The Hungarian government's confrontational stance towards the EU and increasingly illiberal policies in recent years exploded into the open in Brussels on October 6, as a European Parliament committee rejected Hungary's EU commissioner-designate as unsuitable for the education and culture post.
A former justice minister under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Tibor Navracsics was grilled in a hearing in early October over policies by the Fidesz government that caused consternation in the EU. Navracsics had tried to distance himself from those policies, which included moves criticized for weakening the independence of judges and the media, as well as over the rights of minorities.
With new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker struggling to push his team at the EU executive through without a major reshuffle, some MEP's suggested Navracsics could still take on an amended role. Parliamentary sources told Reuters the centre-right EPP group, to which both Juncker and Navracsics belong, will now propose depriving the Hungarian of a small part of the portfolio, that for citizenship issues.
However, left-leaning MEPs suggested they are unlikely to accept leaving Navracsics in charge of the other areas either. German Social Democrat Petra Kammerevert said in a statement: "Education, culture, youth or citizenship are all out of the question for Tibor Navracsics."
The fight over the Hungarian Commission nomination suggests something of the chickens coming home to roost for Budapest, although the country retains the right to have a member in the executive.
PM Orban, who took office in 2010 and won a consecutive constitutional majority at elections in April, has led a government that has been criticized in Brussels for increasingly authoritarian policies. Aside from a statist approach to the economy, with the government pressing to take control of utilities and other "strategic" sectors, Orban's cabinet has redrawn the constitution and regularly amended it over the past few years.
Changes to legislation relating to the judiciary, media and minority rights drew sharp criticism from the outgoing European Commission over the years, with harsh words flying between Budapest and Brussels on a regular basis. Adaptations to election laws were claimed to hand too much power to Orban's ruling Fidesz party. A vicious fight over the banking sector - dominated by large Eurozone groups - continues.
Orban - whose bombastic statements against the EU are used to shore up his popularity on the domestic political scene, where Fidesz faces its closest challenge from the far-right Jobbik - sketched out a policy plan that alarmed Brussels and many European commentators over the summer. As the EU seeks a cohesive response to Russia's actions in Ukraine, Orban suggested the "illiberal" states run by Moscow and Beijing may be better models for Hungary.
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