Conference Report: ‘Hungary and the European Union after the European Parliamentary Elections’

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Short report about the conference ‘Hungary and the European Union after the European parliamentary elections’ of Republikon Foundation for Science, Education and Research supported by Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit

Hungary and the European Union after the European parliamentary elections’, a conference organized by Republikon Foundation with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation, was held on June 11, 2014 in Budapest. The event was part of the Foundation’s project Lessons learned from EP elections 2014’.

After a brief introduction speech given by Gábor Horn, the chairman of the board of Republikon Foundation, Hungarian politicians having experience in European institutions presented their views on the opportunities and challenges of the European Union and Hungary after the EP elections: Mátyás Eörsi, the former president of the liberal fraction of Council of Europe, László Kovács, the former foreign minister of Hungary, the former EU commissioner and Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a member of Hungarian Parliament of Együtt-PM, the former officer of the European Council, participated in the discussion moderated by Ádám Lukács Petri, a liberal intellectual and freelance journalist.

Answering to the first question about the possible reasons of the low turnout of the EP elections, the speakers agreed that the EU could not successfully communicate the real stake and importance of the elections. Zsuzsanna Szelényi regreted that the EU could not change its paradigm, László Kovács especially missed lack of emphasizing the long term benefits of the EU in the EP campaing, while Mátyás Eörsi pointed out that the election results finally drew the attention to the real problems of the European community: economic difficulties and unemployment, which have helped the rising of euroskeptic and radical parties. He claimed that  the EU can not ignore the emotions of people, because if it does, the radical parties will continue to gain more and more support by building on these emotions.

Zsuzsanna Szelényi argued with this causality (mentioning the example of economically successful countries where these radical and eurskeptic parties also win bigger support), and stated that the EU must find ways to talk about its crisis outside the context of fear and the simplified answers of radicals to the problems.

According to László Kovács we must pay attention to the growing support of euroskeptic parties, and in his view the EU could use the rational, skeptic voices from within to find better answers for itself.

All of the participants agreed that the EU must communicate the success of the integration much more effectively, in a way which is closer to the citizens. However, the speakers suggested different solutions to the possible ways of developing the European integration: Zsuzsanna Szelényi underlined the importance of the discussion of symbolic questions, Mátyás Eörsi thinksthat European political parties should directly run for the seats of the Parliament, which could give a much more important role of the EP elections in each country, while according to László Kovács the main aim of the EU should be the deepening of the integration.

In the second panel, Hungarian researchers and analysts shared their findings and opinions considering the results of the EP elections in Hungary, with special regard to its consequences to Hungarian politics.

Tibor Závecz, the director of pollster company Ipsos Zrt. talked about the general unconcern of the citizens after the national elections of Hungary in April. He emphasized a unique phenomenon: intention of voting was even lower in the end of the EP campaing than it was in the beginning. This is also connected to the actual political situation oh Hungary, but also says a lot about the (lacking) European dimension of the EP elections in Hungary.

Roland Reiner reviewed the findings of Republikon Institute based on the results of the EP elections. He mentioned that the turnout of the voters was the lowest in the history of free and democratic Hungarian elections, but also underlined that this result still was a bit better than the regional average. According to him the relatively high turnout in Budapest is another important factor, especially in the context of the weak performance of radically euroskeptic party, Jobbik in the capital.

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, a leading analyst of Nézőpont Institute presented the newest opinion poll of theirs, of which results show a different picture than the EP elections regarding the support of Hungarian political parties – again, because of the low voter turnout.

Zoltán Lakner an analyst of Eötvös Loránd Science University thinks that the results of the EP elections show the need for real and more honest political discussion in order to develop Hungary’s situation, but this presumes a serious intellectual rejuvenation. 

The conference attracted an audience of more than 100 people (representatives of political parties, fellow colleagues of other think thanks, university teachers and students, young and elderly intellectuals), who actively participated in the discussion. Their questions mainly concerned the challenge of preserving the role of the bulwark of freedom for the EU and the lacking or failing intention of Hungarian political parties to involve young citizens, especially into issues with a European dimension.

 

Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom