The Hungarian people are not thrilled with Orbán’s Russia policy

Népszava‘s information about Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest, seconded by Attila Ara-Kovács on Klubrádió, turned out to be accurate. Válasz, a pro-government internet site, was skeptical about the accuracy of the news because, after all, there was no mention of such a visit in Russian sources. Moreover, no western media picked up the news from Népszava. A commenter on this blog also expressed his doubts about the authenticity of the news. After all, Népszava is an opposition paper and therefore, I guess, not quite reliable. By this morning, however, the press department of the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the information: Putin is coming to Hungary, although the date hasn’t been fixed.

Meanwile Népszabadság, another opposition paper, learned “from diplomatic circles” that the trip was planned a year ago on Hungary’s initiative. At that time the sanctions against Russia were not yet in place. Moreover, originally the trip was supposed to take place sometime in 2014, but because of scheduling difficulties it was postponed to this year, a change that might be advantageous to Putin but is mighty uncomfortable for Orbán. But as László Kovács, former foreign minister, said yesterday, Orbán developed a relationship with Putin that precludes any postponement of the meeting.

While waiting for the arrival of Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, several civic groups are preparing demonstrations. A group headed by Zoltán Vajda and Balázs Gulyás, two people whom I consider to be the most promising among the organizers of the recent demonstrations, plans to take the lead. Balázs Gulyás was the organizer of the mass demonstration against the internet tax, and Zoltán Vajda organized the demonstration on behalf of those 60,000 people whose savings in private pension funds the Orbán government wants to expropriate.

Vajda and Gulyás are planning two demonstrations. One will take place on February 1, the day before Angela Merkel’s arrival. It is called “Spring comes–Orbán goes: Demonstration for a European Hungary.” The second demonstration is planned for February 9 or, if Putin comes later, it will be postponed to the day of his arrival. The theme of the second will be “We will not be a Russian colony.” Other organizations and parties expressed an interest in joining these two Facebook groups, and it seems that they, unlike some others, are ready to cooperate with everybody who is ready to join them. As I wrote yesterday, PM asked all democratic parties to take part in massive demonstrations that include both parties and civilians.

In the lively discussion that followed yesterday’s post, a question was raised about the attitude of Fidesz voters toward Russia. According to one opinion, Fidesz voters are so brainwashed that they are ready to follow Viktor Orbán all the way to Moscow. Others, myself included, doubted the accuracy of this observation. In fact, I ventured to suggest that anti-Russian feelings might be a catalyst that will bring about a united opposition to Orbán’s regime. Well, today we have a more scientific answer to the question of Hungarians’ attitude toward the United States and Russia. The poll was taken by Medián for 444.hu

Here are some figures confirming that the Orbán propaganda did not significantly alter Hungarians’ anti-Russian sentiments. I will start with the most important and most telling figures: “If Hungary had to choose between the United States and Russia as a close associate, which country would you choose?” Fifty-three percent chose the United States and only 25% Russia. Hungarians are aware of the worsening relations between the United States and Hungary, and surprisingly the majority blame the Hungarian government for it. This finding goes against the widespread belief that Hungarians always blame others for their misfortunes. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents blame Hungary and only 14% the United States.

Medián also ran these figures against party affiliation. Those who feel more aligned with the democratic parties overwhelmingly blame their own country for the current situation (80%); only 4% blame the United States. Interestingly, the majority of Jobbik voters (59%) side with the United States. Only 13% put the blame on the U.S. while 27% think that the blame should be shared by the two countries. The situation is about the same among undecided voters. Fidesz voters are not as uniformly pro-Russian as some commenters on Hungarian Spectrum suspected. Only 37% blame the United States, 22% Hungary, and 40% think that both countries are at fault. I wouldn’t call that a resounding endorsement of a pro-Russian, anti-U.S. foreign policy.

Diplomats, present and former, have found it difficult to figure out what the real purpose of this meeting is. I could suggest a few topics that might come up. First, I think, is Paks. Orbán, for whom the building of a second reactor at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant is very important, surely would like to get reassurance from Putin that the project is still on and that Russia will not turn its back on Paks as it did on the Southern Stream. Another topic might be Hungary’s attitude toward the extension of the sanctions against Russia. Would Hungary vote against such a decision? There is also the question of the U.S.-EU free trade agreement, officially called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which Russia opposes.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Orbán were a ready partner of Russia in opposing the free-trade agreement. On what am I basing this opinion? István Mikola, formerly the “nation’s doctor” and nowadays one of the undersecretaries in the foreign ministry, announced last night on HírTV that Hungary would go so far as to veto the TTIP if Hungary’s interests were not taken into consideration. One such reason would be the acceptance in the European Union of genetically modified food products coming from the United States. Fidesz lawmakers included a GMO ban in the new constitution. András Schiffer, the anti-capitalist, anti-globalist co-chair of LMP, went even further. In his opinion, the whole free-trade agreement is against the interests of Hungary. In fact, not just Hungary but in his words “it means in the long run the ruin of the whole globe.” He added that the agreement would mean the loss of 600,000 jobs in the EU. So, Putin and Orbán are of one mind when it comes to the TTIP. András Schiffer, the so-called opposition leader, joins them because of his far-left notions of modern capitalism and globalism.

