Orbán says Fidesz must "take a new direction" if EPP is unable to change

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gave his annual press conference Thursday morning in Budapest, providing a rare chance for independent media to pose questions. Before taking the podium, the prime minister posted on his Facebook page, “Drag me out in front of the squirrels,” an apparent reference to the 1976 Woody Allen film Annie Hall

In his opening statements, Orbán acknowledged that “Fidesz can be improved” following significant losses in October’s municipal elections, and promised a new round of “National Consultations” in 2020. He also referenced his meeting this week with PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński in Warsaw, saying that if the European People’s Party is unable to change, then Fidesz must take “a new direction”.  

The prime minister reported that employment is at a 30 year high with more than 4.5 million Hungarians currently employed. Average wages have grown 80% since 2010, he said, with the highest proportional increases going to the lowest-earning workers. “We want to be the party alliance which eliminates poverty in Hungary,” Orbán said. 

The prime minister also said that no Hungarians had been injured in Iranian rocket attacks on military bases in Iraq. He said Hungarian soldiers will continue to serve in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government meets its obligations. 

Growth in eurozone economies is predicted to stagnate in 2020, and it remains to be seen whether the “Hungarian model” can continue to function with the introduction of an “economic protection plan,'' Orbán said, adding that he would reveal details of that plan during his state of the nation address in February. 

The prime minister said the government would address pressing issues facing Hungary in the coming year, including:

  • Renovating hospital wards and waiting rooms, and dealing with hospital debt

  • Ensuring that the Carpathian Basin can weather the effects of climate change and continue to provide adequate food and water. This includes making Hungary carbon-neutral by 2050, which would require taxing polluters, introducing only electric buses after 2022, and continuing to develop nuclear energy.

  • Focusing the government’s energy in the next two years on governance, and only beginning to campaign again in 2022.

When asked whether he would accept a Fidesz nomination for prime minister in 2022, Orbán said he is “ready for it”. 

Orbán said that while the recently formed Conservative-Green coalition in Austria is “exciting and instructive”, he wouldn’t be the one to lead such an initiative because he sees Hungarian Green politicians as “watermelons: green on the outside, and red on the inside”. 

The prime minister praised British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent electoral victory, saying the “entire world was against Johnson” including the “liberal left, the Soros network and everyone else”. He said Johnshon’s victory is worthy of respect even if Brexit is disadvantageous to Hungary.

The sex scandal which enveloped former Győr mayor Zsolt Borkai should not have occurred, Orbán said, but added that he doesn’t believe it had a major impact on municipal elections. Fidesz’s losses in cities across the country was rather due to the opposition running superior candidates, he said, adding that as chairman of his party, he bears responsibility for every city that Fidesz lost. 

Prime Minister Orbán also addressed the case of Roma children being segregated in a public school in Gyöngyöspata between 2004-2017. The case resulted in a court awarding HUF 99 million in damages to the affected students to be paid by the state. In his press conference, Orbán said that while he considers it important to limit the occurrence of such cases, he thinks it is unfair that the children are to receive monetary damages.

“If I lived there, I would wonder why the members of an ethnically dominant group living with me in one community, in one village, receive a large sum of money without doing any kind of work while I am slaving away all day,” 

the prime minister said. 

Fidesz contemplates departure from European People’s Party

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán may be considering leading his party out of the European People’s Party (EPP), according to reports by Politico

A senior Fidesz official told the website that Fidesz could voluntarily withdraw from the EPP to join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a Eurosceptic conservative group within the European Parliament, where Orbán and Fidesz would wield more influence than in the center-right EPP.

That possibility appeared to gain further credibility on Tuesday after Orbán held talks in Warsaw with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of Poland’s governing party Law and Justice (PiS), the most powerful party in the ECR. Orbán posted a photo to Facebook on Tuesday of himself, Kaczyński and Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki with the caption “We are powerful together and weak if scattered”. 

Speculation over Fidesz’s departure from the EPP has swirled since March, when the party was suspended from the group because of concerns over its adherence to the rule of law and democratic values. A report on Fidesz, prepared by a three-member delegation sent by the EPP, was reportedly submitted to the group last week but is not yet public. The EPP will likely decide on Fidesz’s fate during its general assembly in early February. 

According to 444’s Péter Magyari, sources indicate that while the report is sharply critical of Fidesz, it leaves options on the table for keeping the party within the EPP like extending Fidesz’s suspension or imposing major conditions for securing the party’s place within the group. Reporting by Népszava based on unnamed EPP sources suggests that the most likely scenario is the extension of Fidesz’s suspension or postponement of a final decision rather than completely expelling the party. 

But numerous signs suggest Fidesz will not submit to such a political humiliation in order to retain its position. When the party was suspended from the EPP in March it attempted to save face by portraying the suspension as a mutual decision, if not a strategic move devised by Fidesz itself. Fidesz could perform an encore of this maneuver by resigning its own membership in the EPP rather than submitting to an expulsion.

Furthermore, Gábor G. Fodor, head of the Fidesz-tied Századvég Foundation, told HírTV last week that he believes Fidesz will not remain a member of the European People’s Party, saying that Fidesz cannot abide what he called the EPP’s drift to the left concerning immigration. Fodor also claimed that after speaking with chairman of Hungary’s Christian Democrats (KDNP) Zsolt Semjén, he believes that Fidesz’s longtime coalition partner will remain in the EPP even if Fidesz departs. 

