European Parliament

Tomorrow’s vote to elect Jean-Claude Juncker president of the European Union

It’s time to leave Hungary for a while. Nothing horrific is happening there since the parliament is not in session and Viktor Orbán is in Brazil. So, it’s time to see what’s going on in Brussels where Jean-Claude Juncker has been making the rounds to solicit votes. He goes from parliamentary delegation to parliamentary delegation and tells them what they want to hear.

For example, he told the 70-member Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) that he is not a federalist and that he does not believe in a United States of Europe. One must keep in mind that the members of this parliamentary group come mostly from British conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice party, which ideologically stands close to the far right. He emphasized the need for strong nation states and stressed that the European Union stands on the principle of subsidiarity, that is the principle of devolving decisions to the lowest practical level. He said that he does not want to compete with NATO and assured them that in his cabinet there will be no commissioner of defense. On the other hand, he is not ready to abandon the notion of free movement of people within the Union, which is a bone of contention at the moment between Prime Minister David Cameron and the EU. He also expressed his full support of the common currency as a prerequisite of a strong economic union.

A few hours after the meeting the head of the British contingent of ECR announced that they will not vote for Juncker because they consider the shift in the voting venue from the European Council to the European Parliament itself a significant move toward a closer union, which they object to.

The socialists (Alliance of Socialists and Democrats/S&D) received assurances that a socialist will be appointed commissioner for growth and stability. Here  Juncker indicated that he is in favor of a new transaction tax on banks.  He talked about the minimum wage, social policy, and renewable energy. In brief, the kinds of things the left likes to hear.

He also visited the Greens/European Freee Alliance. Here he complained  about some  heads of member states who paint a false picture of the European Union. I wonder whom he had in mind. He was also critical of the handling of the economic crisis in Europe. There is a need for financial discipline but not overly aggressive austerity measures. From here on, any kind  of austerity program will be preceded by an assessment of its social impact.

It was during this conversation that we found out what Juncker actually thinks of Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian regime and its relationship to the European Union. One of the members asked him how he would handle a state like Hungary where the government does not follow the basic democratic values of the European Union. Juncker did not mention Hungary specifically but indicated that he will be ready to use Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). To refresh everybody’s memory, this is what Article 7 of TEU says:

1. On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2. Before making such a determination, the Council shall hear the Member State in question and may address recommendations to it, acting in accordance with the same procedure. The Council shall regularly verify that the grounds on which such a determination was made continue to apply.

2. The European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the European Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 after inviting the Member State in question to submit its observations.

3. Where a determination under paragraph 2 has been made, the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council. In doing so, the Council shall take into account the possible consequences of such a suspension on the rights and obligations of natural and legal persons.

The obligations of the Member State in question under the Treaties shall in any case continue to be binding on that State.

Juncker added that until now the European Union acted as if Article 7 didn’t exist.  They must be ready to use it if there is just cause.

The opening session of the new European Parliament Source: ifreepress.com

The opening session of the new European Parliament
Source: ifreepress.com

Most members of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats will vote for Juncker, which will ensure his election. In his own party, the European People’s Party (EPP), there will be a few who will not vote for him–among them, the twelve Fidesz members. There will be two more “nays” from Hungary: Benedek Jávor (Együtt-PM) who joined the Greens and Tamás Meszerics of LMP who sits in the same delegation. Meszerics found Juncker, on the basis of the hearing, “not fit for the job.” The two Hungarian socialists, István Ujhelyi and Tibor Szanyi, and the two DK members, Csaba Molnár and Péter Niedermüller, stand behind Juncker. As for Fidesz, it will be the only national delegation that will unanimously reject Juncker.

The vote is tomorrow, and it is almost certain that Juncker will have the necessary 376 out of 751. I assume the Fidesz members of EPP are resigned. The victory of Juncker was pretty much decided when David Cameron and Viktor Orbán lost the battle in the European Council. Napi.hu heralded the event: “Tomorrow will come Orbán’s slap in the face.”

“Coup from above”? Anti-federalist forces in the European Council

Anyone who took Magyar Nemzet seriously would think that Viktor Orbán is not only the strongman of Hungary but also of Europe. A great statesman who is jealously guarding the rule of law in the European Union. According to Magyar Nemzet, Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid for the presidency of the European Commission is down the drain. On the other hand, several commentators (for example Julian Priestley, the former secretary-general of the European Parliament) think it likely that in the final analysis Juncker will be in charge of the European Union for the next five years. We can, however, expect a protracted political fight between the European Council and the European Parliament.

