1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Kriszti­na Vida PHD

Competing EU models coupled with national interests to be represented at the EU level

The year of 2014 is a year of three suc­ces­sive elec­tions in Hun­gary, there­fore the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion has been con­sid­ered as an impor­tant stage between the nation­al elec­tion in April and the local elec­tion in Octo­ber. This is the rea­son why the com­pe­ti­tion among the par­ties, and espe­cial­ly the race for the sec­ond place behind the rul­ing cen­tre-right FIDESZ-KDNP, which enjoys the sup­port of the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of the elec­torate, was a dom­i­nant issue in the cam­paign.

Beyond this nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non how­ev­er, the empha­sis on Euro­pean issues def­i­nite­ly increased in com­par­i­son to 2009. The rela­tion of the par­ties to the Euro­pean Union came to the fore­front of this year’s cam­paign. At least four approach­es to EU inte­gra­tion could be iden­ti­fied dur­ing this cam­paign: a Unit­ed States of Europe would be favoured by a small left wing par­ty the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Coali­tion (DK), a more effi­cient EU of nation states is advo­cat­ed by the cen­tre-right alliance of FIDESZ-KDNP, an EU built on sol­i­dar­i­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty would be pre­ferred by the eco-ori­ent­ed Pol­i­tics Can Be Dif­fer­ent (LMP), while even­tu­al­ly leav­ing the EU would be an option for the far right and euroscep­tic Job­bik.

Such explic­it ideas on Euro­pean inte­gra­tion did not appear in 2009, when the cam­paign was undoubt­ed­ly more dom­i­nat­ed by domes­tic polit­i­cal themes. Fur­ther­more, EU lev­el and nation­al issues became inter­twined and the can­di­dates increas­ing­ly exposed spe­cif­ic top­ics that they would rep­re­sent in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Those includ­ed fight­ing for a Euro­pean min­i­mum wage with a view to reach­ing a faster wage con­ver­gence, defend­ing the Hun­gar­i­an agri­cul­tur­al land from spec­u­la­tion, work­ing against reg­u­la­tive excess­es by the EU and rep­re­sent­ing the rights of nation­al minori­ties (with spe­cial regard to Hun­gar­i­an minori­ties liv­ing beyond the state bor­ders).

At the same time, pan-Euro­pean aspects (such as for exam­ple trans-Euro­pean infra­struc­ture, ener­gy issues, or for­eign pol­i­cy coop­er­a­tion) did not appear in the elec­toral cam­paign in Hun­gary. The pan-Euro­pean polit­i­cal alliances and their top can­di­dates did not play a dom­i­nant role either, although the main­stream media did cov­er this impor­tant new ele­ment of Euro­pean direct democ­ra­cy (includ­ing the trans­lat­ed ver­sion of the tele­vised “first Euro­pean pres­i­den­tial debate”).

Euroscepticism present but not dominant

Sim­i­lar to most EU mem­ber states, euroscep­ti­cism exists in Hun­gary too. When look­ing at the recent opin­ion polls by Euro­barom­e­ter, it can be seen that Hun­gary is close to the EU aver­age in this respect. Name­ly, 34 per­cent agreed with the state­ment “My coun­try could bet­ter face the future out­side the EU” against the 33 per­cent EU aver­age.

