An unexpected turn of events: Tibor Navracsics has to be satisfied with the post of education, culture, and youth

Today around noon Jean-Claude Juncker, future president of the European Commission, made his final decision on his “cabinet” or, in EU speak, the “college.” EurActiv published an excellent and telling infographic that depicts the structure of the cabinet as well as the relative importance of the commissioner-designates. Juncker will have seven deputies, the most important of whom is Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands who will be “first vice-president.” He will be in charge of “better regulation, inter-institutional relations, rule of law and charter of fundamental rights.” The other six come from Italy, Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovenia, Latvia, and Finland. So, as you can see, the new member states are well represented. One must also keep in mind that the future president of the European Council will be the Polish Donald Tusk.

In the infographic the seven vice-presidents are followed by the rest, not in alphabetical order but by what seems to me a ranking of the importance of the posts. Hungary’s nominee, Tibor Navracsics, who to everybody’s surprise got the post of commissioner of education, culture, youth & citizenship, is in the penultimate place, just before Cyprus’s Christos Stylianides (humanitarian aid & crisis management).  Most papers published in Brussels dealing with European affairs describe the post as lightweight. According to Euobserver, “the least weighty dossiers have gone to Belgium’s Marianne Thyssen (employment) and Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics (citizenship). ” The paper added that “the latter may face difficulties in the EP, which has to hear all commissioners, because he belongs to the increasingly authoritarian government of Viktor Orban.” The Hungarian-language Bruxinfo also pointed out that “the portfolio does not belong to the most heavyweight ones” but notes that Navracsics’s staff is huge, the second largest within the commission. As for his possible difficulties in the European Parliament, Benedek Jávor, the Együtt-PM EP member, reported on his Facebook page that, according to rumors in Brussels, Navracsics might be drilled hard at his hearing and there is a possibility that he will not be confirmed.

Navracsics himself was also surprised, and most likely disappointed, with the post because he was hoping for a job that has something to do with foreign affairs. But he put on a good face. Naturally, for Fidesz the position was elevated to one of the utmost importance. As a Fidesz official statement said, the future of Europe depends on Navracsics’s work in the next five years. Indeed, education is very important and it is true that many European countries could do a great deal better in that department. The problem is that education is the domain of the member states, and therefore Navracsics will not be able to make a substantial difference in educational policies across the EU.

Navracsics and his fight with Vice-President Vivien Reding was not forgotten

Navracsics and his fight with Vice-President Vivien Reding was not forgotten

Juncker initiated a major structural change, whereby the vice-presidents will be the overseers of the rest of the commissioners. In his letter to Tibor Navracsics he described the new system this way:

I will entrust a number of well defined priority projects to the Vice-Presidents and ask them to steer and coordinate work across the Commission in the key areas of the Political Guidelines.  This will allow for a better focus and a much stronger cooperation amongst Members of the College, with several Commissioners working closely together as a team, led by the Vice-Presidents, in compositions that may change according to need and as new projects develop over time.

In Navracsics’s case this will entail close cooperation with  the Finnish Jyrki Katainen, vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness; with Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president for euro and social dialogue; and with Estonia’s Andrus Ansip, vice-president for digital single market. Keep in mind that under Navracsics’s short tenure as foreign minister Hungary closed its embassy in Tallinn. Juncker emphasized in the letter than the vice-presidents have his total trust and their decisions on certain projects are final. They speak in his name. The success of the Juncker Commission will largely depend on these “über-commissioners,” as Eurobserver called them.

Navracsics gave a press conference for Hungarian journalists where he admitted that “it is possible that education in comparison to the portfolio of internal market is considered to be less weighty but every job is worth as much as we manage to make of it,” which is certainly true. The commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship & SMEs is the Polish Elźbieta Bieńkowska, and the fact that Navracsics mentioned this particular post I think says something about the frustration of the Hungarians. There are all those others in the region who did much better.

