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Weeklies on the government’s concerns over sovereignty

October 2nd, 2023

Opposition-leaning commentators strongly condemn the government’s plans to sanction outlets and NGOs who accept financing from abroad, in what Fidesz leaders have called a move to protect Hungary’s sovereignty. Pro-government authors voice criticism of the attitude of the European Union towards Hungary.

Fidesz floor leader Máté Kocsis told the press last week that the government side will table a ‘sovereignty package’ this autumn to ‘make it more difficult for certain people to sell out Hungary for dollars’. Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyás said the main point will be to extend campaign financing rules to all organisations running for elected positions even if they are not parties.

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető believes that the offensive codenamed ‘sovereignty protection’ is targeting an opposition that represents no lethal challenge to the government despite the country’s increasing economic difficulties. The government, he suspects, wants to get deeper than just the political parties – it is out to discredit all platforms critical of the government which it cannot control as serving foreign interests.

In a very similar vein, Zoltán Lakner writes in his Jelen editorial that the government intends to maim independent NGOs and news outlets that accept foreign funding because the Hungarian public is not financially strong enough to maintain them. These organisations have never succeeded in preventing Fidesz from winning crushing majorities in Parliament, he adds, therefore he doesn’t even see the rationale behind the measures to be adopted. He concludes by predicting that the ‘juridical monster’ that will probably result from that effort will be the final blow to the European funds destined for Hungary but suspended on the basis of rule of law concerns.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Imre Para-Kovács believes that the planned new legislation is only meant to divert attention from the failure of the government’s economic policies. He quotes National Bank president György Matolcsy who defined those policies as ‘adventurous’ and interprets the government’s campaign for sovereignty as a propaganda tool. The government has tried to strangle the resources of critically minded NGOs, he writes, and if as a result, they ask for funding elsewhere, then they will be branded as traitors to Hungary. In other words, he suggests, sovereignty for the government merely means that it wants to keep the key to the safe in its own hands.

In Élet és Irodalom, Dániel Deák disagrees with the government’s stance on the reform plans Germany and France have submitted to the European Union. The Hungarian side opposes closer integration and considers its right of veto as a safeguard for national sovereignty. That position, however, he suggests, will doom Hungary to a peripheral position within the EU. Closer integration, he believes, is the only way to increase Europe’s competitiveness and by staying out of that process, Hungary will condemn herself to decline.

In Mandiner, by contrast, László Dornfeld accuses Brussels bureaucrats of being ‘busy lining their pockets and lecturing member countries’ while the latter, at least in Eastern Europe, must try and solve problems that the West is unable or unwilling to tackle. As a result, Hungary is frequently criticised for following its own path and stands accused of rule of law violations. No wonder, he remarks, that Hungary doesn’t want a more centralised European Union. Dornfeld interprets the Hungarian position as aiming at increasing the weight of the individual member countries and returning to square one, that is to a European Union which is an economic alliance of strong nation-states organised around concrete interests rather than ideological targets.

Demokrata’s Gábor Bencsik condemns the European Union for ‘turning a blind eye’ to the complaints of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Ukraine. He wonders how representatives of ethnic minorities, like the Basques or the inhabitants of South Tyrol represented in the European Parliament can be deaf to the demands of ethnic Hungarians in the Subcarpathian region whose right to study in their own mother tongue the Ukrainian government is trying to take away. The European Union, Bencsik writes, is busy protecting the rights of all minorities, whether real or artificial, with the sole exception of ethnic minorities. Hungary just wants its fellow Hungarians across the border to enjoy the same rights the inhabitants of South Tyrol, Catalonia or the Swedes in Finland find quite natural today, he writes, adding that Hungary will not support Ukraine’s accession to the EU ‘until it learns to govern in a European way’.

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