Not so long ago, however, James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, wrote an article in Foreign Policy: “Vladimir Putin hates the TTIP which is exactly why Europe and America need to get it done.” Stavridis explains his support of the treaty this way:

The TTIP is a sensible agreement on economic grounds, broadly speaking. But it also holds enormous real value in the geopolitical sphere. The increased linkages between the United States and our European allies and partners will stand in direct opposition to Putin’s key strategy of driving a wedge between the United States and the EU as the central members of the transatlantic community.

I don’t know how important the GMO issue is in the scheme of things, but one has the feeling that Hungary will be a difficult negotiating partner when it comes to the TTIP.

Another issue that might be discussed is Putin’s pet subject, the Eurasian Economic Union. It was only a few days ago that Russia’s EU ambassador urged Brussels to start talks with the newly born Eurasian Economic Union despite the Ukrainian crisis. As he put it, “common sense advises us to explore the possibility of establishing a common economic space in the Eurasian region.” A Russian-led bloc might be a better partner for the European Union than the United States. The reason: low health standards in the U.S. food industry. Orbán again might be helpful on this issue. However, in Orbán’s place I would tread lightly. It is true that Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union became reality on January 1, but according to Reid Standish, an expert on Kazakhstan, Putin’s Eurasian dream was over before it began.

Eurasian Union

All in all, I think the two have plenty to talk about. The topics I have outlined are primarily Russian concerns, and getting Hungary on board would be only to Russia’s advantage. For Hungary to become Moscow’s Trojan horse in Europe is not strategically wise.

70 comments

  1. I very much like the call for the Putin demonstration being: “We will not be a Russian colony.” Simple and to the point.

  2. I hate Orban, but I have this to say.

    There’s 100% consensus among Hungarian parties that we don’t want GMO. Period. Why would the US push us like crazy on this issue? Hungary needs the power to stop it at its borders at least.

    Secondy, the TTIP is anyway controversial. Orban can oppose it because many Western politicians oppose it anyway. There’s also a grass roots opposition mounted by NGOs. So while Orban can’t politically oppose sanctions as he would be alone (maybe, although Slovakia or Cyprus or France or others may oppose them too), Hungary would not be alone against the TTIP for sure.

    Moreover, it’s not just about the GMOs. The US – at the behest of the giant internet corporations (who hitherto were in the business of “improving the world and bringing democracy”) – is pushing hard to dilute existing European data protection laws rendering the most minute personal data a commodity to be traded and sold. Effectively creating markets out of the lives of people. At one point there’s got to be an end for markets.

    So, yes, I too think TTIP will be opposed by Orban.

  3. Why are so many ordinary Hungarians tolerating and serving Orbans, Horthys, Rakosis, Vonas?

    These Hungarians are/were allied with the worst tyrants of humanity, Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Ali Khaminei.

    Why is an ordinary Hungarian remaining silent, passive, complacent?

    Let us try the path of freedom, enlightenment, equality, justice.

  4. I agree with bund re the TTIP, it’s also not well received by many Germans. The crazy side of it:
    It’s about “Free Trade” but discussed in secret so of course there are a lot of speculations about its contents – right now there was an uproar that it would mean that products like “Black Forest Ham” might be sold which are produced anywhere in the USA …
    And GMO is also a point in the discussion.

    PS and OT:
    I shudder to think that even more US junk food and other junk might be sold cheaply in Europe …
    Have you read about HFCS and what it means?

  5. @Jean P

    First, it doesn’t matter where GMO is good of bad, people don’t want it, so why push it? Why does the US want to push something against so much resistance? (Because the relevant companies donate a lot of money to reelection campaigns).

    Secondly, there’s a so-called precautionary principle see article below.

    Thirdly, GMO products have no benefits whatsoever (other than for the provider of seeds which usually also provides the pesticide and fertilizer). Actually more fertilizer and pesticide are needed than with previous non-GMO varieties, the soil gets worse and so on, there are a host of issues with GMO and the industrial agriculture on which GMO is based (but GMO puts such practices on steroids). So one can view GMO in isolation (even in that case precaution is necessary), but together with the system it necessitates and perpetuates, it is clear that GMO is not the way to do any sustainable agriculture.

    View at Medium.com

    But this is not about GMO as such, bout about whether TTIP is good or not, or whether Orban will push against it or not.

