Orbán Not Only Losing Fight, But Face!

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EP-085506A_TRAN_TourismOne, especially if one happens to be a politician, is happy and proud to be proved right, or at least when it turns out to be true what he has already predicted well ahead of others. Yet for me, this time around, it is no joy at all to have been proved right and to have warned in vain weeks ago that there would be trouble. Two weeks ago to the day, in my open letter, I wrote that I was aware that, contrary to all the government’s propaganda of success, the European Commission is dissatisfied with the Hungarian commitments and the watered down deliverables, and that this could result in a substantial loss of money. Unfortunately, it has.
On the basis of current information, the European Commission will present in three days’ time its assessment of the measures implemented by the Hungarian Government under the so-called conditionality mechanism, and everything points in the direction of dissatisfaction in Brussels with certain reform commitments and their implementation. For this reason, the European Commission is expected to stick to its original and very strict proposal, i.e. to freeze a total of around EUR 7.5 million, or more than HUF 3 000 billion, from three operational programmes. It is likely that the Council will not go against the Commission’s proposal, i.e. it will leave this sanction against the Fidesz government in place, especially considering that only a qualified majority in the Council is needed to confirm it, and this majority is clearly present against the Orbán government. Just one telling fact: Germany, traditionally a compromise-seeking and compromise-building country, has made it clear in institutional and Member State circles that it shares the Commission’s dissatisfaction.
The only good news is that the European Commission is expected to approve the Hungarian plan for spending recovery funds at its meeting this Wednesday; after some 560 days. The fact that this negotiation is finally coming to a substantive conclusion is largely credited to Tibor Navracsics. At the same time, despite the exaggerated government propaganda, the adoption of the Hungarian recovery programme is far from a complete success. It only means that there is an agreement before 31 December, so we will not automatically lose more than two thirds of the money under the rules, but it does not mean that we will receive the money that exists on paper. Fidesz is reluctant to talk about this, but the government will only be able to draw down these funds on a quarterly basis, after meeting strictly defined milestones, so, for example, as soon as in the first quarter, it will have to implement 27 different massive reforms, most of which will affect the functioning of the Hungarian justice system. If it does not, there will be no transfer.
So Orbán has not only lost a fight, he may soon lose face. Big time. The Fidesz president, used to roadside political blackmail, apparently thinks that his revolver policy, which has often worked, will continue to work, but it is increasingly clear that the weapon is now turning against him. Brussels has learned to handle his flip-flopping. The Council of Finance Ministers will meet in the first week of December to formally approve the agreement on the Recovery Fund. However, the ministerial summit’s agenda will also include EU proposals that the Hungarian government has so far blocked – as a tool in the fight or just for bluff blackmail – such as the global minimum tax and the €18 billion loan package for Ukraine.
The negotiating table of the financiers will be a rather peculiar poker table: it is almost certain that the Hungarian side will be presented with a fait accompli; you can choose to continue to play gangsters, but if you say no, we can say no, too. Of course, in the case of the global minimum tax, there is an alternative implementation option without the support of the Hungarian government, so there will be room for manoeuvre in the poker game, but it can be pretty confidently stated regarding the outcome that if Orbán wants the Recovery Funds, he will not only have to lose the battle, but also lose face.
Especially that we are also about to sign the Partnership Agreement on seven-year budgetary resources, which 24 Member States have already signed. Orbán has always played a good game of chess, but now, although his knights performed well, the options for moves have narrowed. The interests of Hungarian families and the European Community have won, and the Prime Minister of Fidesz has lost. And he is not used to that.
After the Hungarian prime minister’s landmark 2014 speech in Tusványos, in which he proclaimed the illiberal state, I vowed that as an MEP I would write an open letter every week to warn the public of the crimes of the system that had been established. I am ringing the bells of alarm for the 383rd time and will do so for as long as it is necessary. Because we must give revival and our shared homeland a chance.

István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
Founder of the Community of Chance
27/11/2022