Klubrádió noted this morning that Viktor Orbán’s visit to Brussels was rather strange. It resembled the kinds of visits newly installed prime ministers of member states make to introduce themselves to the dignitaries of the European Union. In this case the visit was obviously about something else since Viktor Orbán is no stranger in EU circles. The government website also felt the need to explain the reason for the visit. Their version talked about “a courtesy visit” necessitated by the change of personnel heading the governmental structure of the European Union.
I think we can safely state that Orbán’s visit to Brussels was no courtesy visit. Rather, it came about as the result of a kind of summons by Jean-Claude Juncker. Of course, it was couched in polite terms.
We know more or less what topics Juncker wanted to discuss with Viktor Orbán. The Hungarian prime minister is not as secretive as some people maintain. One just has to read his statements carefully, because they are usually revelatory, just as they were this time. There were no joint press conferences either with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, or with Donald Tusk, the new president of the European Council. But Orbán almost always gives a press conference to Hungarian journalists when he is in Brussels, and this time was no exception. From this press conference we learned that Juncker wanted to clarify at least two issues. One was Orbán’s harsh, far-right statements concerning immigrants to the European Union; the other, the meaning of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Hungary.
So, let’s see whether we can reconstruct what transpired, at least in part, during a conversation to which we weren’t privy. One topic was definitely the immigration issue which, according to Orbán, he “managed to clarify.” Judging from Orbán’s wording, it seems that Juncker told Orbán that his statements on the subject were practically the same as those of the extreme right in Western Europe. Otherwise, Orbán wouldn’t have had to say at his press conference that “we don’t share the approach of the European extreme right” on the subject.
There is a good possibility that Juncker was not convinced of the legitimacy of the Hungarian position because, according to Orbán, “we asked them to understand that Hungary does not want to be the destination of immigrants.” This sentence indicates to me that Juncker was reluctant to accept the Hungarian point of view. Orbán tried to convince Juncker that Hungary’s position is unique because it is the transit country for economic immigrants from the Balkans. After all, sooner or later these economic immigrants will end up in countries west of Hungary. So what is in Hungary’s interest is also in the interest of Western Europe. Brussels should support the Hungarian position.
Orbán, it seems, also outlined his ideas about “more reasonable rules than the current ones” governing immigration to the European Union. He suggested “wide and thorough negotiations aimed at the formulation of a new European immigration policy.” I assume that Juncker expressed his readiness to convene such a conference. I’m not convinced, however, that Orbán received assurance that the topic will be discussed at the next EU summit, as the prime minister indicated during his press conference. It is even less likely that at the next summit “results can be achieved” on comprehensive immigration policies. This is surely only Orbán’s pipe dream.
The second topic was the Putin visit to Budapest, now definitely scheduled for February 17. Juncker, and most likely Tusk as well, wanted to know “what will happen” during their meeting, to which he coyly answered: “So would I.” His explanation for this ignorance was that, after all, his final position will be formed only after he has had a chance to talk with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will spend a few hours in Budapest on February 9. The message was that he is a loyal follower of the EU position vis-à-vis Putin’s Russia and that he will conduct his conversation with Putin accordingly.
During his press conference he added quite a few harsh words, which he probably didn’t utter to either Juncker or Tusk. They sound to me like his typical nationalistic hyperbole that is so popular with hardcore Fidesz voters. Somehow I can’t imagine that Orbán actually delivered this sentence to Juncker or Tusk: “In the last twenty years I have been telling everyone, time and again, that when we joined the European Union we chose allies and not a boss. Hungary has no boss.” Some people would argue this point.
There was a small incident that fired the imagination of Hungarian journalists. At one point Orbán and Juncker had a photo-op, where they were supposed to shake hands. But after a second Juncker had had enough of the posing, turned to Orbán and said “OK. Thanks. Let’s go,” and practically dragged Orbán out of the room. It was the online site 444.hu that discovered this priceless scene. Most papers considered Orbán’s position “humiliating.” Gábor Török, a political commentator, on the other hand, found Juncker “impolite.” Acccording to the reporter for Klubrádió who was present, the two men were rushing to another photo-op, hence the hurry. Yet there was perhaps something symbolic about the scene. When the chips are down, Orbán will have to follow the policies of the European Union, even if he has to be dragged there or led by the hand.