Land issue a priority for parties running without programmes in Hungary’s EP elections

The 2014 European Parliament elections will take place between May 22 and 25 in European Union member states. This will be the third time Hungarian citizens have voted on whom they would like to see in one of the highest decision-making bodies of the European Union. In anticipation of this occasion, we have summarized the results of previous elections and examined the parties and their programmes in the running for 2014.

Foto: CreativeCommons/ Zsolt Halasi


Relatively high turnouts in a Visegrad comparison

Hungarian participation in the two previous EP elections lagged behind the historical average of 65-73% turnout for national parliamentary elections. In 2009, a total of 36.31% of the electorate voted, while in 2004 some 38.50% took part. These proportions are lower than the EU average (2004: 45.47%; 2009: 43%); however, compared to other Visegrad states, they are still outstanding, as in the Czech Republic (2004: 28.3%; 2009: 28.2%), Poland (2004: 20.87%; 2009: 24.53%) and Slovakia (2004: 16.97%; 2009: 19.64%) voter participation was much lower. The number of organizations registered to run in Hungary for the 2004 and 2009 EP elections were 16 and 29, respectively. However, both times there were only 8 listings displayed on the voting sheet. The situation is similar in 2014.

Distribution of mandates won at the EP elections so far:

2004

2009

Fidesz-KDNP

12*

14

MSZP

9

4

SZDSZ

2

MDF

1

1

Jobbik

3

* = Fidesz had an independent listing, with the support of KDNP.

The President of the Republic has announced that this year’s EP elections will take place on May 25th, 2014 in Hungary. Any registered party which able to collect twenty thousand valid recommendation signatures by April 22 could field a party list.

In the last EP elections, four party listings won EP mandates: the Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt, MSZP), The Right Choice for Hungary Movement (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom, Jobbik), the Hungarian Democratic Forum (Magyar Demokrata Fórum, MDF), and the joint listing of Fidesz Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz ‒ Magyar Polgári Szövetség) and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt, KDNP).

The EP elections this year have been pushed back due to the national elections. The most significant result of this scheduling change is that, prior to the parliamentary elections, only the Socialist Party had announced its list. This is because that party’s regulations declare that the party convention must approve nomination lists.

No programme from socialists running with new faces

The names on the Socialist Party’s list are basically new, illustrated by the fact that, out of their four MEPs in the 2009-2014 EP cycle, only MEP Zita Gurmai remains on the list, in fifth position. The party has not approved a separate programme for the EP elections; however, in their 2014 parliamentary election programme there were two pages allocated to foreign policy, including their ideas concerning the European Union. In the document, they confirm their commitment to the Euro-Atlantic partnership, as well as their support for EU integration and for Hungary’s inclusion in the euro area (Truth, Security, Welfare – MSZP’s offer for Hungary, pages 41-42). In various sections, the absorption of EU funds is also emphasized.

No programme from Fidesz, running with Hungarians from abroad

On the nominations list of the party with the highest number of mandates (14) in the 2009-2014 cycle, Fidesz-KDNP, many new names can be found. The first one is Ildikó Gálné Pelcz, a deputy chair of Fidesz. Several rumours have emerged concerning the candidates; for instance, certain press information claimed that former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi would run. However, this was later denied. In the meantime, the earlier information that Reformed Church pastor László Tőkés of Transylvania would be on the list has been verified. Tőkés has been a member of the European Parliament since Romania’s EU accession in 2007, where he was first an independent delegate, then a representative of the Hungarian Democratic Association of Romania (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség, RMDSZ). Now he is the third-ranking nominee on the joint Fidesz-KDNP list, delegated by the Hungarian Christian Democrats. Other Hungarians from Ukraine, Vojvodina and Slovakia have also been appointed to the list of Fidesz-KDNP, as the party association intends to provide representation to Hungarian communities outside the border.

