Ambassador: Hungary's Dr Tamás Magyarics

Friday 14 December 2012 12.31
Dr Tamás Magyarics says relations between the EU and Hungary are tense
Dr Tamás Magyarics says relations between the EU and Hungary are tense

Hungary's ambassador to Ireland has poured scathing criticism on the European Commission and the European Parliament, and has said Hungary is "frustrated" with its treatment by the European Union.

Dr Tamás Magyarics also said relations between the EU and Hungary are tense at the moment.

The country received a financial aid package of €24bn from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank in 2008. Excessive borrowing at state, banking and individual levels left the country on its knees.

Dr Magyarics said all reform targets set by the Troika were met in subsequent years. However, poor economic performance at home and in Europe has left Hungary in danger of needing a second bailout.

Some say it is a question of when and not if Hungary will request a further €20bn.

But this time, Budapest is playing by different rules.

Protracted Negotiation

The centre-right Government, made up of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic Peoples' Party, has been discussing another bailout package with the EU and the IMF for over a year. All efforts so far have been in vain.

The EU and the IMF claim Hungary isn't serious about the negotiations. Budapest counterclaims the EU/IMF aren't innovative enough in their approach.

"The Government argues it needs a safety-net, it doesn't need the cash right at the moment… this is a point of controversy. The IMF say this sort of safety-net doesn't exist."

Dr Magyarics said: "The IMF bailouts have smacked of one-size-fits-all approach and they have proved in a lot of different cases not quite fit for the particular country."

The ambassador said the reform programme undertaken after 2008 was ambitious and put the burden on the shoulders of the "people at large".

Now, he says, the Government wants to "experiment" by "putting some burden on multi-national corporations, banks" who are not paying very high taxes.

He claims this is being resisted because of intense lobbying by powerful interest groups.

"From the US to European countries, the major financial economic players have a strong clout over politics as well."

Relationship with EU

"A lot of people believe there is a double-standard in the EU… Hungary is unfairly picked on by the EU and criticised for things which were not criticised in other countries."

Despite stating categorically that "Hungary is 100% committed to stay within the union", Dr Magyarics said the relationship between the EU and Hungary’s politicians is tense and that the EU is wary of what is happening in the country at the moment.

ECB President Mario Draghi has warned Hungary to maintain the independence of its Central Bank, while media regulation has been criticised.

Changes to election legislation (how voters are registered) have also been criticised by the likes of Austrian socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda.

Dr Magyarics strongly defended his country in the face of all warnings and accusations. He said voter registration happens in other countries and nothing has changed in terms of media regulation compared to when the previous socialist administration was in office.

He claims other motives are at play.

"The the most important issue is not media or election law, but the finances. Hungary was not meeting the targets for 3% deficit and sovereign debt during the Socialist-Free Democrat regime... and basically the Commission and EU Parliament simply didn't warn or didn't do anything about it.

"The moment the new government came in, the Commission became very, very severe and strict."

Hungary also fears being stripped of €9bn under the new EU 2013-2020 Budget. The Ambassador said that would be "almost tragic" for the Hungarian economy.

Hungarian Prime-Minister Viktor Orbán has also been vocal. It's reported he's compared EU bureaucrats to Soviet apparatchiks.

The ambassador explains: "Basically what he wanted to say was that the EU was becoming an overregulated organisation – bureaucrats sitting in Brussels tend to believe they know better than local people… Regulation is stifling local initiatives. Brussels is heading towards one-size-fits-all policy."

Dr Magyarics believes Hungary is being punished partly because its politicians speak frankly about issues in Europe.

"Mr Orbán for instance raised the issue with regard to the current financial problems in Greece for example, that it's not only the Greek governments which should be blamed but also the Commission in Brussels and the European Parliament knew what was going on in Greece and simply turned a blind eye for years."

Democratic Deficit

He lists a number of problems, as he sees it, with the democratic model in the European Union at present.

Again, he mentions the Commission. Whereas national governments are held to account regularly, he feels the Commission isn't in the same way. He also questions appointments, in a general way.

"People are appointed into fields which they haven’t had any experience in before in all their lives."

He's also critical of the European Parliament, especially in countries where the electorate doesn’t vote directly for a candidate.

"In a number of countries the idea is to send people to the European Parliament who are not really welcomed at home, who are given tenure because of previous services and so on. And therefore the European Parliament doesn't have a sort of prestige."

He recalls, during Hungary's Presidency of the Council, MEPs "yelling and ranting without knowing any details" at the Hungarian Prime Minister.

He said some people in Hungary came to the conclusion that some "people in the European Parliament don't do their homework".

He also mentions "three different filters between the electorate and the particular position" when analysing the offices held by José Manuel Barroso and Martin Schultz, President of the European Commission and Parliament respectively.

He admits, however, he doesn’t have a better alternative method of appointment.

Jobbik

When analysing the political situation at home, the ambassador mentioned the increase in support for Jobbik.

The far-right party got approximately 10% of the vote in the 2010 election and holds 44 out of 386 seats in Parliament.

"Jobbik is anti-EU, anti-NATO, xenobhic, anti-roma, anti-semitic party. Of course, what they say is that they're just pro-Hungarian."

One of the party's deputy leaders, Marton Gyongyosi, studied in Trinity College Dublin.

He said Jobbik has found support among the unemployed and is popular with the 24-35 age group, which the ambassador found "quite worrying".

Dr Magyarics said a lot of people in Hungary expected a lot after joining the EU in 2004. They expected "Hungary, overnight, would have living standards of Austrians and Germans. When this did not happen, people were disappointed."

He does not believe Jobbik will increase its support however, because it is a party "no-one is willing to make a deal with".

Joining the euro

The ambassador is amused by how variant economists' views are on the eurozone crisis.

"You wonder are they writing about the same place."

Hungary still has its own currency – the forint. Its value has fluctuated relatively heavily recently which makes life difficult for traders and debtors whose loans are denominated in Swiss francs or the euro.

However, the ambassador feels non-euro countries are "not in a hurry to join the eurozone".

"So long as the eurozone doesn't sort out the current problems there's no point in joining the eurozone."

The series continues next week with the Ambassador of Belgium.