It is difficult today to be patriotic, European and democratic at the same time, because these concepts are now clashing through no fault of our own, Gábor Bojár, a renowned entrepreneur and public thinker, explained to me in an interview I had with him the other day. Unfortunately, he is very right. As a proud Hungarian, a committed and proud European, a fierce social democrat and a father of six, I have recently been struggling with a serious dilemma that has not yet been fully resolved. When is it right for an elected representative to take a stand on the freezing and accessibility of EU funds? It is a more difficult question than it seems.
Of course, those who are under the spell of the Fidesz narrative, or perhaps live off the gravy train they keep running, never have any serious dilemmas, because they are fed what they are supposed to think: well-cooked ideological custard, does not even need to be chewed, does not taste bitter, goes down quickly, here comes the aeroplane, nasty Brussels is the cause of all evil, yummy, isn’t it delicious, let’s wipe your little mouth. Obviously, it is much more comfortable to navigate the world without having to examine all the circumstances and possibilities, weighing up the consequences and impacts, because the Hungarian interest is always what Fidesz says, period. And anyone who does not represent it is not a decent Hungarian, and “that’s it”. What an insanely schizoid situation, that the very political community which otherwise proclaims the unity of the nation and the sanctity of a cohesive Hungarian nation as its credo, should call anyone a traitor with unabashed ease from the common nation. If this lunacy did not tear apart human relationships and families, it might even be simply laughable.
The dilemma surrounding the freezing of EU funds also revolves around this: when do you represent the interests of the country better? When you argue in favour of withholding funds until the rule of law is guaranteed and state-controlled corruption is eliminated, or when you say: I understand that these plastic aristocrats will steal everything, but at least a little would fall off the table for others if there were at least a little left over. I think we can agree that the starting point is clear: anyone who steals the country’s wealth, anyone who reaches into the public purse elbow deep, is not acting in the interests of their country. They take away from the nation and harming the shared homeland. EU funds are being withheld because the current government has stolen a significant proportion of the money due to the country, has reached into the public purse elbow deep and is trying to legitimize and maintain this by destroying the rule of law. It is therefore beyond dispute that EU funds are not being received because of the criminal actions of the current government; if the Fidesz government had remained honest and European, none of this would be happening.
So if this is the case – and it is – then the question that needs to be answered is one that was asked earlier: what is in the best interests of the country? A true patriot cannot argue that anything should be taken away from Hungary (there was already an example of this when Orbán, then in opposition, called for the withdrawal of funds due to us as a punishment against the then left-wing government at the 2006 EPP parliamentary group meeting), but neither can a true patriot allow EU funds due to the Hungarian people to be used for the benefit of the nation to go into the pockets of Fidesz public money barons. As a patriot, I want Hungary to get the money it is owed as soon as possible; as a European, I want these funds to be used properly; and as a democrat, I want the rule of law guarantees that make this possible to be restored. It is a difficult matrix.
Of course, the simplest solution is precisely in the hands of Fidesz: if it joined the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, if it stopped its unnecessary and damaging lies about reality, if it stopped its counterproductive warfare with the European Union and stopped corruption at state level, everything would fall into place. If the Fidesz government corrected all the wrongs they have done over the last twelve years – that’s right, not someone else, but themselves – then everything would be solved. All the responsibility and all the opportunities are in their hands.
As a Hungarian Member of the European Parliament and a proud patriot, it is my job to resolve this dilemma and the difficult matrix by choosing the best possible solution – the one that best serves the interests of our shared homeland. I would argue that the European Commission has already forced the Hungarian government to make a number of, in fact historic, corrections, which is an important success. It is our success. At the same time, I share the view of a substantial majority in the European Parliament, and one that is clearly evident from the feedback from Hungarian voters, that no blank cheque should be given to Orbán and his mates. Nice words must be accompanied by real action and results. Next week, the “Hungarian case”; and the evaluation of the government’s commitments will be on the agenda again at the EP plenary session.
I will support the Parliament’s resolution because it includes, among other things, the “protection of final beneficiaries”; as a priority point, which I initiated in the previous EP cycle to make part of the rule of law procedure. This guarantees that, if sanctions are ultimately applied against Hungary, the final beneficiaries (NGOs, local authorities, small businesses, etc.), for whom these funds are essentially intended, will not be deprived of the funds.
The current draft of the resolution also calls on the Commission to find ways of distributing EU funds through local authorities and NGOs if the government does not cooperate in implementing rule of law measures. This is therefore an important guarantee and protection against the government in the interests of the Hungarian people. This is certainly not in the interest of Fidesz. But neither is Fidesz’s interest equal to the interest of Hungary and our common nation. To confuse the two is both foolish and infinitely mean-spirited. The former can still be excused, but conscious vileness will never be a thing of the past.
Member of the European Parliament
Founder of the Community of Chance