The long shadow of Viktor Orbán: Tibor Navracsics’s nomination as EU commissioner

Tibor Navracsics’s nomination to be one of the commissioners of the European Commission met with negative reviews from the start. Andrew Gardner of European Voice, a regular commentator on European affairs, wrote a scathing article about Navracsics and the man behind him on July 31. Hungary was eyeing the post of Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, but in Gardner’s opinion that would be precisely the post Navracsics should not get. “Reforms relating to the rule of law–including fundamental values–are now the alpha and omega in the EU’s enlargement talks…. [and] Navracsics would not be a credible spokesman for those principles, both given the record of Orbán’s government and Orbán’s stated intent to experiment with a different approach to democracy.” It is even more worrisome, he argued, that “Navracsics could choose to spin elements of enlargement talks to promote Hungary’s own rancorous policy agenda with its neighbors.” In addition, Gardner continued, “Orbán and Navracsics are using Ukraine’s multi-headed crisis to increase Hungarian influence and push an agenda that, as Orbán’s speech on Saturday suggests, is not an agenda based on liberal democracies’ advocacy of minority rights.” As the headline in Stop said, “Navracsics [is] in the shadow of Orbán.” And it’s a very dark shadow.

In comparison to some other high Fidesz politicians, Navracsics even seems moderate, but one cannot forget what was going on in the Hungarian judiciary under his watch as minister of justice. The chief prosecutor’s office staged dozens of politically motivated trials, and hundreds of laws were introduced without any serious discussion in parliament. The Constitutional Court was stripped of most of its power. It was with Navracsics’s assent that the Azeri murderer was freed from his Hungarian jail cell and returned to Azerbaijan. So, it was no wonder that DK immediately objected and announced that they found the nomination unacceptable. The same argument is now being used by Tibor Szanyi, one of the two MSZP EP members, who claims that the whole socialist EP delegation will refuse to vote for Navracsics. Of course, the opposition’s objections did not deter Viktor Orbán from nominating Navracsics, and it was most unlikely that Juncker would not accept Orbán’s choice. So, the only question was what kind of portfolio he would get.

It was clear from day one that the desired portfolio of enlargement and European neighborhood policy was out. An early, preliminary chart showed Navracsics as the possible commissioner of trade, which is an important position. Commentators treated that piece of information with caution. A few hours later Magyar Nemzet reported that Navracsics will most likely be Commissioner of Taxation, Customs, Statistics & Anti-Fraud, which is considered to be a lowly position in the Commission. You may recall that between 2004 and 2009 that position was occupied by László Kovács (MSZP), who was originally nominated for the post of commissioner in charge of energy, a very important post, which in the end he didn’t get because of his dismal performance at his hearing. Kovács claimed that Fidesz EP members did their best to discredit him. It will be a cruel fate if Viktor Orbán’s nominee receives the same post that Kovács occupied.

Jean-Claude Juncker and Tibor Navracsics discuss his future position in the Commission

Jean-Claude Juncker and Tibor Navracsics discuss his future position in the Commission

Whether the socialist EP delegation will refuse to vote for Navracsics’s nomination is difficult to say at the moment because there is no official word on the subject, but it looks as if the Fidesz EP members are somewhat concerned. They called upon the four Hungarian members of the socialist caucus–two MSZP and two DK members–to support Navracsics’s nomination. They called attention to the fact that if Navracsics’s nomination is vetoed the fate of the whole commission will be in jeopardy. The European Parliament votes for all the members of the commission en bloc.  If Navracsics is rejected, the whole procedure must be repeated. Népszabadság made fun of Fidesz’s argument in a headline: “Europe can be terrified if Navracsics does not become commissioner.”

The opposition papers were also gleeful over the fact that Navracsics may have to be satisfied with a less than weighty post. One online portal noted that the Hungarian nominee was grouped together with the nominees of Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, and Portugal, which are considered to be less important countries. Stop, a newspaper close to the socialists, made fun of his possible position on the commission, saying that “Tibor Navracsics may putter around with taxes,” forgetting that the socialist Kovács filled the same post a few years back when the socialists certainly did not think that he just puttered around.

