I listened with great interest to your presentation at the European Parliament Committee meeting dedicated to the issue of Hungary. For us as Hungarians what is said and thought about us abroad is probably more important than is the case with other European nations. We Hungarians are particularly sensitive to being accepted as equals by the community of European nations and that the latter does not apply different standards to us than it applies to others.
Over the last two years, we have been the incredulous witnesses of a coordinated series of attacks against Hungary and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr. Viktor Orbán, in the press and in certain political and economic circles.
The European Commission, of which you are a Vice-President and which also plays the role of guardian of the treaty, in spite of having been collectively subjected to a great deal of pressure both politically and in the media, has nevertheless proven to be a fair partner to Hungary throughout in clarifying and resolving the areas of dispute. You in particular have been the most authentic witness of how rapidly the Hungarian Parliament succeeded last year in amending the components of the Hungarian laws regulating the press, which in the European Commission’s view conflicted with EU law.
In your capacity as Vice-President of the Commission, you are very much aware that of the several hundred infringement proceedings currently pending against EU Member States, it is very rare for the country involved to respond with such swiftness and flexibility. When it joined the EU in May 2004, Hungary adopted the community’s rules and considers compliance with those rules as mandatory, even when they do not dovetail in every detail with the country’s interests at a given juncture. We regard this as perfectly natural, since we accept that membership of a community also entails duties and sacrifices. The family, the local community, the nation and Europe are all examples of such communities, to which the new Hungarian Constitution affords special protection and we are aware that in certain cases this might affect our ability to assert our individual or particular interests.
In the spirit of the above, I was appalled by the words you uttered yesterday: you stepped away from the politically neutral role legitimately expected of the European Commission, abandoning the honourable stance you had adopted hitherto.
You, Madam Vice-President, overstepping the boundaries of your EU mandate, demanded that the deputy head of the Hungarian government make a statement to the effect that he commit himself to complying with proposals from a non-EU body, more specifically the Council of Europe, in a document that has been neither committed to paper nor drafted, in other words prior to its contents being known! This is completely unprecedented! When the Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister, in spite of the self-evidently exaggerated nature of the demand replied that he would be willing to accept any proposal compatible with the Hungarian constitution, you angrily lashed out against it.
It is at this juncture, esteemed Madam Commissioner that I must draw your attention to the fact that in the EU not only Member States have obligations, but the EU’s institutions, the Commission and individual Commissioners do as well! One of these obligations involves respecting Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union. I quote the text of the article:
1. In accordance with Article 5, competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.
2. The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government. It shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.
Furthermore, you expressed your concern about ethnic minorities living in Hungary. You claimed that their rights are being restricted and that they are being kept under surveillance. You identified a talented young adviser as the source, although you did not disclose the individual’s name.
Yesterday, you were worried about the deficiencies of Hungarian political culture. You are undoubtedly right, since Hungary has only had twenty years to rid itself of the heavy burdens of Communist dictatorship. Your home country of the Netherlands has had the privilege of a more fortunate history. Although in Hungary during the last two decades of democracy not a single politician has been murdered in the middle of the street for his views, as we witnessed in your home country with regret in the case of Pim Fortuyn. I would also take the opportunity to remind you, since the subject of minorities has been broached, that it was not Hungary, but Holland, your home country, which last year with barely an attempt to conceal its fear of a massive influx of Roma immigrants did not give its consent to something that had been one of the Hungarian Presidency’s priorities, namely extending the Schengen system for freedom of movement within the EU to encompass Romania and Bulgaria.
It may well be that our democratic culture in Hungary is in its infancy compared to that of the Netherlands, but in order to substantiate serious charges of anti-minority behaviour such as those you levelled against us, more would be required – even in a country such as ours, whose political culture you regard as displaying certain limitations – than merely shifting the blame on to an anonymous, albeit talented and youthful adviser. Such grave allegations have to be backed up with facts in every country with a democratic public sphere, including both Hungary and the Netherlands. You neglected to do so, thereby unfortunately joining the ranks of those who view politics not as the terrain of fair debate, but instead of unilateral labelling and unfounded accusations!
