Structural deficits in Hungary's functioning as an EU Member State
The diplomatic blunder of the Hungarian Prime Minister as he sought to set the pace for Europe from the position of a loser, at the March informal Summit in Brussels, dumbfounded the European public. By defying the rules of diplomacy and neglecting the decisive players he managed to "achieve" that the EU's leading politicians prefer to keep more and more distance from Hungary. In the institutional system the Hungarian Government cut a poor figure. In parallel, although the Government attempts to keep up the appearance of success through its personal European political contacts, it arrives at nothing more than lobbying for individual interests. The way Hungary's administration and diplomatic institutions are being operated can be characterized by mechanisms based on the old clientele and related modi vivendi.
The functioning capacity of Hungary has begun to raise doubts not only within, but also beyond, the borders of the country. These doubts are no longer the effects of the battle being fought in the domestic political arena. Hungary has come into focus amidst the global economic crisis. The "Musterknabe", once successful, is no longer a model state, it is not any longer considered as a success story, and even as a boring, colourless and grey country it is not a subject of discussions any more.
Hungary's accession to the EU could have led to its successful modernisation by creating a functioning economy and administration, as well as a balanced democracy. Hungary could have merged into the community of well-off, although not always vibrant, innovative and dynamically developing Western countries. It is rarely a natural consequence for a country joining the EU to loose the momentum after accession, and to have no success attending its efforts at the end of the rapprochement process. Enlargement of the European community has, in general, â€“ except in the case of Hungary â€“ shown that EU membership and the entailing new enhanced opportunities further promote integration, and strengthen the positive economic and social developments. Ireland and Portugal are the finest examples of this, and in a similar vein the cases of Slovenia and Slovakia also prove what sort of results a well-thought-out and properly implemented government policy may yield. Hungary has â€“ in part out of domestic political reflexes â€“ banished all results achieved before 2002, wound up its successful administrative system and stigmatized those who had been part of the former administration. There were other reasons too, for dismantling the institutional system of the state power.
Following 2002, then 2006 the ministerial structures underwent constant changes, and the government representatives did not possess of the necessary skills and knowledge that should be required as a minimum condition from leaders operating the state power. The entire Hungarian administration broke down, the expertise and strategic thinking disappeared, so did the institutional memory as a point of reference.
This has been made evident for everyone in Europe by the Hungarian Prime Minister himself when he came up with his proposals, elaborated by a private consultant firm, which had not been checked with partners in advance and had been unknown to his own experts as well. This is how he tried to find a response to the problems of Central Europe: by defying all written and tacit rules of the institutional system of consultations and lobbying. He then tried to get this package of proposals accepted by every EU Member State as well as the European Commission at the extraordinary EU Summit held in Brussels, early March. Failure was inevitable.
The parties of the socialist-liberal coalition, previously always tolerated, supported and rescued by the European media, have by now lost the sympathy of the international press. Editors and journalist of the leading media in Western Europe, one after the other, have started to confront them. Developments in Hungary have become inexplicable, even for a sympathizing press. As a result, the country's image has touched bottom too.
Albeit charged with the burden of economic, institutional, social and human resources crises Hungary has launched intensive preparations for assuming the EU Presidency tasks in 2011. In the present situation, however, it appears to be impossible for the country to conduct even a "just let's get over with it" type of six-month term of Presidency. Although the Hungarian parliamentary parties â€“ on the initiative of the opposition â€“ do "supervise" the EU Presidency preparations, in the framework of a five-party consensus, the crucial decisions substantiating the effective preparations are being made by circumventing the institutional cooperation with the Parliament. The Government is communicating misinformation about the team getting prepared for the Presidency tasks. In fact, preparations for the EU Presidency provide an opportunity for the present Government to get officials who mostly lack the necessary language skills and expertise, but who are considered to be politically trustworthy, into key positions.
In the light of the present political realities, barely one semester before taking over the EU Presidency Hungary will hold parliamentary elections which should, on the basis of today's opinion polls, bring about a change of government. The political and institutional legacy the new government will inherit promises to be insufficient by any standard to allow Hungary to succeed in becoming the engine of the European institutional system. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, likely to happen before the Hungarian Presidency term starts, the burdens could be significantly alleviated but the Presidency tasks on the whole will not become transferable to anyone else. In this context, it should be inevitable for any responsible Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs to give a political and moral account at both the national and European levels; instead she seems to prefer escaping the domestic political scene by standing for election to the European Parliament as the top candidate on the governing party's list.
The Hungarian Government finds itself now in a vacuum, its credibility has become undermined in almost all areas. The failure of the bubble activity carried out by the institutional system, however, does not necessarily exclude the possibility of lobbying for private interests through personal contacts and networks. Having no credibility, only a personal clientele system, and neglecting the need for expertise cast a serious doubt on the outcome of the six-month Presidency that should normally provide the EU with a driving force. The real challenge facing now Hungary â€“ for the sake of the European Union too â€“ is to work off the deficit accumulated, to restore credibility and predictability, and thereby to enable itself to contribute again to the community's cohesion.