“Anti-Semitic provocateur” appointed to head Kossuth Rádió

Beatrix Siklósi, a media figure known for her extreme right-wing views and for spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and racist jokes online, has been appointed director of state-owned Kossuth Rádió

Siklósi’s career in media has been marked with numerous scandals involving her open espousal of racist views. In 2003, as editor of a public television programme, she invited the British Holocaust denier David Irving onto her show where he claimed that the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was in fact an anti-Jewish pogrom against Hungary’s “Jewish government”. She was later fired over the segment. 

She was later appointed executive director of programming on religious, nationality and diaspora affairs for state television, but was stripped of that position in 2014 after the leaders of Hungary’s four major churches wrote a letter demanding her removal. They argued that her racist and anti-Semitic posts on social media disqualified her from the position, calling her “unacceptable”. (A selection of those racist posts compiled by HVG can be viewed here.)

Siklósi’s appointment to her previous position as director of state-owned television channel M5 caused outrage in 2018. Speaking in opposition of her appointment, Tett És Védelem, a Jewish organisation that combats anti-Semitism, called her an “anti-Semitic provocateur”. While director of M5, she oversaw a programme which argued at length that Waffen SS soldiers defending Budapest against the Red Army should be considered heroes, and a programme which pondered how homosexuality might be cured.  

Court rules city must release Elios documents 

A court has ruled that the municipality of Gyál must release documents related to a public procurement process which benefitted Prime Minister Orbán’s son-in-law István Tiborcz.

The ruling came after Transparency International Hungary filed a data-request suit whereby it sought documentation on how much Tiborcz’s company Elios was paid for installing LED public lighting in the town, as well as records on the public procurement process.

According to documents released by the Gyál municipality, the city signed a contract with Elios in 2015 worth nearly HUF 194 million (€585,000). The documents showed that Elios’s bid was higher than that of a competing bidder, but that it still won the contract after the competitor was excluded from the bidding process (according to Index, this same company was excluded from a number of other procurements in other towns which Elios ultimately won). 

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) earlier found numerous irregularities surrounding the tendering processes that benefitted Elios, as well as in the quality of the work the company performed. The projects, which together were worth billions of forints for Elios, were largely funded using EU development grants. 

According to Index, this court decision could set a precedent requiring other municipalities to release data connected to their contracts with Elios. 

Magyar Hírlap sounds alarm over non-white newborns

An article in pro-government newspaper Magyar Hírlap sounded the alarm over non-white babies being born in Western European countries. 

The article, titled “The First Babies of the Decade in Western Europe Don’t Point to a Very Bright Demographic Future”, points out that the first babies of 2020 in several Western European countries were born of non-white parents. “Babies of African origin with migrant backgrounds” were the first babies born in several Swedish and Belgian cities, the article points out, while the first born in Portugal, Spain and Ireland were born of parents with non-European origins. 

The article warns that the newborns represent proof of the effects of migration, and that if nothing is done to curb it, Europeans will be in the minority in their own homeland. 

Szanyi leaves MSZP, saying it is “not left-wing enough”

Former vice-chairman of the Socialist Party (MSZP), Tibor Szanyi, has resigned his membership in the party, he announced on Twitter on Monday. 

Szanyi wrote that there “is an organizational vacancy on the Hungarian left, and I want to work on filling it”. Responding to a question from Index, Szanyi said “There is a crazy left-wing vacuum in Hungary. There is currently not a single true left-wing bloc, only neoliberal parties, even though many people in society today, many of them young people, have explicitly left-wing feelings and convictions which require credible political representation”.  

“I’ve been saying for 15 years that MSZP is not left-wing enough or not at all,” he continued.

A former MEP, Szanyi instigated a rift within his party after he harshly criticized its poor performance in last year’s European Parliament elections. In response, the party temporarily suspended his membership, and Szanyi later formed an eco-socialist movement called Igen (Yes).

Baranyi to designate “safe spaces” for victims of domestic abuse

Mayor of Budapest’s 9th District Krisztina Baranyi announced at a press conference Tuesday that the local government will designate a number of district-owned apartments as safe spaces for victims of domestic abuse. 

Baranyi said that while the central government maintains such shelters for domestic violence victims, there are too few of them and many people are unaware of their existence. Her district will therefore conduct an awareness campaign on the topic, she said, adding that she hopes other districts will follow with similar campaigns. 

Karácsony slaps back at Áder over climate emergency declaration

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony responded to criticism from President János Áder over the city of Budapest’s declaration of a climate emergency. 

Áder, in a radio interview on Sunday, claimed that the city’s declaration under the new mayorship of Karácsony amounts to nothing more than a “rhetorical trick”, and urged cooperation across the aisle on the issue of environmental protection. 

Karácsony responded on Facebook Sunday, saying it was “not the first time I’ve had the perplexing feeling that there is something wrong with the amount of knowledge President Áder receives”. The mayor called Áder’s accusation “an odd approach for a head of state trying to present himself as on the vanguard of green affairs”, and pointed out that more than 1,250 governments, cities, universities and other organizations including the European Parliament have declared climate emergencies.