The issue, as far as I can see, brings into focus two vitally important issues: first, the supremacy of the elected European parliament vs. the heads of member states and, second, the very future of the European Union itself.

This is the first time that the European Parliament has an important role to play in the elections and the choice of candidates for president. The leading members of the European Parliament wanted to democratize the election process and run a campaign with the names and pictures of the candidates (commonly known as “Spitzenkandidaten”) heading the party lists. In early March the European People’s Party chose Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg, as their man while Martin Schulz was chosen by the socialists. Since as the result of the election the EPP will again be the largest party in the European Parliament, the assumption in parliament is that it will be Juncker who will lead the Union. All the party leaders of the European Parliament stand behind his candidacy.

Enter the European Council, composed of the twenty-eight heads of the member states. The president of the Council is Herman Van Rompuy. Last night these people gathered to discuss the results of the election, and it turned out that there was at least four countries that opposed Juncker’s nomination: Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Hungary. Viktor Orbán announced immediately after the election results became known that Hungary cannot support Junker’s presidency. Hungarian sources claim that the real instigator of the anti-Juncker move was not Orbán but either David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, or Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. My hunch is that it was Cameron who was most opposed to Juncker, who is known as a “federalist.” Cameron believes in a union of nation states. During the meeting Merkel, as is her wont, sat on the fence, not committing herself one way or the other. The only agreement to come out of the meeting was that the president of the European Council will negotiate with leading members of the European Parliament and the heads of states about the future president of the EU.

So, on one level the fight that is developing is between the federalists and the “states rights” advocates, while on another it is a struggle between the European Council and the European Parliament. An Austrian paper called the move coming from the European Council a “coup from above.” The coup may not succeed. As EuroActiv reported, Van Rompuy after the meeting said that this first discussion had been “useful,” which is a diplomatic euphemism for inconclusive. However, he also made it clear that he would not embark on a collision course with the European Parliament. According to a source who seemed to have been present at the meeting, Merkel apparently announced that “she is still supportive of the Spitzenkandidaten system and of Juncker,” but made no strong statements to discipline the dissidents. On the Council doorstep Merkel declared: “Jean-Claude Juncker is our Spitzenkandidat.”

Jean-Claude Juncker and Viktor Orbán are great friends here

Jean-Claude Juncker and Viktor Orbán are great friends here

Leading members of the European Parliament are outraged, including Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP group, who told Die Welt after Viktor Orbán announced his intention to pick another candidate that one simply cannot pull a new candidate out of the hat. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialist and Democrats group, tweeted that it  is “absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the European Council by his own EPP family!” Julian Priestley expressed the opinion of many that “only if the negotiations between the European parties and the parliament fail does it become conceivable that the European Council might have to reach out for a candidate outside the election process. But they have every incentive to succeed, because what’s at stake is bringing the direction of the EU within the parliamentary system.”  And let me add that in my opinion it is essential that the anti-federalist forces are defeated on this issue and that a man is elected who wants “a more perfect union.” The British Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), said of Juncker, “there is nobody more fanatical about building the United States of Europe.” That certainly does not make Juncker a friend of David Cameron and Viktor Orbán.

What is happening at the present in the European Parliament is a “grand coalition between right and left which is taking shape, with the aim of isolating the Eurosceptics.” Not only does Schulz support Juncker, but the leader of the third largest group, Guy Verhofstadt of the liberals, also wants to join them. He emphasized that for the election of the next president they need “a stable majority, that means more than 400 seats. Otherwise it will depend on the backing of parties such as those of Mr. Orbán or Mr. Berlusconi.”

There is at least one Hungarian commentator, Gyula Hegyi, who claims  in his article “Juncker-Orbán 2:0” that Cameron and Orbán lost this match. Hegyi used to be a socialist MEP, but in the last five years he has been working for László Andor, commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion. In his interpretation it is true that at the Tuesday night meeting no decision was reached, but those present admitted that the results of the election must be taken into consideration. They also took cognizance of the fact that Juncker is unanimously supported in the European Parliament. So, as far as Hegyi is concerned, it is a done deal. Juncker will be the candidate and will likely be elected by a large majority.