The party has not published a programme for this year’s EP elections; therefore we have analysed the detailed 2009 programme, which is broken down into sector policies. In this we found several significant points of conflict with the party’s current governmental activities. One interesting contradiction is the party’s view on the introduction of the euro. Earlier, the party considered it important to introduce the euro as soon as possible (Yes, Hungary can do better, pages 168-175), whereas today they would rather postpone it. One sign of this intention is that the new constitution introduced in 2012 states that the currency of the state is the forint ‒ a stipulation that was not included in the previous Hungarian Constitution.

In its 2009 programme, the party claimed that one of the most important tasks was to support family farmers. However, once in power, they had several conflicts with local and family farmers who were not given new leases to the fields on which they had been farming for decades. One of the sharpest criticisms of the party’s agricultural policies came from former Fidesz parliamentary fraction member József Ángyán, the (now former) rural development state secretary, who summarised the phenomena in a 340-page report (the 5th land report), showing that local farmers suffered from anomalies in the nationwide land rent tenders.

Concerning Hungarian internal politics, there has lately been a lot of emphasis on the country’s relationship with Russia. The Fidesz programme for the last EP elections detailed severe conditions with respect to the good relationship with Russia; however, based on the foreign policy strategy called “East Opening”, the government has tied Hungary to Russia in several economic areas, including the Paks II project.

Land the key issue for anti-EU Jobbik

 Jobbik, representing a set of radical nationalistic values, burst onto the Hungarian political scene as a result of their achievements in the 2009 EP elections. The party is regarded as the only anti-EU force in Hungary. Due to its adverse feelings concerning the deepening of EU integration, it would initiate a referendum on whether Hungary should remain a member of the EU (We name it, we solve it – the programme of Jobbik for the parliamentary elections, page 80). They explain this by saying that, since the approval of the Lisbon Treaty, the community has gone in the direction of creating a supra-national state above nations, which is far from the “Europe of Nations” concept the radical party prefers.

For Jobbik, another significant issue in the campaign is land property, as part of the party’s voter base is made up of people from the Hungarian countryside who are affected by this issue. Jobbik claims Hungarian land must be prevented from being owned by foreigners (We name it, we solve it – the programme of Jobbik for the parliamentary elections, page 26).

Although discrimination is strongly present in its rhetoric, during the campaign the party tried to refrain from discriminative allegations. This is likely due to a recent push to establish an image by which they can become an alternative for moderate right voters disappointed in Fidesz. In the elections on May 25, the nominations list of the party will be led by well known MEP Krisztina Morvai, followed by Zoltán Balczó, deputy chair of the national parliament in the previous cycle, then Béla Kovács, Gábor Staudt and László Sipos. Another interesting nomination is Jacek Piotr Misztal from Poland, representing the radical nationalist Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), in 16th place. In exchange, Jobbik spokesperson Ádám Mirkóczki is a contender on the Polish movement’s nominations list.

Land also the priority for the Greens

For the environmentalist party Politics Can be Different (Lehet Más a Politika – LMP), which gained representation in the Hungarian Parliament for the first time in the 2010 elections, the EP election of that year was the first breakthrough. They received 2.8% of the vote, and with this they overtook the Liberals, who had several years of experience in Parliament and in government but have now disappeared. The head of the list for this year’s EP elections is a political scientist from Central European University. Tamás Meszerics, elected at the 27th party convention, is followed by biologist Katalin Csiba and economist László Heltai. They could realistically gain one seat or a maximum of two, according to polls.

LMP is the rare exception of a party that has come out with a separate EP programme. The place special emphasis on the question of land. In the party’s preference, arable land would be excluded from the principle of the four freedoms of the EU so that cheap prices compared to the European average should not lead to the land being procured by foreigners instead of local communities, whom the party regards as better owners than oligarchs (Comprehensive programme of LMP 2014, pages 38-39). The party criticises the present EU Common Agricultural Policy, as they believe it hinders sustainable development because it supports traditional mass production structures. Instead, the party would place a bigger emphasis on landscape management, thus enhancing the preservation of biodiversity (Comprehensive programme of LMP 2014, page 44).

