Although I know that some of you have already discovered Kim Scheppele’s answer to Gergely Gulyás’s attacks on her scholarly credentials, those who haven’t should visit Paul Krugman’s blog on The New Times and read her rebuttal entitled: “Hungary, The Public Relations Offensive.” Her analysis of the public letter addressed to her highlights the way members of the Orbán government operate. And in case you didn’t see Gulyás’s letter to Scheppele, make sure that you read it now.
A couple of days ago I also wrote about the scandalous personal attack on George Kopits, this time by the new deputy governor of the Hungarian National Bank. This young and apparently unqualified upstart, who owes his position to his allegiance to Fidesz, Viktor Orbán and György Matolcsy, attacks a man with an impressive academic and professional background. I suggest taking a look at his curriculum vitae.
But the list doesn’t end here. The latest is an attack on Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, who happens to be a Christian Democrat. Just like Fidesz politicians in the European Parliament, she is affiliated with the European People’s Party (EPP). So her attackers can’t even claim that her criticism of the current Hungarian government derives from her left-liberal political leanings. One can read about Viviane Reding’s career here.
Regardless of how many degrees, prizes and distinctions she has received, the Hungarian minister of justice and administration, Tibor Navracsics, still thinks that she is unqualified for her job. Navracsics shouldn’t throw stones: his own legal background is minimal. After he graduated from law school he immediately switched to political science, which he taught at his alma mater until Viktor Orbán discovered him and made him the whip of the Fidesz caucus between 2006 and 2010.
It is obvious from the statements Navracsics’s ministry released lately that the minister of justice and administration either decided on his own or was instructed from above to launch an anti-European Union campaign. First, he came up with the bizarre explanation that the “renewed attacks” on Hungary have something to do with the German elections that will take place in five months and the EP elections more than a year from now. According to Navracsics, “the European left uses all means at its disposal to discredit the European right” through its attacks on Hungary. It seems that Navracsics, who is supposed to know something about political science and politics, considers Hungary a linchpin in the political war between right and left in Europe. Political commentators laughed at the very suggestion.
But why the renewed attack on Viviane Reding? She made the mistake of giving a lengthy interview to the Hungarian paper Népszava. In it she emphasized that she has no grudge against Hungary or the Hungarian government as Navracsics often claims. It is her duty to enforce the laws of the European Union. She expressed her disappointment that the Hungarian government didn’t heed José Manuel Barroso’s request for a postponement of the vote on the latest amendments to the constitution. She used some pretty strong words in connection with the Hungarian government’s lack of responsiveness when it comes to adjusting Hungarian law to conform to the laws of the Union. Here is one of the many statements she made during the interview that may indicate that the European Commission means business. “As President Barroso mentioned, if necessary we will not hesitate to use all means at our disposal–I repeat, all means at our disposal–if Hungary disregards the legal norms of the Union and those of the Council of Europe.” Reding repeated what she had said earlier: “a constitution is not a plaything that can be changed every few months. This is especially true when the independence of the judiciary is at stake.”
Finally, there seems to be a difference of opinion about the information flow between Reding and Navracsics. Navracsics complains that he finds out about Reding’s positions on certain issues only from the media. Naturally, Reding denies the charge, claiming that she and her staff are in constant touch with Navracsics’s ministry. As for the veracity of Navracsics, it is worth recalling his run-in with Nellie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda in Brussels, about a year ago. Kroes and Navracsics had a long private talk after which there was a press conference during which Navracsics’s position suddenly changed. Kroes was furious and announced to Navracsics and all those present: “That is not what you told me half an hour ago.”
There are a couple of nasty international situations where Navracsics thinks that Reding is not sufficiently supportive of the Hungarian position. One is the so-called Tobin case. Tobin is an Irish national who caused the death of two Hungarian children. He was released on bail but left Hungary and went back to Ireland. For years Hungary has been trying to get Tobin extradicted to Hungary where he is supposed to serve his sentence. However, according to Irish law, Ireland extradites somebody only if the person actually escaped from the country asking for his extradition. Tobin didn’t, and therefore the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled in Tobin’s favor. As Reding explained, this is the law, whether we agree with the outcome or not. Under the circumstances she can do nothing.
Then there is another case in which Navracsics suddenly discovered that Reding didn’t do her best on Hungary’s behalf. A Hungarian woman in the middle of a divorce ended up with her husband and child in Bora Bora. The husband took her passport away and has been keeping her and her son captive. According to Navracsics, he wrote to Reding about the case on February 14 but has gotten no answer. By now it seems that Reding is really fed up with Navracsics and his ministry because she found it interesting that “these accusations surfaced only after the Commission announced that it is analyzing the legality of the constitutional amendments.” Reding claims that she answered Navracsics’s letter on March 19. Moreover, she got in touch with the French minister of justice and asked her to investigate the case. Reding sarcastically mentioned that perhaps Navracsics should check his mailbox because the Hungarian Embassy in Brussels acknowledged the receipt of her letter. And she added her final observation: “Such mistaken information surely doesn’t improve the relations between Budapest and Brussels.”
I doubt that Navracsics’s answer to Reding dated April 8 will mend the already strained relations between the commissioner and Navracsics. Here are a few choice sentences: “Your statements of late have plenty of factual errors.” He goes on to elaborate. He claims that he wrote a second reminder on March 17 to Reding which must have prompted her to write him on the 19th. He added that two of his letters have still been unanswered. The first he wrote on November 13 and second on November 16 about the Tobin case. In addition, Reding keeps talking about judicial independence in connection with the early retirement of judges when the European Court of Justice in its ruling wrote only of “discrimination on the basis of age”; the decision had nothing to do with the independence of the judiciary. And a final dig: “Madam, you asked me to check my mailbox. I ask you to check your facts.” So, relations between Brussels and Budapest are splendid!
I should mention that Hungary has problems not only with the European Commission but also with the European Parliament, which will discuss the Hungarian constitution on April 17. As far as we know Viktor Orbán was not invited, but Orbán is “theoretically ready to debate” with the MEPs. This weekend he will consult with József Szájer whether he should go. Meanwhile the European Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs prepared a document “on the situation of Fundamental Rights: standards and practices in Hungary (pursuant to the EP resolution of 16 February 2012)”–Rapporteur is Rui Tavares, Portuguese MP. Apparently even the European People’s Party members of the committee signed the report. Doesn’t sound too promising from the Hungarian point of view.