At the same time, while present, euroscep­ti­cism was not the dom­i­nat­ing top­ic in the elec­toral cam­paign as it appeared along­side the more euro-opti­mist atti­tude by the left-wing and lib­er­al par­ties and the rather euro-real­ist, but cer­tain­ly pro-EU, stance rep­re­sent­ed by the cen­tre-right rul­ing par­ty-alliance of FIDESZ-KDNP. The only euroscep­tic par­ty, the far right Job­bik has been cam­paign­ing with the fol­low­ing top­ics: bring­ing up the Hun­gar­i­an wages to the Euro­pean aver­age (men­tioned also by the social­ists), pro­tect­ing the agri­cul­tur­al land from spec­u­la­tion (as the dero­ga­tion peri­od on free pur­chas­es runs out), the rene­go­ti­a­tion of Hungary’s Acces­sion Treaty with a view to nar­row­ing EU-lev­el com­pe­tences, as well as even­tu­al­ly organ­is­ing a ref­er­en­dum on Hungary’s stay­ing in or leav­ing the EU. The leader of the par­ty empha­sised that he is not anti-Euro­pean, but the cit­i­zens should be giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express their views once again, after more than a decade of mem­ber­ship. With this pro­gramme (and despite a scan­dal around one of their promi­nent can­di­dates) the par­ty final­ly gained 14.7 per­cent of the votes which ensured them 3 seats of the 21 assigned for Hun­gary in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Their chal­lenge now is the affil­i­a­tion to the par­ty group of the already quite het­ero­ge­neous euroscep­tics, espe­cial­ly giv­en the fact that some of the lead­ing euroscep­tic politi­cians from West­ern Europe have already expressed their objec­tions vis-à-vis Job­bik.

Reinforced support for the governing party alliance coupled with voting fatigue

As a result of the EP-elec­tion held in Hun­gary on 25 May, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the 21 man­dates is the fol­low­ing. With 51.5 per­cent of the votes 12 seats were gained by the rul­ing cen­tre-right and Chris­t­ian demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty-alliance of FIDESZ-KDNP. They are fol­lowed by the far right Job­bik Move­ment for a Bet­ter Hun­gary gain­ing 3 seats (sup­port­ed by 14.7 per­cent of the vot­ers). 2 seats each were acquired by the Hun­gar­i­an Social­ist Par­ty (MSZP) and anoth­er left-wing par­ty, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Coali­tion (DK) with 10.9 per­cent and 9.75 per­cent of the votes respec­tive­ly, while the lib­er­al mind­ed Togeth­er-Dia­logue for Hun­gary (Együtt-PM) and the eco-ori­ent­ed Pol­i­tics Can Be Dif­fer­ent (LMP) received 1 man­date each, with votes amount­ing to 7.25 per­cent and 5 per­cent respec­tive­ly.

This result was brought about by over 2.3 mil­lion vot­ers, which only make up 29 per­cent of the elec­torate. This very low lev­el is unfor­tu­nate­ly down from 36 per­cent in 2009, but still high­er than in five oth­er coun­tries of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe. As expla­na­tions for the low turnout, ana­lysts have high­light­ed that Hun­gary just had a nation­al elec­tion on 6 April, which of course mobilised a much greater num­ber of vot­ers, a big part of whom might just have suf­fered from elec­tion fatigue with only sev­en weeks between the two elec­tions. Anoth­er inter­pre­ta­tion could be that the win­ning posi­tion of FIDESZ-KDNP was cer­tain; there­fore many vot­ers did not feel the need to go to the polls. Fur­ther­more – despite the fact that this year EU issues were more exposed in the cam­paign than five years ago – the knowl­edge and aware­ness of the role of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in EU deci­sion-mak­ing is still low.

Final­ly, as regards the results, sev­er­al points can be stressed. For FIDESZ-KDNP the EP-elec­tion was a rein­force­ment of their posi­tion (after their vic­to­ry at the 2009 EP-elec­tion as well as their 2/3 major­i­ty at both the 2010 and 2014 nation­al elec­tions) and a repeat­ed expres­sion of trust in their per­son­al­i­ties and pro­gramme by the major­i­ty of the vot­ers. This has to be con­trast­ed with the frag­men­ta­tion of the left-wing polit­i­cal forces, among which the for­mer­ly lead­ing MSZP suf­fered a his­toric defeat. Accord­ing to ana­lysts, the social­ists had a very weak cam­paign and are still paral­ysed by their bad per­for­mance at the nation­al elec­tion. The rel­a­tive strength­en­ing of the rad­i­cal right and euroscep­tic Job­bik was actu­al­ly also due to the high frag­men­ta­tion of the left.