An oversupply of liberal parties

A new contender is the Together – Dialogue for Hungary (Együtt PM) alliance, organized around the personality of one-time prime minister Gordon Bajnai, who led a former Socialist government (2009-2010). The party alliance announced its list for the EP elections relatively late, on April 17th. The head of the list is Gordon Bajnai, despite his earlier announcement that he did not wish to actually take a seat in the European Parliament. He is followed by Benedek Jávor, former green MP and Budapest metropolitan mayoral candidate. Third on the list is Zsuzsanna Szelényi, wife of a long-time business partner of Gordon Bajnai. Péter Balázs, Hungary’s first European Commissioner, responsible for regional matters for a short time in 2004, is also on the list. As Együtt-PM have not published a European election programme yet, we regarded their programme for the parliamentary elections as still in effect. In that document, they mostly detail the basic relations of citizens and community institutions. They plan to reinforce the Basic Rights Charter and the European Citizens’ Initiatives, to make the operation of institutions more transparent, and to adhere to “joint European values”. They are set to gain about a maximum of one seat, according to polls.

Another potentially significant force is hallmarked by a different former Socialist prime minister (2004-2009), Ferenc Gyurcsány. He leads the list of the Democratic Coalition (Demokratikus Koalíció), which split from the Socialists, but now considers itself a liberal party. Like Gordon Bajnai, Gyurcsány imagines a career as a politician in Hungary and therefore does not wish to be a representative in Brussels if elected. He is followed by Csaba Molnár, who was a minister in various posts in the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments. They are set to win one seat maximum.

The Democratic Coalition did not publish a separate EP election programme, and therefore we regard their programme approved at the party convention in 2013 as a point of reference. Based on that document, we can see that the party supports the concept of a United States of Europe, and believes that the consent of Hungarian citizens is a prerequisite for its realisation.

The former Democratic Forum, which now has a new name (Jólét és Szabadság Demokrata Közösség JESZ), failed to collect enough signatures to run with an independent list. Their 2009-2014 MEP, Lajos Bokros, has now established a new party under the name of Movement for a Modern Hungary (Modern Magyarországért Mozgalom (MOMA), which also failed to collect enough signatures.

Also running

A previously unknown organisation called The Homeland is Not for Sale also submitted the necessary number of recommendations. The central points of their programme are the question of foreign currency based loans and the restoration of the so-called historical Holy Crown Constitution. They would review the period between EU accession and the present, then hold a referendum on whether Hungary wishes to remain a member of the community. The leader of their list is Árpád Kásler.

Mária Seres, a contender at the head of the eponymous Seres Mária Alliance (SMS), was also the head of an earlier national referendum initiative on the settlement of MP cost reimbursements. According to the party’s official website, they have no separate programme for the May election. Because their programme for the national elections focused on domestic topics, we have very few ideas about their views on the European Union.

Lack of enthusiasm for European issues

In Hungary, as in most European Union countries, European Parliamentary elections are of only secondary importance for politicians, an attitude that is reinforced by the fact that they take place only six weeks after the national elections. Most parties published their list of candidates only following the national vote on April 6 and did not prepare a separate programme for the elections. In the EP campaign the main questions will probably be the future of the community, Hungary’s role in it, and the issue of arable land in Hungary. The results will probably be similar to the results of the parliamentary elections in April; however, there remains a possibility that changes may occur in the order of the lists, as Jobbik now has a chance to overtake the Socialists, since the liberal parties the latter were in coalition for the parliamentary elections are now running separately.

MEPs running again

In the previous parliamentary cycle (from 2009 to 2014), although the country had only 22 MEP places, a total of 26 MEPs worked in the European Parliament. Two of them (Pál Schmidt and János Áder) became presidents of the republic and Enikő Győri received a governmental appointment, while Zoltán Balczó chose to continue to work as an MP in the Hungarian Parliament. Mathematically, the number of MEPs who wish to run again for the elections is the highest. However, several (Erik Bánki, Béla Glattfelder, Ágnes Hankiss, Lívia Járóka (2006 and 2013 Member of the European Parliament of the Year award winner in the category of Justice and Fundamental Rights), Csaba Őry, and László Surján are in positions which preclude them from winning, as only 21 mandates can be won in the May elections, but they were placed after the 21st place on the list.