My feeling is that Hegyi and Priestley are right, but given the business practices of the European Union, it will most likely take a whole month, until the very last minute, to agree on the candidacy of Jean-Claude Juncker.

Regrouping on the left: MSZP on the brink

In the wake of the EU parliamentary election the non-Hungarian media will undoubtedly be preoccupied with the fact that the second largest party in Hungary is an extreme-right, racist, anti-Semitic party. But in the domestic press the “demise” of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the surprisingly good showing of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is the chief topic. After all, Fidesz’s large victory was a foregone conclusion, and the Hungarian media had speculated for some time that Jobbik would surpass MSZP. But no one predicted that DK would almost catch up with MSZP.

DK’s performance was especially unexpected because most opinion polls predicted that DK had no chance of sending delegates to the European Parliament. Medián, normally a very reliable polling firm, forecast a large Fidesz victory, Jobbik as the second-place winner, and MSZP in third place. As far as E14-PM and LMP were concerned, their chances were slim, teetering around the 5% mark. The party that, in Medián’s opinion, had no chance whatsoever was the Demokratikus Koalíció.

As it turned out, the predictions were off rather badly in the case of the smaller parties. As it stands now, all three–E14-PM, LMP, and DK–will be able to take part in the work of the European Parliament. The largest discrepancy between the predictions and the actual results was in the case of DK, which with its 9.76% will have two MEPs in Strasbourg.

The talking heads were stunned, especially those who have been absolutely certain that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s name is so tainted that there was no way he could ever again be a major player in Hungarian politics. Even those who sympathized with him felt that he returned to politics too early and by this impatience jeopardized his own political future.

The very poor showing of MSZP had a shocking effect on the Hungarian public as well as on commentators. No one was expecting a large win, but Medián, for example, predicted at least 14%. Instead, the final result was 10.92%.  A devastating blow. On her Facebook page Ildikó Lendvai, former whip and chairman of the party, described MSZP as being asleep or perhaps even dead. Slapping around a dead man, she wrote, is a waste of time. The governing body (elnökség) of the party has already resigned en bloc, and Saturday we will find out whether Attila Mesterházy will have to step down. Some well-known blog writers suggested that he should leave politics altogether and find a nice civilian job.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened to the three parties that constituted the United Alliance in the April 5 national election. The supposition that MSZP did all the heavy lifting for the combined ticket turned out to be false, at least based on the new returns. DK and E14-PM together garnered 18% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 10.92%. A rather substantial difference. EP-valasztas 2014-2It is also clear that the relatively good showing of the United Alliance in Budapest was due to the two smaller parties. This time around DK and E14-PM received 26% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 11.5%. DK ran second behind Fidesz in the capital (13.1o%), very closely followed by E14-PM (13.07%). Which party won in which district? It seems that Gordon Bajnai’s party was strong in the more elegant districts of Pest and Buda: the Castle district, Rózsadomb, downtown Pest, and Óbuda. Gyurcsány’s party won in less affluent districts: Köbánya, Újpalota, Csepel. Altogether DK won in nine outlying districts.

DK also did better than MSZP in several larger cities: Debrecen, Győr, Nagykanizsa, Kaposvár, Érd, Kecskemét, Pécs, and Székesfehérvár. In addition, there were two counties, Fejér and Pest, where DK beat the socialists. I should add that Fidesz lost only one city, Nyírbátor, where MSZP received 41.12% of the votes to Fidesz’s 32.35%.

As I predicted, very few Hungarians voted. In 2004 the figure was 38.50%, in 2009 36.31%, and this year only 28.92%. There might be several reasons for the low participation. For starters, people took a large Fidesz victory for granted. They did not think their votes could make a difference. Moreover, it was less than two months since the last election, and only the very committed took the trouble to make another trip to the polling station.

As far as the composition of the European Parliament is concerned, it looks as if EPP will have 212 members and S&D 186. So, the candidate for the post of the president of the European Commission will most likely be Jean-Claude Juncker, the man Viktor Orbán would not vote for in the European Council. What is wrong with Juncker? One very big problem is his country of origin: Luxembourg. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is also a Luxembourger, and she was very tough on the Orbán government. As Orbán put it: “the commissioner from Luxembourg has only hurt Hungary in the past. So, Hungarians cannot support a Luxembourger.” And Redding was not alone. There was another Luxembourger, Jean Asselborn, foreign minister in Juncker’s government, who criticized Hungary’s media law. It seems that Orbán developed a general dislike of Luxembourgers.