In any case, the list is complete and on Friday Jean-Claude Juncker sent it to Matteo Renzi, prime minister of Italy, the country that is the current president of the European Union. On Tuesday we should know what post Navracsics is getting.

But he still cannot be entirely confident that the “shadow” of Viktor Orbán will not dampen his chances. The European socialists might play the same game as the Fidesz EP members did in 2004 when they made Kovács appear totally unqualified for the post of commissioner for energy matters. There is nothing in Navracsics’s background that is remotely connected to taxation, customs, or statistics. I’m sure that he can be made to look inept and unfit for this post.

If Navracsics encounters serious opposition in the European Parliament, we can be pretty certain that the real cause is Viktor Orbán’s relations with the “bureaucrats in Brussels.” Just yesterday at the traditional Fidesz picnic in Kötcse that he claimed that “if there is unity, we will conquer the crisis, the flood, the bureaucrats in Brussels, the financial powers and the banks.” He is ready to take on Brussels. Is Brussels ready to take him on?

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25 comments

  1. It would be much better to give Navracsics a strong post so that he would have no choice but be active in the name of the EU. Orban could be punished only if Navracsics became very pro-EU.

  2. Petofi, please explain it to all Hungarians that only a united front can prevent orban from becoming a king.

  3. @JustAnIdea

    Nothing can prevent Orban from staying as long as he wants, with one exception–the demise of
    Putin. Pyutin has been Orban’s enabler for longer than most people think.

    As for ‘cooperation’ among Hungarians…I’d bet against it. First off, Hungarians (politicos) live to
    be ‘bought and sold’: they give of themselves at the drop of serious coin. But the problem is much worse than that–it is ‘systemic’: Hungarians enjoy to work against one another. Nothing
    gives more pleasure than the well-placed knife in the back, applied with a backwards and forwards screwing motion for extra penetration.

  4. Eva: We will see how Együtt-PM and LMP will do in October. They are the least cooperative parties.

    I think they will do very bad. I noticed all these stands for City election, and the only one that attracts people on a regular basis is Jobbik.

    Last week I had lunch in the City (middle of the student and young office workers) watching for more than an hour LMP attracting only twice a person. Rest walks by.

  5. I wrote on pol.hu yesterday:

    Anyone remember this from 2009?
    http://www.politics.hu/2009111

    “Fidesz MEPs will not support the nomination of László Andor to the EU Commission, the group announced on Wednesday.
    Andor has no experience in public administration, politics or EU matters, and he is unknown both in Hungary and the EU, the group said. They added that Andor is not fit to represent Hungarian interests, as he is viewed as “one of the most lightweight” of the 27 candidates for the Commission.”

    Tit for Tat?

  6. @Wolfi, I actually did not remember it but, as we know, Fidesz in opposition never supported anything the government or the socialists proposed. They even torpedoed a large investment in Gyöngyös that would have created hundreds of jobs. They did not raise hell about the Mercedes deal only because it was to be established in Kecskemét which was a Fidesz city. Gyöngyös was in socialist hands at that time. A ruthless lot.

  7. The German leftist newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau (FR) (not to be confused with the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine aka FAZ ..) has a scathing article on Europe’s Putin i e Orbán written by:

    Thorsten Benner ist Direktor des Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin.
    and
    Wolfgang Reinicke ist Gründungsdekan der School of Public Policy (SPP) an der Central European University in Budapest sowie Präsident des GPPi.

    http://www.fr-online.de/meinung/gastbeitrag-wehrhafte-demokratie,1472602,28331358.html

    They ask for stronger measures in the EU including sanctions like taking away the subsidies for Hungary – up to invoking (in)famous article 7 against Hungary/Fidesz/Orbán!

