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Live blog: Viktor Orban at the EUparliamentJanuary 18, 2012 1:44 pm by PeterSpiegel73inShare10 9Viktor Orban, Hungarian primeminister. AFP/Getty ImagesWelcome to our live coverage ofHungarian prime minister ViktorOrban’s appearance before theEuropean parliament, where he intendsto defend his government’s recent
actions against accusations they areanti-democratic. All times are GMT.The Brussels Blog’s Peter Spiegel inBrussels and Stanley Pignal in theparliament’s second home inStrasbourg will be anchoring coverage,with contributions from other FTreporters who write about central andeastern Europe.SUMMARY: The Europeanparliament has gone on to otherbusiness, but Orban has left thebuilding, so we’re wrapping up ourlive coverage. A quick summary:Although there were some fireworks,they mostly came from MEPs on theideological left and not from Orban
himself, who sat through the entiresession and remained decorousthroughout. A letter Orban sent toBarroso, obtained by the FT, was evenmore conciliatory. A sign of things tocome? The Hungarians have a monthto respond to the EuropeanCommission’s legal action, so theclock is ticking.Hungarys prime minister Orbanlistens to the debate before deliveringhis closing remarks.
17.08 After enduring more than threehours of criticism and complaint,Orban kept his cool in his closing. Forthe most part he was accommodating,inviting MEPs to read the country’snew constitution (assuming they canget hold of a reliable translation).Orban said his government will ―factorin‖ the commission’s suggestions onthe judiciary retirements. He also saidhis government accepted most ofBrussels’ points on central bankreforms. The exception is thecommission’s opposition to a plan torequire the country’s central bankpresident to swear an oath to the state,which the EU believes compromisesthe bank’s legal requirement towards
the broader European economy as amember of the ECB board.Still, Orban’s gracious tone wassomewhat undercut by his insistencethat the day’s debate ―wasn’t justabout concrete facts‖ and was drivenby ―hatred based on partisan politics.‖There was applause when he finishes,although not from Cohn-Bendit andVerhofstadt. In fact, Dany is shaking ishead.16.58 Viviane Reding, the EU’s justicecommissioner who is known for hersometimes bombastic comments, hastaken a fairly restrained tone insumming up the debate. ―The ball is inthe court of the Hungarian
government. Rapid changes would bein the interest of Hungarian citizensand the European Union,‖ Reding said,urging the parties to get down to―brass tacks and solve theseproblems.‖16.46 As the debate goes on, it’sbecoming clear the centre-left partiesare trying to use Orban’s unpopularityoutside of Hungary to tarnish theEuropean People’s Party, the centre-right party grouping that Orban’sFidesz belongs to. Here’s a tweet fromthe main centre-left party, theSocialists & Democrats group. For theuninitiated, ―EC‖ refers to theEuropean Commission.
EC has not named all the problematiclaws, says S&D MEP. #EUConservatives governments dont dareto criticise #Orban#Hungary January 18, 2012 4:14 pm viawebReplyRetweetFavorite@TheProgressivesS&D Group16.35 Kester Eddy, the FT’scorrespondent in Budapest, has beentalking to Hungarians as the Orbandebate has been going on and, in avery unscientific cross-section, isfinding very little interest in theproceedings. Still, having done muchhis survey on the traditionally lefty
Pest side of the Danube, there’s plentyof criticism of Orban’s government:Still Zoli, a 28-year old maintenanceworker from outside the southern cityof Szeged, said he was supportive ofBrussels’ legal action against Orban’sgovernment.―I’m with the EU on this one,‖ Zolisaid. ―It’s quite right that they have goat the government. They definitelyneed checking out.‖On the other side of the Danube,Kazmir Varga, a retired propertydeveloper, waiting for his train toVeszprem, was more sympathetic toOrban.
―In my opinion [what the governmentis doing] is justified; it doesn’t harmanyone,‖ he said. ―The EU cancriticise, that’s allowed. It’s anotherquestion that the prime minister andthe central bank governor don’t get on.But the prime minister leads thecountry, not the central bank.‖16.15 We have gotten our hands on theletter Orban sent this morning toBarroso. To say it is conciliatorywould be an understatement. It startsout full of praise for the Commissionand promises to take the requests tochange three Hungarian lawsseriously:
We have immediately started with ourthorough analysis of all the pointsraised. In this context, I would like toexpress my sincere gratitude to theEuropean Commission and to youpersonally that you have decided toseek a legal solution to this verycomplex matter. I can guarantee thatmy government and I will doeverything that is necessary in order tosettle these questions in a satisfactorymanner and as fast as possible.Orban goes on to stress the same pointhe made in his address to theparliament: he believes most thechanges the Commission arerequesting are technical in nature andcould be easily fixed:
It is my assessment that regarding theoverwhelming majority of the pointsraised by the Commission, we will beable to rapidly resolve the problem….[C]oncerning the remaining issues, wealso fully share the principlesarticulated by the Commission,notably the independence of theCentral Bank, the Judiciary and theData Protection Agency; nevertheless,we might need further technicalconsultations in the coming days inorder to clarify certain issues.15.57 Andrew Duff, a British LiberalDemocrat MEP, is tweeting the Orbandebate. He thinks that Cohn-Bendit’scomparing Orban to Chavez andCastro was unfair.