Orbán might not be alone in the European Council in his opposition to Juncker because it looks as if  David Cameron will also oppose him. Mind you, he also has problems with Martin Schulz. I doubt that the anti-Juncker forces will succeed, however, because Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind him.

As for Juncker, naturally he was asked about his reaction to Orbán’s opposition to his nomination at his press conference today. Juncker started off by keeping the topic away from his own person, saying that “this is a problem that exists between Fidesz and EPP,” but then he told the journalists what was on his mind. “I cannot accept that just because a former minister from Luxembourg got into an argument with the Hungarian government it is en0ugh reason to exclude another Luxembourger from the post of president of the European Council. This is not elegant reasoning.”

Elegant reasoning and Orbán? In his fairly lengthy and exuberant victory speech, the prime minister called the Hungarian MEPs the “advanced garrison of Hungarians who defend the homeland abroad.” He sent them off with these words: “Greetings to the soldiers entering the battlefield!”

 

European Parliamentary Election in Hungary: Final Results

Here are the official results:

Fidesz:  51.9% (1,191,163)

Jobbik: 14.68% (339,501)

MSZP: 10.92% (252,494)

Demokratikus Koalíció  9.76% (225,762)

Együtt-PM 7.22% (167,012)

LMP 5.01% (115,957)

It seem that the “spy affair” of Jobbik’s Béla Kovács did make a difference as far as the party’s popularity is concerned. Jobbik lost about 25% of its supporters.

The other surprise was the lackluster performance of MSZP and the higher than expected results for DK. The difference between the two parties was only about 30,000 votes. MSZP did especially badly in Budapest. In the capital DK was the second strongest party after Fidesz. The third was Együtt2014-PM; the forth was MSZP followed by LMP.

 

Viktor Orbán is getting ready for a fight

If anyone thought that a second victory, especially with two-thirds parliamentary majority, would slow Viktor Orbán down, he was sadly mistaken. In fact, if it is possible, since his reelection he has been surpassing his own past performance as far as attacks on the European Union are concerned.

In the last few weeks numerous articles have appeared, especially in Népszabadság, on the possible shape of the third Orbán government. Most of the reporting is based on hearsay, but a couple of personnel changes seem to be certain. First, Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary for public education, has finished her controversial activities in the Ministry of Human Resources. Second, the mysterious minister of national development about whom nobody knew anything turned out to be a flop. If you recall, no one knew her first name for weeks because she was introduced to the public only as Mrs. László Németh. By the way, she was the one who signed the agreement on Paks with Gazprom. And then there is János Martonyi, the one cabinet member in whom European and American politicians still had some trust. Mind you, his words didn’t mean much because he was stripped of practically all power to conduct Hungary’s foreign policy. According to the latest, it looks as if his replacement will be Tibor Navracsics.

I consider Navracsics’s move to the foreign ministry a demotion for the former close associate of Viktor Orbán. By now the foreign ministry is largely impotent, and I hear rumors to the effect that it might be further stripped of its competence. Earlier Navracsics had a position of real power. He was entrusted with the position of whip of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation. The ministry of administration and justice, which Navracsics headed during Orbán’s second term, had a dual mandate. On the one hand, it was supposed to oversee the restructuring of the entire public administration and, on the other, it was responsible for preparing bills for parliament. At least in theory. Most of the hundreds of bills presented to parliament in the last four years were in fact proposed by individual members. Their authors were most likely outside law firms. It seems that the ministry’s chief job in the legal field was not so much drafting bills as battling with Brussels over legislation the Hungarian parliament enacted.

In the third Orbán government the ministry of administration and justice will be dismantled. In its place there will be a separate ministry of justice, and the section of the ministry that dealt with the country’s territorial administration will be transferred to the prime minister’s office. This ministry’s chief job will be, according to Viktor Orbán, to concentrate on future legal battles with the European Union. He already warned his people that the European Union will try to force the Hungarian government to undo the lowering of utility prices which assured Viktor Orbán his resounding victory at the last election.

Hungary seems to lose one legal battle after the other in the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, which functions under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe. The latest is the question of  life sentences without the possibility of parole. The European Court of Human Rights, in a unanimous ruling, found the law inhumane and degrading. The court is not against life sentences as such, but they held that courts should be allowed to review life sentences in order to assess whether prisoners had made such significant progress toward rehabilitation that their continued detention might no longer be justified. There are perhaps 40 such cases in Hungary at the moment, and if all the “lifers” turned to Strasbourg it could be a very costly affair for the Hungarian state.

