hungarian prime minister

Helmut Kohl’s letter to Viktor Orbán

Below is a letter from former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl addressed to Viktor Orbán in which the elder statesman profusely praises the Hungarian prime minister. In fact, perhaps a little too profusely. One ought to know that in February 2008 Kohl suffered a stroke in combination with a fall which caused serious head injuries. Since then he has been reported to be wheelchair-bound due to partial paralysis and to have difficulty speaking.

Kohl in the letter assures his “liebe Viktor” of his absolute support and praises him for the joyful news of economic development under his tutelage. ATV turned to the European People’s Party wanting to know about the letter, but the inquiring reporter was told to turn to Kohl’s secretariat for details. According to some German sources, Kohl is no longer capable of writing letters. So who do you think the real author is?

 

 

Kohl letter3Kohl letter3A

 

Viktor Orbán, the economist and the foreign policy expert

The consensus in Hungary is that Viktor Orbán’s speech before the Hungarian diplomatic corps and representatives of the foreign embassies was more muddled than usual.

Contrary to what I thought yesterday, Orbán didn’t read his speech that lasted, by the way, almost an hour but spoke extemporaneously. Since he hardly ever dares to speak at such length without a written text, he has little practice in the art of spontaneous oration. That might be one reason for the confused nature of his message.

The second reason is, and I guess this is the real problem, that foreign policy, international relations, diplomacy are not strong suits of the Hungarian prime minister. Unfortunately, due to Viktor Orbán’s political omnipotence, Hungarian foreign policy is entirely within his purview. A mini foreign ministry was created inside the Office of the Prime Minister; Foreign Minister János Martonyi can either twiddle his thumbs or try to explain away Orbán’s alienating statements.

First, some general observations about the speech. Orbán looked less haggard than usual. Perhaps the reason for his healthier countenance was a four-day vacation in Croatia accompanied by his body guards. The newspaper report made no mention of his wife and children. What it did mention was that he insisted on having a room in which he could watch a Hungarian sports television station and MTV!

Viktor Orbán claimed that, before delivering the speech, he consulted with Péter Gottfried, an old hand at the Foreign Ministry who served almost all governments since the change of regime and currently foreign policy adviser to Orbán. Mind you, he was already in a high government position during the Kádár regime. Gottfried seems to have warned the prime minister to stay clear of certain subjects, but Orbán didn’t listen. Perhaps he should have.

I was somewhat surprised about Orbán’s repeated claim that those present, including he himself, were at one time or another “intellectuals,” “members of the intelligentsia.” The implication was that, due to his intellectual prowess, he is a better judge of the current economic and political situation in the world than (mercifully unnamed) others.

He also tried to be funny, but his sense of humor always has an edge to it. It often involves the degradation of someone else. In this case the butt of his jokes was János Martonyi. Right off the bat he announced that “the danger no longer exists that the foreign minister will give the prime minister’s speech [but] if some of the questions require his competence he should without any fear take part in this consultation.” Isn’t that generous of him!

At least this year he allowed the European Union flags to be displayed unlike last year / Népszabadság, Photo Simon Móricz

At least this year he allowed the European Union flags to be displayed, unlike last year Népszabadság, Photo Simon Móricz

The complete speech, unfortunately without his responses to the questions, is now available on the prime minister’s website. It is unfortunate because some of the juicier remarks about Russia, Germany, and the United States were delivered during the question-and-answer period.

In the body of the speech he spoke at length about the accomplishments of his government. Allegedly he dwelt on this subject only because he is supposed to follow tradition, but he is never shy when it comes to his alleged achievements. The list he offered to the ambassadors was the usual fare, complete with the usual lies.

We know that the national debt is not lower today than it was three years ago. We know that Hungary’s self-financing through the financial markets is more expensive than getting a loan from the IMF and the EU. We know that the IMF loan is not “dole.” We also know that the situation of the forex borrowers is not solved and that unemployment didn’t decrease.

After his lengthy introduction Orbán began talking about the financial and economic crisis of the European Union and pondered the nature of this long-lasting recession. The outstanding question, according to him, is whether this particular crisis is just one of those periodic crises characteristic of market economies or whether it is the beginning of a permanent and steady decline of the European Union. He didn’t give a specific answer to this question, but given Orbán’s earlier references to the decline of the West, we can be pretty confident that he considers the current economic situation in Europe the beginning of the end.