    The thing with TTIP is that it has been negotiated in absolute secrecy and the US is using the same methods to divide Europeans as Russia does and it is working. Given the feebleness and amateurism of Brussels, plus the tons of lobbysts there (aka corruption), it seems Brussels is actually pushing Washington’s agenda.

    It’s not a surprise that the Eurosceptic parties are so strong, perhaps the US shouldn’t push for it so much because it will weaken the EU (query as to whether the US really cares about that).

    Now is not the time to push for freer trade, more capitalism, more commoditization. If we learned anything from the EU elections is that people want some slowing down of capitalism.

    However, just like Orban has a nature and he cannot behave in any other way, the US cannot behave differently than it has been behaving (knowing the EU members states will jump to conform and accept anything), so it will continue to push for it relentlessly.

    I think the EU Parliament the TTIP will fail and it will be a huge defeat for the pro-EU forces, so if I were them, I wouldn’t wan this to happen.

  6. Goalie,

    You make some good points, but I respectfully disagree with you on a few of them.

    You wrote: “GMO products have no benefits whatsoever (other than for the provider of seeds which usually also provides the pesticide and fertilizer).”

    I am no fan of GMO, especially the kind to which you refer, but I think you’re mischaracterising GMO seeds based on a subset of the whole. Yes, there are the pesticide-resistant seeds which increase pesticide use, but there are also the seeds that are drought-resistant, those that increase yield, and others that increase specific beneficial aspects of the plant, such as higher omega-3 fats, etc.

    The real problems with GMO are that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of these seeds, and the rapacious companies that produce them employ ruthless tactics to increase their profits.

    You also wrote: “…the US is using the same methods to divide Europeans as Russia does and it is working.”

    I would think that the US needs to unite Europeans in accepting the TTIP, otherwise it won’t pass. Charaterising the US as intentionally dividing Europeans doesn’t make sense to me, but I would be interested in hearing your argument for this theory.

    You also wrote: “Given the feebleness and amateurism of Brussels, plus the tons of lobbysts there (aka corruption), it seems Brussels is actually pushing Washington’s agenda.”

    It’s fashionable now to derogate the EU, but I don’t see how you can assume that Brussels is “pushing” anyone’s agenda, or that having lobbyists means that Brussels is highly corrupt. There are lobbyists from all sides there, including the very powerful interests which would like to keep GMO out of Europe (for their own benefit in the case of some of those interests). If anything, I would assume that the European Commission sees the TTIP as being broadly beneficial to the EU, especially in the current low-growth climate, and is savvy enough to extract significant concessions from the US (in contrast to Orbán’s negotiating skills). Furthermore, I believe that Brussels is well aware of the unpopularity of GMO, and is unlikely to allow full access to the EU market, which would risk a very strong and broad backlash.

    I believe that the TTIP, in theory, could be very beneficial for both sides, and would hurt Russian (and therefore Fidesz and Jobbik) interests, so I support a version that is acceptable to the wider European public. Free trade in general is broadly beneficial, so long as the negative consequences of the agreements can be ameliorated effectively. European governments and the European Commission are well-placed to make the most of the correct version of the TTIP, unlike the US government, so I hope the Commission can come to an agreement with the US. After all, if Europe doesn’t engage in free-trade agreements, we might find ourselves shut out of global trade, with negative long-term consequences.

  7. @googly (and everybody else who might know something …):
    goalie has just confirmed about the TTIP ” it has been negotiated in absolute secrecy”.
    Why is that necessary? Looks really strange to me! Especially in connection with “free trade” …

  8. goalie: “..it is clear that GMO is not the way to do any sustainable agriculture..”

    There is little sustainable agriculture in Europe to be ruined by GMO. The soil is being saturated with fertilizers and pesticides just as well without GMO.

  9. @googly

    The EU politician elite, lacking firm beliefs, really don’t care that much about TTIP. The eurosceptics, some leftists and many NGOs do care, but they are not the primary decision makers, although the eurosceptics as we know are getting stronger everywhere exactly because the traditional political elite has no convictions and would like to push for more capitalism.

    Thus the EU as a default was actually united behind the TTIP, but simply because there was no real, tough opposition among the political leaderships of member states, and as a default anything that the US proposed was going to be approved as usual.

    The political climate is changing, however.

    The method is now to divide the EU countries in order to prevent them from uniting firmly on any issues which they may not like (GMO, chemicals, food, data protection/data sovereignty, private courts etc.).

    The US will appeal on the rational approach of the EU and will start from the assumption that there’s (was) “an agreement” to conclude the TTIP (a great negotiating tactics), and then the US will go over each and every contentious issue and it will want to tick the boxes, making sure than no issue will attract a united opposition.