#Cohn-Bendit comparing #Orbàn to#Chavez goes a bit far, however. January 18, 2012 3:00 pm via Twitterfor iPadReplyRetweetFavorite@Andrew_Duff_MEPAndrew Duff MEP15.38 The chair has just announcedthere are 15 more parliamentarianswho have lined up to speak.Nominally, they are given a minute ortwo apiece, but most go over theirtime, so it could be a while until Orbanspeaks again.15.32 Stan in Strasbourg has an updateon whether Orban will speak again:
It seems Orban is going to be allowedto make some closing remarks,according to diplomats, thoughnothing is confirmed as of yet.Last year, at a similar address at theparliament, it was in latter commentsthat Orban’s irritation becomeincreasingly visible. If he was advisedto keep his emotions in check thistime, he has kept to it. He has satthrough the criticism that has beenheaped on his government with littleexpression so far.Barroso is also patiently sittingthrough the backbenchers, though thechamber itself is less than a quarterfull.
15.24 The debate has now shifted fromthe European parliament’s major partyleaders to the backbenchers. Stan inStrasbourg says it’s still unclearwhether Orban will be given theopportunity to respond to the criticismat the end of this round of statements.In the meantime, the EuropeanCommission has released a copy ofBarroso’s speech here.15.15 In defence of Orban, JozsefSzajer, an MEP from Orban’s Fideszparty and author of the main author ofthe new Hungarian constitution, takesthe floor. He starts by taking offense atCohn-Bendit’s implication that Orbanhas supported politicians with anti-Semitic pasts. ―Jews are not afraid in
Hungary,‖ Szajer said. ―I don’t thinkyou know us.‖15.01 Next up is an impassionedDaniel Cohn-Bendit, the French Greenonce known as ―Dany le Rouge‖during his 1960s student protesterdays. He has just said Orban is headeddown the path of Castro, Chavez ―andall of those authoritarians andtotalitarian governments that wefought with you.‖ He rejected Orban’sargument that he was merely changinga Stalinist-era constitution, saying,―we must be mad…how did [we]admit a country into the Union with aStalinist constitution?‖ Heacknowledged Orban had a 2/3majority in parliament, allowing him
to pass through any laws he wanted,but added: ―The minority of Hungaryhas the right not to live in fear, MrOrban.‖Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberals14.56 Guy Verhofstadt, the formerBelgian prime minister who heads theparliament’s centrist Liberals, ischastising Barroso for not going farenough. ―Let’s be clear Mr Barroso,there is more at stake,‖ Verhofstadtsaid. He called on the Europeanparliament to take further steps — a
clear reference to taking action to stripHungary of its voting rights inBrussels. He then turns to Orban: ―Tosay there is no problem in Hungarytoday, I am astonished at that.‖ Afterpraising Orban’s history as an anti-Soviet dissident, he added, ―I’m afraidyou’re on the wrong path. Verhofstadthas gone long, and is now getting cutoff by Schulz.14.47 The fireworks begin. HannesSwoboda, a centre-left parliamentarianfrom Austria, lectures Orban on theneed for him to obey European values.―You are undermining the freedomsyou fought so hard far,‖ he told Orban,as the Hungarian prime minister satwithout any facial reaction. ―You have
to make sure Hungary lives up to thecriteria‖ that new applicants to the EUhave to, he added.14.33 Orban has already wrapped uphis opening remarks and MEPs arenow getting their turn. Unlike lastyear, Orban was humble anddeferential to the parliament. All thenew laws and the new constitution are―based on European principles andvalues.‖ He also said the country was―on the brink of collapse‖ when hecame into power, justifying dramaticchanges.14.40 As his government has since thebeginning of the controversy, Orbanargues the challenges from the
European Commission are onlytechnical in nature. ―The problems thathave been raised by the commissioncould easily be resolved,‖ he said.―There’s not a single objection that hasto do with the Hungarian constitution.‖14.37 Orban begins. ―Allow me to sayfirst of all…what is happening in ourcountry is an exciting process ofrenewal.‖ 14.30 Barroso islargely repeating his announcementfrom yesterday, where theCommission announced legal
proceedings against three Hungarianlaws passed last month. Our story ishere, and the Commission’sannouncement is here. ―We will nothesitate to take futher steps if deemedappropriate,‖ Barroso said. Suchmoves are dependent on how Orbanresponds, he added. ―We don’t want ashadow of a doubt on the democracyof any of our member states.‖14.28 Wammen was short and sweet.Next up: Barroso. ―We have to beclear on values,‖ he begins. Orban willfollow Barroso.14.26 Stan in Strasbourg reports thatOrban has entered the chamber.
