Krisztina Morvai

The European Parliament’s debate on Hungary

I spent almost three hours watching the debate in the European Parliament on the Tavares report. We discussed this report at length at the time of its passage in the LIBE Commission of the European Parliament. In addition, I published Rui Tavares’s letter to the Hungarian people both in English and in Hungarian. So, the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are aware that the report is a thoroughly researched document that in many ways echoes the findings of the independent judges of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

I found two good summaries of the debate, both in Hungarian. One appeared in Népszabadság and the other on the new Internet website called 444! But it is one thing to read a summary and another to see the debate live. Just to watch Viktor Orbán’s face was itself educational. Sometimes he looked vaguely amused, but most of the time his smile was sardonic. Who can forget that disdainful expression on Orbán’s face when one of his critics, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals in the European parliament and former prime minister of Belgium, mentioned the name of  György Konrád, “the great Hungarian writer”? And when he heard something he didn’t like, Orbán raised his eyebrows and shook his head in disbelief. He considered all criticism utterly baseless and, through body language and facial expressions, made no secret of it. It’s too bad that most of the people in the chamber didn’t see all that since Orbán sat in the front row.

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Unfortunately the camera didn’t show Orbán when several people tried to explain to him that his concept of democracy is peculiar. He believes in the “dictatorship of the majority” or “majoritarian rule.” Verhofstadt even invoked John Stuart Mill’s words on the subject in his work On Liberty. In fact, one of the major criticisms centered around the nature of democracy and whether Hungary can still be called a democracy. If one were to ask Verhofstadt he would say: “No, Hungary is not a democracy anymore but ‘demokratúra’ as György Konrád called it.” Several other critics agreed with Verhofstadt although they may not have been so explicit.

A second core topic was the question of freedom and the Orbán government’s “war of independence” against the European Union. Several people expressed their bafflement at the very idea of defending the country from a Union to which Hungary belongs. Actually, here again two worldviews clashed. The one held by Viktor Orbán and his entourage maintains that nation states are the only legitimate formations and that they shouldn’t be superseded in any way by a supranational entity such as the European Union. If one holds this view, as Orbán does, then it is perfectly understandable that he defends his nation against the encroachment of the European Union. The problem is that Hungary joined the European Union of its own volition and thereby its government is obliged to follow EU rules. Orbán attempts to resolve this apparent conflict by claiming that the Union is overstepping its authority, and therefore he has every right to resist its attempt at a “guardianship” that he will never accept.

Another important topic of discussion was Orbán’s interpretation of the criticism of his government as an attack on Hungary and the Hungarian people. Several critics rejected this view, making it clear that their criticisms are directed against the Orbán government and not the Hungarian people. In fact, some of the speakers argued that in their opinion it is the Hungarian people who must be shielded against the authoritarian behavior and laws of their own government.

As for Viktor Orbán, he had two opportunities to speak. At the beginning, right after Rui Tavares and Juán Manuel Barroso, and at the end, just before the leaders of the various parliamentary caucuses could answer him. In his first speech he was quite polite and a great deal less aggressive than is his wont. However, after listening to the debate where the Christian Democratic and Conservative voices were drowned out by speeches delivered by the liberals, socialists, and greens, Orbán returned to his true self. As Gabriella Zimmer (a German socialist) said, Orbán didn’t come to Strasbourg “to debate”; he came to express his anger at what he considers to be interference in Hungarian domestic affairs that are within the sole jurisdiction of the Hungarian government, parliament, and courts. He finished his speech with a refusal to accept tutelage from Brussels. For good measure he accused them of  having double standards and of defending the multinational corporations and banks. I had the feeling that by that time Orbán believed that he had nothing to lose. It was no longer necessary to try to mollify the EU parliamentarians. No matter what he does, I suspect he reasoned, the vote will go against him.