    My feeling is that the opposition to the TTIP is quite deep and is underestimated by the US corporations and so in the EU Parliament the opposition will be mounted against a more fundamental level, against the hitherto unquestioned “consensus” that the EU needs the TTIP, and not just against individual issues of the TTIP.

    The EU and its members states are very weak players (negotiators) as we saw from countless international conflicts, so the US will use this out to its advantage, just like Putin uses it or Orban uses it.

    My view is that Eastern Europe certainly doesn’t need any more opening of its markets, because its indigenous companies are not competitive enough to withstand further pressure and we can only lose out. So why would Hungary want more influx of cheap bad quality imports based on laxer environmental rules, weaker labour laws, cheaper, locally available energy which we don’t have etc.? Why is this good for Hungary, or for the French or the Italians for that matter (‘Cos I can see why it’s good for Germany and Sweden)?

  10. Jean P: so that’s an argument to continue with ever more efforts to degrade the soils?

  11. @googly

    I don’t think that NGOs or even any grassroots campaigns can ever be at the levels where the lobbying efforts of the interested corporations are. (To date I think in no US state could activists get it approved whether through referendum or through state congresses that he GMO content of a food item should be written on the packaging). The former just don’t have the money, and secondly politicians are not dependent on them. I mean even in Brussels the revolving door phenomenon is rampant.

    Former regulators go back to the business they regulated (and they can expect offers from such companies, provided they behave “professionally” during their tenure) and so back and forth. Obviously a company which employs former regulators is more effective to get its voice heard.

    Corruption has many forms, I don’t necessary mean that bureaucrats in Brussels receive boxes of cash, but simply that their judgment will be somewhat clouded. They will only somewhat less vigilantly fight for the rights of the EU citizens, especially when the bureaucrats are anyway inclined not to do much.

  12. If we put as much though tand effort into reducing or reversing human population growth as into increasing soil or dollar yield, the planet’s prospects would be less dismal.

  13. I wish you did not get sidetracked with this useless discussion about the pros and cons of GMOs. This post is about Hungarian and Russian foreign policy.

  14. googly sums it up very well:

    “The real problems with GMO are that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of these seeds, and the rapacious companies that produce them employ ruthless tactics to increase their profits.”

    In the name of profits, we are playing Russian Roulette with nature. We have no idea at all of the long-term effects of putting non-plant genes into plants.

    The history of science pushed too quickly by big corporations, solely in order to make money, is littered with unfortunate side-effects and unforeseen results. But GMO has the potential to make these earlier ‘mistakes’ look like minor problems.

    And TTIP is solely designed to benefit the American corporations by undermining the standards of European consumer and human rights legislation. It is worse than ‘just’ rampant Capitalism trampling over people and their concerns and rights, it is actually a direct battle between the ‘anything goes’ Neocon political philosophy of the US right and the liberal/social democrat culture of the EU.

    Both these issues are far more important than whether or not Orbán supports them. He is a minor sideshow in a war Europe must win.

  15. Hungary will continue to support Russia every way it can, not much change is expected in this regard. The new Foreign Ministry is full of pro-Russian people, the more pro-Western people were purged, so now it’s simply impossible to imagine that the ministry could change course.

    But Orban I hear is more optimistic because the oil price is down. That’s a unexpected booster for the economy (perhaps resulting in an extra 0.5% GDP growth) and could mean further utility rate cuts! The whether will be soon much nicer and people are already buying twice as many cars, so the spring will be lot’s a fun for the people.

  16. Eva,

    GMO’s are relevant, I think, since they might be the excuse Orbán uses to oppose the TTIP, when his real interest is scuttling anything that Russia doesn’t like, or that might restrict his plundering of Hungary’s wealth. I will make my remarks more relevant from now on, however.

  17. ”Let Them Eat Mangalica…”

    Here is a clear link between the GMO discussion — which I agree is uninformed one way or the other — and Orban policy: Having stolen pensions and put 40% of the pupulation below the poverty level, with tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of children undernourished, Orban is preaching “go forth and multiply…”

  18. The operation of the political cartel between Fidesz and the always willing MSZP (in Szigetvár).

    MSZPniks are thoroughly corrupt, I think much more so than Fideszniks because the former are not only corrupt in the sense that they steal money, but MSZPniks readily give up their political convictions and strategic interests for a song. These proverbial “szocis” would sell their own mother for the tiniest bits of crumbles.

    http://index.hu/belfold/2015/01/08/megmutattak_hogy_kell_meghalalni_a_kormanyzati_milliokat/

  19. Goalie,

    You wrote: “My view is that Eastern Europe certainly doesn’t need any more opening of its markets, because its indigenous companies are not competitive enough to withstand further pressure and we can only lose out. So why would Hungary want more influx of cheap bad quality imports based on laxer environmental rules, weaker labour laws, cheaper, locally available energy which we don’t have etc.? Why is this good for Hungary, or for the French or the Italians for that matter…?”

