Hungary Cites Migrant Crisis for Draconian Measures

Viktor Orbán
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People’s Party leaders, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party introduced legislation this week that, if enacted, would further weaken the Central European nation’s democracy.

From making it easier for soldiers to use force and enabling police to conduct searches without warrants to enlisting telecom companies in the collection of bulk phone data, the new laws seem more becoming of a police state than a European republic.

Given that Fidesz has an absolute majority in parliament, the bills are almost certain to pass, possibly as early as Friday.

The government claims the measures are needed to cope with a swelling migrant crisis that is seeing tens of thousands of asylum seekers pass through the country this year on their way to Germany and Scandinavia.

Some of the policies, such as making it easier to imprison migrants without papers and prosecuting those who help them, clearly are linked to the record high influx of people from the Balkans and the Middle East. Read more “Hungary Cites Migrant Crisis for Draconian Measures”

Mass Migration Causes Attitudes to Harden in Europe

Berlin Germany
A bird sits on top of one of the spires of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, December 31, 2005 (Max Braun)

Mass immigration into the European Union is threatening to overwhelm governments and calling into question member states’ commitment to free travel within the bloc.

The German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, warned on Wednesday that unless other European countries agreed to take in more refugees, the lack of border controls within the Schengen Area would be unsustainable.

“In the long run, there won’t be any Schengen without Dublin,” he said, referring to the agreement signed in the Irish capital that requires refugees to claim asylum in the country they first arrive in. Some border states, including Greece and Italy, have been lax in enforcing the rule, allowing refugees to travel north and claim asylum there.

De Maizière reported that Germany expects 800,000 refugees will arrive in the country this year. “Germany cannot bear the strain if, as has been the case, around 40 percent of all asylum seekers to Europe come here,” he said.

107,500 migrants arrived in Europe in July alone, a record number. 37,500 of them applied for asylum in Germany. Read more “Mass Migration Causes Attitudes to Harden in Europe”

Hungary Denies Europe Blocks Nuclear Deal with Russia

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin looks out a window in Budapest, Hungary, February 17 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Hungary on Friday denied reports that European regulators were blocking its nuclear deal with Russia. “These intergovernmental agreements were presented to the relevant EU authorities who, after due and careful survey of the material provided, put forward no objections,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Bloomberg reported that the Euratom Supply Agency had turned down Hungary’s plans to import nuclear fuel exclusively from Russia, a possible violation of the bloc’s competition rules.

The European Atomic Energy Community must approve all nuclear supply contracts European Union member states enter into. Read more “Hungary Denies Europe Blocks Nuclear Deal with Russia”

Hungary’s Nationalist Premier Shows Putin Not Isolated

Viktor Orbán Vladimir Putin
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Budapest on Tuesday. The visit was largely devoid of substance but made clear the Russian leader was not as isolated in Europe as most Western governments would have liked.

Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said his ambitions for the summit with Putin were modest. He assured European ambassadors that he would not try to mediate between Russia and the West over the standoff in Ukraine where the former supports a separatist uprising against the Western-backed administration in Kiev.

Rather, Orbán said he planned to negotiate a new long-term gas supply contract that would allow him to reduce energy bills. Read more “Hungary’s Nationalist Premier Shows Putin Not Isolated”

Hungary to Build Russian Pipeline Over EU Objections

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People's Party leaders, December 13, 2012
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People’s Party leaders, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said on Tuesday his country will go ahead with the construction of its part of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline, despite objections from other European Union member states and the United States.

Orbán, an Hungarian nationalist, made his statement while visiting Serbia, a country close to Russia that will host part of the same pipeline.

South Stream, due to be completed in 2018, has divided Europe since Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea in March, a territory that was formerly governed by Ukraine. Read more “Hungary to Build Russian Pipeline Over EU Objections”

Hungarians Reelect Nationalist Premier, Boost for Far Right

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People's Party leaders, December 13, 2012
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People’s Party leaders, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Hungarians reelected the nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán in a parliamentary election on Sunday, early results showed, and turned out in greater numbers for the far-right Jobbik party.

