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European Parliament debate on Hungary

January 20th, 2012

Commentators agree that the debate on Hungary in the EP was of a low standard. A pro-government daily praises PM Viktor Orbán’s performance, while a left-wing commentator points out that that all MEPs followed their party lines. A centrist political analyst believes that it is still not certain that a compromise will be reached between the EU and the Hungarian government.

On Wednesday, one day after the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against Hungary (see BudaPost January 19th), Prime Minister Viktor Orbán attended the European Parliament’s session on Hungary at his own volition. In the debate, MEPs raised concerns not only about specific legal and constitutional issues, but also about what they described as the general weakening of democratic institutions in the country. Orbán  rejected all allegations that he had pursued an undemocratic direction, but showed willingness to compromise. All problematic issues identified by the European Commission, he said, can easily be resolved.

The debate was dominated by preposterous passion,” Szabolcs Szerető writes in Magyar Nemzet, and adds that Hungarians can now be proud of the standards of their own much criticized Parliament, as the discussion in Strasbourg was “below par.”

According to Szerető, Orbán’s left-wing and liberal critics offered no reasonable arguments, but instead voiced vague concerns about what they saw as the violation of European values, and demanded a complete overhaul of the new Constitution. Szerető notes that Polish PM Donald Tusk found the criticism exaggerated and defended the Hungarian government.

Szerető believes that since the European Commission on Tuesday announced infringement proceedings and identified three problematic issues, there will now be a chance for a more focused and rational debate.

In its front page editorial, Népszabadság agrees that the debate was “often embarrassing.” The discussion created the impression that everyone had a prescribed role in the show: Orbán pretended not to understand the criticism, the European People’s Party tried to stay neutral, while left-wing, liberal and Green MEPs regurgitated arguments which have been repeatedly voiced during the past weeks.

As for the possible result of legal proceedings, the left-wing daily does not believe that Hungary’s voting rights will be suspended. It is more likely that the “EC will get tangled up in legal analyses.”

Political scientist Gábor Török notes that PM Viktor Orbán was more calm and compromising than he was last January, when he defended Hungary at the beginning of the country’s EU presidency term.

Török draws three main conclusions: once again Mr Orbán proved that he is a charismatic politician, even on a European scale. Party politics was more visible than last year, which made the debate more balanced and less interesting. But as for the main issue at stake, we still do not see how much the European Union and the Hungarian government are willing to compromise, the centrist analyst concludes.

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