Madam Commissioner! What has happened to you? This is not the Neelie Kroes we have been acquainted with up to now. A fair, well-briefed and impartial politician was how we had thought of you hitherto! Nobody knows better than you do what it is like to be on the receiving end of a smear campaign involving insults against your person and not supported by facts as this is precisely what you were subjected to in 2004 when you were first appointed Commissioner. I felt for you then. Now I am simply flabbergasted.
What happened during the Committee hearing was even more astonishing. Even after Lívia Járóka, a Member of the European Parliament belonging to Fidesz and the only MEP of Roma descent had demolished your baseless accusations point by point, in your replies you persisted in citing your unnamed young, talented adviser and referred to the charges you had heard from him, without so much as batting an eyelid! In so doing, you cast doubt on the words of a directly elected politician who represents a community of ten million Roma without having refuted what she had to say with any facts. It is up to public opinion to decide whether to believe your unknown adviser or a Roma politician who is not only credible, but who has over the last ten years courageously shown both her name and her face in public, who is also young and talented and who backs up her words with arguments. A couple of years ago Lívia Járóka was attacked by an extremist MEP, who hurled equally baseless racist slanders at her. Nobody knows better than her what the consequences are of showing your face in public and standing up on behalf a minority afflicted by prejudices. (I would like to point out that perhaps the detractors of Fidesz could at long last sit down and think about how it could be possible for a party branded as anti-Roma and anti-minorities to be the only one of almost one hundred political organisations represented in the European Parliament to have put a Roma politician high enough on its list to be guaranteed a seat!)
Where and when did you voice condemnations similar to yesterday’s whilst the Socialists and the SZDSZ who belong to your political family were in power in Hungary and five Roma families were wiped out with extreme brutality in a series of murders committed by racially motivated criminals? Did you say then that the Socialist-Liberal Hungarian government was incapable of protecting minorities? In your capacity as a European Commissioner did you welcome the Hungarian Parliament’s decision to outlaw as a crime the uniformed parades motivated by racism and which in the days of the Socialist government gave rise to fear and trembling amongst the Roma community? Perhaps I am the one who is uninformed, but up to now any statements to that effect have escaped my attention and if I am mistaken, I offer my apologies. If, however, you did not make any such statements after all, then nothing will protect you from being regarded by the unbiased onlooker as the kind of politician who is very selective when it comes to the facts and is guilty of applying double standards!
There are very few harmful deeds as capable of undermining the foundations of European cooperation amongst nations, common European principles and the Union’s image than when leading European politicians apply double standards.
Esteemed Madam Commissioner!
You were also anxious about the fate of freedom of the press in Hungary. If the Hungarian regulations really did breach European law, why did you only request last year that three modifications be made to the relevant Hungarian legislation? Who was guilty of negligence? You yourself? Or perhaps the reason was that these were the only points at variance with Union law? You also claimed yesterday that you were speaking out not on behalf of one specific radio station, Klubrádió, but in the interests of freedom of the press as a whole. These words as well as your complete impartiality could be brilliantly vindicated by a statement on your part in 2010, in which as a newly appointed Commissioner in charge of the audio-visual portfolio you spoke out against the politically motivated manoeuvre performed by the Hungarian media authority then in office, headed by left-wingers. In the full knowledge that the Left was about to suffer a crushing defeat, the media authority between the first and second round of the general election in contravention of the rules and, I would add, displaying flagrant political bias against the Catholic radio station, awarded a new frequency to Klubrádió even though the previous license had not yet expired. Unfortunately, though, I have searched for such a statement in vain…
I would ask you to mull over my arguments as presented above. Hungary is a proud country, the Hungarians proud people. As a politician committed to a common Europe I would beseech you not to destroy the Hungarians’ faith in the idea of a common Europe with unfounded, baseless arguments employing double standards.
Please resume normal service as soon as possible, going back to what we are accustomed to from you and the institution you represent: impartiality of treatment.
I continue to remain at your disposal in future to clarify the facts.
József Szájer, Fidesz
Member of the European Parliament