And a few more words about the performance of Fidesz and Jobbik MEPs. What can I say? It was embarrassing. Szájer’s comments were the most outrageous. He was not on the list of official speakers but he asked to be recognized perhaps three times. In the first instance he outright lied when he announced that foreign investment was never greater in Hungary than in the last two or three years. Then he claimed that the members of the European Union are afraid of the truth and that’s why they don’t want to give Orbán the opportunity to speak. Both Verhofstadt and Martin Schulz, the president of  the EP, corrected Szájer. After all, they were the ones who asked Viktor Orbán to come to the plenary session of the European Parliament. But that was not enough for Szájer. He retorted that even in Stalin’s show trials more time was allotted to the accused than to the accusers. Well, that’s when Martin Schulz’s patience ran out. He reprimanded Szájer for making any comparison between Stalin’s show trials and the European Union. But Szájer is not the kind of guy who knows when to stop. He got up again and tried to explain away his unfortunate remark. He repeated his reference to Stalin’s show trials and added that it was only the time limit that he had in mind. Schulz was not impressed and rebuked him again. Szájer did a disservice to the Fidesz cause.

Kinga Gál, another Fidesz MEP, was one of the official speakers. She didn’t fare any better than Szájer. In her speech she challenged the democratic nature of the European Parliament that voted in committee for the Tavares report. Schulz gave her a piece of his mind. He told her that it is impossible to claim that majority rule in Hungary is perfectly legitimate while questioning the democratic nature of majority rule in the European Parliament. After all, the majority of LIBE members voted for the Tavares report.

The third Fidesz MEP, Ágnes Hankiss, asked to raise a “question.” It turned out that she in fact planned to deliver a lecture on the injustices of the Tavares report. Schulz interrupted her, saying that she was abusing the privilege of posing questions. Hankiss tried to go on but was stopped.

And if that weren’t enough, we had the privilege of listening to Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) twice. No EU parliamentary caucus accepted Jobbik and therefore they sit as unaffiliated members. Thus she had the privilege of speaking twice, just as the other leaders of the various parties. She sported a blouse adorned with Hungarian folk motifs and held up a sign reading “HUNGARY ≠COLONY.” Otherwise, although Orbán emphasized that he is the one who is most fiercely attacked by the far-right Jobbik, Morvai defended Fidesz and its policies all the way while accusing Viviane Reding of meddling in Hungarian affairs. Her second speech was especially remarkable. She recalled her days working with battered women who often thought that they could change their abusive husband’s behavior by pleasing him, working harder, and being the best of housewives. But eventually when the husband’s behavior remained the same, they came to the conclusion that there was only one remedy: divorce. So, Hungary should pack up and leave the Union if this abuse continues. After that ringing defense of Fidesz it will be difficult for Orbán to maintain his fierce opposition to the far right. After all, they speak the same language and Jobbik fights alongside Fidesz for the “honor of Hungary.” Frank Engel (Luxembourg EPP member) sarcastically remarked immediately afterwards that he hoped that “Ms Morvai has not just offered to go into coalition with Fidesz.”

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11:30 European time or 5:30 EDT. I will be watching.

Advertisements

A severe blow to the Orbán government: The Tavares report is accepted by the LIBE Commission

After less than a day of very hard work getting everything installed and tweaked on my new computer I’m up and running with only minor temporary inconveniences. So, it is time to return to my daily routine of  monitoring the Hungarian media. Today I’ll concentrate on the Tavares report that was prepared for a vote in the European Parliamentary Committee of  Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

You may recall that I left off with the approximately 500 amendments to the draft report, of which about 200 were submitted by Fidesz MEPs and a Slovak and a Romanian member of parliament of Hungarian nationality. The vote was scheduled for June 19.

Given the enormous number of amendments, Hungarian newspapers predicted that the session would be very long, taken up with debating each of the submitted amendments, and they seemed to be surprised that after only two or three hours it was all over. They also emphasized that the committee was highly divided on the issue and so the vote one way or the other would be very close. That prediction also turned out to be erroneous. Of the 58 people present (the committee has 60 members) 31 voted for the report, 19 against it, and 8 abstained. I wouldn’t call that exactly close. In fact, observers in Brussels were somewhat surprised at the outcome. They expected a much closer vote, considering that half of the members come from either the European People’s Party (EPP) or the group of conservatives and reformers.