But if this is Orbán’s “Spenglerian” vision, the rest of the speech is pretty incomprehensible because he began talking about the necessity of a strong eurozone on which Hungary is economically dependent. Right now it is the sluggish eurozone that is holding Hungary back. In brief, Hungary’s poor economic performance in the last three years is due to the failures of those Brussels bureaucrats who don’t seem to understand that it is Viktor Orbán who has the key to success. They are stuck in the mud; they keep insisting on the same rules and regulations for everybody and they call this “predictability.”

Yes, we know that the unpredictability of Hungarian legislative moves over the last three years wreaked havoc on every facet of life in Hungary and that it especially did a lot of harm as far as foreign and domestic investments were concerned. Companies never knew what was coming next. One day levies on banks, the next day on telecommunication companies, the following day on utility companies, one can go on and on. But, claims Orbán, the crisis will never end without what he calls “selectivity.” You select your victims almost at random. According to Orbán, this unpredictable behavior is the secret of his success, without which the western nations will never in this stinking life (büdös életben) get out of this crisis.

He outlined another theory of his, again connected to his being an intellectual. The European Union made a mistake when it waited until 2004 to allow the ten central-eastern European nations to join the Union. If it had moved in 1995, it is possible that the EU could have completely avoided the financial crisis brought over the Atlantic from the United States. He put forth this theory based on the current situation. If we look around in the European Union, only those countries that joined the Union later show any economic growth. (He conveniently forgot about Hungary’s track record.)

And finally, he talked about his conflicts over sovereignty with the European Union. The media describe this conflict as a war of independence. Actually he likes this term, but he is not fighting against the European Union but is fighting for the maintenance of a correct balance between union and national rights. The EU cannot change the rules. Right now a stealth attempt at federalization is taking place. Of course, this is also nonsense because the founders of the European Union from the very beginning envisaged ever closer relations among the member states that might eventually result in a United States of Europe.

Out of this mumbo jumbo I tried to figure out what Orbán really wanted to say. Basically, he condemned both the methods and the economic principles that politicians and economic experts in the European Union apply. They are dead wrong in demanding predictability and traditional remedies. With these policies they retard the Hungarian economy and the economies of other Eastern European nations that are the engines of growth in Europe.

With this attitude the cold war between Hungary and the rest of Europe will not come to an end any time soon. Unless, of course, the Hungarian people become tired of their intellectual prime minister next April.

Viktor Orbán’s ongoing fight with the European Union. It’s time to end it!

Yesterday I reported on two speeches that Viktor Orbán gave last Thursday and Friday. I didn’t mention his usual Friday morning interview on the state radio station. But this interview was certainly important, perhaps more important than his ruminations about a “work-based” society or likening his government’s economic policies to building a Lego structure full of fantasy and inventiveness.

It was more important because the better part of the interview was about the European Commission’s objections to the Fourth Amendment to the Hungarian constitution.

As far as the Hungarian prime minister is concerned, there is nothing wrong with the Hungarian constitution or any of the new laws passed by his two-thirds majority. The alleged legal objections are no more than “pretexts.” The real reason is a disapproval of his government’s economic policies. And he doesn’t beat around the bush. “Hungary stepped on the toes of [the western countries]. This is clear. Every time in the interest of the Hungarian people we introduce, for example, bank levies or we tax multinational companies, attacks on Hungary come immediately. Now that we have decreased the price of utilities, these attacks intensify.”

So, the western countries of the European Union are putting political and legal pressure on Hungary in defense of the economic interests of their own capitalists. The pressure must be kept up because “the multinationals, especially some of the largest ones in the world, cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that they have to give up their extra, luxury, and guaranteed profits. They don’t want to accept the fact that we, meaning the current Hungarian government, will not resign ourselves to a situation in which people in Hungary should spend more for basic services than these firms charge in their own countries. This is unacceptable.”

