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Published on March 22nd, 2012 | by Katharina Obermeier
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566" caption="Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán © European People's Party"][/caption] Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán lashed out at the EU in a public speech in Budapest, declaring: “We will not be a colony. Hungarians won’t live according to the commands of foreign powers…We are more than familiar with the character of unsolicited comradely assistance, even if it comes wearing  a finely tailored suit and not a uniform with soldier patches.” Harsh words indeed for the EU from one of its member states’ representatives, especially given the not-so-subtle comparison to the USSR and the control it exercised over Hungary in the second half of the twentieth century. So what was it that caused this outburst of anti-EU rhetoric? Firstly – and perhaps most importantly – there is the matter of the nearly 500 million euros in EU subsidies for infrastructure projects in Hungary that the European Finance Ministers have decided to suspend for now due to the government’s failure to meet deficit targets. A final  decision on the matter is to be made in June. Secondly, there is the increasing pressure on Hungary by the EU to amend new laws and changes made recently to the Hungarian constitution which the EU considers potentially undemocratic. Two weeks ago, the European Commission gave the Hungarian government a one-month deadline to make the necessary changes, or be sent to the European Court of Justice for non-compliance with EU laws. The concern is that the controversial new Hungarian laws could affect the independence of the judiciary and the protection authority, as well as restricting media freedoms. While it is not clear from Orbán’s speech which of these two incidents caused the Prime Minister to accuse the EU of practicing colonialism on its member states, his declaration that Hungarians “will not be second class citizens” is an obvious reference to the fact that while EU funds for Hungary have been frozen, Spain has been given a deficit target that is looser than originally decided by the Commission. Political commenters are describing this as a “let-off” for Spain, as it will not be fined for overshooting its deficit target of 4.4% of GDP. This puts the EU in a difficult position, as it has to justify why Hungary is being treated more harshly than Spain. Given the fact that the freezing of the funds came less than a week after the EU set Hungary a deadline to change its laws, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to assume the two incidents are connected. This does not mean that the EU is using the suspended funds to threaten Hungary in order to receive compliance – after all, if Hungary refuses to alter its laws, the European Court of Justice will likely rule that they are incompatible with EU laws, meaning they will have to be changed sooner or later. Rather, the use (or proposed use, as the final decision is still to be made) of the harsh economic measures is more likely a demonstration of general dissatisfaction with Hungary’s policies, both economic and otherwise, and a display of the EU’s commitment to upholding the principles of judicial and media independence which the new Hungarian legislation has the potential to threaten. Of course, the European Commission instead is seeking to justify the “double standards” applied to Spain and Hungary by pointing out that the latter had already received an extension of its deadlines on deficit reduction. However, given the fact that the suspension of funds is considered an unprecedented move for the EU, it seems doubtful that it would have gone to these lengths if it was not at least partly influenced by political considerations as well. Whatever the explanation, the EU does appear to be justified in singling out the Hungarian government in this way, especially considering the outrage of many Hungarian citizens over their new laws. However, at the end of the day, it seems to have only made a tense situation more dangerous by allowing Orbán to present himself as a victim of an overbearing EU, which may in fact help him regain support among the Hungarian citizenry. “We will not be a colony” makes for a good slogan for an embattled leader.

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Is the EU Favouring Spain over Hungary?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán © European People's Party

Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán lashed out at the EU in a public speech in Budapest, declaring: “We will not be a colony. Hungarians won’t live according to the commands of foreign powers…We are more than familiar with the character of unsolicited comradely assistance, even if it comes wearing  a finely tailored suit and not a uniform with soldier patches.”

Harsh words indeed for the EU from one of its member states’ representatives, especially given the not-so-subtle comparison to the USSR and the control it exercised over Hungary in the second half of the twentieth century. So what was it that caused this outburst of anti-EU rhetoric?

Firstly – and perhaps most importantly – there is the matter of the nearly 500 million euros in EU subsidies for infrastructure projects in Hungary that the European Finance Ministers have decided to suspend for now due to the government’s failure to meet deficit targets. A final  decision on the matter is to be made in June. Secondly, there is the increasing pressure on Hungary by the EU to amend new laws and changes made recently to the Hungarian constitution which the EU considers potentially undemocratic. Two weeks ago, the European Commission gave the Hungarian government a one-month deadline to make the necessary changes, or be sent to the European Court of Justice for non-compliance with EU laws. The concern is that the controversial new Hungarian laws could affect the independence of the judiciary and the protection authority, as well as restricting media freedoms.

While it is not clear from Orbán’s speech which of these two incidents caused the Prime Minister to accuse the EU of practicing colonialism on its member states, his declaration that Hungarians “will not be second class citizens” is an obvious reference to the fact that while EU funds for Hungary have been frozen, Spain has been given a deficit target that is looser than originally decided by the Commission. Political commenters are describing this as a “let-off” for Spain, as it will not be fined for overshooting its deficit target of 4.4% of GDP.

This puts the EU in a difficult position, as it has to justify why Hungary is being treated more harshly than Spain. Given the fact that the freezing of the funds came less than a week after the EU set Hungary a deadline to change its laws, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to assume the two incidents are connected. This does not mean that the EU is using the suspended funds to threaten Hungary in order to receive compliance – after all, if Hungary refuses to alter its laws, the European Court of Justice will likely rule that they are incompatible with EU laws, meaning they will have to be changed sooner or later. Rather, the use (or proposed use, as the final decision is still to be made) of the harsh economic measures is more likely a demonstration of general dissatisfaction with Hungary’s policies, both economic and otherwise, and a display of the EU’s commitment to upholding the principles of judicial and media independence which the new Hungarian legislation has the potential to threaten.

Of course, the European Commission instead is seeking to justify the “double standards” applied to Spain and Hungary by pointing out that the latter had already received an extension of its deadlines on deficit reduction. However, given the fact that the suspension of funds is considered an unprecedented move for the EU, it seems doubtful that it would have gone to these lengths if it was not at least partly influenced by political considerations as well.

Whatever the explanation, the EU does appear to be justified in singling out the Hungarian government in this way, especially considering the outrage of many Hungarian citizens over their new laws. However, at the end of the day, it seems to have only made a tense situation more dangerous by allowing Orbán to present himself as a victim of an overbearing EU, which may in fact help him regain support among the Hungarian citizenry. “We will not be a colony” makes for a good slogan for an embattled leader.

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About the Author

Katharina Obermeier

Katharina considers herself a German-Canadian hybrid. She grew up in Germany and completed her BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Politics, especially in relation to concepts of nationality, have always fascinated her, and she is particularly interested in international political economy. During her studies, she was an avid participant at Model United Nations conferences, and helped welcome international exchange students to her university. She is currently completing an internship at a Brussels-based trade association and hopes to work in European affairs in the future. In her political writing, Katharina marries social democratic principles with a keen interest in the European Union and its implications for European politics and identity. She writes to counteract simplistic ideas about politics and economics, continuously attempting to expose the nuances and complexities involved in these subjects.



  • Zeta Goth

    These issues of the new laws are made up, some even ridiculous. They even want to change laws that were OK during the socialists, but now they are not OK.

    I would say, these are just the results of party politics in the EU.

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