    Please do some research on why trade is usually good for all parties involved, starting with the self-reliant “import substitution” policies followed by India and Brazil, among others, for most of the last century. If a lopsided trade agreement is forged by the EU, it would be the first time that I know of, since negotiating such agreements is very different than negotiating foreign policy agreements, and also different than negotiating agreements with potential EU applicants (such as Ukraine), since those are meant to help the countries in question.

    The US generally does not export cheap or low-quality goods, and, as we’ve seen with Russia, the EU needs to diversify its energy sources. Don’t forget, we already import a lot of the things that will probably be included in the TTIP, but the agreement would just lower or eliminate the tariffs. EU companies will also benefit from the agreement, otherwise they would use their lobbyists to pressure the Commission to renegotiate or abandon the agreement. Large European-based companies have much at stake in restricting US competition, so don’t believe for a second that they would not fight a bad agreement. Many of the largest European companies are partially owned by governments of EU member states, too, so that will colour what they are willing to support. Of course, they might be willing to make trade-offs that benefit them, without regard for what is best for the majority of Europeans, but who decides what is best? I might disagree with you or others on that subject.

    Environmental lobbyists might not be as strong as corporate interests, but they do have some say, and are arguably stronger in the EU than anywhere in the world. You shouldn’t dismiss themso easily.

    As far as corruption, where is there a place with no corruption at all? By your reasoning, we should just do away with government and never negotiate any treaties with any foreign powers, on the off chance that corruption will cause a bad agreement. Of course, that has been attempted by many states in history, from China to Japan to North Korea. I trust the Commission and the EU Parliament to negotiate deal that is relatively better than no agreement at all, despite their shortcomings, so that we can do at least this one thing to reverse our decline. The EU will be better off overall with a well-constructed TTIP, according to most economists, unless Orbán and self-interested people like him manage to stop it.

  20. Wolfi,

    In a sense, you’ve answered your own question. If every twist and turn of the negotiations were publicised, the outcry would be massive, since negotiations can travel down many unpopular paths before finally arriving at a compromise position that doesn’t include those items. I personally don’t know of any trade agreements that are negotiated in public. In a way, it might be better if the negotiators released sanitised updates, to quell the rumour-mongering. Let’s stop speculating about what might be in the agreement, and wait to see what comes of it. We might be pleasantly surprised, but if we aren’t, we can easily attack it at that time.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Russia is behind the hysteria arising from the imagined details of the agreement. Putin would do almost anything keep Europe from loosening his grip on its economy, and he is openly trying to divide EU opinion on the US.

  21. Since this discussion has been diverted to GMOs which Eva did effectively discuss in her post in passing here is what I think from a very American perspective. If one looks at Monsanto which is the leading US corporation that holds patients on GMOs you will see that they make an argument to support GMOs based on ecology and water conservation. http://discover.monsanto.com/sustainability/?gclid=Cj0KEQiA8rilBRDZu_G8hszXraoBEiQABlB9Y7qndnAYX5Jv-LW_4AyDAnBvXgFc-xCa6aGLKlbL3oQaAoF28P8HAQ#sustain-gmo

    I support my nation’s position on the ban on GMOs inside the EU. People and farmers should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to eat food coming from GMO seeds. I do believe that goods that claim to be non-GMO based should also disclose their comparative disadvantage in terms of water consumption. Vast areas of the earth are facing a water shortage and drought resistant GMOs will become more and more dominant in the food chain.

    Through negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) with the European Union, the U.S. Trade Representative seeks to establish common regulations covering consumer protections, and has targeted the European Union’s regulations of genetically modified foods, which includes consumer labeling. U.S. and EU agribusiness firms have been open about their desire to eliminate GMO labeling laws under TAFTA—including the rising number of U.S. states moving to require GMO labeling.

    The simple way to look at this is if the labeling isn’t organic or you have not grown it yourself it is safe to assume the product will be based on GMO seeds in the years to come. If a consumer wants to pay 30 to 40 percent more for organic foods that is fine and the standards for what is “organic” should be made clear as should the use of the term “sustainable” which is thrown around a great deal.

  22. @Googly: “Wolfi,

    In a sense, you’ve answered your own question. If every twist and turn of the negotiations were publicised, the outcry would be massive, since negotiations can travel down many unpopular paths before finally arriving at a compromise position that doesn’t include those items.”

    Indeed. This is exactly what I think. It would be impossible to conduct meaningful talks “in the open.”

    One more thing. I think Wolfi talked about American junk food but as far as I know junk food is being produced all over the world, including the European Union.