In case some of you don’t know what Viktor Orbán is talking about when he mentions “luxury profit,” extra profit, and guaranteed profit, don’t worry. He doesn’t either. “Luxury profit” doesn’t crop up too often in Hungarian texts, but it seems that Fidesz politicians created this new “concept.” I found references to it from 2005 when Lajos Kósa and others used the word. I guess it means high profit. “Extra profit” is a hangover from the earlier socialist times when Marxist economists talked about a kind of ceiling on profit; any profit above that was a sign of capitalistic excess and exploitation. Unfortunately, one can still hear the term far too often.

Another comment I would like to make here is that utility prices are not really higher in Hungary than in other countries. In fact, they are a tad below the European Union average. The profit margin of foreign utility companies is pretty low. After all, prices are set by the government. Yes, the average Hungarian family spends a larger portion of its income on utilities, but not because the prices are extraordinarily high but because Hungarian wages are very low. So much for the tirade against foreign owners of utility companies.

The journalist who conducts these Friday interviews is well trained. He formulates his questions in such a way that Viktor Orbán has total freedom to talk about whatever he wants.  So, there was plenty of opportunity for the prime minister to express his total astonishment that there are no reasoned arguments on the part of the European Commission. Moreover,  “there are no concrete criticisms.”

A little later, however, Orbán forgot his contention that there was nothing concrete in either José Manuel Barroso’s letter or in Viviane Reding’s  speech in the European Parliament. Orbán admitted that  he knows “about three concrete questions mentioned by Mr. Barroso…. Two of them have no significance, so we are quite ready to accept his–in my opinion, wrong opinions.  But in the third question, we don’t want to engage in any discussion [with the Union].” The first two questions address the very severe limitations on political advertisement at election time and the transference of certain court cases at will from one court to another. If you recall, the Orbán government was willing to change these two laws slightly. There would be no limitation on advertisement for the European Parliamentary election and cases that involve European Union law would not be transferable.

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his 2912 debate in the European Parliament  Reuters, photo  Vincent  Kessler

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his 2012 debate in the European Parliament
Reuters, photo Vincent Kessler

Let’s see what Viviane Reding said about these two newly worded paragraphs. On the issue of restrictions of political advertisement she said: “Whilst limitations may be acceptable in some cases, they would only be lawful if they are duly justified and proportionate. It should be noted that the audience share of private media where the restriction would apply represents almost 80% in Hungary.” As for the amendment enabling the president of the National Office for the Judiciary to transfer cases from one court to another, she said: “If applied to a case concerning EU law, it could raise issues of incompatibility with the EU obligation to provide for remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection and to the right to a fair trial as foreseen by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The third concrete issue mentioned in the Barroso letter was Article 17 of the Fourth Amendment that deals with fines for infringement of European Union laws. Reding argued: “The implementation of this provision would mean that Hungary would introduce an ad-hoc tax on Hungarian citizens should Hungary be fined for breach of EU law. Is it really sensible to make citizens pay for a tax whenever the state would fail to be in compliance with EU law? In practice citizens would be penalised twice: once for not having had their rights under EU law upheld and a second time for having to pay for this. This could undermine the authority of the Court of Justice and could constitute a violation of the duty of sincere cooperation in Article 4 (3) of the Treaty on the European Union on the part of Hungary.”

Orbán refuses to budge on this third point. If Hungary has to pay a fine because its government violated European law, the government has a right to tax the people because otherwise the deficit might not be kept under the magic 3%. And Hungary can’t afford this. “This is a rule that is perfectly compatible with European efforts to keep the deficit low. This is an important limit on overspending. We will not retreat on this point. If necessary we are ready to go to the European Court of Justice on this issue.”

This is where Viktor Orbán stands at the moment. Let’s see where the European Commission stands: “As for the rule of law. Hungary will also need to take due account of the opinion that the Council of Europe/Venice Commission will deliver in June, in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values. The Commission expects a responsible answer from Hungary to this opinion. “

I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with. Orbán is cunning, combatative, and ruthless. He might alter a word here or there in the constitution, but fundamentally nothing will change. He is standing firm. I don’t think he would even care very much if Hungary were stripped of its voting rights in the Union. What he cares about is EU money. Practically every penny that Hungary receives from the European Union in one way or another ends up in the pockets of his cronies and/or is spent on useless frivolities. EU subsidies help keep this man in power. And that’s a crime against the Hungarian people.