2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Russia – a new strategic partner with some controversies

Tamás Szigetvári PhD

In the past two decades, the offi­cial rela­tions with Rus­sia were most­ly depen­dent on the con­stel­la­tion of the Hun­gar­i­an gov­ern­ments in pow­er. While under the rule of left-wing par­ties (social­ists and lib­er­als) the rela­tions were most­ly friend­ly, the right-wing forces (both in gov­ern­ment and in oppo­si­tion) kept some dis­tance from Rus­sia. After 2010, how­ev­er, the right-wing FIDESZ-KDNP gov­ern­ment has reori­ent­ed its for­eign pol­i­cy. The new ‘East­ward open­ing’ strat­e­gy, based large­ly on eco­nom­ic inter­ests, tries to strength­en ties with Rus­sia as well as with fast grow­ing Asian economies.

In Jan­u­ary 2014, the gov­ern­ment signed a secret­ly pre­pared agree­ment in Moscow with Russ­ian state com­pa­ny Rosatom on the mod­erni­sa­tion and exten­sion of the Paks nuclear plant with two new blocks, con­sid­ered as ‘the busi­ness deal of the cen­tu­ry’ by the gov­ern­ment. The invest­ment would be financed with a con­ces­sion­al loan of 10 bil­lion US dol­lars offered by the Russ­ian state that has to be paid back in thir­ty years. The oppo­si­tion was com­plain­ing about the rushed and ‘con­spir­a­tive’ deci­sion-mak­ing, as well as the tim­ing and the pos­si­ble con­se­quences; name­ly a fur­ther grow­ing depen­dence on Rus­sia in the field of ener­gy. Espe­cial­ly the green par­ty LMP ques­tioned the agree­ment, while the left­ist par­ties would accept, in gen­er­al, the mod­erni­sa­tion imple­ment­ed by Rus­sians, but they were opposed to the tim­ing and to the way the agree­ment was con­clud­ed. Pub­lic opin­ion was also divid­ed over the hasti­ly adopt­ed agree­ment, and even some of the clos­est sup­port­ers of the gov­ern­ment think that it caus­es unac­cept­able risks for Hun­gary.

The new­ly formed strate­gic alliance between the Hun­gar­i­an gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia was put to the test by the Crimean cri­sis, when the Orbán gov­ern­ment was slow to crit­i­cise the Russ­ian steps. Hun­gary (sim­i­lar­ly to sev­er­al oth­er coun­tries in the Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean region) con­tin­ues to con­duct a bal­anced pol­i­cy vis-à-vis Rus­sia, try­ing to avoid seri­ous polit­i­cal or eco­nom­ic con­flicts, due main­ly to the men­tioned ener­gy depen­dence.

Ukraine and ENP– ambiguities in relations

Tamás Szigetvári PhD

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, Hun­gary has been one of the major sup­port­ers of the East­ern Part­ner­ship; espe­cial­ly estab­lish­ing clos­er eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal ties with Ukraine – cou­pled with giv­ing Kiev a ‘Euro­pean per­spec­tive’ – was con­sid­ered as a pri­or­i­ty. How­ev­er, the new­ly form­ing close rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia blurred Hun­gar­i­an pri­or­i­ties. In ear­ly 2014, with the Ukrain­ian cri­sis esca­lat­ing, the Hun­gar­i­an reac­tion was char­ac­ter­ized by a hes­i­tat­ing, low pro­file posi­tion.