According to the new government spokesman, Éva Kurucz, Navracsics’s post is about the future and his nomination to the post is an “outstanding success.” Fidesz’s EP delegation agrees. The youth of Europe is of the utmost importance and Navracsics has twenty years of academic experience behind him. Of course, there is nothing surprising about Fidesz and the government extolling the importance of Navracsics’s new job, but the enthusiasm of LMP’s András Schiffer is hard to understand. Perhaps he would like to get a few more brownie points from Viktor Orbán and a few more invitations to Fidesz and government functions. According to him, the education portfolio is strategically more important than any of the others that had been mentioned in the last few weeks, which is patently not true.

The opposition parties’ opinion of the post was predictable. Jobbik blamed the Orbán government for not lobbying harder for a more important post. MSZP’s József Tóbiás blamed the Orbán government and Viktor Orbán himself for getting this lowly portfolio. According to him, the fault lies not with the Hungarian people but with Viktor Orbán and his regime. “It is a slap in the face for Orbán but it is we Hungarians who feel the pain.” DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, called this particular portfolio the weakest of the twenty-eight. After all, the EU has no common educational or cultural program. He added that DK will not support Navracsics’s candidacy. That means that DK’s two delegates in EP’s socialist delegation will vote against him. MSZP, as far as I know, hasn’t decided yet.  Benedek Jávor, the sole representative of Együtt-PM, rightly pointed out that it will be difficult for Navracsics “to promote cultural diversity while at home his government dictates what real culture is, how youth should be educated, and wants to make self-organization of the citizenry impossible.” All very true.

Final approval of the Juncker Commission will take place in October at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. I agree with some of the commentators: there might still be surprises concerning Navracsics’s appointment. If I were Viktor Orbán I would hold my tongue for a couple of more months. Otherwise, “the slap in the face” might be even harder and more painful than it is now.


  1. Steven Hernad,

    You wrote: “shameful and monstrous scale of needless and heartless cruelty toward countless innocent, sentient beings.”

    So if you object to the eating of innocent beings, you should have no issue with those who eat carnivores.

  2. Petofi,

    Perhaps it has been too long since you last lived in Hungary, or maybe the fault here lies with my lack of experience with living outside of Budapest, but there is a large number of Hungarians who do not think in the ways you ascribe to them. In my experience, it is the majority. I know of many good people who even now support Fidesz and/or Jobbik, because they believe the lies and have no understanding of how the economy and government works, not because they know about what Fidesz is really doing and secretly condone it. Also, some people refuse to admit they made a mistake, so they, like battered spouses, stay with their abuser until the bitter end.

    Also, if you were right about Hungarians loving the corrupt types who use the system for their own advantage, then Fidesz would not be working so hard to portray MSZP as incredibly corrupt (which, of course, it is, but only in an amateur way, compared to Fidesz).

    I understand the desire to bash Hungarians as a group, I really do, but it’s counterproductive, reductive, and not at all deductive. It’s also wrong and hypocritical, since I’ve never met a group of people that I could successfully sum up so easily, including Jews, Roma, Germans, and internet commenters. Having said that, I do like to make fun of Germans, but it’s only a joke, and most of them do not adhere to the stereotypes. They are good sports about it, though.

  3. Chief Sackhoes,

    You don’t give a reason why you believe Hungarians of voting age should be held responsible for their government’s actions, so I will have to guess.

    Do you consider it fair to punish a 15-year-old in the same manner as a 25-year-old, in other words, to say that the minor should be fully responsible for every decision he or she makes? If not, why not? Is it because a child (or a person with diminished intellectual capacity) cannot be expected to make such decisions for himself or herself? If you agree with this concept, in theory, could it not then be extended to a body of voters?

    Another reason to excuse Hungarian voters: if you read an advertisement for a product and buy that product, are you responsible if the advertisement lied, and your use of the product therefore resulted in the harm of an innocent person? Is gullibility or ignorance not an excuse?

    Finally, it’s widely accepted that the last parliamentary elections were free but not fair (I would argue they were not even free, but that’s a semantic argument). If the voters were not given a reasonable chance to oust Fidesz, how can you blame them for what Fidesz does from now on? The prior election was free and fair, but Fidesz lied about what they would do, and then cemented themselves in power. Blaming the current electorate for the actions of Fidesz would be like blaming the voters of 1949 for the actions of the Stalinist Hungarian government that resulted from that election.

