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PM Orbán meeting EPP leaders

May 2nd, 2017

The first comments on the outcome of the European People’s Party Presidency meeting on Hungary express a mixture of confusion and contradictions on whether the Prime Minister made concessions in Brussels, or defended his positions against criticism and pressure.

The Presidency of the EPP met on Saturday in Brussels to discuss complaints by the European Commission against the Hungarian government, including its presumed intention to close down the Central European University, its campaign against the Commission at home and its immigration policy. According to EPP sources, including President Joseph Daul and spokesman Siegfried Muresan, Mr Orbán told them he would revise his policies. Speaking to Hungarian reporters in Brussels after the meeting, however, the Prime Minister said the issue of CEU was a legal one that would be discussed with the European Commission and that Hungary would not bow to pressure from anyone. Government officials said the Prime Minister defended his government’s position.

On its Eurologus page, Index describes the meeting between the Prime Minister and the EPP as a dialogue of the deaf, as the two sides made contradictory statements about what was agreed upon. Index deems it premature to declare that Mr Orbán retreated on the CEU issue, in the face of sustained pressure.

24.hu, a left-wing news site depicts Mr Orbán’s behaviour as a particularly striking example of his usual ‘peacock dance’, a term he allegedly used himself to describe the diplomatic tactics he followed during the early controversies with the European Commission over the Media Law in 2012.

In an earlier comment on the debate in the European Parliament on ‘the Situation in Hungary’, Népszava editor Péter Németh believes the Prime Minister intends to remain within the European Union while staying outside at the same time. Meanwhile, at least 70 per cent of Hungarians are in favour of EU membership. He finds it bewildering that almost half of the electorate still supports the government.

In his Népszava opinion piece, writer Rudolf Ungváry, a staunch opponent of the government accuses the European Union of having betrayed Hungarian democrats by choosing ’appeasement’ in its attitude towards Mr Orbán. He likens that behaviour to the policies followed by France and Britain vis á vis Hitler in the 1930s, who felt encouraged to launch World War Two as a result. Ungváry even criticises radical anti-government protester Márton Gulyás who demonstrated his peaceful intentions by saying that he would protect the Prime Minister with his own body against a potential murderer. 

On Válasz, István Dévényi believes that this time the criticism levelled at the Hungarian government was based on more factual information than usual and was more all-encompassing, since it was even shared by leading Christian Democrats. The main lesson he draws from the matter, however, is that Hungary cannot expect the European Union to solve its domestic problems.

In Magyar Idők, János Csontos disagrees with that assessment on the basis of the example of an angry speech by liberal Belgian leader Guy Verhofstadt who even raised the prospect of books by great Hungarian writers being burnt in the streets of Budapest. He also criticises Commission deputy chairman Frans Timmermans who called CEU a ‘crown jewel’. If we took him seriously, Csontos concludes, we would have to think that George Soros is the King of Europe.

In a bitter and sarcastic comment in Magyar Hírlap, István Lovas pokes fun at EC President Jean-Claude Juncker who welcomed George Soros in Brussels last week, embracing and kissing him on both cheeks. ’Soros must be given credit for only tolerating that kiss without reciprocating it’, he writes. His main point is, however, that apart from that opening scene, nothing at all was released about the conversation the two men so keen on open societies had behind closed doors. Lovas imagines therefore an exchange during which George Soros says his foundations are busy preparing new ’Maidans’ – a reference to the toppling by protesters of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich in 2014 in Kiev.

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