The muddled Hungarian Presidency

The EU press has been very active in reporting on the tensions between the EU and Hungary, as the latter takes over the rotating presidency of the EU Council. The usual suspects have articles on this. Here’s what they have to say about it.

The FT has a piece where it quickly overviews the whole issue. It mentions the prime minister’s image as an uncooperative hardline rightwing extremist, the media law that threatens Hungarian press freedom with a board of censors staffed by loyal majority party appointees and the fact that all this awkwardness is compounded by the EU Council presidency.

Der Spiegel International‘s report focuses more on the discontent of Hungary at being treated like a pinata by the French and German governments. Mr Orban makes for a rather enlightened, albeit selectively so, European leader, when he highlights that no country has the authority to tell any other country what to do. That is a power vested solely on the European Commission and on the European Court of Justice. May be it’s just me but he embarrasses France and Germany when,  almost showing great European statesmanship he says “Let’s respect EU rules which mandate that the EU will decide if the law meets EU norms or doesn’t. It’s not up to France and Germany and Hungary to decide this.”

However, in my opinion, the best report is offered by the Economist’s Charlemagne who provides a thorough coverage. It highlights the Fidesz argument that its media laws are inspired by similar rules in its EU partners, while exposing why fear of this law must be understood in the context of the reform agenda of the Mr Orban Fidesz party.

“His (Mr Orban) action looks worryingly like the latest in a campaign to weaken independent institutions and centralise power. Pal Schmitt, a Fidesz loyalist, has been appointed Hungary’s president. In pursuit of a “patriotic” economic policy, the government has rejected the IMF’s prescriptions, raided private pensions, acted to replace the fiscal council overseeing the budget, sought to unseat the governor of the central bank and restricted the powers of the constitutional court. One-off “crisis” taxes have alarmed foreign investors and prompted an inquiry by the EU. Propaganda displayed in public buildings grandly claims that only now has Hungary regained its self-determination, even though the country has been free for two decades.”

It then glances at the legal options available to the EU and reaches the bleak conclusion that as one diplomat put it “To join the EU you have to smell of roses. But if you are a member and you start to reek, there is nobody to make you take a bath.”. After mentioning the option of a political boycott of the sort briefly applied to Austrian ministers when Jörg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party joined the government in 2000, it concludes by pointing out the irony of a EU with growing fiscal monitoring powers while democratic monitoring powers long stagnated as void.

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