“Hungary is a member of the Council of Europe, a body that has been setting standards for the protection of fundamental rights in Europe for over half a century since adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights. Their recommendations aim to uphold and promote fundamental rights throughout Europe. Full compliance with fundamental rights’ norms of the Council of Europe should be self-evident for all EU Member States – it should not even require pressure from the European Commission or the European Parliament,” writes Neelie Kroes, Commissioner of the European Union in a letter rebuking charges by prominent representatives of the Hungarian government that her critical stance on Hungary amounts to a violation of Hungary’s national sovereignty.
Kroes response is addressed to prominent Fidesz politician and Member of the European Parliament József Szájer, who wrote a a scathing letter to the Dutch politician questioning both her professionalism and her impartiality during a hearing conducted on February 9 in the European Parliament about the state of fundamental rights in Hungary.
These charges are part of a greater PR offensive by the Hungarian government to push back against criticisms launched against the country since the coming into effect of Hungary’s new constitution on January 1, 2012.
Mr. Szájer, the author of the new constitution and a close confidante of Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán – who is often cited in conjunction with the independence of the Hungarian judiciary as well, given that his wife, Tünde Handó now holds a position of unchecked power over the judicial branch of the Eastern-European country – found much of the in-depth presentation of the Commissioner regarding political conditions in Hungary objectionable.
Szájer’s complaints against Kroes’ conduct criticize her for siding with the government’s left-wing opposition, which he insinuates is due to their shared ideological agenda. He also accuses the Commissioner of overstepping her official mandate and of violating Article 4 of the Treaty of the European Union, which requires respect for “essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security.”
As Mr. Szájer writes about the incident which has provoked his outrage in particular:
“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.”
Though the Hungarian government has indicated its willingness to co-operate with the European Union, especially in response to three infringement proceedings directed at the new Hungarian constitution and its accompanying cardinal laws – the resolution of which are also preconditions for an agreement with the IMF, without which Hungary could face a sovereign default within the next year – there are more and more signs that the Hungarian government is backtracking from its promises.
Today, Péter Szíjjártó made this explicit during an interview on Hungarian state radio. In some matters, it is “easily imaginable that the proceedings will be moved to their next phase, as we will not be able to come to an agreement, or our arguments will not be honored,” Szíjjártó said.
Szájer was not the only one to attack Kroes, nor was he alone in making the attacks on her deeply personal. On pro-government television station Echo TV, Zsolt Bayer quoted deputy prime minister Tibor Navracsics as saying, in conjunction with the disagreement described above by Szájer, that “Neelie Kroes lied into the face of the world without any moral scruples.”
In media outlets catering to the government’s supporters, the ad hominem attacks against the EU Commissioner are practically ubiquitous. Political shows do not refrain from involving Ms. Kroes’ gender and age in their mockery, as for example in the political show led by Zsolt Bayer’s show, where Ms. Kroes is described as a “hapless idiot” (see transcript here) or in another broadcast of Echo Tv, led by András Bencsik, where the Commissioner is characterized as a “gossip lacking any standard” (see their version of the incident in the EP here.)
Bayer and Bencsik are emblematic figures for supporters of the Hungarian government, and especially for those who have reservations about the European Union’s values, and especially about whether, using Mr. Szájer’s fine wording of the matter, the values “dovetail in every detail with the country’s interests at a given juncture.” They are the main organizers of the so-called Peace March, a pro-government rally held on January 21 under the unifying claim that “Hungary will not become a colony.”
Since January, the Peace March has transformed itself into a civil organization and its main organizers are mobilizing the government’s supporters for Viktor Orbán’s speech on March 15, when a similar if not greater showing of pro-government supporters protesting for “Hungarian sovereignty” is expected (the Jan. 21 event drew approximately 400,000 participants).
The personal attacks against Ms. Kroes continue, however, in Hungary’s pro-government media even after her response has reached Mr. Szájer. In their report on Kroes’ letter, the government-close daily Magyar Nemzet published a fair and level summary of the document – an expanded version of the Hungarian press agency’s official report.
Appended to the report, however, in smaller font but placed in a bright blue text-box is the following text:
|Mint arról korábban beszámoltunk: jövendőmondókra, jósnőkre és asztrológusokra támaszkodva végzett tanácsadást 1993 és 2001 között Neelie Kroes, az unió jelenlegi médiaügyi és sajtószabadságért felelős biztosa. Az Európai Bizottság alelnökeként pedig egy olyan munkacsoportot hozott létre, melynek egyik tagja korábban Hitlerhez hasonlította Busht.As we have reported before, Neelie Kroes, the European Union’s Commissioner for media and press freedoms performed consulting activities (sic!) based on the advice of clairvoyants, fortune-tellers and astrologers between 1993 and 2001. While a Vice President of the European Commission, she created a work group which featured a member who had previously likened Bush to Hitler.|