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Hungary and EU Both Back Down, Crisis Averted

What seemed to be a collision in the making between Hungary and the EU has been averted as both sides climb down.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/2/2011, 8:21 PM / Last Update: 2/2/2011, 9:26 PM

 

One advantage of major crises like the Egyptian one is that they have a salutary effect on minor crises, accelerating either a settlement or at the very least, a creative fudge. Policy makers want to be able to focus on the important events. When Hungary took over the rotating European Union presidency, it appeared to be on a collision course with Brussels.  The differences were over both financial policy-given Hungary's rift with the IMF - and the new media law in Hungary that was portrayed as an attempt to create a subservient media.

Hungary gave as good as it got when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban castigated France and Germany, two European Union heavyweights, for what he called double standards. He called upon France to return "to the level of reality in rational discussion." He asked why Hungary was being considered regressive when the French president was empowered to appoint the head of French public television.

When a German minister suggested that Hungary should be disqualified from discussing media issues with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus, Hungary filed a diplomatic protest in Berlin. Hungary claims that its media laws are the same as in other European Union countries and therefore if Hungary is forced to amend them, other European Union countries should be required to do the same.

When he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Orban received a cold shower from some of the members of the European Parliament. He retorted that he was ready for a fight, but that the EU would be dmaged as well as Hungary.

Now both sides seem to have backed down. The EU has more immediate problems, notably the issue of sovereign debt, and a deal seems to be in the making for an enhanced rescue fund in return for greater economic coordination. A constitutional crisis may be developing with Britain over the implementation of European Human Rights Law that gives prisoners the right to vote – a right that has been traditionally withheld in Britain.

Hungary has also backed down. The Hungarian Justice Minister promised that the government is committed to having a media regulation which is "fully in line with the requirements of European Union law." Hungary sent a draft of the amendment and clarifications on the original legislation to the European Commission. By the time the ping pong between Hungary and the Commission is concluded, the Hungarian Presidency term will be over, making way for Poland.

Similarly, the government has promised to trim spending and slash the deficit, prompting favorable comments from the IMF. Perhaps the best indication that Hungary is being taken at its word fiscally is the performance of the Hungarian stock market and the national currency, the forint, that posted its best results against the Euro in over a year.

The EU has called the Hungarian economic plans a "welcome development and said: "we will first want to assess the foreseen measures before drawing any further conclusions," Here, as well, the Hungarian presidency term should run out before any conclusions are drawn and Hungary will be off the radar..