik (particularly when it comes to their “extreme” corruption) but i don’t slur them with it every time i mention them. there is nothing inherently less democratic about jobbik than the other mainstream parties

    https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/hungarian-election-results-and-how-from-here/#comments

    Was “Paul” sent here by Jobbik over 4 years ago?

  28. One point seems also very important to me:

    I remember the days in Germany after the war (I was born in 1943) and the fact that we were really poor – but things got slowly better every year. So it took us (like the Brits, the French etc) around 45 years to get a really nice standard of living – and from personal experience I know that it was much better than in the Eastern block.

    And suddenly things changed and all those Easterners wanted (obviously) the same nice things that we were used to in the West – but how can you progress economically so fast without problems?

    In a way this reminds me of a lottery winner who suddenly has millions to spend – and often gets very unhappy and even loses everything again.

    This one-dimensional progress (only the economic side, but not the political in a way) is at least part of the problem. I still can’t understand that Hungarians sometimes say that Kadar times were better – do they really want back the “security” of Kadar, just helped by some material gains, cars, tv sets, mobile phones?

    A side remark:

    Of course here in the village every house has a satellite dish (probably a big flat tv screen too) and also a car in the driveway but often no sign of repairs having been done in the last 20 or even 40 years, the same paint, the same rotting old windows etc. So it seems people have special priorities, a nice house is not among them …

  29. kommentelo :
    Some postings of the blog from 4 years ago:
    https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/the-morning-after-the-hungarian-elections/#comments
    https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/hungarian-election-results-and-how-from-here/#comments
    It turns out some commenters were here several years ago as well, like the commenter Paul and “whoever”.
    The commenter known as “Paul” wrote comments 4 years ago such as:

    Paul :
    as the results sink in, attention turns to the second round.
    if the socialists really want to stop fidesz from getting a 2/3 majority, they would withdraw from any constituencies where they came in 3rd place, and advise their supporters there to vote for jobbik. in these places, (Ózd, Sajószentpéter, Tiszavasvári, Heves in particular) the mszp can either help fidesz get their 2/3 majority (by standing), or help jobbik get a few extra seats (by withdrawing). in areas where mszp does not have a realistic chance of winning, its a bitter choice for them indeed.
    at this stage it seems most likely that mszp WILL contest these seats, and thereby help fidesz to get its supermajority.

    and

    Paul :
    according to the current situation, fidesz will win all these seats, unless mszp withdraws – in which case fidesz may lose some to jobbik, and miss the supermajority.
    “an extremist and anti-democratic party” yes we have all heard these catchwords repeated in the media ad nauseum. repeating it constantly makes you sound brainwashed.
    the mszp was born from a brutal communist dictatorship – do you also refer to them constantly as “extremist” and “anti-democratic”? i think not. so keep the slurs to yourself unless you have some compelling evidence we don’t know about. certainly what the mszp’s forebears did to many innocent hungarians was “extreme” and “anti-democratic” but that doesn’t get a mention in your post. having read the entire jobbik program myself, i didn’t find anything “anti-democratic” in there at all.
    as for jobbik being “extremist” – well thats merely personal opinion. i could argue that the mszp is more “extremist” than jobbik (particularly when it comes to their “extreme” corruption) but i don’t slur them with it every time i mention them. there is nothing inherently less democratic about jobbik than the other mainstream parties

    https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/hungarian-election-results-and-how-from-here/#comments
    Was “Paul” sent here by Jobbik over 4 years ago?

    whoa, thanks for the reminder. It is very interesting to read comments from these people. Although the views of – open minded – people can change in four years. Also, many commenters then, who do not seem to be with us any longer. I wonder if they still read.

