Mráz: Brussels is unwilling to compromise; Hungary will follow Turkey on Sweden's Nato accession
In their own words: Ágoston Mráz, Director of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute, spoke to the Hungarian International Press Association at the EST Grand Hotel Savoy Budapest on March 30th.
Photo: Ágoston Mráz, Director of Nézőpont, speaking at a conference in early March
The following is a slightly edited transcription of his introductory remarks. At some points, I later clarified the meaning of the text with Mr Mráz.
Ágoston Mráz: As you know, April is the anniversary of the general election of 2022, and because of this, there are some polls.
This morning, there was a new one, which shows the same as the others, that Fidesz has the same popularity as one year ago, which is a huge success I think, especially because of the crises, the high inflation.
[This poll in question: https://tarsadalomkutato.hu/nagyobb-vereseget-szenvedne-el-a-baloldal-ma-mint-egy-eve/
The graph illustrates the choice of decided voters were an election to take place today.
For comparison, below is the latest Zavecz poll (again of decided party voters). The most notable difference would appear to relate to the Two-Tailed Dog 'spoof' party - MKKP using the Hungarian acronym - with just 3% of voters according to Zavecz.
Nezopont poll here: https://nezopont.hu/haromnegyedes-tobbseggel-gyozne-most-a-fidesz/ ]
Ágoston Mráz: Normally, according to the book, a governing party should have lost popularity in the last year, but this has not happened. A political analyst as myself should explain why: I think the popularity of [Prime Minister] Orbán is behind [this], and the lack of an alternative.
For a pretty long time, I'd say five-six months after the election, the left-wing opposition could not do anything with the situation. Slowly they started, but clearly they deal with inter-party fights, and they could not focus on the government issue.
For example, as a political analyst, I was really surprised why the opposition does not talk too much about the inflation issue. This was, so to say, a miracle, a big gift for them, … but they've forgotten to talk about inflation. Clearly, the government tried to give a narrative for the inflation situation, with the sanctions and with some policy measures like price caps and so on.
So, it was not the situation that the government did not do anything, but, for me it was a surprise that the opposition couldn't give an answer or start a campaign based on this very difficult situation. You know very well that, because of many effects, the inflation was one of the highest in the European Union.
Moderator: The highest!
Ágoston Mráz: It depends on which area [you look at], but one of the highest, clearly, and for you, probably the highest.
It should have been a gift for them, but because of the weak opposition, because of the continuing popularity of Orbán, the situation is, as I already mentioned, that 50 – 52% of Hungarians would vote for Fidesz in an election this Sunday.
What is the situation on the opposition side is also very interesting. We do not know which form of cooperation they would theoretically [agree on]. Clearly, they would not repeat this common list, the joint list from last year, and probably the best method to measure them would be to make it individually.
From this point of view, we can say the Democratic Coalition is a success story, as they can reach, depending on which poll, something between 10 – 15%, which is clearly more than earlier, but it is also very much less than the popularity of Fidesz.
For me, it was a big surprise that the second-biggest, liberal opposition party, Momentum, is not a success story. They are higher than 5%, so clearly they would reach the threshold for parliament, but it's not the party that can integrate those voters on the left side, but who do not like Mr Gyurcsany, head of the Democratic Coalition. And it would have been the logical strategy for Momentum to unite these voter camps.
There was a big step forward when [former president] Anna Donáth came back. Three months after she got a child, she was again on the scene and at the beginning of February there was a huge event for Momentum, but that campaign did not work, and Momentum has not become popular. I would say that they were even more popular before the election in 2022.
All the other parties on the left side from the joint list [of 2021-2] are not successful.
There are two other opposition parties which we should look at: one is the Two-tailed Dog Party, which according to the newest numbers is at 10%. It could be just 8%, but it doesn't matter. Clearly they are beyond the threshold, and for the European Parliament elections next year, it is I think an important issue. They have a very good chance to get some [seats] from the 21 available for Hungary. And it could cause some trouble on the opposition side.