    A somewhat related topic. I have been watching a documentary series called “Foodtech.” It is not new but it is new to me. Each is an hour long and it takes you to different food producing industrial sites or farms. I have learned a lot and I find these documentaries fascinating. The technology is breathtaking. By the way, the man who conducts these tours is called Bobby Bognar (Bognár = Cooper) who is very funny.

  23. @googly

    I’m not so sure that theory that increasing foreign trade/opening of the markets are beneficial to both parties holds true for each and every case.

    In Hungary, as in Eastern Europe companies are not competitive enough and they can’t really be: their Western counterparts had at least 50 extra years to be competitive in which they already occupied their own markets, created brand attachment, know-how etc. We don’t have cheap energy, a huge local market in which we could grow and meanwhile protect our markets (China).

    It’s not very difficult to see why import radically increased after the fall of communism as demand for consumer goods which Hungary couldn’t produce increased and with it, since the C/A balance was negative, fx debt too. We’re in a slightly better shape (not debt-wise) than we were in 1990 (the economy is more diversified), but the opening of the markets will create more failures for local businesses.

    This is the story of the Hungarian rural world where companies with little added value without he necessary know-how to compete have been shutting down — resulting among others in Jobbik and a kind of death spiral for rural Hungary (all the while Budapest has been doing quite well).The Hungarian economy was not in a situation to face open capitalism in 1990 and is already very open, we just don’t need more openness.

    “The US generally does not export cheap or low-quality goods.”

    Well, I contend that the very fact that the US is much less export oriented has to do with the fact that its products are not as attractive as say the German engineering products. Nobody associates quality with the brand “US” at least in the case of things (services are another matter).

    But this is not the main point. Exactly this debate here attests to the fact that TTIP (and its side issues like GMO or drugs or data sovereignty/surveillance by internet companies) are controversial. The traditional European political elites ignore the deep seated opposition to TTIP at their peril.

    I’m sure that a lot of conservative and Eurosceptic parties (supported by Russia) will be more popular after the Paris massacre, after all they told you so, but “again the traditional elites did nothing”. There are issues to be dealt with in Europe but the traditional elites are lazy, lacking vision and are running away from problems, it seems.

  24. Hungary is sending mixed messages regarding relationship with Russia. Putin’s visit suggests strengthening of relationship. But, Bloomberg reports “Hungary should make it more clear that it’s distancing itself from Russia and aligning itself with Germany and an “independent and sovereign Ukraine,” according to a senior member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s political party.” Calling it a rare display of government criticism within Fidesz. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-08/hungary-must-make-russian-policy-reversal-clear-nemeth-tells-hv.html

    @Wolfi regarding total lack of transparency. Not total “EU commission sheds light on US trade pact documents” https://euobserver.com/economic/127124

    GMO’s are a very complicated issue since GMO is a catch-all. For instance, GMO’s that produce toxins shouldn’t be grouped with those that increase the nutritional value of a crop and decrease the prevalence of blindness and save the lives of 100,000’s of children and prevent blindness in more. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7524_supp/full/514S55a.html
    GMO’s should be treated on a case-by-case basis and all should have the proper health and environmental reviews.

  25. My 2 cents: I passionately oppose Orban. That doesn’t mean I have to like everything he hates. I oppose TPP.

  26. An there is a reason in particular why Monsanto GMOs control the US agricultural market, they are working given the enviormental changes we are experiencing, yields are higher and overall costs are lower.

  27. I find it fascinating that some “American nationalists” feel so determined to try to force the US corporate interests down on the throats of Europe.

    US corporations say they want GMOs in Europe therefore this is the one and only holy truth. One such person expertly sugarcoats the issue like this:
    ” I support my nation’s position on the ban on GMOs inside the EU.” – referring to the US.

    Well first of all it is not the position of the “nation” even though nationalists always view every issue that way. It is the position of a few rich corporations who pay handsomely for lobbyists and campaign contributions. If a few million USD can buy an ambassadorship, these companies can easily pay a couple of hundred million USD to buy governmental support for GMO as well.

    So their opinions and corporate interests can appear as though they were the “nation’s position”. It is all terribly sad that the corporate payments are not wasted, they are well spent. They manage to convince people as it is visible here.

    It is truly remarkable what one person writes here: ” I do believe that goods that claim to be non-GMO based should also disclose their comparative disadvantage”

    He believes that normal food should be labeled, and “disadvantage disclosed”!! And he even describes normal food as “goods that claim to be non-GMO”. I mean you can’t make this up. This is amazing.

    What could motivate a person to so completely give up any reason and try to FORCE dangerous GMO products down the throats of people who do not want them? Because supposedly that is what the “nation wants”…

    This whole issue reminds me of a case from the US. This was about labeling of food products. Even in the US companies try to HIDE the fact that the products are GMO. They try to hide this from the consumer, they try to mislead the consumer. And they spent tens of millions of dollars to avoid having to label GMO products with labels that show GMO.