The head of the list of Fidesz-KDNP (Alliance of Young Democrats – Christian Democrat People’s Party) is Ildikó Gálné Pelcz, who mostly dealt with economic questions in the past cycle as a member of the Economic and Monetary Committee and deputy member of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. She criticised the European Union for its extensive bureaucracy and bad crisis management practices. On most questions she voted in accordance with the standpoint of her party. During the parliamentary cycle she made speeches on 398 occasions and submitted three reports as a rapporteur and four as a shadow rapporteur.

József Szájer, who has a significant number of scientific publications, worked as a member of the Constitutional Committee in the past cycle, and was also involved in the preparation of the Hungarian Base Law approved in 2012 as the chair of the drafting committee. In the European Parliament he always voted in accordance with the European People’s Party in constitutional and intra-institutional matters. Accordingly, he rejected the Tavares report affecting the political situation of Hungary, as did all the other members of his party except for Lívia Járóka, who was absent. In the past parliamentary period, Szájer held 213 speeches at plenary sessions and submitted seven reports as a rapporteur.

László Tőkés, who obtained an MEP position on behalf of Romania in the past cycle as a candidate of RMDSZ (the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania), was a member and board member of the parliamentary group of the European People’s Party. The Reformed Church minister was a member of the Cultural and Educational Committee and the Human Rights Sub-committee, spoke 26 times at plenary sessions, and submitted one opinion as a rapporteur. He was mostly active in speaking about national minority questions, which is not surprising given his status as a member of the ethnic minority in Romania. On these questions, he voted in accordance with the parliamentary group’s stance.

Tamás Deutsch, who in recent years has been known mostly for his strongly worded online tweets, was in the past parliamentary cycle the deputy chair of the Budgetary Control Committee, as well as a member of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee between the EU and Russia and the Regional Development Committee and a deputy member of the Delegation of Euronest in the Parliamentary Assembly, the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, the Employment and Welfare Committee and the Petition Committee. In his parliamentary work he spoke 271 times at plenary sessions, mostly on employment, economic and welfare questions, and submitted five reports as a rapporteur and 13 reports as a shadow rapporteur. Concerning voting, he was one of the least active MEPs; present at only 69.40% of the voting sessions, he ranked 683rd among MEPs.

András Gyürk generally deals with industrial and energy questions. He submitted a proposition on the future of the steel industry in the EU that was approved with a large majority. Gyürk has repeatedly talked about reducing Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia as an important aim in accordance with EU goals, but he supports the Paks expansion project implemented through a Russian loan and with Russian cooperation. At the plenary sessions of the European Parliament he spoke 111 times and submitted one report as a rapporteur and one as a shadow rapporteur. He was present at only 69.98% of the votes, which is relatively low.

Kinga Gál, who was born in Transylvania, used to work as deputy chair of the Citizen Rights, Internal Affairs and Justice Committee, and therefore generally dealt with questions concerning the issues of national minorities. In this respect, she criticised the European Union several times for, in her view, placing the issue of minorities at the discretion of individual nations. She stood up for the protection of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine when, following the coup, the parliament withdrew some of the rights of minorities. Together with the Hungarian MEP in Slovakia Edit Bauer, she wrote a letter to Basic Rights, Justice and Citizenship Commissioner Vivien Reding concerning the case of Hedvig Malina. During the past cycle she spoke 144 times in Parliament and submitted five reports each as a rapporteur and shadow rapporteur.