Viktor Orbán remains adamant in the face of the court ruling since he knows that, if depended on the Hungarian public, the majority would be only too glad to reintroduce the death penalty. Therefore, Orbán fiercely attacked the ruling and blamed the European Union for preventing Hungary from having its own laws. He repeated his favorite claim that in the European Union “the rights of those who commit crimes are placed above the rights of innocent people and victims.” Friday morning during his customary interview on Magyar Rádió he elaborated on the theme and went even further. He said that the European Union forbids capital punishment, although he personally is convinced that it is a serious deterrent.

In cases like this, one is not quite sure whether Orbán is ignorant of the facts or for political reasons is simply lying. It is not the European Union that forbids the death penalty. Article 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms specifies that “The death penalty shall be abolished. No-one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed.” The Council of Europe is a signatory to this convention. Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights functions not under the European Union but under the Council of Europe of which Hungary is a member. And quite aside from all this, the Hungarian Constitutional Court on its own volition abolished the death penalty in 1990. So, either Orbán doesn’t know any of this or he for political reasons is trying to turn his people against the European Union while he is campaigning for the European parliamentary election. He must know that the reintroduction of the death penalty in Hungary is out of the question.

But before his fight against Brussels and Strasbourg on utility prices, pálinka distillation, acacia trees, and life sentences without parole, Orbán has another fight ahead of him which he may easily lose. It is his opposition to the election of Jean-Claude Juncker for the presidency of the European Commission. Juncker is the candidate of the European People’s Party, which currently has the largest caucus in the European Parliament. It has been clear for some time that Juncker is not the favorite politician of Viktor Orbán. Already on Friday in his interview he mentioned that just because Juncker is the head of the 212-member EPP caucus it doesn’t mean that the Christian Democrats have to nominate him. Juncker is far too liberal for Orbán, who would prefer the far-right Joseph Daul, the Alsatian farmer who is an admirer and defender of the Hungarian prime minister. Orbán thus made up his mind that he and the Fidesz MEPs will try to prevent the election of Juncker in the likely event that EPP is again the largest bloc in the European Parliament.

Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz

Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz

Today he announced his decision to try block Juncker’s nomination and/or election. I myself doubt that he will succeed at the nomination level. As for the election, currently EPP has 212 seats and Fidesz’s estimated 10-12 MEPs will vote against him. Juncker will have to get at least 376 votes to be elected, so he will need supporters outside of EPP. The socialist Martin Schulz will also look for supporters outside of the socialist caucus. It looks as if the Fidesz group will lobby against both Juncker and Schulz in favor of some other EPP politician. I’m sure that Orbán’s favorite would be Daul, but I think he is too far to the right to have a chance at either the nomination or the election.

So, what will happen if Juncker wins? Orbán, even if Fidesz MEPs were to support Juncker, would have a harder time with him than he had with Barroso. The same is true if Schulz becomes president. Actually the two men’s views are rather close. Both are miles away from Viktor Orbán’s worldview. In either case, Orbán will be even more unhappy with Brussels than he has been until now.

United States of Europe?

On May 25 Hungary will hold its election for the European Parliament. The government party opted to hold the national election on April 6 and a separate EP election seven weeks later. There was nothing that would have prevented the authorities from holding both elections on May 25, but such an arrangement wasn’t deemed advantageous to the governing party. There were at least two reasons why a single election did not suit Fidesz. First, it would have given the disorganized opposition more time to put its affairs in order and to campaign. Second, it would have increased the  number of voters participating in the EP election, which might not have been good for Fidesz. Of course, holding the two elections at the same time would have been a great deal less expensive, but such monetary considerations never enter the minds of Fidesz politicians.

At the EP election voters can opt only for parties, not individuals. Eight parties will be represented on Sunday’s ballot; each managed to get the requisite 20,000 endorsements. Of these eight only six have a chance of actually receiving at least 5% of the votes necessary to qualify for parliamentary representation in Strasbourg: Fidesz, Jobbik, MSZP, Együtt2014-PM, DK, and LMP. According to the latest polls, Fidesz leads the pack and, depending on the poll, it is followed by either MSZP (socialist) or Jobbik (far-right). Fidesz actually might win about half of the 21 seats Hungary is entitled to. The latest scandal of a possible spy case involving the #3 man on the Jobbik list might have a deleterious effect on this far-right party at the polls. The fates of Együtt2014-PM, DK, and LMP are in limbo, although according to at least one poll each will send one delegate; others are less optimistic about the chances of these smaller parties.

