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Editorial: Respect demanded but unearned

From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: Hungary’s freshly reelected governing party is taking on the campaign for the upcoming European Parliamentary elections at the end of the month, with a simple, albeit somewhat dubious message: Let’s tell Brussels to show Hungary some respect!

From a political perspective, we shouldn’t be surprised by the approach. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ as the saying goes, and the notion of an embattled nation, besieged from all sides by the European Union’s bureaucracy and international financial interests has yielded convincing results for the government. If there was ever any doubt about that, Fidesz now has another two-thirds parliamentary majority.

But back in the real world, let’s have a closer look at this demand: give us respect as opposed to ... what exactly? What is the nature of the pain and disgrace that apparently every Hungarian feels – or at last should be feeling – thanks to our having joined the European community.

The simple fact is Hungary has only benefitted from its EU membership. Most notably, the country would basically have been unable to build anything without funding from Brussels. All the projects we now enjoy in Budapest, like the fourth metro line, or the square in front of parliament, or the semi-complete no. 1 tram line, would and could never have been realized from the country’s own resources.

As if to underline the duplicity of the political message, while the streets are littered with posters recycled from the general election, a government official is talking about spending yet another HUF 100 billion in EU funds on developing education. It is a worthy goal, of course, but note where the money is coming from. Again.

Hungary has received treatment that has been as fair and respectful as any member state can expect. True, it has had plenty of disputes and has received plenty of pressure in recent years, but these were hardly unprovoked. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if a country that blatantly ignores initial polite requests not to act against the community’s law (whether it is reshuffling the central bank, or the justice system, or turning the constitutional structure upside down), and actually makes a point of showboating its maverick status, eventually ends up losing goodwill.

This attitude, all too prevalent in the recent past, has turned Hungary into the annoying friend who plunders the fridge when visiting, while all the time unwilling to observe even the least significant house rule, like taking off your shoes at the front door.