György Schöpflin worked as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as a deputy member of the Constitutional Committee and the Security and Defence Policy Committee between 2009 and 2014. He was mostly mentioned in the press due to his view, related to the Tavares report, that the European Union would like to place Hungary under custody. He was also much quoted when he said a referendum can only be held on moral questions, otherwise it moves institutional processes towards populism, while the institution of European citizens’ initiatives on a community level has moved the political institutional system towards increased citizen participation. Schöpflin was a member of the board of the parliamentary group of the EPP, and is responsible for the AGORA initiative of the European Parliament on behalf of the EPP.

On the list of the extreme right Jobbik party there are three nominees who were members of the European Parliament in the past parliamentary cycle: Zoltán Balczó, Béla Kovács and Krisztina Morvai. After 2009, Krisztina Morvai is again the head of the list of the national radical party, while in 2010 Béla Kovács replaced Zoltán Balczó, who won an MP seat in the Hungarian Parliament. The national radical party is against the “European trend” in many respects, one of the most current of which is their commitment to Russia in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as shown when they rejected the EP resolution and termed the referendum on Crimea, held under doubtful circumstances, legitimate. As in 2009, Krisztina Morvai is the head of the party list again, dealing mainly with citizen rights questions. She is, for instance, a deputy member of the Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities Committee and the Citizen Rights, Internal Affairs and Justice Committee. On other questions she also has radical views. She has said on various occasions that Hungary must oppose international big capital, yet she voted no on a proposition that would curb the tax evasion of multinational companies by imposing stronger regulations. She spoke 215 times at parliamentary sessions and submitted one report as a shadow rapporteur.

Béla Kovács would like to enter the EP on the Jobbik list again. Kovács is head of the Foreign Affairs Committee within the party and also deals with these questions in the European Parliament, mostly as they relate to the Russian region, as he is member of the EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan, EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and the delegation responsible for relations with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia, and a deputy member of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. On several questions he has expressed Russian-friendly views; as an international observer of the referendum on Crimea, he considered it free, clean and compliant with international norms. At the plenary sessions he spoke 161 times and submitted three reports as a rapporteur and two as a shadow rapporteur. Last December, Béla Kovács was elected chair of the Alliance of European National Movements, an organisation of extreme radical nationalist parties.

Zoltán Balczó, as mentioned earlier, only spent one year in the European Parliament, during which he spoke 35 times at plenary sessions. Although his party wishes to get rid of the label of discrimination, Balczó followed others of his party in not voting for the motion for resolution on the Second European Roma Summit, which was only rejected by extreme right MEPs.

The only person running again as a candidate in the Hungarian Socialist Party is Zita Gurmai. In the past parliamentary cycle she was deputy chair of the Constitutional Committee; a member of the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, the Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities Committee, the Joint Delegation of the ACP-EU in the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Delegation of Euronest in the Parliamentary Assembly; and a deputy member of the Transport and Tourism Committee. The European Parliament approved a resolution on simplifying the European Citizens’ Initiative procedure on the initiative of Zita Gurmai. In the past five years, Gurmai spoke 120 times at plenary sessions, mostly on issues concerning women’s rights and the Eastern Asian region. She mostly voted on these questions in accordance with her parliamentary group. She submitted four reports and one opinion as a rapporteur and one report and eight opinions as a shadow rapporteur.

Polls on the expected outcome

Based on the mandate estimate prepared in April, as well as opinion polls, Fidesz-KDNP will probably have the highest number of parliamentary seats in the EP. Based on the election results on April 6, PollWatch2014 had estimated that government parties would receive ten places, the opposition Socialist-Liberal Alliance five, Jobbik five and LMP (Greens, Politics Can Be Different) one. A weakness of this estimate is that the Socialist-Liberal alliance has dissolved since then, and since the members are contenders on different lists, their votes will be split, affecting the proportion of mandates significantly. Therefore, according to an estimate by the firm Political Capital, Fidesz-KDNP will receive eleven mandates, Jobbik five, the Socialist Party four, and the Greens (LMP) one.

András Bakó

András Bakó

is a researcher at idemagog.hu.