  4. Wolfi,

    I agree, the UK should not have even gotten the special considerations it got before, let alone further “opt-outs”. It makes a mockery of those countries which play by the rules, and shows small countries that big countries are “more equal” than others. Besides, the UK is not poor by any definition, so why should they not participate in bringing about convergence like France, Germany, the Netherlands, etc?

    I think Scotland will go, then the UK will leave the EU, and good riddance to them. London will suffer far more from the Brexit than the rest of the EU, which will then get on with ever closer union. Scotland will then join, no matter what Spain says, and the dis-United Kingdom will spiral into irrelevance. They should have treated Scotland better when they had the chance! Of course, Scotland will pay a price in the short term, but long term will be better off, thanks to the EU! Who needs the pound when you can get the Euro?

  5. googly, I do also not like the idea of people deserving bad government, but as long as people are primarily gullible as you write, and be that because of upbringing, lack of interest or lack of opportunity to learn more or whatever else, people who want to exploit these “nice people” will easily seize the opportunity and “lead” these gullible people. It is kind of monarchy or autocracy. You can tell us any number of “excuses” why the Hungarians are not responsible for the government, but as you praise the Scotts so much, perhaps you might have a closer look at the mobilisation taking place in Scotland. The link between participation and outcome might be detectable, and it might be equally possible to draw implications with respect to people who either do not bother to vote in Hungary or who vote Fidesz (with “good intentions” or not). The UK is btw participating in Europe, and not only with money (they are in absolute terms on third place as net contributors) and people in the several institutions but also with ideas – which you and I may not like because they concentrate on the markets but still there are some, and more relevant ones than provided by countries in which the majority of people prefer to abstain from politics.

  6. London Calling!

    Thank you Kirsten for bringing some perspective to the ‘UK condition’ – I think Googly has strayed from his usual balanced insightful discourse.

    In passing I would add that the ‘Scottish Dilemma’ has no place in discussion on Hungarian Spectrum – and it seems that Googly and Minusio are desperate for the Scots to vote for secession. They won’t of course if they know what’s good for their children’s future, but it will be close. The Scot’s relationship with England has always been fractious – they even root for the opposition when England play some international sports game – even Germany.

    Just as the EU turns a blind eye to all the corruption and mismanagement of funds – and the non-auditing and signing off of their own accounts; not to mention the sheer flaccid slow wheel-grinding of so-called democratic processes (and the 1600 watt hoover directive – not seeing the wood from the trees) – then the UK’s calling to account of ‘the common market’ is a refreshing antidote. As Guy Verhofstadt has observed in a rare pro-UK stance – the UK was responsible for setting up the internal market.

    Now let’s get back to Hungary?



  7. @Charlie

    What makes you think that I’m in favour of a Scottish secession? This is utter nonsense.

  8. Minusio (going backwards)

    “As far as I know this is not a German obsession, but was an observation of Sarkozy’s. (Now France is in trouble, too.)”

    You are probably right – I just don’t tend to talk to French people that much, and I keep hearing it from Germans …

    But manufacturing doesn’t only mean cars. (Or does it?)

  9. @Cheschire Cat

    No, in fact cars are only the most visible products, but by no means the most important. The German economy relies on SMEs. The stunning fact is, however, that around 1500 of them are world market leaders – sometime in tiny product niches. The BBC once had a series on them. Their assets seem to be: innovation, close customer contact and reliable delivery and service – and after-service.

    If “London Calling” chirps up again, that was it. But there is a chance that we can use other channels.

  10. @Minusio:

    Yes the world class leadership of so many SMEs in Germany is a surprising success story – especially a lot of them in Schwab country (I’m a bit proud of that …).

    The Brits used to have that spirit too – but somehow after WW2 it seems to have disappeared, at least that’s my impression. I wonder why.

    The collapse of the British automobile production is just one example – something similar happened in computers/electronics. I fondly remember names like Ferranti, but ICL for example was a horror. We had customers using ICL computers in the 70s – compatible with no other machine, not even among themselves!

    So no wonder they disappeared from the international market.

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