#TheFutureIsYours Transversal and cross-cutting issues
European Solidarity and COVID Recovery: Hungary and the Czech Republic
The debate on the future of Europe has gained a new momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related recovery measures adopted by the EU. The pandemic has culminated in different attitudes towards the concept of solidarity in Hungary and the Czech Republic: how do these attitudes differ, and why do they differ?
On Thursday September 16 at 10:00 CET, TEPSA will join with its Member Institute from Hungary, the Institute of World Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies (IWE CERS) to explore these questions and more in the framework of the upcoming publication of TEPSA’s new book Solidarity in Action and the Future of Europe: Views from the Capitals.
Hungary has been at the forefront of internal divisions within the EU for years. With the Orbán administration at the helm, anti-EU rhetoric rests at the heart of the Hungarian government’s approach to EU policy, both at home and in Brussels. Despite this, all major opposition parties support further EU integration and are generally trusting of the European Union. In this context, European solidarity in the wake of COVID-19 has become something of a political hot potato.
In the Czech Republic, together with “rule of law” or “EU values”, the concept of European solidarity has come to be seen as part of the moralizing rhetoric of the “old” elites in the EU. Thus, the concept is becoming a tool of division, a predominantly negative notion.
Can European solidarity help to tip the scales away from Euroscepticism, or even move them in favour of building a stronger, more integrated Union?
Event reportOn 16 September 2021 the Institute of World Economics (IWE), CERS together with TEPSA organised a presentation of the book: European Solidarity in Action and the Future of Europe. The Czech and Hungarian chapters were the main focus. The Czech contribution was written by Zdenek Sychra, assistant professor at the University of West Bohemia, Department of Politics and International Relations and Petr Kratochvíl from the Institute of International Relations Prague. The Hungarian part was written by Andras Inotai, Andrea Éltető, and Norbert Szijártó from IWE. The event had a special guest also from Hungary: András Bíró-Nagy who is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Political Science, Centre for Social Sciences. He is also a Director and Co-Founder of Policy Solutions Institute. He worked at the European Commission as political adviser to the Hungarian EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs. Zdenek Sychra began the row of presentations. He pointed out that many Czechs are Eurosceptic as it is shown by the polls of Eurobarometer. Solidarity is not seen just as a tool to push EU integration further, but as an obstacle to certain issues in Czech-EU politics. The reallocation of refugees was seen not as a moral responsibility but an imposition from the EU elites. Solidarity is perceived as a threat to national sovereignty. During the pandemic the role of the EU was belittled and accused of being incapable of effective action. There is a persistent Czech narrative of exceptionalism: a prevailing feeling that Czechs do not need help from others, and thus that others should expect no help from the Czechs. Czech politics does not define clearly the common benefit of the EU as a whole. There is no debate on the Czech vision of EU integration. Solidarity is often perceived by many Czechs negatively as a left-wing concept. Zdenek Sychra concluded that a change in Czech politics could turn solidarity into a positive issue, and added that in October parliamentary elections are due. Turning to Hungary, Andrea Éltető illustrated the anti-Brussels propaganda of the government and showed the official Hungarian legal bulletin that published a resolution condemning the EU commission to “stab Poland at the back” with asking for financial penalty. Standing by Poland is a kind of solidarity with those who intend to break the rules of a club. András Inotai emphasized that solidarity has to be a win-win scenario. Some countries are anti-EU and some try to undermine the EU from the inside. They do this for short-sighted self-interest. About 80% of the wider society sees the EU as the only future for Hungary, despite the government's stance, and not only because of the received financial support, but because they see the EU as an 'upgrade' for Hungary. The citizens' trust in the EU Institutions is much higher than their trust in the national system. Concerning Covid, Hungarian government had its own way of vaccination – with Russian and less effective but more expensive Chinese vaccines ignoring EU’s recommendations. Professor Inotai spoke about the external solidarity too, the declarations of EU regarding China, Africa, Belorussia were vetoed only by Hungary. The Hungarian leadership used to support the immediate integration of Western Balkan countries into the EU; but this would create additional resistance to accession - these countries should avoid such alliances – he added. Norbert Szijártó analysed the financial aid for recovery from the Covid waves. The first pandemic wave did not have serious impact on Hungary's expenditure, but the second phase induced a much more extensive expenditure package to support Hungarians. The Economic protection Plan of the government supported several infrastructure projects not especially for those really hit by the pandemic. The government continuously blamed the EU for not providing any financial support. The Hungarian plan for the Recovery Grant was not accepted by the Commission and Hungary did not accept the credit branch of the NGEU package, but later indebted at a value of 4,25 bn USD on international markets instead (with worse conditions). András Bíró-Nagy analysed solidarity in terms of how the EU Member States respect common rules. Between 2004 and 2018 comparing the pro- and anti-EU governments in Hungary: in the aggregate numbers, a similar proportion of new laws of European origin were passed. It would seem like Hungary has completely stopped its Europeanisation, but the data show that beyond these headlines there are hundreds of laws, decrees where the EU had an impact. Having analysed the implementation of country-specific EU recommendations and infringement cases Poland seems to be a much bigger problem than Hungary – although the latter country’s anti-EU rhetoric is stronger. Following the intervention of Mr Bíró-Nagy the floor was given to Andras Inotai, who thanked each speaker for their intervention and the participants for their questions and finally concluded the event.
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