    If GMO was something that the consumer wants, then it would be prominently labeled on the foods that it came from GMO!

  28. I have only question which has something to do with foreign policy and not the alleged harm of GMOs. Why is Putin against the tree-trade agreement? Surely, not because of the unhealthy food coming from the US the Russian minister to the EU was talking about.

  29. Very interesting discussion here about the TTIP

    To this day I have never heard of the fact that putin was against this treaty. In fact when I tried to google this info, most results I’ve seen were just articles where the word putin and TTIP both appeared but in an unconnected way.

    One exception was a rambling and weird article
    http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/foreign-policy/item/19604-globalists-use-putin-as-foil-to-push-ttip-us-eu-merger

    which nevertheless had two interesting parts:
    One part was about the secrecy of TTIP negotiations:

    “As The New American has pointed out repeatedly (see, for instance, Secretly Trading Away Our Independence), a key objection to the TTIP, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other “trade” pacts, is the hermetically sealed environment in which they are negotiated, with the process and the texts being inaccessible to the American public, or even to their elected members of Congress. Meanwhile, select, privileged representatives of the approved corporate, banking, labor, and environmental lobbies are given access and participation rights.”

    So even from an American standpoint it jumps out that even members of Congress that were elected the represent the American people are not allowed access to this information. What is so Top Secret about it all?

    The other part of the article is claiming that Putin is publicly opposing TTIP is not a real opposition. It is just pretend play for his domestic audience and also reverse psychology.

    “After Br’er Fox captures Br’er Rabbit with the Tar Baby, Br’er Rabbit escapes by using reverse psychology to cause Br’er Fox to throw him into the briar patch. “I don’t care what you do with me, Brer Fox” said Brer Rabbit., “just don’t fling me in that briar patch over there. Hang me, skin me, roast me, Brer Fox, but don’t fling me in in that briar patch.” Br’er Rabbit so convincingly pleaded not to be thrown into the briars that Br’er Fox was certain this would be the ultimate punishment for his nemesis. Of course, after being tossed into the briar patch, Br’er Rabbit scampered away safely, mocking his erstwhile captor, who had done exactly what Br’er Rabbit had wanted all along….

    putin is playing the TTIP issue for his own political advantage, both to his domestic Russian audience as well as the global anti-American audience. putin’s saber-rattling over Ukraine and his military excursion there paid off handsomely in terms of stirring up Russian nationalism and further boosting his domestic popularity. It has also paid off economically. The U.S.-EU sanctions imposed on Russia have been offset by the IMF/U.S./EU bailout of Ukraine, which ended up transferring billions of dollars to the Kremlin to pay off Ukraine’s debts and energy bills to Russia (see here, here, and here).”

    While this article is quite hard to read and incomprehensible at times It does raise a valid point. Just because putin says he is against TTIP, it does not mean he is against it in reality. He is very aware of his own standing in the west.

    He knows that if he opposes something publicly it will make it only more likely to pass. It is very possible for him to use reverse psychology and oppose things that in reality he wants to pass for some hidden reason.

    If we can know one thing for sure, it is that we cannot take anything putin says at face value. If he says he supports something or opposes something it does not mean anything. He is known to lie.

  30. Well, of course both Putin and Orban are just using the controversy around GMOs to undermine a closer economic cooperation between the US and Europe which Putin sees as a threat to Russia’s economic interests.

    As for the merit of TTP, I think the devil is in the details…. it could actually work out well for both the EU and the US. The way I see it is that the US has a weak system of consumer and labor protection because of the strong lobbying power of large corporations in politics. Such protections in the EU are stronger, and may be even too bureaucratic. So the EU may benefit from loosening some of the regulation and the US would benefit from some tightening.

  31. @An: Well, of course both Putin and Orban are just using the controversy around GMOs to undermine a closer economic cooperation between the US and Europe which Putin sees as a threat to Russia’s economic interests.”

    Of course, they don’t care about health issues which may exist, may not.

  32. Attila Ara-Kovacs has a pretty strongly worded op-ed in Magyar Narancs about the topic, all but interpreting the situation as a kind of prelude to the fall of Orban (not unlike the fall of the last Berlusconi government). I dunno, in a way the article is a bit too optimistic. But who knows, Orban has gotten completely crazy, anything can happen.

    By the way Nézőpont, which is a more fidesz-leaning pollster/think thank/money laundering operation than Századvég is has just published its latest polls. It measured Fidesz at the lowest levels ever (since it started polling) and Jobbik at the highest. Apparently, Jobbik being actually quite silent is consistently soaking up the disillusioned Fidesz fans.

