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Verbal duel between Budapest and Brussels escalates

April 16th, 2012

Pro-government commentators suggest that the government should not cave in to political pressure from the European Union and the IMF, while opposition newspapers warn that by refusing to accept the rules of the game Hungary’s leaders are taking serious and unnecessary risks.

In Gondola, a conservative news site, a columnist believes that what is at stake in the duel between Brussels and Budapest is “Viktor Orbán’s head,” and the Prime Minister is fully aware of that. The commentator, whose articles appear under the pseudonym Manfred A. Weiss (Manfred Weiss was the number one industrialist in pre-war Hungary) draws this conclusion from the Prime Minister’s latest interview on Hungarian Radio, in which he said Hungary will not accept political preconditions for its credit talks with the International Monetary Fund, although the European Union seems to insist on these. Weiss accuses the European Union of representing the interests of big businesses from western Europe, whose profits have been curbed by Mr Orbán’s government. The two leading European personalities, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Sarkozy of France will “guarantee that Hungary will not get a credit line from the IMF as long as Orbán is in office,” Weiss believes. He argues that the sooner Hungary realises that it can only count on its own resources, the better.

The Prime Minister’s views, as expressed in his radio interview, were a reaction to what he sees as ever newer demands and preconditions formulated by EU officials (See Budapest, April 13). In a bitter OpEd piece in Magyar Nemzet, Dávid Megyeri complains about the humiliating exercise Hungary has to go through in Brussels: “We have to pretend that we do not know why we are so rudely kept waiting in the ante-chamber. They would be more inclined to allot huge sums to Eskimos to buy refrigerators or Equatorial Guineans to buy solar beds than to (lend money) to us.”

Megyeri believes Hungary is not being told clearly which conditions she must fulfil, because “they cannot admit that their demands are purely political.” If Hungary manages to stay afloat without the life-belt of the IMF, he continues, then the world will have to realise that the “unorthodox” economic policies the government has been pursuing are not so bad after all. In any case, the IMF and the European Union will lose face for not having done their duty: “Perhaps they might like to initiate infringement procedures against themselves?’” Megyeri suggests.

Left-wing analysts agree that the negotiations between Hungary and the EU-IMF tandem have reached a stalemate, but they lay the blame for this on the Hungarian government. In his weekly lead column in 168 óra, Tamás Mészáros dismisses the argument that if the IMF is ready to finance countries like Chad, then it has no legitimate reason to refuse a credit line to Hungary. Mészáros argues that the supporters of the Chadian government “presumably do not organise mass demonstrations against Western  financiers’ colonial endeavours,” and as Chad is not a member of the European Union, it does not have to comply with EU norms. Mészáros is convinced that as long as Hungary does not comply with the expectations of the Venice Commission (an advisory body to the Council of Europe that has criticised recent Hungarian legislation) and of the European Central Bank (on the independence of Hungary’s National Bank), no credit line agreements can be expected. The left-wing commentator thinks the Prime Minister expects the international institutions to get tired and give in, but they will not, for “we are not that important to them.” Meanwhile, Mészáros concludes, the markets have begun to suspect that Mr Orbán does not really want that credit line after all. “And although market analysts have warned that such policies may entail serious consequences, Orbán continues to gamble.”

In Népszabadság, Balázs Pócs, an international affairs commentator, rather than an expert on economic issues, warns that “it is Hungary that will drown without a life-belt, not the European Union.” Under these conditions, he thinks it is ill-advised to argue that Hungary does not know what she is expected to do. As time passes, the list of objections addressed to Hungary gets longer and longer. It already extends to the electoral law, the constitution, the law on churches, the status of the Media Board and so on. Pócs suggests that “since we joined the European Club,” it is pointless to reply that these are political issues and have nothing to do with public finances. He warns that “if we choose to be left on our own”, we will march straight into bankruptcy.

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