While Orbán’s national conservative Fidesz party lost support compared to the last election, down from nearly 53 percent in 2010 to over 48 percent, it will still likely get a majority of the seats in parliament.

Jobbik, which got almost 17 percent support in 2010, stood at nearly 22 percent in a tally that was based on a count of about a quarter of the votes. The opposition socialist bloc also stood at 22 percent.

The result for Jobbik was particularly disconcerting for the left which accuses it of being racist and antisemitic. Read more “Hungarians Reelect Nationalist Premier, Boost for Far Right”

Turning Away from Europe, Hungary Seeks Russian Nuclear Power

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People's Party leaders, December 13, 2012
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People’s Party leaders, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Mere weeks after Russia threw Ukraine a $15 billion lifeline to help its former satellite state shore up its finances, the country negotiated a $13.7 billion loan to Hungary to help pay for the construction of a nuclear power plant.

The deal was signed earlier this month by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and has been heavily criticized by opposition lawmakers since who see it as a step backward in their country’s integration with Europe. Read more “Turning Away from Europe, Hungary Seeks Russian Nuclear Power”

Orbán Unlikely to Revise Nationalist Economic Policies

Viktor Orbán
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People’s Party leaders, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Despite recommendations from the European Commission to improve its business climate, Hungary’s government is unlikely to revise its nationalist economic policies. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said earlier this month, “I think what we are doing is successful.”

Orbán has reason to be optimistic. His country’s economy expanded .7 percent in the first three months of this year, but after it contracted through 2012. At the end of last year, Hungary’s economy was still almost 10 smaller than before the downturn in 2009.

The right-wing government responded to the crisis by shutting out foreign companies and investors and raising taxes on some industries to mend its budget shortfall.

Although Hungary is now likely to keep its deficit under the 3 percent treaty limit, in its policy recommendations (PDF) released on Wednesday, the European Commission said the decision to target individual industries had raised “questions about the sustainability of the consolidation efforts.” Read more “Orbán Unlikely to Revise Nationalist Economic Policies”

Hungary’s Economic Policy “Increasing Erratic”

Budapest Hungary
Skyline of Budapest, Hungary (Unsplash/Tom Bixler)

Two of the three major American credit rating agencies downgraded Hungarian sovereign bonds to junk status this month, citing the “increasingly erratic” and “unorthodox” economic policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government as well as concerns over the independence of the country’s central bank.

The constitutional reforms enacted by Orbán’s right-wing administration in April of this year enabled the government to appoint members to the monetary council of the Hungarian National Bank which, in the view of the credit raters, significantly weakens the institution.

Moreover, a bill pending before parliament would allow the president to appoint the central bank’s deputy governors who are currently elected by the bank’s chairman. The bank’s monetary council, moreover, which sets interest rates, would be expanded by two members, presumably economists who share Orbán’s nationalistic economic vision. Read more “Hungary’s Economic Policy “Increasing Erratic””

Bulgarian, Romanian Workers Still Not Welcome

The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday green lighted the entry of Bulgaria and Romania to the union’s border-free Schengen Area. Yet as many as ten Western European member states will keep their borders closed for Bulgarian and Romanian workers until 2014.

All countries that belong to the European Union are required to implement the Schengen Agreement which eliminated border patrols and custom checks between member states in 1999. Ireland and the United Kingdom are exempt as are the overseas territories of Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, although not part of the EU, do belong to the Schengen Area.

Bulgaria and Romania, which both joined the European Union in 2007, have met the necessary conditions for entry. Key to their ascension is their ability to protect Europe’s outer borders. The European Parliament will vote in plenary session on the matter next June after which government leaders are supposed to finalize the agreement unanimously. Read more “Bulgarian, Romanian Workers Still Not Welcome”