EU ZMK's Diary

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

Why this Blog entry is dedicated to this particular subject?

EPC, an independent think-thank organized a policy briefing on 23 April 2012 in Brussels for an audience more than 200 people where Mr Viktor ORBÁN Prime Minister of Hungary (hereinafter referred to as PM Orbán) had the opportunity to make a presentation about the renewal of Hungary and the European economic recovery. The moderator of the policy briefing was Mr Josef Janning from EPC.

Comment: For those who are interested the video record of the PM’s speech and the following debate is available following this link here.

Since I had the pleasure to participate in this event, I decided to dedicate this blog entry to this subject which may be particulary interesting for the Hungarian lecturers, so I will make some addiitional comments in Hungarian in the end.

Previously

The policy of PM Orbán and his center-right ruling party Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) is in the very center of harsh critics in international and national media. After a landslide electorial victory in 2010 which resulted a two/third majority of Fidesz in the Hungarian Parliament and which made possible to re-write even the Constititution – which actually happened – PM Orbán made the Hungarian Parliament adopt several controversial acts (sector specific taxes, media law, new Constitution [basic law and cardinal laws], new electoral system, law on Churches, new Judicial system). Some of them are subject to infrigement procedures (1. Office of the data protection 2. Retirement age of judges 3. Independence of the governor of the Central Bank). According to the well informed EU professionals, further infrigement procedures are likely. Concerning the constitutional reform, the Council of Europe (the Venice Committee) is also involved and the European Commission is intended to take its recommandations on board.
In spite of these ongoing infrigement procedures between Hungary and the Commission, the country is actually seeking for financial help of IMF which makes the whole situation – if it is possible – even more complicated.

For futher details about the stay of play in Hungary, you can rely on this Euractive article.

Presentation of PM Orbán

Before adressing the direct questions of participants, PM Orbán made a presentation not only about the recent changes in Hungary but also about the ratio behind those changes.

Since in the 3 most important decisive factors (1. dept rate os states 2. fiscal deficit 3. working rate) either Europe or Hungary are behind the global competitors (countries of the American and the Asian continent) PM Orbán decided to put forward a mass of structural reforms. As a result of these reforms, Hungary may be a laboratory for Europe what shall be done in order to overcome the recent crisis.

The core philosophy behind the acts of the Government are the followings:

– an intended fair burdensharing among the political class, business sectors and households – through political, adminisitrative and judicial reform, sector specific crisis taxes, abolishment of several social allowances and early retirement

– reinforcement of the middle class – through a flat rate tax with familial benefits, and corporate tax with favorable rates for SMEs.

– structural reforms – such as the re-building of the health and education system

What does “Strong Europe” mean which was the slogan of the Hungarian EU Presidency? PM Orbán put the presented reforms in the context of the renewal of the EU. In Europe, the focus is on “What does the market expect us?” which results in following of events instead of shaping/directing them. The common European heritage such as democracy, human rights, competitve economy shall be maintained, nevertheless other European achivements such as Social Welfare State shall be abandoned in order to keep competitiveness in the global economy.

PM Orbán put particular accent on the necessity of the economic cooperation between Germany and Eastern and Central Europe which can boost the European economy as they did just before the crisis.

Direct Questions and Answers

In order to present the most important messages I will collect the main ideas around targeted, formulated questions and answers like a ‘chatecism’.

What about the 3 steps approach and the criticisme of the Hungarian people?

According to PM Orbán, a political leader has to bear responsibility not only to the political community but also to the nation. In Hungary, the interests of both of them are in line whith each other. Some say that the middle class is more likely willing to vote center-right parties and the reinforcement of the middle class serves not only the nation’s but also the political community’s interests.

Why did PM Orbán mentioned the recent results of the French presidential elections?

In France, the anti-european parties received 30% of protest votes which is a very important sign for Europe. The center right and left candidates are pro, and the far-right and left parties are anti-europeans. From psychological reasons, hate and anger can influance the electorate of those extreme parties, so that the political rules shall be bound by ethical vallues.

Will Hungary join the euro-zone?

The euro is the EU’s most important achievement. If it fails, Europe will fail. But it is up to the euro members to resolve the problem and countries outside the euro zone shall leave them doing their job. The crisis clearly showed that those countries which joined the eurozone without having the economic capacities are suffering from the consequences of the crisis. Hungary shall only join the eurozone if its economy is matured enough for that challenge.

Will Hungary ”orbanise’ the EU?

PM Orbán found this argument not well founded stating that he spent the vast majority of his political career in opposition and all of his faith is in political competition and democracy.

What result is expected at the end of the infrigement procedures?
Infrigement procedures belong to the EU’s working culture. Every member state has some of them and Hungary is in the middle concerning their numbers. Brussels is different from Moscow since there is a way to resolve the discussion before the Court of Justice of the European Union. In the U.s.s.r. there were no similar procedures. In respect of the salary of the governor of the Hungarian Central Bank and the pension age of judges, the Court of Justice may have the final say.

Why is a gap between the people and the European policy-making?

