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Verbal duel between Brussels and Budapest over Orbán’s speech

March 20th, 2012

A leading centrist analyst believes that Viktor Orbán has no choice but to use double talk, but advises him to practice this more carefully, while his conservative colleague writes that the EC has over-reacted to the Hungarian PM’s words on March 15th.

On Thursday 15 March, addressing a huge pro-government crowd in front of the Parliament building, PM Viktor Orbán said the revolutionary youth of 1848 rebelled because they did not want to be a colony, and “this is precisely our slogan today.” (See BudaPost March 17th) His speech was criticised by the spokesperson for EC President, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen. Answering to a journalist who said Mr Orbán “seems to have compared the European Union to the Habsburgs and to the Soviet Union”, she replied (citing Mr Barroso): „those who compare the EU to the USSR show a complete lack of understanding of what democracy is and show a lack of respect for those who have fought for freedom and democracy.” The Prime Minister’s spokesman then declared that the speech did not contain any comparison between the European Commission and the Soviet Union or the Habsburg dynasty. Journalists have since tried to find one and ended up with a sentence where Mr Orbán said Hungary wanted to write its own constitution and was “able to identify unwanted comradely assistance, even when it  comes not in uniform, but in well-tailored suits.

In his blog, Gábor Török believes that PM Viktor Orbán has little other choice than to use double talk, if he wants to keep government voters while staying open to negotiations with Brussels and the IMF.

The problem is not the double talk itself, he writes, but the simplistic exaggerations, which are an important part of Fidesz’s communication strategy. He admits though that while „this isn’t a very pleasant form of communication, it is very useful in a mass democracy.” Török warns however that there are situations where talk in stereotypes destroys a politician’s credibility. He concludes that Viktor Orbán and his advisers would do better to recalibrate the PM’s tone, to avoid causing outcry in Brussels while being able to reach their voters.

A leading conservative analyst, Ferenc Kumin thinks, on the other hand, that speaking just a few days after the Ecofin meeting Viktor Orbán had to react to their threat to suspend cohesion funds for Hungary next year. (See BudaPost, March 14th) Nevertheless, Kumin remarks, the PM was less confrontational than exactly a year ago, when he mentioned Moscow and Brussels in the very same sentence. He also suggests that the Prime Minister had to reach out to voters disillusioned with the European Union who might be inclined to side with the far right.

While Viktor Orbán followed his instincts, Mr Barroso’s spokesperson, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen over-reacted to the situation, in her answer to a journalist’s question, writes Kumin. This definitely wasn’t the right time to exacerbate the conflict, he believes, and the only way out would be for one of the parties to take one step backwards and be less abrasive.

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