The ear­ly state­ments of the Prime Min­is­ter after the Crimean cri­sis con­cen­trat­ed on the secu­ri­ty of the 150,000 eth­nic Hun­gar­i­ans in Ukraine. In his inau­gu­ra­tion speech deliv­ered on May 10, the Hun­gar­i­an Prime Min­is­ter stressed the impor­tance of guar­an­tee­ing the rights and even the auton­o­my of the Hun­gar­i­an minor­i­ty liv­ing in the Trans-Carpathi­an region of Ukraine. The state­ment came as a reac­tion to a tight­en­ing of the rules on lan­guage use, which harmed the Hun­gar­i­an minor­i­ty. At the same time, with Russ­ian mil­i­tants just claim­ing auton­o­my in East­ern Ukraine, the state­ment shocked the Kiev author­i­ties, who sum­moned the Hun­gar­i­an ambas­sador for expla­na­tion, and also trig­gered crit­i­cism from the Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter, who called Mr. Orbán’s state­ment “unfor­tu­nate and dis­turb­ing”. The Hun­gar­i­an gov­ern­ment states, how­ev­er, that there is noth­ing new in this respect in Hun­gar­i­an for­eign pol­i­cy and that ter­ri­to­r­i­al auton­o­my was not even men­tioned in the speech.

More­over, both the will­ing­ness of Hun­gary to trans­port nat­ur­al gas to Ukraine, and the har­mo­nious coop­er­a­tion of Hun­gar­i­an and Ukrain­ian anti-ter­ror­ist units to free a Hun­gar­i­an cit­i­zen cap­tured by sep­a­ratist forces in East Ukraine, prove the exis­tence of good rela­tions between the two coun­tries. The new type of rela­tions with Rus­sia may how­ev­er, to some extent, alter the Hun­gar­i­an posi­tion towards the East­ern Part­ners. The Hun­gar­i­an for­eign pol­i­cy treats Azer­bai­jan and Geor­gia as impor­tant eco­nom­ic part­ners with­in its ‘East­ward open­ing’ pol­i­cy. At the same time, rela­tions with Arme­nia are still frozen (due to the unfor­tu­nate Safarov-affair).

Turkey’s accession – generally supported but not widely discussed

Kriszti­na Vida PhD

Hun­gary has always been very pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive con­cern­ing the full EU mem­ber­ship of Turkey. The offi­cial Hun­gar­i­an posi­tion is that Turk­ish acces­sion to the Union is a mutu­al inter­est of both par­ties. There­fore the nego­ti­a­tions should be con­duct­ed in a fair man­ner and – as it was stressed by lead­ing politi­cians from the Hun­gar­i­an gov­ern­ment – Budapest will assist Ankara in every way in this process. Once all cri­te­ria are met, the coun­try should be allowed to join. At this point it must be men­tioned that accord­ing to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the left-wing oppo­si­tion, if Turkey real­ly wants to join the EU it must defend and not vio­late human rights. A sharp crit­i­cism against the Erdo­gan gov­ern­ment was voiced by a Hun­gar­i­an social­ist MEP who expressed her anx­i­ety at an EP ses­sion as regards the free­dom of speech and right to peace­ful demon­stra­tion in Turkey (as a reac­tion to the events in Tak­sim square in June 2013). As regards bilat­er­al rela­tions, they are good, not bur­dened with any sen­si­tive issue (such as for exam­ple immi­gra­tion which is not rel­e­vant in the case of Hun­gary). Hun­gary used to be con­sid­ered by Turks as a friend­ly coun­try and Hun­gar­i­ans are per­ceived as their ‘broth­ers and sis­ters’. Trade rela­tions are thriv­ing, the exchange of goods amounts to around 1.5 bil­lion euros annu­al­ly, which – accord­ing the Prime Min­is­ters of Turkey and Hun­gary – can be at least dou­bled by the end of 2015. Dur­ing their offi­cial vis­its to each oth­er in 2013, both Prime Min­is­ters empha­sised the impor­tance of the pro­mo­tion of invest­ments, busi­ness activ­i­ties, edu­ca­tion­al exchange pro­grammes and cul­tur­al rela­tions. Fur­ther­more, since ear­ly 2014 Hun­gar­i­ans can trav­el with­out a visa to Turkey. Hun­gary could not offer the same degree of lib­er­al­i­sa­tion in return due to bind­ing Schen­gen rules, but with­in those rules Hun­gary man­aged to intro­duce the most favourable arrange­ment pos­si­ble for Turk­ish busi­ness­men, artists and ath­letes. In gen­er­al how­ev­er, acces­sion of Turkey to the Euro­pean Union is not a cen­tral issue in Hun­gary. Argu­ments in favour of or against acces­sion are nei­ther dis­cussed wide­ly in the media nor in polit­i­cal or expert cir­cles.