According to PM Orbán, the gap exists but the real bearers of political responsibility are the national states. The connection is important between the national politicians and the people and not between the European Institutions and the people. The European Institutional systems are complicated but there is a reason for it, namely the delicate role of the Member States.

All over Europe the center right governments were in the position to resolve the crisis. Since in some cases they failed to do so, they are loosing their political power. The pendulum is going to the other direction.

Is Hungary really ready for an IMF loan or it is just a political game?

The intentions of the government are serious – according to PM Orbán. Hungary will stay in any cost on the market – even bearing the higher interests as a cost – since if a country accepted the IMF loan with more advantagous interest rates it would take 5-8 years to go back to the markets.

Hungary would like to have a so-called safety net but the intention of IMF is giving a loan with strict conditions. As an example, Egypt apllied the same day for an IMF loan as Hungary and since it is not a member of the EU, it already received the required financial help.

The IMF has no preconditions for the financial help but the kick-off of the negotiations has one, namely the consent of the European Institutions.

Since the NATO and the EU mean not only a security and political but also a financial community, regarding the above mentioned conditions, Hungary isn’t able to belong to this financial community so far.

What is Hungary’s intention about the Nabucco / South Stream project?

Hungary is ready to establish its energy security. That is why it is ready to co-finance with Slovakia a common HU-SK pipeline but there are ongoing negotiations with Croatia and Italy, as well.

The Nabucco project seems less likely to be fulfilled since even the Hungarian company, the MOL left this project. Since Russia will establish the South Stream project, Hungary was interested in it if some parts of it would go through the territory of Hungary.

Although the Hungarian revolution of 1956 is a decisive point in the history of democracy, the negotiations with Russia are concentrated on the future not on the past.

Final Comments

As Mr Josef Janning accentuated, a two/third constitutional majority is at the same time a great responsibility and Hungary has several neighbours as Germany does which makes the country particularly interesting.
What I think is that this presentation clearly showed me the importance of listening to the other’s opinion. If there is a criticized moved from whatever government, it is always worth to put ourselves in their position and trying to carefully think over what could be the reason behind the decisions under discussion.
I am quite sure that at the end, both the concerned European and international Indtitutions (European Central Bank, Commission, Venice Committe, IMF) and the Hungarian authorities will find a compromise, which would mean that in some cases the critics have some founds – in other cases, they are not founded.
All player shall accept that nobody has the philosopher’s stone in his/her pocket. In cases where the law of the European Union is under consideration, the Court of the European Justice may have the final word. In other cases, it is up to the involved parties to find a compromise.

Furher comments in Hungarian:

A résztvevők listája rendkívül vegyes képet mutat. Megtalálhatók rajta az Európai Intézmények köztisztviselői, Brüsszeli székhelyű független elemző intézetek, EU és EU-n kívüli államok diplomatái, a magyar (ezen belül jobboldali, baloldali és független) és a nemzetközi sajtó képviselői, dipllomaták és az Európai Parlament képviselői (politikai kötődés szerint jobb és baloldaliak egyaránt)- valamint a magamfajta EU szakértők.

A külföldi érdeklődés mellett megállapítható, hogy a résztvevők jelentős része magyar volt. A felfokozott hazai figyelemre tekintettel jóllehet az előadás, valamint a kérdések-válaszok munkanyelve az angol volt, az eseményt követően lehetőség nyílt kérdések magyar nyelven való feltételére, amely ezen sorok írásakor valószínűleg, publikálásakor pedig biztosan megtalálhatóak az elektronikus média forrásaiban.
Ha valaki nem követte az előzményeket, és csak az előadás és a viták során elhangzottakból kívánna következtetéseket levonni, akkor arra következtethetne, hogy az alapul fekvő ügyek egy kulturált, érvekkel és ellenérvekkel operáló, higgadt vita keretében zajlanak le, európai módon.

Sajnos mindnyájan tudjuk, hogy legjobb várakozásainkkal ellentétben úgy a hazai, mind a nemzetközi körkép sajnos mást mutat: személyeskedésektől sem mentes, túlzott jelzőkkel tarkított, megalapozott vádak és alaptalan rágalmak keverekével tarkított, harsány vita zajlik. Mondjuk ki: mindkét oldalon megjelennek a fenti jelenségek kisebb nagyobb mértékben úgy a nemzetközi, mind a hazai közéletben.

Aki azt hiszi, hogy ez az esemény eltérő irányt szabott az eseményeknek, az bizonyára téved. A megszólaló szereplők minden bizonnyal – adott esetben politikai motiváltságtól vezérelve is – pro és kontra elfogultak, és bizonyos értelemben a konfliktusok élezésében érdekeltek Mindazonáltal a mai Brüsszeli előadás ékes, nem túl- de le sem becsülendő ellenpélda, hogy van/létezik európai szintű vitakultúra, hogy adott esetben még egy politikai vita is lehet érv-ellenérv, és nem élet halál kérdése.

Azt hiszem, valamennyiünk számára, akik ott voltunk (és mindazoknak, akik közvetve – mondjuk e sorok elolvasása révén – voltak részesei az eszmecserének) van min elgondolkodnunk.

I remain at your disposal.

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Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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(Cover photo © European council)

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