Kinga Gál (Fidesz), one of the deputy chairmen of LIBE, immediately announced that it was a lie that some EPP members voted for the Tavares report, adding that a few of them abstained. But the numbers don’t add up. Someone from that group had to endorse the report. After all, there were 29 right-of-center MEPs present. But even Fidesz MEPs had to admit that, in spite of very heavy lobbying, they failed to alter the text of the original proposal in any significant way. Most of the Fidesz amendments were thrown out.

One substantive suggestion came from the chairman of LIBE, Juan Fernando López, who proposed some additional text. He suggested that a serious investigation of the new Hungarian election laws be undertaken and that the Office of Human Rights actually monitor the forthcoming election. Quite a blow for a member country of the European Union. A first.

It seems that some Hungarian MEPs felt compelled to make a scene. I guess nobody who knows anything about Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) will be terribly surprised to learn that she managed to wreak havoc in the committee meeting. Morvai is not a member of LIBE, she was there only as a spectator. Just before Chairman López called for a final vote, she interrupted the proceedings. She  denied the legality of the procedures followed by the committee and held up a poster reading: “The European Union is a dictatorship.” López warned her that “the European Parliament is not a circus.”

The tooth lion of the Chain Bridge, Budapest / commons.wikipedia.org

The toothless lion of the Chain Bridge, Budapest commons.wikipedia.org

As it turned out, some members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats were convinced that Morvai was a Fidesz MEP; after all, her arguments in defense of the Hungarian government’s position were identical to those articulated by Enikő Győri, undersecretary in charge of European Union Affairs, except Győri used milder language. She called the report “deeply biased” and claimed that even the report’s facts don’t stand up to scrutiny. The committee discarded corrections of factual errors that EPP members submitted to the committee. Therefore, the Hungarian government still cannot subscribe to the report’s conclusions. She contended that the report is a political document that was heavily influenced by party politics. After all, she claimed, European parliamentary elections will be held next year and therefore it was predictable that the split in the committee was entirely along party lines. As we have seen, Győri is not exactly reliable on this point. Her verdict was that “the committee clearly overstepped its authority.”

The Fidesz MEPs went even further. They announced point blank that the Tavares report’s acceptance by the LIBE commission has “neither legal, nor budgetary, nor economic consequences.” The same is true of the possible adoption of the report by the full plenary session of the European Parliament sometime in July. One could ask: if the European Parliament is such a toothless lion, what on earth is the Fidesz delegation doing in Brussels? Why do they even bother to participate in the useless activities of the European Parliament?

As for the Tavares report, it is no more than “a party dictate of the European Left.” As far as the Fidesz delegation is concerned, this document is simply unacceptable. In any case, it is the end of the excessive deficit procedure that really matters and that was approved by Ecofin today. The delegation also expressed its optimism concerning a satisfactory resolution to the Hungarian government’s debate surrounding the fourth amendment to the new Hungarian constitution which, they are certain, will end in Hungary’s favor. I find this last prediction just a bit premature considering the very strong condemnation of the latest constitutional amendments by the Venice Commission, which is comprised of internationally renowned constitutional lawyers.

There is no question that the adoption of the Tavares report is a severe blow to the Hungarian government. The answers referencing bias, party politics, and the European Parliamentary election next year sound hollow, especially if one takes the trouble to read the Tavares report or the opinions of the Venice Commission.

The right-wing media on the parliamentary debate on Hungary in Strasbourg

While the opposition papers published scores of articles before and after the European parliamentary discussion in Strasbourg, government organs have been fairly quiet. Of those few articles that did appear in Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap some were simply personal attacks on European parliamentary members who are in one way or the other connected with the Hungarian case.

Way ahead of the parliamentary debate Magyar Nemzet made certain that its readers know who that horrible Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, is. Where he came from and how he got the top EP job. The article was written by János Boros, a professor of philosophy who made a rather unsavory name for himself as one of the henchmen of the Orbán government involved in the attack against liberal philosophers back in 2011. I wrote about him and the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at that time. His new mission was to explain to those unsuspecting Hungarians who don’t read Der Spiegel or any other foreign newspaper that Schulz is a truly despicable character.