14.24 The debate is started by NicolaiWammen, the European minister forDenmark, holder of the EU’s 6-monthrotating presidency. ―All EU memberstates must comply with the rules ofthe treaty,‖ says Wammen.14.22 Shulz finally announces the startof the Hungarian debate.Martin Schulz, the German socialdemocrat and new president of theEuropean parliament
14:17 Although Orban’s address wassupposed to begin at the top of thehour, parliamentarians are stillstruggling to get throughadministrative matters — namely theelection of ―quaestors‖, MEPs wholook after the financial andadministrative issues in the parliament.It’s going rather slowly. Technicalexperts are being called into assistwith the electronic voting system.―Are your voting machines working?‖asks Schulz? ―They’re not?‖José Manuel Barroso, president of theEuropean Commission, is sitting bylooking bemused, but so far no sign ofOrban.
14:10 Stan in Strasbourg reports:The Hungarians still don’t know ifOrban will only be able to give aspeech, or will given the opportunityto react to the political statements fromEuropean parliamentarians made afterhis speech. ―This is 50-50,‖ says aHungarian official.14:06 German Martin Schulz, thecentre-left MEP who was elected thenew president of the Europeanparliament, has just called the chamberback into session. Starting off withadministrative matters.14.04 Stan Pignal in Strasbourgreports that if Orban is looking forfriends, he may find them in other new
member states of central and easternEurope, who either fear they may benext in the firing line after Hungary, oractually appreciate Orban’s fightingstyle.One issue of most concern to the newmember states is the growingsentiment in the European parliamentof invoking so-called ―Article 7‖ ofthe EU treaties, which would allow theEU to strip Hungary’s voting rights inBrussels for violating Europeanvalues. The article was adopted afterAustria allowed a far-right party intoits governing coalition in 2000.As an example of the support fromother new member states, Stan points
to a resolution introduced – but notpassed – in the Lithuanian parliamentyesterday that essentially tells the EUto butt out of Hungary’s business:[T]he process of the Europeanintegration cannot invade thefoundation of the national state but ithas to encourage the understandingand respect for each other amongnations and cultures and to help themto reach welfare, instead of enforcingunacceptable and alien [principles]….The Government of the Republic ofLithuania[should] strictly disapprovethe initiatives of supranationalinstitutions of the European Union orseparate EU member states to restrictthe sovereignty of the Hungarian
nation to stick to those social normsand practices of the Western states,which look valuable for them and toreject those, which are unacceptablefor autonomous EU member-state.13.59 For those looking forinformation on how to watch thedebate online, the Europeanparliament’s press service providesthis tweet:#EP debates political developments inHungary with Orbán, Barroso, DanishEU Minister Wammen at 3pm, livehere: http://t.co/vgADW8G3 January 18, 2012 9:45 am viawebReplyRetweetFavorite
@EuroParlPressEP PressService13.56 If you haven’t read it yet, take alook at fellow Brussels Blogger JoshChaffin’s post on actions taken thismorning by the European Commissionseeking more information on moves byOrban’s government to withholdlicenses for an opposition radiostation.Neil Buckley, the FT’s eastern Europeeditor, notes that the new EU concernsthat Orban is seeking to muffle criticalmedia could undermine thegovernment’s recent argument that lastyear’s controversy over Hungary’snew media law was much ado about
nothing and is now water under thebridge.Kester Eddy, our man in Budapest,also points out that the Hungarianopposition has been fuming about theEU’s handing of the media law formonths, saying Brussels allowedOrban to continue on with onlycosmetic changes to the law.Commission officials have noted theyare limited in what they can do,however. EU legislation gives Brusselsonly limited powers to force nationalgovernments to change domestic laws.13.50 Cecilia Malmstrom, the EUCommissioner in charge of homeaffairs, appears to be in Strasbourg
preparing for the Orban debate,according to her Twitter acocunt:Hungarian PM Orban will soon speakin EP debate at his own request. Canbe an interesting debate/CM