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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Péter Róna: "The root issue in Hungary is the lack of a proper constitution ... The fundamental legal and political structure simply doesn't fit into the EU."

Updated: May 6

“There is no constitution that I know of, certainly not among the 27 in Europe – except Hungary – which in heac verba explicitly provides that no referendum can be held on a constitutional issue.

Photo: Péter Róna, born in Miskolc, north-east Hungary, fled the country aged 14 after the Hungarian Uprising was crushed by the Red Army in 1956. Educated in the USA and Oxford, England, his career spans banking, law, fund management and academia.

Péter Róna was the opposition's nominee for the Hungarian Presidency in 2022, he currently heads the list for seats in the European Parliament for the Jobbik-Conservative party in the forthcoming EP elections.

He spoke to the Hungarian International Press Association on 24th April. The following are his introductory remarks and answer to the first question, with a few tiny edits.

Péter Róna: I am basically an academic, I'm a fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University, where I teach the philosophical foundations of the social sciences, as well as a couple of courses, a basic economics course, and a course in monetary theory.

I accepted this invitation [to head the MEP list] by Jobbik with three purposes in mind:

The first one, although I do not know what is on Viktor Orbán's mind, it is perfectly clear to me that his policies, his utterences, his speeches and gestures, the whole lot, are conducive not to keeping Hungary in the European Union, but on the contrary, to losing that status.

It is much more compatible with turning Hungary into another sphere of interest consisting of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

It would be a tragedy for Hungary either to be expelled altogether, or to be put on the side in the European Union. So the first task is to prevent that from happening

The second task is a two-fold purpose, in bread and butter terms, is to develop a structure whereby Hungarian local governments, Hungarian research institutes and civil society organisations can apply directly - not via the government - but directly to the European Union for [financial] support.

That is to say, it is to establish a direct link between local government and the EU, as well as research institutes and civic society organisations.

Now this proposal has two aspects: the first is, as you well know, there is considerable dissatisfaction throughout Europe with what is called the democracy deficit in the EU.

And that democracy deficit, in my judgement, comes about as a result of the wilful and oftentimes misconceived interference of national governments that create a barrier between their citizens and the EU, and create situations where their own citizens have either misunderstood or have developed unfriendly feelings towards the EU.

The only way that I know how to remedy that is to develop a structure, a serious structure that permits a direct relationship between local governments and the EU, so that local governments have exposure and direct dialogue with the Union.

The other aspect is pure money. One of the major problems facing local governments in Hungary is that the Orbán government has bled them dry.

They have no financial resources, their ability to function is very seriously impaired, and as a result, their political power is next to zero in terms of national as well as local issues. So that needs to be overcome.

At the same time, there's the other side of the coin which is the evidence that a very substantial portion of EU monies is landing in corrupt pockets, with the result that the EU is very reluctant to provide Hungary with any support.

So, if we develop an alternative structure, which would be under the supervision of the EU's relevant authorities, it would be so structured as to prevent the possibility of corruption, then the monies would go directly to local governments and not to the central government that obviously uses a substantial portion for its own political and other ends.

The third purpose is something more diffuse and more difficult, but there is a serious question about the wage gap between the former socialist countries and the EU average.

Today, the average worker's wage in Germany is something between EUR 20 – 23 per hour; the comparable figure for Hungarians is between EUR 6 – 9.

This wage gap is a serious matter; it is a complex issue, I don't want to bore you with it, it's very technical, very important, it requires a lot of work, but there is a serious structural gap between the western European members and the former socialist countries that is fuelling the sort of tensions that we are witnessing between these two parts of Europe.

So, these are the three; closing the wage gap, direct linkage with local governments, and keeping Hungary within the EU, that's my programme.

Kester Eddy: Simple! Well, it sounds simple, but my first reaction would be that, for example, Klára Dobrev [first on the European Parliamentary list for the centre-left Democratic Coalition] would say a lot of what you're saying, at least in terms of the first issue, which is restoring Hungary's name [in the EU].

Péter Róna: As far as Klára Dobrev's view on Hungarian membership in the EU is concerned, as compared to mine, the difference is that I have consistently, over a very long period, maintained that the root issue in Hungary is the lack of a proper constitution.

What we now have, the so-called fundamental law, in no respect, in not one single respect, conforms the the generally accepted criteria of constitutional government.

This legal structure that Hungary has automatically creates a concentration of power.

So, what you have seen with Orbán is the direct consequence of this structure.

Now, the original sin was that after the fall of socialism, most of the other formerly socialist countries chucked out the Soviet-inspired, so-called Bukharinist constitution - Bukharin was Stalin's minister who wrote the Soviet constitution, which was then copied by the socialist countries – and wrote a new one. Hungary did not.

The Hungarian political elite of the time satisfied themselves with adjusting, amending, altering here and there the existing constitution, but the spirit of that constitution is a Bukharinist spirit: the concentration of power in a single hand.

I have researched that, I have written about it and at the time of the 2022 elections, I worked on a draft proposing how this could be changed.

One of the many people who was singularly uninterested in the subject was Klára Dobrev.

So, when she says that she wants to keep Hungary within the European Union, I'm sure she's honest about that, but there is a fundamental problem: the Hungarian legal system is unable to fit into the European legal and political system because the European system is essentially a democratic system that rides on the dispersion of political power, a la Alexis de Tocqueville, his theory of democracy in America and that stuff - whereas this system [leads to] the concentration [of power].

I believe that all political parties in Hungary, except Jobbik, largely due to my persuasion if I may say so, believe in the concentration of power, and Péter Magyar [the rising star in Hungarian politics] is no exception.

There is absolutely no indication that he or any of the other political forces is genuinely interested in what is a fundamental feature of a democratic society, which is that the power, the political power, is broadly distributed, and not concentrated, and there are certain areas of public life that cannot be invaded by political power.

These are two fundamental tenets that unless and until Hungary understands that and makes the appropriate steps in that direction [to counter it], Hungary is in grievous danger of finding itself outside the European Union.

Because you get these arguments about gay rights and children's right etc, and certainly those are important issues, but the friction between Hungary and the EU is unending, and it is unending because the fundamental legal and political structure simply doesn't fit into the EU.

Now, how to keep Hungary then in the EU under these circumstances? Well, one of the things I'd like to do is to make it clear to the EU leadership what the fundamental nature of the problem is, which, in my judgement, is not entirely clear to them.

They believe that with this kind of reform, reforming how judges are appointed, and so on, somehow this can be fixed up.

It can't be. It can't be because the fundamental spirit, the fundamental orientation of public law, which is what we're talking about, is about the concentration of power.

And … There is no constitution that I know of, certainly not among the 27 in Europe – except Hungary – which in heac verba explicitly provides that no referendum can be held on a constitutional issue.

So, the voting public, society, is expressly excluded under paragraph 4C of this so-called Fundamental Law, from any participation in the formation or reformation of the constitution of the country.

No one has such a provision in their laws.

And there are all kinds of other problems, but that is how I intend to work on keeping Hungary in the EU.

Now, it's a tricky one. It's a very tricky one. That, I think I can do with reasonable clarity, and I think Europeans will see that, I have some friends in the Union who are reasonably high up who understand this issue, but it needs to be explained more thoroughly.

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