Although according to one poll 40% of the electorate is thinking of participating in the forthcoming EP election, I doubt that turnout will be so high. By way of comparison, in 2004, the first EP election Hungary participated in, out of the 8 million registered voters only 3 million actually voted. In 2009 participation was even lower: only 2.8 million bothered to cast a vote. I predict that the situation is going to be even worse than at earlier elections because of general disappointment with the political process and the fairly steady anti-European Union propaganda that comes from Fidesz and Jobbik, the two right-wing parties.

As for the different parties’ attitude toward the European Union, Fidesz, or more precisely, Viktor Orbán, is quite capable of piling abuse on the Union one day while, on the next, he can go on and on about the virtues of the Union. If he could, he would abandon the EU, which ties his hands. Since he is not capable of  leaving the Brussels bureaucrats behind, his aim is loosen the ties that hold the member states together. Or, if that is not possible, to slow down or prevent any closer union. His emphasis is always on the nation-state instead of internationalism as expressed in the European Union. Jobbik is outright euroskeptic and makes no secret about their anti-Union and pro-Russian feelings.

The other parties all stand by the European Union, but most are frightened by the effect of Orbán’s anti-EU rhetoric on the population and therefore, in my opinion foolishly, try to take a more nationalistic view of Hungary’s place in Europe. They are not campaigning for a stronger and more effective European Union. The lone exception is the Democratikus Koalíció (DK) led by Ferenc Gyurcsány. DK is campaigning for a future United States of Europe. The reaction even on the left to that idea is negative. Attila Mesterházy (MSZP) declared that his party cannot support the formation of a United States of Europe, which enemies of the idea consider a complete abdication of all sovereign rights.

I don’t think that there are too many people who think that the EU as it functions today is a good solution for Europe. In its present form it is not really competitive in economic terms against large industrial nations and it would be incapable of defending itself in case of aggression. It has no foreign policy, no army, and no common finances. Because of EU’s structural problems more and more attention is being paid to the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a possible model, naturally with many modifications.

I know that some of you will say: “What are you talking about? The Monarchy collapsed ingloriously under its own weight.” Yes and no. In the spring of 1914 there were no signs of extraordinary tensions within the monarchy. Or at least no more than usual. Yes, nationality questions were troubling, but they were not worse in 1914 than they had been at any time since 1867 or even earlier. Many historians point out that, despite all the nationality problems and four years of a terrible war, the soldiers of different nationalities fought for king and emperor to the last minute. Others, however, are certain that the Monarchy’s demise was inevitable even without the lost war. That may well have been the case if nothing had changed, but we know that there were serious attempts at reform. Politicians were just waiting for the death of the eighty-four-year-old Franz Joseph I (Ferenc József I in Hungarian and Franjo Josip I in Croatian) to move ahead with reform. Unfortunately, World War I interfered.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I cannot go into the details of the structure of the monarchy, but one key feature of its structure was the existence of certain joint (k. und k. kaiserlich und königlich) ministries: ministry of the exterior and the imperial house, the war ministry, and the ministry of finance. The ministry of finance was responsible only for financing the royal household, the diplomatic service, and the common army and navy. Each half of  Austria-Hungary had its own parliament with its own prime minister and cabinet, but there was also a common ministerial council that oversaw the common government. It was comprised of the three ministers of the joint responsibilities (finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some of the archdukes, and the monarch. The language of the common army was German, but Hungary and Austria also had a home defense force. The language of command in the Hungarian “honvédség” was Hungarian.

Austria-Hungary with all its shortcomings had the necessary ingredients (common foreign policy, defense and finances) of a functioning state. Despite home rule in Austria, Hungary, and to some extent Croatia, the monarchy functioned quite smoothly for half a century.

Some people believe that the Dual Monarchy merits closer analysis because it  may serve as a starting point for a stronger union of the member states of the European Union. Whatever its deficiencies, it was still one of the great powers of its day. Independently of each other, the member states could have never achieved that status.