3. Power relations in the EU

Kriszti­na Vida PhD

Germany’s key role recognised, but not vehemently commented

It is clear­ly seen in Hun­gary too, that since the out­break of the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic cri­sis the key role of Ger­many in Euro­pean inte­gra­tion has fur­ther strength­ened. In respect to sav­ing the euro area, and indi­rect­ly also the whole EU, Ger­many took the lead in search­ing for solu­tions to two big chal­lenges: The first, build­ing up a legal frame­work that would pre­vent sim­i­lar crises by impos­ing more strin­gent rules of sound pub­lic finances in the mem­ber states and the sec­ond, cre­at­ing the finan­cial means to assist mem­ber states and banks, which were encoun­ter­ing unprece­dent­ed prob­lems of financ­ing. In both direc­tions of the reforms since 2010, Ger­many – and per­son­al­ly Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel – has played a cru­cial role. This lead­ing role has how­ev­er not been very inten­sive­ly com­ment­ed on in the Hun­gar­i­an media, nor by the politi­cians of the dif­fer­ent sides. The rea­son for that is per­haps on the one hand, that Hun­gary is not a mem­ber of the euro area, on the oth­er hand, that it could avoid becom­ing a ‘pro­gramme coun­try’. At the same time, from among the dif­fer­ent new arrange­ments ini­ti­at­ed by Ger­many, Hun­gary joined the Fis­cal Com­pact but not the Euro Plus Pact. The for­mer will only entire­ly bind Hun­gary after join­ing the euro zone. But Hun­gary – as a sig­na­to­ry par­ty – already takes the bal­anced bud­get rule seri­ous­ly and it also has a debt break rule in its new Basic Law. As regards the Euro Plus Pact, the gov­ern­ment agrees with all points of it, except for har­mon­is­ing the cor­po­rate tax base; there­fore Hun­gary is will­ing to coop­er­ate in the oth­er aspects of the Pact on a vol­un­tary basis (but so far for­mal­ly remain­ing out­side). In gen­er­al, the role of Ger­many in the years of cri­sis man­age­ment at the EU lev­el has been seen rather pos­i­tive­ly in Hun­gary: not as sup­por­t­ive­ly and encour­ag­ing­ly as in Poland, but cer­tain­ly not as crit­i­cal­ly as for exam­ple in Greece.