[Later explanation: If Fidesz gets more than 13 seats (as in 2019), Mi Hazánk at least 1, there are only 7 or even fewer remaining for the left wing parties. It could cause trouble as a strong symbol, since leftists will be less than one-third of Hungarian MEPs.]
And the other successful opposition party is the radical right Our Homeland movement which was at 6% in April last year, and now they are, according to several polls, over 6%, according to the newest at 8%, others say 10%, it doesn't matter, the important thing is that they have become stronger than before.
On international Affairs: I think there are two important issues, the EU money and Nato enlargement.
Both are very difficult; even the messages are not very clear, coming from Brussels, the government … because, the prediction is that until the Polish election in October or November this year, [so] Hungary will not get real money from the new EU budget, not even for the Covid Fund – the RRF - because the government in Budapest thinks that it is a political matter and the negotiations are not really about the Rule of Law issue.
Politically, the situation is that Hungary and Poland are 'the suspicious' members from the perspective of Brussels. In the case of Poland, it could happen through the election. After the Polish election, the situation will be more clear, and it could cause a big political compromise – this is the Budapest perspective related to the EU money.
I think it is a matter of fact that the Hungarian government has tried to make a compromise. As Orban announced in late July in his Tusnad [Băile Tușnad, Romania] speech that he would be ready for a compromise.
I cannot quote it exactly, but he said something like “Now we are going towards the precipice together, holding hands, but we will stop, turn to each other, hug and reach an agreement.”
But, amid some reforms and changes in the Hungarian legislation, there was not openess from Brussels, because there [has been] no compromise up to now.
Last week some members of the Hungarian government started to talk about a compromise between Budapest and Brussels. I cannot tell you whether it is reality or just wishes, but if the Hungarian government is talking about a solution to the problem in the third quarter of the year, in the autumn, [as] I tried to describe that after the Polish election, there could be some changes in it.
Which means as well that the government doesn't count on the money before the autumn, [not] during the summer or even in the spring.
In the autumn, there will be a lot of other issues on the agenda, like the [approaching] European Parliament election, the future perspective of [European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen, and all the other elections, like the Russian presidential election and the US election, both will be held in 2024, [and] which all can have an effect on the compromise. We will see. As I said, before the Polish election, nobody [can count on] a compromise.
The second issue is the Nato accession of Sweden. I would say that for me easier to talk about this issue after the Hungarian parliament accepted Finland's membership on Monday.
To understand the situation, I would say it's important for Hungary, the unity of Nato is important. It means, without Turkey, the important strategic decisions cannot be made … [so, when] Turkey changes its mind on Sweden, Hungary will do the same.
Therefore, the big question is, when will Turkey change its mind? And I would say that after the presidential election it could easily happen.
Everybody knows that in mid-July, there is the Nato summit in Vilnius, and I would say that it will happen [by] then, as the re-elected President Tayyip Erdoğan, or his counterpart, will be in office, I think the change will happen.
If the opposition wins the Turkish election, it will be very, very fast, but I think President Erdoğan will also change his mind because he promised some years ago to make some strategic decisions in 2023, You know, this is the 100 years anniversary of the independent Turkish Republic, and the decision related to EU membership, and … everybody knows that Turkey will never become a member of the European Union, but it is not yet officially announced.
And these strategic issues, like EU membership and the future of Nato will be decided after the presidential election in Turkey, and if Hungary sees a sign that Turkey is changing its mind, then the Swedish membership will be accepted very quickly [by Hungary].
I know that the official [line] is about frustration related to Sweden, and I would say as an analyst - not as a spokesman - that inter-personal relationships are important in politics, and the [relationship] is not good between the Swedish PM and the Hungarian one. The Swedish prime minister was the politician in the European Peoples' Party who pushed to expel Fidesz from the EPP, and there were some very harsh sentences by him about Hungary.
These personal troubles exist, but this was not the reason why Hungary did this very slow decision-making process. [More] important, Hungary was looking much more at Turkey than others do, and the Hungarian government believes that Nato without Turkey would be a totally different [organisation], and we, as Hungarians are interested in the integration of Turkey into Nato, and therefore it's worth waiting for the Turkish decision.