A while back Der Spiegel had a spread on the career of  Schulz–from a troubled youth to one of the best known figures in European politics. But while Der Spiegel talked about the road he traveled in admiring terms, Boros finished his article this way: “His first girlfriend, who left him because he was in a drunken stupor too often, today is proud of him. Schulz is also proud of himself. But whom should Europe be proud of? And the European Hungary?” Although the article is not at all original because Boros only quotes a sentence here and a sentence there from Der Spiegel, his choices were intended to show Schulz in the worst possible light.

T. Gyula Máté of Magyar Hírlap wrote an even more tasteless piece on Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, whom he called “the lapdog of Reding.” He imagined a breakfast meeting with the Hungarian socialist MP Zita Gurmai–Genosse Zita, as Máté called her–who naturally misinforms Swoboda about the Hungarian situation. As if Swoboda needed a lot of outside information. He is an Austrian who is connected to Hungary by family ties. His mother’s family is from Miskolc and he visits Hungary quite often. In any case, according to Máté, Swoboda’s argumentation during the debate clearly showed that Reding’s strategy of courting the socialists and liberals to bolster her candidacy for the presidency of the European Commission is bearing fruit. I might add that Máté misspelled the name of Swoboda as well as Luxembourg throughout.

Only Hungary has gripes against Viviane Reding? Europe's bulldog / Heti Válasz, April 11, 2013

Only Hungary has gripes against Viviane Reding?
Europe’s bulldog / Heti Válasz, April 11, 2013

Well, if Swoboda is a lapdog, Reding is a bulldog. At least according to Heti Válasz, a pro-government weekly. A bulldog is considered to be stubbornly persistent. But it seems that Reding is more than that. She is also a schemer, at least according to Magyar Nemzet, who most likely passed on the “lie” about the dissatisfaction of the European People’s Party with Viktor Orbán to Új Magyar Szó, a Hungarian-language paper from Cluj/Kolozsvár. She decided to pick a journalist from a Hungarian paper in Romania to spread the news worldwide!

Another Magyar Nemzet article appeared today under the headline “The left uses the methods of the communist secret police.” This piece of nonsense came from Ágnes Hankiss, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament. In her opinion the very fact that the debate on the “Hungarian question” took place in Strasbourg signifies that the 2014 European parliamentary campaign has already begun. At the center of the campaign is “the weakening of the EPP and the Christian Democratic parties.”  She also immediately addressed a letter to Viviane Reding asking her opinion on the Slovak government’s prohibition of dual citizenship for its Slovak-Hungarian minority. Surely, this is an attempt to prove Reding’s partiality.

I might also mention here that during the parliamentary debate only a Pole from the PiS of Jarosław Kaczyński and Krisztina Morvai of Jobbik defended the Hungarian government. Morvai’s speech is available on YouTube. Judging from the comments, it seems that only Jobbik members and sympathizers have visited the site. Morvai, just like her close friends in Fidesz, lobbed personal attacks on Viviane Reding and Rui Tavares, the chairman of  a parliamentary committee (LIBE) that is in charge of preparing the working documents on the Hungarian case for consideration by the whole parliament.

She declared that since neither Reding nor Tavares has a law degree neither of them is qualified for the job. Moreover, the whole procedure against Hungary is unlawful and “explicitly arbitrary.” It is part of the “European Union’s war against Hungary.”

This is how the Orbán government, its media, and their Jobbik friends are casting the European Union debate. Surely, if they were so confident that their legislative actions would pass scrutiny they wouldn’t have to resort to character assassination. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is exactly what Fidesz politicians have been doing for almost twenty years. They have plenty of practice.

The newest judge of the Hungarian constitutional court: A man jointly supported by Fidesz and Jobbik

You may recall that Viktor Orbán “packed” the Constitutional Court in July 2011. He nominated and parliament approved four new judges, increasing the size of the court from eleven to fifteen. Since then there was another Fidesz-KDNP appointee, László Salamon, who replaced Mihály Bihari who had to retire because he reached the age of seventy. László Salamon prior to his appointment was a KDNP member of parliament. So much for even the semblance of impartiality and independence. Another sitting judge, András Holló, will turn seventy in April, which provided an opportunity to further tip the Constitutional Court in Orbán’s favor.

The earlier Orbán appointments were criticized because the appointees didn’t have the necessary qualifications. Moreover, it was clear that these people were fully committed to the current government. Indeed, for the most part these four new judges have voted as a bloc in favor of the government’s position.

