Orbán’s interview this morning on Magyar Rádió, which originally I assumed would be nothing more than a Hungarian-language rehash of the English-language comments he made during his virtual “debate” with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša yesterday, turned out to be frighteningly newsworthy. It was a much more sharply worded attack on the European Union and its plans for the 2021-2027 budget and the “Next Generation Fund,” whose details are being thrashed out at the moment.
The harsher wording by the Hungarian prime minister is due partly to his being “among his own” and partly to the growing criticism of his disregard for the most basic principles of democracy. Increasing numbers of West European politicians have come forth with demands to stop “feeding the beast” who refuses to take part in any common effort and who at home has installed a quasi-dictatorship. They insist that countries such as Poland and Hungary that openly disregard democratic values and flaunt their illiberalism should not be the beneficiaries of large sums of money which, at least in Hungary’s case, often end up in the wrong hands. Some of the former Soviet satellites didn’t use the money they received wisely; a great deal of it was outright stolen. But what is especially upsetting is that economic data prove that it is EU money that keeps Orbán’s perpetual premiership afloat. Without that money, the Fidesz political system would have collapsed a long time ago. Therefore, the well-intentioned financial help has turned into a curse for both democracy in Hungary and the future of the European Union.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, announced that the division of the EU budget for the next seven years will be tied to the state of democracy and the rule of law in any given country. The two countries that are under special scrutiny are Poland and Hungary. Michel suggested already in February that, in order to introduce sanctions against rogue countries, he would like to change the currently requisite unanimity to qualified majority rule. In addition, he foresees ongoing monitoring by the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors, starting in September. As far as Angela Merkel is concerned, some commentators claim, as I reported yesterday, that she supports financial sanctions against member countries that disregard the basic laws of the European Union. Others, however, worry about her latest remarks, which suggest that she would postpone any talk on sanctions for the sake of a unanimous decision on the budget at the earliest possible date.
I should also mention another plan to which, as we will see, Viktor Orbán vehemently objects. Michel suggests that 30% of the money received from the EU should be spent on climate change and that special attention should be paid to areas that are wanting. That, in Hungary’s case, would be education, healthcare, and support for the lower strata of society, which at the moment lack the opportunity for social advancement.
Viktor Orbán’s interview this morning presumably reflects his current thinking on the forthcoming EU budget. He claims that, although Hungarians hate the idea of indebtedness, he will not veto the “Next Generation Fund” because veto power should be used only in the most extreme cases. Of course, the truth is that Hungary needs the money and doesn’t mind taking out loans, which it’s doing with greater and greater frequency.
But he might use his veto power in the case of the budget. He will refrain from vetoing the budget only if the EU accepts his terms. One requirement is that the loan should be divided fairly among the 27 member states and that “this money must be used for the development of the economy.” This demand, if acceded to by the Union, would enable Viktor Orbán to stuff tons of euros into his oligarchs’ pockets in the name of economic development while he would pay no attention to education, healthcare, equal opportunity issues, or climate change. As he said, since the loan will be taken out by all 27 countries, “we shouldn’t circumscribe what we use the money for.”
His most important demand is that “no politics be involved” when it comes to the disbursement of the money. In his own words, “in the European Union it has become a habit, especially promoted by loudmouth liberals, to threaten countries they don’t like with financial sanctions. This is uncivilized behavior.” Orbán added that “we should make clear that political conditions should never be confused with economic decisions.” For good measure, he warned that “I wouldn’t suggest that the ‘big guys’ try this game” because “there won’t be a budget” otherwise.
So, by fairly early in the morning the Hungarian public knew that their prime minister has a number of demands he will put forth during his negotiations on the budget next weekend. But they were not prepared for what followed, or at least this is the impression I gained from come comments I received from Hungary. László Kövér, president of the Parliament, Máté Kocsis, leader of the Fidesz delegation, and István Simicskó, the newly-elected whip of the Christian Democrats, turned in a “proposal for a decision” (határozati javaslat) which “called on the government not to accept the seven-year EU budget while the Article 7 proceedings against Hungary remain open.” So, until the European Union throws Judith Sargentini’s report, approved by two-thirds of the European parliament, into the garbage can and drops the case against Hungary, they will be unable to enact a new budget. In addition, the authors of the Hungarian proposal expect equal treatment of all member states; citizens of richer countries should not receive more than poor ones; political parties and political organizations disguised as civilians should not be financed by the European Union; linking resources to political and ideological conditions, under the heading of the “rule of law,” is unacceptable. This proposal will be passed by a simple majority in parliament sometime next week, a few days before the summit.
This is blackmail, pure and simple.