Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Opinion

Bashing each other takes us nowhere

  • 'Hungary-bashing is not the only such kind of sport in the European Union' (Photo: ANA BELÉN CANTERO PAZ)

I have read with interest the fears about fading democracy in Hungary as they are mirrored in the international press, among them EUobserver.

As a Hungarian economist, who has spent some years in the European Parliament, I can perfectly understand the anxiety of guardians of democracy.

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However, I think these anxieties are extremely exaggerated, usually echoing the opinions of the current opposition parties forgetting the old wisdom of the Romans: audiatur et altera pars.

One of the most common accusations is about media freedom.

Unfortunately, few people outside Hungary can understand the language, and were able to follow the opinions expressed in such stations as Klubradio, or ATV, or read such newspapers like the daily Nepszabadsag, or Nepszava where ample criticism on government policy can be found.

Another accusation is that there is growing anti-Semitism in Hungary.

But it is not easy to measure the level of anti-Semitism. I have never read a paper on this topic – concerning any country in Europe – which does not say that anti-Semitism is growing.

There is something concrete that can be measured.

It is the development of Jewish cultural life in Hungary, especially the Jewish Summer Festival. Pay a visit to their homepage and you are invited and welcomed in Hungary to have your own experience.

A third criticism regarding Hungary is about Roma people.

Life for most of them is really miserable due to change in the political system as all the industries where they were employed (heavy industries, construction) collapsed. Within four years, 1.5 million jobs, one third of the total, disappeared, and Roma people were hit the hardest. Indeed, it is one of the most important tasks of any Hungarian government to create jobs for Roma people.

I do not want to say that everything is OK in my country, but as I know from experience of other countries, we are not so very different. And here is an important point: if the majority of Hungarians do not like what the government does, they have the possibility to replace it.

Unfortunately, if Europeans do not like what the European government - the European Commission - does, they do not have any possibility to replace it. So, where is democracy in jeopardy?

Not only Hungary

If the story were only about Hungary, I would say that for some reasons others do not like us. However Hungary-bashing is not the only such kind of sport in the Union.

As the European economy touches the bottom, negative stereotyping about each other, or picking over historical grievances, is becoming more frequent in the speeches of politicians and, consequently, in the European press.

Greeks are lazy, crooks, liars or untrustworthy – as can be often read in German press persuading the readers that Greeks deserve the harsh economic measures forced upon them.

Countries in financial troubles are called “Pigs” (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). Southern countries are often portrayed as being profligate, living beyond their means, working too little, and seeking financial help from others.

In exchange, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is drawn with a Hitler moustache and Berlin is accused of having hegemonic ambitions.

Stereotypes

But popular stereotypes are often wrong.

Let’s take a glimpse – for instance – at the yearly working hours from OECD statistics: Greece 2,017 hours, Italy 1,778 hours, Portugal 1,714, Spain 1,674 and Germany 1,408 hours. Who is lazy?

Or let’s have a look at long-term GDP growth. The developments of all the Pigs was very dynamic, without great imbalances, in the 1950-1973 period (as was the case in other west and east European countries).

After the oil price explosion, their growth rate decreased, but development was above average until the 2000’s when they accrued both foreign and domestic debt.

Is it credible that these Pigs were hard working and disciplined for decades, and suddenly became lazy and profligate?

To avoid member states running into debt, the original Treaty of Rome (1957) devotes one chapter (Part Three, Title II, Chapter 2) to the foreign balance (balance of payments) of the members of the then European Community.

Member states with a surplus should help deficit countries by increasing their imports.

All these recommendations were thrown out and replaced with the excessive deficit procedure by the Maastricht Treaty, paving the way for unlimited foreign indebtedness.

Today, in EU commission papers there is no reference to the balance of payments (see for instance the country specific recommendations of 2013) and this is the root of the current economic problems, which ignites national conflicts and stereotypes.

Dismissing the equilibrium requirement for balance of payments, accompanied by the deregulation of the financial sector and introducing a common currency among countries of very different economic strength are the real reasons for the crisis.

Until Germany pursues a surplus of some €160 billion in its yearly foreign trade, getting out the crisis is an illusion.

What is happening now is not an integration, not an “ever closer union,” but an ever-divided union with an ever-more-concentrated power without social responsibility.

Instead of bashing each other, we should turn back to the vision of the founding fathers and the Treaty of Rome, and reconsider what integration really means.

The writer is a Hungarian economist who used to work for the Independence/Democracy Group in the European Parliament

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