Hungary: Brussels launches “Operation Dump Orbán”
12 January 2012
By threatening Budapest with financial sanctions and infringement proceedings if the Hungarian government fails to change its policies on the economy and the judiciary, the EU seems to have begun a process that would allow it to get rid of Hungary’s Prime Minister, as it got rid of Berlusconi and Papandreou. But it won’t be that easy.
It took a year and a half for Viktor Orbán to slip to the fringes of European politics. This poses a problem not just for ourselves, but for Western governments, who are unsure of how to handle their old ally.
Can the West force Viktor Orbán’s downfall? After all, they forced out Italy's Berlusconi and Greece’s Papandreou and replaced them with their right-hand men – technocrats from the world of finance, men more predictable and reasonable.
The stakes were high, as there were two eurozone countries as well as Brussels (in fact, Berlin and Paris) that feared the political and economic uncertainty would destabilise the entire area. And so they salvaged what could still be salvaged.
Too much pressure may backfire
But Hungary is not in the eurozone, and in the end it’s only the Austrian banks that are worried about us – quite worried indeed. Yesterday’s threat from the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against us reveals that the government’s over-vigorous attempts to hold onto power and its unorthodox economic policy are causing serious concern in Brussels.
The "Hungarian case”, though, is a hard nut to crack. To dismiss a prime minister from beyond a country’s borders, when that prime minister was elected to his national parliament with a two-thirds majority, is no easy matter.
Moreover, the Hungarian opposition is in a shambles. Despite rumours to the contrary, the democratic mandate is important in the member countries of the European Union, because it’s that mandate that every politician owes his power to.
Technocrats are called in to government only provisionally and in cases of dire necessity. Even in the West, most politicians mistrust the technocrats, since they have not climbed the ladder of a political career and have received no mandate from the people. In Hungary’s case, the EU must also weigh up the possibility that too much pressure may backfire and put wind in the sails of Jobbik [Hungary’s far-right party].
The groping for a solution has begun
Currently, there are probably two possible scenarios being studied that concern us. The first – and the warning from Brussels is to be seen in this light – is that it gives Viktor Orbán another chance to show more flexibility on the legislation affecting the Central Bank [which increases government control of the bank] and on the retiring of judges [viewed as a purge of the judiciary] – and, primarily, a chance to show that he is ready to rethink his economic policy during the negotiations with the IMF.
Orbán will certainly not be embraced too closely, but in Europe, political memories are short. The indignation aroused by the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel when in 2000 he formed a coalition government with the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider is worth recalling. That scandal died down and Schüssel was able to govern without further interference until 2007.
If the political change demanded proves hard to sell, or even impossible, for the current government, there is also a second possible scenario: using the network of the EPP [the European People's Party, of which Orbán’s Fidesz is a member], an effort will be made to find someone in Fidesz who can replace the prime minister. The groping for a solution has begun, and let there be no illusions: this really is the ultimate nightmare scenario.