  30. wolfi :
    One point seems also very important to me:
    I remember the days in Germany after the war (I was born in 1943) and the fact that we were really poor – but things got slowly better every year. So it took us (like the Brits, the French etc) around 45 years to get a really nice standard of living – and from personal experience I know that it was much better than in the Eastern block.
    And suddenly things changed and all those Easterners wanted (obviously) the same nice things that we were used to in the West – but how can you progress economically so fast without problems?
    In a way this reminds me of a lottery winner who suddenly has millions to spend – and often gets very unhappy and even loses everything again.
    This one-dimensional progress (only the economic side, but not the political in a way) is at least part of the problem. I still can’t understand that Hungarians sometimes say that Kadar times were better – do they really want back the “security” of Kadar, just helped by some material gains, cars, tv sets, mobile phones?
    A side remark:
    Of course here in the village every house has a satellite dish (probably a big flat tv screen too) and also a car in the driveway but often no sign of repairs having been done in the last 20 or even 40 years, the same paint, the same rotting old windows etc. So it seems people have special priorities, a nice house is not among them …

    wolfi: pls. go up to district XII or II of Buda and check out, for example, the fences of great villas (often worth millions in USD). They are uniformly in a state of disrepair and in need of a new paint, at least. But who cares? This is not Austria or Germany with all its neat houses. People do have other priorities here than in Germany.

  31. Max :
    It was only a couple of hours later when the political scandal erupted: Wiedermann claims in the book that Matolcsy had leaked the start of the talks with the IMF during a business lunch to Goldman Sachs before its official announcement….
    The deeply embarrassed central bank has now published a statement, claiming that Widermann’s memoirs is in fact a (science?) fiction:
    http://www.mnb.hu/Sajtoszoba/mnbhu_pressreleases/mnbhu_pressreleases_2014/mnbhu_sajtokozlemeny_20140313_1027
    An incredible story indeed, albeit not really surprising. I find it extremely difficult though to imagine a similar surreal story / scandal erupting at Bundesbank or at the Bank of England.

    We already knew that it is a fiction together with Zuschlag’s book. Fidesz is coming out with whatever they can to do as much damage as much they can. Do you think Hungarians will really care that some parts (or all) are lies? Do you think that any of the government media will issue large statements about that if one part is a lie then all is? Of course not. THey are just there to do the damage.

  32. Hogwash a’la Orban.Even though now Orban (MNB) claims that the book is a fiction, why don’t we just listen what Matolcsy had to say on HirTV:

    “We are presenting Wiederman Helga’s book, and also celebrating that there was someone who wrote down the history of the last few years. And, of course, our Prime Minister also asked us, that since we have built the successes of the past few years, we should have the courage to write down this story.” […] “I thank Helga what she has written in this book, we lived through this together, we did it, we have achieved, and I think as the sun is shining, so maybe from above they like what we were doing. ”

    So essentially Matolcsy could go to jail…

  33. wolfi :This one-dimensional progress (only the economic side, but not the political in a way) is at least part of the problem.

    I would frame it differently: part of the problem is that the workplace has become almost conflict-free politically speaking. Less factories, less workshops, new jobs with no unions – and why would it matter anyway since you’re going to change jobs soon?

    The disaffection for politics follows the same trend in the West and the East of Europe. In the West, the memory of work-related conflicts from the 50s to the 70s still provides the illusion that politics as action are not over, but that’s an illusion. One the East doesn’t even enjoy (not that there weren’t any conflicts, but their memory has collapsed with the former regimes).

    What’s left when the link between politics in the workplace and politics in the public space is broken? Only “values”, ie general, abstract views of society – they may polarize opinion because they’re easy media material, but they’re often hardly real. And at the “values” game, the Right can easily be as good, if not better, than the Left.

  34. “Like showing that you are powerful: that you would stand up to the banks, the West, the IMF who are hell-bent on hurting Hungarians”

    Probably true with the scummy fascist backwoodsmen that Fidesz is trying to capture from Jobbik with the none-too-subtle implication (as Kim Schepple has pointed out) that what Orban is really saying is:

    “When we say we are taking on the *moneymen*, what we really mean is that we are taking on your age old enemy and mine, the Jews- look I’ll even put up a Nazi-apologist statue so that the Yids know their place”.

    That’s Fidesz, that’s the Hungary2014 and shame on you and the other Fidesz sheep on here for attempting to justify the unjustifiable.