  33. @Puli re Nézőpont and Jobbik. I have the feeling that Nézőpont likes to frighten people with the growth of Jobbik because this is good for Fidesz.

  34. I for one am pleased to have the generous, well-thought-out, offerings of ‘googly’.
    He makes eminent, good sense to me.

    Nice to have you, Mr. g

  35. While I am in favour of having a free trade area along the lines that already exists in Europe, which also includes the USA and Canada, the problem with TTIP is the proposal for Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This is a proposal whereby a private company could sue a government for doing absolutely anything that harms its profits,
    Obviously this would be exploited by Fidesz crony companies to prevent any future government from revoking their contracts and privileges to restore sound public finances. It would also take away the sovereign right of the people in any affected country, through their elected representatives, to decide where the balance between public and private provision should lie at any point in time, by creating strictly one-way traffic from the public to the private sector.

  36. Thank you, Julian Edmonds – that ISDS concept is often mentioned by the German opposition as the most detrimental aspect of the TTIP!
    Now that you’ve explained it, it seems almost obvious!

  37. ctrill it is more than reasonable to assume here in the United States that virtually all domestic agricultural products not marked “organic” have a component of GMOs in them. Eventually that will be the case in more and more countries because of the ability to modify the genetics to match the environmental growing conditions of those nations. All agricultural economies have adopted numerous non-indigenous crops and live stock which have over the years adapted themselves to a variety of conditions, and in some cases some plants or feed for animals have not been able to adapt without genetic modification. Rapid changes to the environment due to global warming will require genetically modified crops in order to maintain production at current levels on a world wide scale.

    When I write in support of the position of my nation, I am speaking of the position of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). On March 20, 2013, the Obama Administration notified Congress of its intent to enter into TTIP negotiations. The U.S. Congress has the constitutional authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations.” Thus, it has an important legislative, oversight, and advisory role when trade agreements are being negotiated and implemented. Congress has a direct interest in TTIP, both through shaping U.S. trade negotiating objectives and considering implementing legislation for any final TTIP agreement for it to enter into force. In addition, the congressional role includes consulting with U.S. negotiators and conducting oversight of the negotiations.

    The scope of these discussions were made even more public in February 2014 in a document which can be read at: http://transatlantic.saisjhu.edu/publications/CRS_TTIP_report_Feb_2014.pdf

    So in my opinion these discussions have not been really secret at least to those of us here in the USA who know where to look for information.

  38. @györgy and @googly, this whole argument about quality of goods being better in the EU is simply FUD. Having lived on both sides of the Atlantic I can say with certainty that the quality here equals quality there. And one can certainly get just as good quality food on both sides of the Atlantic. And if everyone was concerned about low quality goods ruining the market place why are Chinese imports so popular? So, these arguments are baseless.

    The evidence I’ve seen is that free trade will benefit both parties. Certainly NAFTA has worked well for Canada, the US and Mexico as have other free trade deals. So the evidence is against the “protectionists” in this case. And in any case, why would you want to protect inefficient businesses? So I think the real arguments are going to be things like GMO where there is a lot of bad science that can be used to support pretty much any position you like.

    Unfortunately there is so much FUD around GMO it’s hard to have a serious conversation about it. This first things first; getting over that what we’re eating in the EU is natural. There is nothing natural about a cow! or even the wheat you eat in your bread/pasta/pastries….. This creatures are here because the genes of their ancestors have been manipulated. For some reason that is considered safe where as direct manipulation isn’t. Truth is; there simply hasn’t been enough studies done with GMO over large populations over a long enough period of time to come to any meaningful conclusion about the long term health effects of consuming GMO products. What I do know is that in a free market there should be the choice and the right information to guide choice. That means labeling. 30 of the 50 states now require or soon will require GMO products to be labeled as such. I know it’s hard sometimes but there are positions between black and white.

    GMO is big business.. it’s also about turning nature into intellectual property and that is a huge issue! With that come patents and all kinds of nasty stuff. Fortunately the US courts have been very firm in striking down patents for non-modified (only sequenced) genes. However there are still a number of outstanding issues concerning ownership. One recent case dealt a blow to a lady that had her tissue (in particular plasma) sequenced and then the company patented the sequence. Thought the patent was struck down, the courts have been trying to tell the legislatures that this is an issue they need to do something about but the politicians aren’t informed enough to make good decisions

  39. @LwiiH re quality of food on two sides of the Atlantic. I’m so glad that you cleared this up. It does annoy me when accusations are made about the quality of food on this side ocean. There are some healthier foods than others but there is nothing wrong with food in the United States and Canada. Moreover, Europeans act as if they didn’t know what potato chips are all about.

    Hungarian officials, not just ordinary people, talk about “szemét” (garbage) which comes from Western Europe! This is really outrageous.

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