by Timea Viragh. Originally published on 2014/04/11

Nowadays, many people in Hungary are against the European Union. While in 2004, when Hungary joined the EU, 45% of its population thought that EU membership would be beneficial for the country, in 2013 only 32% thinks the same.

There are many reasons for this decline. First, people have the tendency to unrealistically believe that when a life-altering change like joining the European Union comes, all of our problems would disappear. Well, this of course did not happen.

Second, the Hungarian government in recent years has done everything it can to tarnish the EU in the eyes of its residents. Their policy works against the Western world, for example through charging extra taxes on foreign companies. When Brussels questions one or another act of the government, they become outraged and communicate to the people that it is not in the EU’s power to judge them. Also, they disregard the recommendations and disavow EU reports about Hungary. Consider the specific case of the Tavares report, which was drafted by European Member of Parliament Rui Tavares.

The report is about the past three years of the Hungarian legislature and it questions some of the steps taken by the government, as well as its commitment to the European Laws and to the Union in general. For example, it questions the legitimacy and thoroughness of the new Fundamental Law of Hungary. Until 2011 when the new Fundamental Law was drafted, the Hungarian Constitution was a law dated to 1949, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1989, the Constitution was altered and amended, but in its preamble it stated that this was just a temporary Constitution. The democratic party that was to be elected should have written the new Constitution when it came to power. This, however did not happen until 2011, when the Fidesz party gained a two-third majority and came up with the new Fundamental Law (they changed the name), which came to effect on January 1st, 2012. The entire process went very swiftly, it took the new government less than a year to write and pass the new Fundamental Law. Rui Tavares in his report raises the concern that during this short time there was no possibility to discuss and debate the points that needed to be changed with the opposition, thus implying that the process might not have been democratic enough. What was the government’s answer? They started to explain how all of this was not true and how it was all a scheme from the opposition.

Also, the Report questions the limitation of the rights of the Constitutional Court. For example, the Fundamental Law states that the Constitutional Court cannot review constitutional amendments on substantive grounds, it can only review them on procedural grounds. Its right to review budget-related laws has been substantially limited, too. The answer was not to look at the content and think through the amendments to the Fundamental Law and how the process can be made more democratic. Instead, they entered to debate the report as the underdog, and acted like there was nothing wrong with Hungary. In this atmosphere, it is not very surprising that Hungarian people are not very keen on the Union.

Third, we have the nationalist political party, Jobbik, the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament. Their main objective is to restore “Hungarian unity”, by which they mean to include in Hungarian affairs all the Hungarian people – including those who do not live within the borders. They wish to support national agriculture, national manufacturing, and small, Hungarian financial institutions. They want to weaken the ties with the West and instead develop closer ties with Eastern countries such as China, Russia and Turkey. Also, in 2013 they proposed several times to have a referendum on whether Hungary should remain in the EU. They believe that the EU threatens the Member States’ autonomy, and that Hungary would be better off without the compromises it has had to make within the Union. The sad thing is that during the elections held on April 6th, Jobbik got 20.54% of the votes (the ruling party, Fidesz got 44.54% and the second biggest, left-wing coalition got 25.99%). An even sadder point is that half of the young voters support Jobbik.

Where is the controversy here? Despite the fact that Hungarian public opinion opposes the EU, more and more people leave Hungary and move to Western European countries. People who are low-skilled or are unemployed go to Great-Britain or Germany, in search of more opportunities to support themselves and their families – who are usually left behind. University graduates and professionals also leave in increasing numbers – either they intend to work for a much higher salary abroad, or they cannot identify with the anti-Western social norms in the country. As the higher education system has changed in the past two years, more and more high school graduates are applying to universities in Austria or in Great-Britain. A research institute, Tarki, estimates that while in 2000 only 10% of people aged between 18-49 were thinking about moving abroad, after 2010 this process accelerated and in 2012 19% of adults wanted to leave the country. According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office’s estimates, around 7.4% of the 18-49-year-old population lives abroad today.

People do not seem to realize the importance of Hungary’s EU membership. If we were not a Member State, nobody could move, out of free will, to a Western country. Students would not be able to apply to foreign universities this easily, and would not be eligible for this many scholarships. The country would not get this much funding for various projects. For example, many cities were able to build bath facilities or schools or sports centers from European money. In many cities, including Budapest, the capital, public places are being rebuilt from money won on European tenders. Furthermore, the Hungarian economy relies excessively on trade, and its first and foremost trading partners are Germany, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Italy and France, all EU member states. These six countries account for half of Hungary’s export. Without the Union, much of our market would be lost, with unpredictable consequences. It is time to realize that being a member of the European Union might not be a bad thing after all.

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