Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The week saw the alarming news that Hungary has been warned that it could be the first country in the EU to have its democracy placed under international scrutiny.

An influential committee of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog (not part of the EU), proposed that Hungary be subject to a “monitoring procedure” that would place the country’s democratic rights and liberties under international monitoring, something that has never happened in any of the EU’s 27 countries.

The final decision to push ahead with the scrutiny needs to be taken by the council’s parliamentary assembly which brings together lawmakers from the organisation’s 47 member states. Ten countries outside the EU but members of the council, including Russia and Turkey, are being monitored.

The “opinion” delivered by the council’s monitoring committee accused Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán of seeking to take control of independent institutions in Hungary, of using the constitutional rewriting to cement the power of his own political party, Fidesz, and of ignoring the country’s supreme court.

Budapest and Brussels have been at odds for months over curbs on freedom in Hungary, including restrictions on media expression, pressure on judges and control of the central bank. Orbán has consistently and robustly rejected the charges, with his government and diplomats mounting a loud and detailed campaign aimed at disproving the criticism,

A little closer to home, Nigel Farage was criticised this week for his reaction to the news that a UKIP candidate owns a strip club.

In an interview on Wednesday with BBC Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show, Farage, said it was nonsense that he had frequented and enjoyed lap-dancing clubs in the past but admitted going to one once unintentionally.

“I was taken once unwittingly and I did say that I wasn’t appalled by it,” he said. “I did quite like it. What you want me to say? I hated it?”

Asked whether his comment confirmed some assertions recently that he is anti women, he attempted to laugh it off. “That’s really rather silly,” he said. “I have to tell you, if I’d been anti-women, then the whole of my adult life would have been just that much simpler.”

These statements have been called in to question though, as Farage, in a 2009 interview with the Guardian said he had been to “lap-dancing clubs”, boasting that other leaders would not admit to it because “they’re living in this PC world and nobody must admit to being human”.


Britain’s Olympic Greats – Gillian Sheen

Labour Party

Gillian Sheen is the featured athlete in today’s instalment of the series on British women Olympians. She is the one Briton, man or woman, to have won an Olympic gold in fencing.  Despite this she remains one of the very few gold medalists not to have received an honour.

Gillian first took up the sport at North Foreland School in Kent and won the British Schoolgirls title in 1945, the British Junior Championship in 1947 and her first British senior title in 1949.  On leaving school, she went University College London to study dentistry.  Whilst there she won the British Universities title for five years and a gold medal at the World Universities Championship in 1951.

Gillian made her Olympic debut in 1952, but was eliminated in the second round.  But four years later at Melbourne 1956, she was the surprise winner of the gold medal. She edged into the final by defeating the world champion, Lídia Dömölky-Sákovics of Hungary, in a hard fought contest to decide the fourth place in her semi-final pool.

Given Gillian’s profession as a dentist, it was said in Melbourne that her flair in combat was due to the fact that the wrist action used in pulling teeth strengthened her hold on the foil.

Now 83 and living in upstate New York, Gillian has spoken of her disappointment of never receiving an honour.  It does seem rather a strange decision, but perhaps she can take some solace in the fact that the Dominican Republic have paid tribute to her by placing her on a stamp.

The EU must object to the lack of women in Hungarian politics under Orban

Labour Party

In Hungary, politics is a harsh world in which women don’t have the capacity or talent to enter the “boxing ring” and instead stand back and let the men do the fighting.

Or this is what one would think from reading an interview with Viktor Orban, populist and increasingly dictatorial leader of Hungary, in German Tabloid Bild last week.

Below is a rough translation of the section of the interview relating to women in Hungarian politics.

“Bild: This [nothing has changed] attitude also seems to be true for your opinion on women. It is only a short time since your government gained a female minister, responsible for development

Orban: … and 7 state secretaries!

Bild: That’s still not much!

Orban: I hardly think about women in terms of too much or too little. To me it’s about capacity and talent.Hungary’s politics is a harsh world, politics in general is. The fights in the political arena take up very few women. I’m happy about any who do enter politics. For example, the head of the statistical bureau, the judicial authority or the equality body. These things are done by women. But, most of them stay outside the boxing ring and rather let the men do the fight.”

Given the ever growing list of criticisms towards his Fidesz Government’s record on human rights, hearing his attitude towards gender equality and women’s rights is hardly surprising.

It is even less surprising when I recall Orban’s defence of Hungary’s new regressive constitution, brought in by his government at the start of the year, during his visit to the European Parliament last week.

The behaviour of Orban and his Fidesz government has led to the unusual step of the European Commission launching infringement proceedings against them.  The situation in Hungary is alarming to put it mildly.  This is the first time that there has been a genuine concern that a member state is going the way of authoritarian rule.  These comments in Bild show just how reactionary Orban is and they are very troubling coming from the mouth of a European leader. 

At a time when the Hungarian economy is in melt down and their currency is tanking at an alarming rate the government will be looking to the EU for help and support.  That support will be difficult to give if the Fidesz government continues with these constitutional reforms.  I will be watching with interest to hear what decisions have been reached following Orban’s visit to Brussels today.

For those of you who can read German, the enlightening interview can be read in full here.

Hungarian Premier Orban seeks to out-Putin Putin

Labour Party

The European Parliament Socialist and Democrat Group earlier today expressed extreme concern at the antics of the right-wing Fidesz governing Party in Hungary led by the populist and dictatorial Viktor Orban.

On 1 January a new prescriptive constitution entered into force in Hungary which will slash the powers of the judiciary, the central bank and the media. Orban has also gerrymandered parliamentary constituencies to keep his party in power and cemented loyalists in key positions for nine years.

You may be forgiven for wondering what this new constitution and governmental set-up offers that differs in practice from the Stalinist era one imposed in 1949 which it aims to replace.  It would appear that Orban is intent on out-Putining Putin, despite his impeccable credentials as a dissident hero in the 1989 revolution. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union activist, Szabolcs Hegi, is right when he says, “The constitution is an undemocratic law that came from an undemocratic legislative process.” And it gets worse, if that’s possible. Not content with decimating Hungary’s legal system, gagging its media and turning its government into a virtual dictatorship, Orban has also introduced a flat rate personal income tax.

He may have got away with this utterly regressive financial measure but for Hungary’s dire economic situation. As its economy falters, Hungary needs assistance from the International Monetary Fund in the form of its second bailout in four years. However, Christine Lagarde, the strong and determined head of the IMF, is not minded to grant such help while Hungary maintains the flat rate tax on income. She told CNN on Friday, “We’re not complacent. We don’t compromise.”

Meanwhile, last Monday 30,000 Hungarians protested against Orban and his government on the streets of Budapest and the incoming Danish presidency of the EU is facing pressure from its MPs at home to do something about Hungary. The European Commission is meeting in Copenhagen today and will discuss Hungary in some depth, although the Commission is not expected to come to a conclusion for a while yet.

It is, however, clear that the EU will not put up with a member state defying the acquis communautaire, the criteria required for a country to be admitted into the EU in the first place. Whatever its faults, the European Union is a bastion of democracy and the rule of law, and those of us elected to the European Parliament in the Socialist and Democrat Group will make sure the core values of the EU are consistently upheld by all member states.