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

The new appointment, announced on March 19 and voted on the next day, is perhaps the most unacceptable of all. It looks as if Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik struck a deal to appoint Imre Juhász, who is considered to be close to Jobbik. Here are some headlines that tell a lot about the general perception: “The right hand of Krisztina Morvai will be the new judge of the Constitutional Court,” “Fidesz and Jobbik made a deal,” “Imre Juhász is only a gesture to Jobbik.”

So, who is this Imre Juhász? Yes, he has a law degree. Shortly after graduation in 1986 he started teaching civil procedure at his alma mater, ELTE’s law school. First as a T.A. and from 1992 on as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor. Eventually he received a doctorate in law.

He became well known not because of his teaching activities but because he was one of the founding members of the Civic Legal Committee (Civil Jogász Bizottság). The committee’s shining light was Krisztina Morvai, who later became a prominent member of Jobbik and today serves as one of the party’s members of the European Parliament. I might add that the second star of this committee was Zoltán Balog, currently minister in charge of education, health, culture, sports and everything else under the sun. This unofficial far-right “committee” was set up to investigate the events of the September-October 2006 riots, especially the activities of the police. There was also an official investigating committee comprised of former police chiefs, sociologists, lawyers, and historians under the leadership of Katalin Gönczöl (Gönczöl Bizottság) that arrived at a critical but balanced assessment of the events.

Not so Morvai’s committee, whose seemingly sole purpose was to assist Viktor Orbán in discrediting Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government. I must say that they were very successful. They managed by repeated and noisy accusations to falsify the history of those days. Moreover, by now most people, including liberals and socialists who ought to know better, swear that there was a concerted police attack on innocent bystanders.

Balog already received his much deserved reward for services rendered. He is one of the most powerful ministers in Orbán’s government and perhaps the closest to the prime minister. Since Krisztina Morvai joined Jobbik, she cannot be openly supported by the present government, but surely Viktor Orbán must be grateful to her for the terrific job she did. The book the committee published was translated into English, and I understand that it was one of the two books Gergely Gulyás handed to Senator Ben Cardin at the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing the other day. And now Imre Juhász receives a top job from the grateful Viktor Orbán.

MSZP, DK, and PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) boycotted the parliamentary committee that considered Juhász’s nomination. Only Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik MPs were present, and they enthusiastically endorsed Juhász. Tamás Gaudi-Nagy (Jobbik) explained that his party didn’t have an official candidate, but they can heartily endorse Juhász. Indeed, it would have been strange if they didn’t.

From what Juhász said in his hearing before the committee, we can have no doubt that he will be an obliging appointee. He doesn’t have any problems with the new restrictions on the constitutional court. If earlier decisions cannot be used, no problem. One must follow the new constitution without considering any legal renderings of the past. He also seems to be enamored with the “historical constitution,” which should receive much greater emphasis than it does currently. As far as the limits of the constitutional court are concerned, Juhász endorses the absolute supremacy of parliament. As we know from Kim Scheppele’s argument, this means the elimination of checks and balances and can lead to tyranny. He talked about his plans to defend the rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries, something that I find difficult to comprehend. He as a member of the Hungarian Constitutional Court has no jurisdiction across borders. If Juhász actually means what he said to the committee, we may well be faced with a lot of unpleasantness between the Hungarian government and its neighbors.

Another hobbyhorse of Juhász is the repeal of the so-called Beneš doctrine. In his curriculum vitae Juhász called attention to his efforts when he referred to the two petitions he delivered to the European Parliament. The first in 2007 and the second in 2012. He handed in the more recent one jointly with Alida Hahn-Seidl, the representative of the Hunnia Baráti Kör (Hunnia Fraternity).

Gergely Bárándy, MSZP’s legal expert, called the nomination a hoax (kutyakomédia) in which his party will not participate. Gergely Karácsony announced that PM members will not pick up their ballots. DK announced the boycott even earlier. So, when it came to the final tally there were only 298 members present, of whom 286 members voted for Juhász and 12 voted against him. As far as I know, LMP remained in the chamber. And, by the way, over the weekend LMP decided that they will not negotiate with Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 14 or any other opposition party.