Entries RSS Feed Share Send to Facebook Tweet This Accessible version

Tug-of-war with Brussels

May 20th, 2013

Commentators unanimously find the protracted tug-of-war between the government and the European Union on constitutional and financial issues harmful, but opinions diverge widely on the causes and the possible solutions.

In Figyelő,  Zoltán Gyévai, chief analyst at the Bruxinfo Hungarian news agency based in Brussels, believes that if the Hungarian government had taken warnings about its constitutional overhaul seriously, and had it conducted intense consultations with the committee, it could have avoided the severe reprimands it has received from Brussels. This is how he explains how Spain could get away last year with its excessive deficit from 2011, while Hungary was severely scolded.  He thinks financial Commissioner Olli Rehn did not manage to dissipate the concern that he was applying double standards in that case.  The Hungarian side believes that it is the victim of “double double standards”, for the previous, left wing government used to receive much milder treatment, despite its incomparably higher and frantically changing deficit figures. The Commissioner argues that times have changed since then, as the crisis has prompted more rigour from decision makers. That argument, Gyévai remarks, would be convincing if it was applied also to one of the big offenders. Quite on the contrary, however, France has been given an extra 24 months to straighten out its accounts, while Belgium is threatened with a fine for failing to keep its deficit under the 3 per cent threshold. If Belgium is punished, Mr Rehn will inevitably be blamed for applying double standards. If on the other hand, Belgium gets away with it, the analyst concludes, then it will be extremely difficult for the Committee not to release Hungary (with its far better fiscal performance) from the excessive deficit procedure it has been subjected to for 9 years.

In his weekly Demokrata editorial, András Bencsik suggests that supporters of the government should organise a mass pilgrimage to Brussels, where several trainloads of Hungarians should counter with their presence what he calls the “final major offensive by the international left-wing front against Hungary before the start of the summer holidays”. The European Parliament is due to discuss a critical report on Hungary’s constitutional reforms in June (See BudaPost, May 10). Bencsik explains that the idea is not just to protest against anything, just to demonstrate that “through the power of collective joy alone it is possible to lift a country out of the crisis”.  He argues that Hungary has found a solution to the problems other European societies haven’t managed to solve. The editor of Demokrata suggests that Polish and Croatian participants should also be invited to join, just as hundreds of Poles took part at the first Peace March, of which Bencsik was one of the organisers (see BudaPost, January 24, 2012) He hopes such a mass demonstration could “finally wake up European citizens misled by the left-liberal media”, before next year’s European elections.

In Élet és Irodalom, editor Zoltán Kovács argues that the draft report to be submitted to the European Parliament on legal developments in Hungary is right to describe those changes as in contradiction with basic European standards. In particular, he believes the 49 pivotal laws hastily accepted since the new Fundamental Law was enacted in 2011, will restrict the elbow room of any future government, for a two thirds majority would be needed in order the amend them. Another point made by the Portuguese rapporteur Rui Tavares which Kovács praises is that most of the recent legislative developments were not properly debated before they were enacted. His main concern however, is that Hungarian Socialist MEPs will refuse to vote in favour of the report in its present form, although MSZP leader Attila Mesterházy claims that his party’s policies are based on principles. “There is bigger trouble than we would have assumed,” Kovács concludes.

In Népszabadság, another leading liberal commentator, Sándor Révész also for refusing to side with Mr Tavares in condemning the Hungarian government, although they fully share the judgement expressed in the draft report. He recalls that in 1989, Fidesz demonstrators greeted visiting president George H. Bush with a poster asking him: “Don’t give money to the Communists”, and were immediately labelled traitors intending to harm their country. Now, Révész continues, when they face the danger of being fined by Brussels, it is they who call those who act in that same spirit, traitors. He scorns the Socialist élite for refusing to stand up for their principles, in order not to be branded traitors to their country. Révész thinks this won’t prevent Fidesz accusing the MSZP of treason anyway.

In Heti Válasz (print edition), editor Gábor Borókai accuses Hungary’s liberals of seeking foreign support because they are unable to recruit a sizeable constituency at home. He thinks Gordon Bajnai was their choice as opposition candidate for Prime Minister, and they were extremely unhappy when the Socialist Party refused to “joyfully cede the post of captain” to the former Premier. The last drop in the glass, he continues, was Mesterházy’s opposition to “the international network of 68ers”, who are extremely influential “through their dense political and media network”. Borókai quotes a communique by former Hungarian anti-Communist dissidents and later founding Liberal Party members, condemning the MSZP for its “involuntary subservience to a populist demand, rather than opposing it”. According to Borókai’s reading, by “populist demand” they mean the majority opinion according to which one should not “try and suppress one’s rivals by climbing onto the backs of powerful foreigners”. The Socialists, he continues, have realised that assistance from the European Union will hardly result in electoral victory. The liberals, on the contrary, having completely lost their constituency at home, don’t even exist outside of an international context. By opposing the Tavares report and especially any possible sanctions against Hungary, the Socialists sent a message to Hungarian voters, but not without discomforting the liberals who have been at the vanguard of a campaign “to discredit Hungary”. As a result, Borókai concludes, Socialists and Liberals are now at loggerheads and detest each other just a bit less than they dislike PM Orbán.

Tags: , , ,