Tibor Navracsics is not recommended to be commissioner of education, culture, youth and citizenship

Never a dull moment. I was just ready to sit down to write about the Budapest election and its influence on the parties of the democratic opposition when I learned that the EU parliamentary committee, although it approved Tibor Navracsics as a candidate worthy to be one of the commissioners of the European Commission, found him unfit for the job of commissioner of education, culture, youth and citizenship. There were some earlier warning signs, yet this piece of news was still a surprise to most of us. This development throws a monkey wrench into the plans of Jean Claude Juncker, who was hoping for the acceptance of his candidates in toto. Now Juncker is faced with further negotiations. As far as I can see, he has three choices. First, he can make a swap if he finds a candidate ready to change portfolios and go through another round of hearings. Second, he can further trim the tasks Navracsics would be responsible for in the hope that such an arrangement would satisfy the members of the committee. And, third, Juncker can go back to Viktor Orbán and ask for another candidate, preferably not a politician who bears the heavy weight of the Orbán government’s “illiberal” past. I assume that Juncker finds none of these options especially appealing.

I wrote two posts on Tibor Navracsics’s encounter with the European Commission and Parliament. The first was published before we knew for sure what portfolio was waiting for the Hungarian candidate. The title of that post was “The long shadow of Viktor Orbán.” There I outlined objections to Navracsics’s occupying the post he wanted most, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy. And, indeed, instead of this or some other more weighty job he had to be satisfied with the post of education, culture, youth and citizenship, a choice that surprised Navracsics and most likely disappointed the Hungarian government. It was at this point that I wrote my second article on the subject. Soon enough the pro-Fidesz press began running article after article extolling the importance of Navracsics’s post. In fact one article claimed that it was the most important of all 28 because “the future of Europe” depends on his work. I ended that post with the following sentence: “Just yesterday at the traditional Fidesz picnic in Kötcse [Orbán] 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?” Well, it looks as if they have.

Immediately after the nomination one started hearing serious criticisms of the nominee’s past and his unsuitability for the job. He was identified as one of the five “problematic nominees”: the Slovenian Alenka Bratušek, the British Jonathan Hill, the Spanish Miguel Arias Cañete, the Maltese Karmenu Vella, and the Hungarian Tibor Navracsics. The chief problem, according to European Voice, was that he was nominated by Viktor Orbán. Members of the European Parliament were also concerned about the “citizenship” part of the portfolio since the Hungarian government “has been accused of trampling on fundamental rights and the rule of law.” At that time, however, the talking heads in Brussels thought that “a rejection [was] unlikely.”

And then came the actual hearing that lasted three and a half hours. To every hard-to-answer question Navracsics’s response was that he personally had nothing to do with it. The media law was not his creation. As far as Hungarian anti-Semitism is concerned, he always had the best of relations with the Jewish community. NGO’s? He’s gotten along with them splendidly. In brief, he tried to disassociate himself from the government he served as minister of justice and deputy prime minister.

Tibor Navracsics before the Committee on Culture and Education

Tibor Navracsics before the Committee on Culture and Education

Interestingly, the Hungarian media found his performance brilliant. He looked cultured, moderate, and professional while his opponents were ill-prepared. A typical reaction was the article that appeared in 444.hu. But the members of the European Parliament who were present at the hearing had a different take on the matter. They found Navracsics evasive and lacking in credibility. According to Csaba Molnár (DK MEP) who was present, the members of the committee lingered on for some time after the hearing was over and in smaller groups discussed the “disgraceful” performance of Navracsics. What was considered in Hungary “clever” was judged outrageous in Brussels. Molnár was not exaggerating: the committee members were not satisfied.

Six new questions were posed which Navracsics had to answer in writing. The  hardest demand was “to take officially distance from the stances of [his] party FIDESZ, the Hungarian government and [his] Prime Minister Viktor Orban.” He was also asked to admit publicly that the media law he co-authored was not in line with the EU charter of fundamental rights. The committee also questioned his reassurances that the law that was eventually changed at the insistence of the European Commission fully complies with EU requirements.

When I first read these questions, I said to myself that Navracsics cannot officially distance himself from his party and his prime minister. This would mean denying his whole past. Well, yesterday he submitted his answers, which I thought would satisfy the committee. He disassociated himself from the media law and admitted that the decisions of the Orbán government that limited the freedom of the media were wrong. Navracsics explained that the infamous law was not drafted in his ministry but was submitted to parliament by an individual member of parliament. In fact, he disagreed with many of its particulars, especially passages concerning the freedom and diversity of  media. Navracsics said they “are of key importance in democratic societies and I regret that in the past the Hungarian government, of which I am no longer a member, did not attach due importance to this very significant point.” Well, it seems, this mea culpa was not enough.

