After Sargentini: Orbanism has no real obstacles in Hungary

Orban’s party has learned nothing and has forgotten nothing either. The European Parliament’s vote on the Sargentini report and the weakened position of Fidesz within the European People’s Party will not undermine the Orban government’s effort to build further the illiberal state.

The dynamics of maintaining the support and mobilization potential of the governing party are generated by conflict situations. In the absence of compromise skills and potent resistance, consolidation appears in synonymy of cowardice, in accordance with Orban’s interpretation. The parliamentary resolution, – which no doubt reflects the will of the majority of the Hungarian National Assembly (Fidesz has two-thirds supermajority), and which is condemning the Sargentini report accepted by the European Parliament, mourning the situation of the Hungarian rule of law, – is about the EP election campaign in Hungary’s internal politics, while it can be interpreted as one of the steps of a pole-building strategy in the sphere of foreign policy.

Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party European Parliamentary Group, commented in an interview that the majority of the EPP Group MEPs voted in favor of the Sargentini report, condemning the Hungarian government because the Hungarian prime minister did not show any sign of compromise and correction intent on the issues raised. For those who are well aware of the Hungarian political situation, it is quite clear that any attempt to pro-actively promote compliance in values of democracy, the rule law in governmental exercises, according to the standards of liberal democracy or the fundamental values of the EU stipulated in the Treaty, will prove to be a timid attempt. On the one hand, the ’System of National Cooperation’ (NER) is operational until Fidesz dominates not only the party system, but the so-called independent institutions, the traditional media outlets, and through government-oriented oligarchs, each sectors of the national economy. This concentration of power is a serious distortion of political competition, which can’t be fine-tuned, repaired with small gestures. The Orban system itself is becoming less and less flexible. It is increasingly subordinated to the decisions of a single person, and through the whole network of dependencies, it keeps control and mobilizes society. On the other hand, the Orban government does not need a tense retreat tactic, but a protracted conflict on a communicative front, where the frame story (external attack on national sovereignty by pro-migration forces) and casting are pre-prepared (the government protecting the interests of Hungarians, the Christian-national identity, and enforcing security, against the ‘global power elite’, the Soros network (For Orban, George Soros is the Hungarian Fethullah Gülen). And there is always a new stage, a new supporting character, another hidden conspiracy that will help the story to continue.

The debate around the Sargentini report strengthens Orban’s internal political positions, while placing the opposition in a difficult position, since the relevant opposition parties can’t identify themselves with all the allegations the report contains, and they doesn’t want to impose legal consequences under Article 7. The ’sovereignty’ rhetoric of the government shows the acceptance of the document as an attack on the country, and it is almost impossible to convince the public, that the international condemnation of the Hungarian government will not go against the national interests, and in that sense, what they are willing to do, is not treason. As a result of the vote on the Sargentini report, now Orban has a clear picture of who his trusted allies are, and who can he less rely on (even if they are members of the same political umbrella organization), and he got a hint, how to build a stronger regional alliance, at the same time counterpointing Merkel and Macron and the ’68 elite’ within the Union. It is no coincidence that Orban seeks good relations with euroskeptical politicians who are often unscrupulous or provincial in the eyes of the European mainstream, but who have a governmental position or who are well-aspirated to ascend to the sphere of relevant political power (eg. with Matteo Salvini).

Orban’s manoeuvre proved to be risky, since calling into question Fidesz’s future EPP membership has loosened the ’safety net’, which would protect the government from total international isolation and its unfavorable economic consequences. At the same time, Orban is a useful ’daredevil’/’black sheep’ for the EPP. On the one hand, by forming a community with him, the traditional right-wing voters, for whom immigration and collective identities are a determining factor in their party preferences, can be partially pacified. On the other hand, Orban’s negative example, the over-valuation of his political character, and identifying him with the expansion of populism, may also be a leverage and programmatic power in the competition of different value systems and visions for Europe (as we have already heard from Emmanuel Macron).

Europe lacks a common vision of the future. In addition, before the EP elections it can’t be one of EPP’s objectives to excommunicate Orban, on the contrary: in the West, the traditional system parties want to prevent populist forces from advancing by adopting certain program points and communication elements, building tactical alliances, using the rhetorical toolkit formerly represented by radical anti-establishment parties. For EPP, Orban is like Seehofer’s party for the CDU. The role of the ’daredevil’ is the adaptation and the systemic response to the new trend. The country is divided, the traditional ruling parties have weakened, the radical right-wing opposition became a permanent player in parliamentary politics. „This is not a state, we do not want these forces to enter any government” – as the chairman of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, wrote in an interview on the Rheinische Post news site on September 6. The example of Viktor Orban has pointed out, how a system party can act as an anti-establishment force who expects the „year of rebellion”, and calls for a paradigm shift (while using well-established tools, along with pure power-based considerations). Sebastian Kurz and the ÖVP pointed out which elements of Orban’s set of arguments could be applied effectively in Western European political culture. The Italian political processes, the Northern League and the 5-Star Movement’s anti-establishment government coalition, served as an example (even though Italy isn’t well-known for government stability) and foresaw that in the Western world (including the overseas too) a major change is taking place deeply, which can easily create instability in both the international and the „nation-state” space.

Fidesz’s parliamentary resolution proposal against the Sargentini report is cited with the title „Protection of Hungary’s sovereignty and the rejection of slander against Hungary”, which shows, that the document has a mainly political communication role. The proposal was formally submitted by the faction leader of the ruling party and the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office. The document accuses the Sargentini report of violating the state sovereignty of Hungary. It says, that pro-migration MEPs are responsible for the content of the report, who „condemn Hungary because it has defended its borders”. The draft resolution also raises the procedural aspect of the report when it challenges the decision of the EP legal service, saying that the vote was irregular and fraudulent. The resolution proposal simply disregards the Sargentini report on the problems surrounding the functioning of Hungarian constitutionalism, the separation of powers and the state of independent institutions, systemic corruption, question of fundamental rights and social rights, instead it focuses solely on the question of migration, and soon enough it finds the „puppet master” and his domestic agents behind the report.

„The Hungarian Parliament regards it as dangerous for Europe as a whole, if the interests of certain business groups and a speculative businessman are prevailing unhindered and override the rules laid down in the EU treaty.”

(Quote from the resolution proposal submitted to the Hungarian Parliament)

There is no doubt that this narrative will prevail over the next period. The government will provide mass amount of financial resources for the campaign, and will use its „ironclad dominion” over the media. Of course, the adopted parliamentary resolution is not suitable for solving any dispute of legal nature, its function is merely political communication – along the logic of permanent campaign. With regard to its domestic policy impact, it can be effective to stimulate voter turnout, to encourage the participation of the supporters of the governing parties. The opposition, on the other hand, will not be able to mark out, what’s in stake at the European Parliament elections in 2019 May. As for the expected external policy impacts of the move, the Hungarian government is preparing for “a quiet spring rain and a long war”. Acceptance of the document does not alter the situation. Despite Manfred Weber’s wish, again, it is confirmed, that Orbanism is marching until it has a real resistance.

Photo: European Parliament

János Kovács, political analyst

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Hungary Journal plans to publish articles by several Hungarian journalists and political analysts in the future. By the works of our guest authors, we wish to contribute even more to the English-language understanding of Hungarian, or Hungary-related politics, foreign policy.

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