  35. Thanks kommentelo for the link back to 2010, certainly food for thought, how things have panned out since. I can be a bit smug in justifying my analysis, to be honest. If there’s anything that we’ve had confirmed over the last four years, it’s that Fidesz are not a normal political party and their engagement with society is not normal, by any stretch of the imagination. I knew this back in 2010, simply based on the Right’s response to an electoral defeat in 2002, where power had to be ripped grudgingly out of their furious little hands by a ramshackle anti-Fidesz coalition. It’s terrible to be right about the most dire predictions, and it is even worse that those who were slightly more upbeat back in 2010 are no longer with us.

  36. @Some1

    “So essentially Matolcsy could go to jail…”

    Don’t be daft.
    Orban likes nothing better than to stand on his elevators, puff up his chest,
    and defy all in defense of who he so chooses. Let one of his chosen fall? Well, it happened once, but he wanted Ader in his place so he didn’t mind cutting Schmidt adrift. But Matolcsy?
    How else can he best mock Hungary but by keeping a total incompetent in place?

  37. I am in agreement with those who wrote they believe the EU will take no action against Hungary. But since the developments of the last 24 hours I am even more convinced the EU will totally leave Romania alone. Romania is now allowing 24/7 NATO surveillance flights using AWACS along its border with the Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has requested defense assistance from NATO based on a claim that that 80,000 Russian troops were massing on its borders including 270 tanks, 180 armored vehicles, 90 attack helicopters, 140 military aircraft, and 380 pieces of artillery. At their closest point Russian tanks are a 3 hour drive from Kiev.

  38. @Some1
    I made reference to liberal democracy as the political system required as a condition for a country to belong to the EU. While checks and balances in Hungary have been tampered with, she is still considered a liberal democracy and expected to behave as such, the reality on the ground notwithstanding.

  39. cicvarek2 :
    (…) according to all recent cultural research/polls, Hungarians seem much closer culturally to Azerbaijanians, Bosnians, Georgians than to Slovaks, let alone to the Baltic people. Orban is catering to this majority.Get used to it.

    Sources of the cultural research/polls?

  40. qaz :
    @Some1
    I made reference to liberal democracy as the political system required as a condition for a country to belong to the EU. While checks and balances in Hungary have been tampered with, she is still considered a liberal democracy and expected to behave as such, the reality on the ground notwithstanding.

    Essentially, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I did understand what you were saying. My point is that Hungary only on paper fits the criteria, and there is nothing that the EU will or could do to change that, except pushing papers back and forth, having countless meetings, and so forth. What was Hungary ten years ago has no relevance, just like what Hungary was 30 years ago has no relevance either. Things are what they are. In reality at this point in time the EU in cases like this is nothing more than an additional layer of bureaucracy that will solve nothing but cost a lot.

  41. However toothless the EU might be (and however frustrating it might be to witness how easily they are often duped by smooth Fidesz spin), at the end of the day this pales next to the towering EU achievement of, well, NO WAR between member states, in a continent that pretty much couldn’t stop fighting in previous decades and centuries, and continues to fight right outside the EU borders. Silly to dismiss this. That and a (slight) reduction in Hungarian bureaucracy for the dreaded ‘outsiders’ are things to celebrate!

  42. Ipsos poll, taken March 4 to 10, sample size: 1500:

    [change since February]

    Fidesz 32% [+2%]
    Jobbik 11% [+2%]
    LMP 4% [+2%]
    United opposition 23% [0%]

    other/uncertain/secretive 30%

    Ipsos thinks that 7% will vote from this 30% and
    the united opposition can take 3% from here, LMP 1.5%
    Jobbik and Fidesz 0.75% each.

    This would mean a 76% turnout,
    33% of the adult population would vote for Fidesz, [43% of the actual voters]
    12% for Jobbik, [16% of the actual voters]
    5.5% for LMP, and [7%]
    26% for the united opposition [34%]

    If we believe the calculator at http://www.valasztasirendszer.hu/mandatum/ ,
    this party support would translate into

    115 Fidesz seats in Parliament,
    18 Jobbik seats
    7 LMP seats, and
    59 seats for the united opposition.

    Fidesz+Jobbik [open or tacit] coalition would reach the 2/3 majority.

    http://www.ipsos.hu/site/er-s-d-tt-a-fidesz-a-jobbik-s-az-lmp/

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