  8. I love how idiots like Political Capital talk to the Western press about Orban’s “potential successors” as party leader and prime minister. First it was Pokorni. Then it was Ader. Then Navracsics. Now it’s Lazar, with some people suggesting Rogan might be the actual “heir abhorrent.”
    Navracsics will never be an heir to Orban. Why? Because Orban will not leave office, ever. When he does, his son Gaspar will take his place. And until then, the EU will sit around sucking its collective thumb. End of story.

  9. London Calling!

    Seal Driver

    Won’t Hungary need an ‘heir abhorrent’ (!!!) when the Chief Thug makes himself President Chief Thug?

    I think it will either be Lazar or Szijjártó who will become Prime Minister Chief Lieutenant Thug.

    President Chief Thug will need a compliant Prime Minister because the current ‘Presidential Powers’ are not nearly totalitarian enough for our Viktor.

    Just as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers are lacking – and he is asking his parliament for ‘more power please’ – and scotching Turkey’s eligibility to join the EU in the process; then Orban will need to do the same.

    Only he won’t leave things to chance.

    Watch out for some devious parliamentary sleight of hand where prime minister’s powers are ‘adjusted’ whilst simultaneously investing the ‘Presidente’ with prodigious tyrannical levers of power.

    His attack dogs will smooth the bill’s passage through parliament accompanied with the usual obsequious toadying – “you deserve it Viktor – we adore you oh omnipotent one!” – after the bill gains assent – lighteningly quick.

    Then El Presidente will install himself in Sandor Palace until the Royal Palace has been reconstructed.

    The EU will give the usual tacit approval – regardless of how many breaches of their values are involved.

    Yay! Heir Abhorrent!!! Very funny!

    Regards

    Charlie

  10. Between the era of Ferenc Deak and Viktor Orban there were no other real transformational leaders.

    All others played real politics, brought on average disasters, and navigated between the foreign powers.

    Deak managed to raise Hungary to Olympic heights.

    Viktor did the opposite.

  11. Kövér quote on politics.hu. ““Who is the American or European politician who asked Ukrainians what they want?” he asked rhetorically, adding that Putin held a referendum when Russia occupied Crimea.”

    Is this guy for real?

  12. Exactly as it was foretold, the police and the prosecution assisted by the secret services are applying pressure on individuals related to Ökotárs.

    This is exactly like in Russia now.

    Sure, Orban or his people have not yet (emphasis on yet) ordered the killing of people like Litvinenko or Yuschenko (who was poisoned with dioxin, though he survived with a disfigured face), but the story of Tamas Welsz is a huge question mark.

    People, not just one, will now get behind bars, though perhaps only into pretrial detention. Carefully chosen cellmates will lie before court about what these people were ‘confessing’ to them, and a bit of abuse in the cells is part of the territory too. Colleagues will be forced to testify against each other. The next decade will not be easy for these people attending hearings and trials, trying to clear their names. But this is Eastern Europe.

    And this is only the beginning.

    The question is when will these civilians and the Norwegian backers break? Fidesz hopes the answer is soon, but if not, that’s no problem either. Fidesz has all the time in the world, it is still in a growth phase. Funded by the EU and Russia, Orban and Lazar can wait.

  13. zana: “And this is only the beginning.”

    True. The pervading soft terror will escalate and turn violent. This is the logic of dictatorship.

  14. OT – Orbán’s great foci revolution took another blow last night.

    Hungary were beaten at home in a European Cup qualifying game 2-1 by Northern Ireland – a country with a fifth of Hungary’s population and currently 21 places below them in the UEFA rankings.

    And it gets worse – not only did Hungary scored first (so it was theirs to win), but this was NI’s first win in 9 matches and their first away win in 18 games.

  15. Charlie H – I think you may be right about the move to the presidency. He will need a new prime minister, but it will be no more than a ceremonial position. I think we may agree on this. Orban either leaves power (1) when he decides he wants to hand power to Gaspar, or (2) in a pine box.

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