Finally, let’s look at the Fidesz and pro-government media’s reaction to the bad news. The Fidesz European parliamentary delegation tonight released a statement in which they called the committee’s approval of Navracsics’s person “an exceptionally great success.” The statement called special attention to the fact that the left majority suggested only modifications to the portfolio, as most likely will be the case with some other commissioners as well. Magyar Nemzet’s headline read: “They suggest another portfolio to Navracsics,” not exactly the most accurate way of describing what happened.

What will happen now? A couple of days ago Peter Spiegel wrote a piece in The Financial Times‘s European edition, “Brussels confirmations descend into bloodletting,” which stated that “‘Mr Navracsics, an EPP member, faces the most uncertain future.” But even the usually well informed Spiegel thought that Navracsics, by distancing himself from the government, would survive. He may be right. But even if he is, will Navracsics–and his portfolio–survive whole? I have no idea.


  1. I have to say, I’m also – positively – surprised that at least this committee is taking its job seriously. How good a commissioner Navracsics would be we all don’t know, but we know that he is associated with the wrong party and tangible policy in Hungary.

    But it is very encouraging that this endemic EP head-nodding found a wall that hurt.

    I trust Juncker to find a way out. As one of the committee suggestions was to curb Novracsics’ portfolio that would probably be easiest – even more undermining the importance of the Hungarian candidate. I guess either culture or youth will remain. Education and citizenship can be easily attached to other portfolios.

    Another commissioner’s job would also be thinkable. He could swab with some of the other four uncertain and unloved candidates. But which?

    I am also quite angry at ALL media which reported that by and large the hearing went well, at least much better than expected. And no we get this.

  2. A bit sadistic, they made him to apologize and grovel and then dismissed him anyway.
    I guess it gives a clue about what they think about Fidesz-people if they behave like that and see no problem in it.

  3. I think Navracsics knew what he had coming. And, no, I don’t think the EU committee was being sadistic. As we read they had a lot of discussions about this candidate.

    With this I agree: “I guess it gives a clue about what they think about Fidesz-people if they behave like that and see no problem in it.”

  4. Finally a semi-good news about any actions Brussel is taking to show the world that what is happening in Hungary is not OK. I do love Fidesz’s official success story. It reminds me of the old joke of “The operation was successful but the patient died.”

  5. I suggest that Navracsics be in charge of maintaining toilet rolls in the parliamentary bathrooms.
    I know he has absolutely no experience in this job, but it would be useful for a Hungarian government member to see how a toilet should look with paper (since no such thing is to be found in Hungarian hospitals).

  6. What is the family history of Navrasics?

    What moral have the grandparents and parents represented?

    Which Hungarian family can claim innoncence?

    Which one was never associated with the varying oppressive regimes?

    When can we claim to be clean of the crimes of the fathers?

    What path can Hungary chose to clean up the leadership failures?

  7. I love HVG.hu’s opinion piece:

    “Again an at home failed politician attacks Hungary at a foreign forum!

    The student contract is not a good solution. Regarding the judiciary reform, it would have been wiser to start discussions and negations earlier with the European Union and the Council of Europe in an intuitive manner, with regard to fundamental rights and the importance of the rule of law. The freedom and the diversity of the media are crucial for a democratic society. The Hungarian government did not pay enough attention to this important aspect.

    Heard from Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner-designate of the Orban government – a government he is no longer a member of – a former administrative and Justice, Minister for Foreign Affairs.”


  8. They will only vote on the whole commission together. A “no” vote will mean the whole commission fails and the process has to start from the beginning.

  9. Good work from the ALDE-Group:they organized 17 september in Strassbourg a hearing-meeting about the situation in Hungary(Human rights,NGO’s,press freedom etc)i wrote earlier about this.You can find it on YouTube:the meeting lasted almost 2 hours.Javor Benedek was also there and he proposed for example to give the Sacharovprice to “ÖkÖtars”They divide the money from Norway and were attacked by the government.
    Now more people heard about Hungary.
    So for me it was not an surprise.Europe gave a strong signal to Hungary:they are from now on in the spotlight.
    Thanks Guy Verhofstadt and Sophie in ‘t Veld.

  10. Navracsics is just like Szijjarto or Gabriella Selmeczi. They possess no shame, reputation, conscience, feelings, backbones. They are there to serve. That’s their sole role and nothing else matters (neither to them nor to others) the slightest. Navracsics is happy to undergo any kind of questioning or show trial, he allows anything to be done to him, that’s part of his job description, part of his life.

    At the end of the day those euros keep coming, the accounts of Orban and his friends are getting fatter. There will always be willing people who can be thrown into the arena. Plus the media will anyway always present the developments as a huge success like the repulsive Tompi Deutsch did on his twitter.

    Kudos to the Parliament, small steps, very small steps, but at least it did something.