Overcoming the debate with a new approach

The Hun­gar­i­an gov­ern­ment elect­ed in 2010 (and re-elect­ed with anoth­er 2/3 major­i­ty in 2014) decid­ed not to oppose the two con­cepts of pub­lic finance con­sol­i­da­tion and growth. There­fore, the aus­ter­i­ty ver­sus growth debate has not been as salient as in oth­er EU mem­ber states. In fact, accord­ing to the rhetoric of the Orbán gov­ern­ment, Hun­gar­i­ans have already suf­fered from sev­er­al rounds of aus­ter­i­ty since the sys­temic changes, so the pop­u­la­tion should not suf­fer again. Thus, despite the fact that Hun­gary was on the brink of insol­ven­cy in 2010, the new gov­ern­ment decid­ed not to tack­le the sit­u­a­tion by load­ing all the bur­dens on soci­ety. This was also the main rea­son why Hun­gary want­ed to get rid of the loan pack­age of the IMF-EU-WB as soon as pos­si­ble. The suc­cess­ful repay­ment of the loans ahead of sched­ule was in line with the Orbán government’s ‘free­dom fight’, i.e. free­dom from the debt bur­den in gen­er­al that puts a break on the econ­o­my, and free­dom from insti­tu­tions which (in exchange of finan­cial assis­tance) wish to pre­scribe the domes­tic reforms in par­tic­u­lar. Since autumn 2010, Hun­gary has been con­duct­ing an unusu­al con­sol­i­da­tion pol­i­cy which aims to involve all actors of the econ­o­my into bur­den shar­ing on the rev­enue side of the bud­get, while on the expen­di­ture side not mak­ing social­ly too sen­si­tive cuts. The econ­o­my start­ed to recov­er recent­ly with growth rates expect­ed to be well above 2 per­cent in both 2014 and 2015. Mean­while, after nine years Hun­gary was released from the exces­sive deficit pro­ce­dure in 2013 and the very high (near­ly 80 per­cent) pub­lic debt seems to be grad­u­al­ly decreas­ing. Employ­ment is up while unem­ploy­ment is on the decline. Nev­er­the­less, as those mea­sures have either offend­ed inter­ests (e.g. of multi­na­tion­als or banks) or are sim­ply seen as inef­fec­tive or coun­ter­pro­duc­tive; the oppo­si­tion, many rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al media, and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion have been con­tin­u­ous­ly crit­i­cis­ing the government’s ‘unortho­dox’ eco­nom­ic and bud­getary pol­i­cy. While the improv­ing macro­eco­nom­ic per­for­mance of Hun­gary is increas­ing­ly recog­nised, the meth­ods lead­ing there (includ­ing hasty deci­sion-mak­ing, too lit­tle con­sul­ta­tion with the oppo­si­tion and stake­hold­ers, intro­duc­ing rules ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, etc.) are still being ques­tioned.

Brexit can hopefully be avoided

As far as a poten­tial UK exit from the EU is con­cerned, this issue does not real­ly appear in the pub­lic dis­course and no opin­ion polls have been con­duct­ed on the top­ic in Hun­gary. Ana­lysts do stress how­ev­er that in the event of the UK leav­ing the EU, the inter­nal pow­er con­stel­la­tions would imme­di­ate­ly be changed: the Fran­co-Ger­man axis would be strength­ened and the rel­a­tive weight of all oth­er mem­ber states would be enhanced. Anoth­er aspect is the unwant­ed rein­force­ment of anti-EU forces in Hun­gary and across the Union as a spill-over effect of the British atti­tude. Final­ly, with­out the UK the weight of the EU in glob­al affairs would also dimin­ish. As regards the British com­pe­tence review, Hun­gary would absolute­ly be in favour of improv­ing the effi­cien­cy of EU deci­sion-mak­ing by ratio­nal­is­ing the scope of EU lev­el reg­u­la­tions and by respect­ing the prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­i­ty even more. But this should be done under the Lis­bon Treaty and per­tain to all mem­ber states equal­ly. Form­ing an à la carte Europe where each mem­ber state would be able to pick and choose the major pol­i­cy areas where they are will­ing to coop­er­ate could lead to dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Union as a whole which is to be avoid­ed. Revis­ing the exer­cise of com­pe­tences via Treaty change might also be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, as it would just open a Pandora’s Box, accom­pa­nied by “risky” nation­al rat­i­fi­ca­tions. Based on this, it can be stat­ed that Hun­gary is inter­est­ed in the con­tin­ued full mem­ber­ship of the UK in the Euro­pean Union, in avoid­ance of any frag­men­ta­tion of EU struc­tures, as well as in a strong UK whose crit­i­cism must be heed­ed and dis­cussed at the EU lev­el. Instead of build­ing a greater wall of opt-outs or leav­ing the EU, Hun­gary would like to see Britain remain­ing in the Union and fur­ther enhanc­ing its coop­er­a­tion with the mem­ber states, with spe­cial regard to the Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean region.


This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.