  11. @tappanch

    As to GDP as a rule of thumb, if there is recession, the Hungarian recession is higher than the German, if there is growth, the Hungarian growth is smaller. In other words, Hungary will never ever catch up to the Western standards, it is just lagging behind more and more.

    Germany’s stall I imagine has to do with the stagnation of Europe (including Russia) and the slowing down of China.

    Never mind, we will sell more apples or pálinka to Kazakhstan or Mongolia and we will be rich.

  12. One more thing: this is another reason why the ECB will keep printing money so investors will keep purchasing Hungarian bonds like crazy and they will keep Orban afloat forever. There is no way the ECB can phase out QE in the foreseeable future, the Japanese couldn’t do it in 20 years. We only need to given them 150bp more (in any case the premium doesn’t matter for Orban) and they will buy any junk.

  13. Prof Heller on Hungary:

    Orban appears in her talk after 45 minutes.

    jotunder of orulunkvincent

  14. Tappanch thanks for linking the Heller lecture, she was as she always amazing in many respects. I thought it was interesting tonwards the end of the video when the Chinese national student, these students are by the way all over the University systems in the USA, asked for her general analysis of his country’s government in light of her experience and study of the evolution of European Marxism. She really dogged the question and avoided the parallels between the Russian Federation, the controlling factor of the CCP in China, and the evolution of the Fidesz controlled state in Hungary which she had just discussed at length.

    I came away wondering what these states are in her opinion, clearly she is far too deep of a thinker to simply accept the shallow analysis of illiberal democracies or authoritarian capatialist. Being now in my 60s I am totally amazed at her intellectual energy given her age and her ability to engage in such challenging discussion.

  15. Oktober 6, 1849.
    It would have been proper for the Hungarian Spectrum to remember this anniversary here.

  16. @Spillie

    Indeed, that is very bad publicity for Fidesz. One of the possible outcome of the situation – that his portfolio would be stripped of Citizenship – would be even worse.

    @Eva S. Balogh

    My guess is there were seven problematic nominees, not five. The Czech Věra Jourová and the French Moscovici were also on the grill. That’s 2 S&D, 2 ALDE, 2 EPP and 1 ECR.

    Like ALDE (Bratušek won’t be confirmed as is, while Jourová will), it looks like the EPP sacrificed their weakest piece.

  17. Re: October 6.

    Do I remember well that around 200 people were executed both in 1849-1951 and in 1957-1959?

  18. Eva S. Balogh:It looks as if Jourova is approved.

    Yes, and Bratušek will most likely be replaced.

    There was another moment on Hungary & fundamental rights today during the VP hearing, thanks to ALDE and Green MEPs. While advocating a ‘dialogue’, Timmermans stated that should the latter fail, all options were on the table. Up to Article 7.

    Interestingly perhaps, this was also tweeted by the account of the EPP Group …

  19. Thanks for the comments – so the EU and its parliament are maybe not as toothless as Fidesz seems to believe.

    I still remember from pol.hu the comment of one of the Fidesz fans:

    Yes, we’re not following the EU rules because we’re waiting for the EU to self destruct – and in the meantime we’re only in it for the money, that’s our entitlement!

  20. Hungarian trolls in action in Germany.

    For aficionados of the Hungarian language I especially recommend the excerpted paragraph as told by Mr. Czukor, the Hungarian ambassador in Berlin who is an old school spy, ultimately even heading one of the intel agencies. His language uncannily reminds me of one of those őrnagy elvtárs talking in the Ministry of Interior movies from the early 1970’s which were shot to educate new recruits (and about which originally classified films a good documentary was made a couple of years ago). Apparently, the Hungarian government, that is the taxpayers of Hungary have limitless time and money when it comes to defending government policies abroad and influencing opinions. And as always these stupid and unsettling trolling have the exact opposite effect on the listeners as was intended.


  21. @arpad haboni: glad you mention it. I read about it a few days ago on the german blog linked in the first paragraph of the 444 piece.


    It’s safe to say that the regime’s cultural policy is now fully discredited in both Germany and France. It will have consequences, though probably not in the movie industry (which historically has always been very accommodating regarding politics).

  22. According to the FT, Navracsics would leave the Education, culture and citizenship (to the Slovenian Tanja Fajon) for… Transport. The previous designate for this portfolio (Šefčovič, Slovakia) would be promoted VP instead of Bratušek.

    Oh well, it could be worse: it’s not Maritime affairs and fisheries. 🙂

  23. @ motorok

    “I was also surprised that Gój motorosok (the Goy Motor Riders) are not Jobbik fans but Fidesz supporters. Or perhaps I shouldn’t have been.”

    No, you shouldn’t. For Hungarians, the heart is always where the cash originates…

  24. @tappanch

    Have you reported your observations to Didier Burkhalter, present head of OSCE? If not, I would like you to. Because this incident and the OSCE are both important.

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