“Europe has no future without cooperation”
Ágnes Szalayné Pánczél is the only woman among the top ten of Jobbik’s list of EP candidates. A fluent speaker of several languages, she was actively involved in writing the party’s European parliamentary election programme. She identifies with the idea of a social Europe with Christian values and considers the fight against fake news as one of the key challenges in our modern world. Interview.
You are in the eighth place on Jobbik’s list of EP candidates this year but your name did ring familiar in politics until now. How did you end up among the top ten Jobbik candidates for the European Parliament?
I developed an interest in public affairs as early as in my student years. I come from a family where politics was a subject of discussion on a daily basis. As a university student back in 2014, I decided to join the political force that I found closest to my ideals. I applied for the Dunakeszi organization of Jobbik’s Youth Platform, which brought me close to foreign affairs issues since the Youth Platform’s foreign policy cabinet functioned very well and has been doing so ever since. From then on, my journey took me to Jobbik’s parliamentary internship programme, which allowed me to work alongside Márton Gyöngyösi in the party’s foreign policy cabinet. Since November 2017, I have been acting as the desk officer managing international media affairs and keeping contacts with diplomatic missions. I have also been assigned to EU matters and I was actively involved in writing Jobbik’s EP programme. This is how the idea was raised that I should run for a seat in the European Parliament as Jobbik’s candidate. Considering my work so far, I believe I could be a credible representative of Jobbik’s EP programme and promote the causes that the party identified for the European parliamentary elections on May 26.
Polls show that Jobbik may delegate three or perhaps four representatives to the next European Parliament. Were you dropped far below the top spots or the party wanted to meet some gender quota on the list of EP candidates?
I don’t think there’s any gender quota at play here. I speak multiple languages: English and French at an advanced level and I get by with my Norwegian, too. The reason why I was put on the list was because my auditions convinced the decision makers that I could be among the top ten candidates, which is a great recognition and honour for me.
We’ve seen many recent surveys showing that the majority of Hungarian MPs don’t have foreign language qualifications. Are you suggesting that the number of foreign languages spoken was considered as a priority for the ranking of candidates on Jobbik’s EP list?
It was definitely an important factor. Language skills are very important for anyone involved in foreign policy. One of the criteria for the auditions was that candidates should speak as many European languages as possible. Let me note that the holder of the sixth spot on our list, Koloman Brenner has German as his native tongue and he speaks English fluently, too. It’s a key long-term goal for Jobbik to join one of the European parliamentary groups but first we need to establish good contacts in the European Parliament. You need language skills for that.
The statements made by Jobbik’s politicians seem to suggest that you envision your party in the European People’s Party (EPP).
We’ll see how the composition of the new European Parliament turns out after May 26. We are definitely thinking along the lines of a pro-right, Christian Democratic group.
Jobbik presented its EP programme last December and your top EP candidate Márton Gyöngyösi said you aimed for a fair European Union that is based on Christian values as well as for a free, social and competitive Hungary. Which element of your programme do you consider the most important?
As I mentioned before, I was involved in writing our programme, I compiled and organized the summaries of the discussions and I created the programme’s core structure based on the issues raised in these discussions. The idea of a social Europe based on Christian values is the only way for our continent and it’s something I can fully identify with. My primary area that I am going to specifically focus on is the struggle against fake news.
In his article published in the Austrian media, sociologist István Teplán, who is often referred to as a Jobbik advisor, wrote that the creation of a European public media corporation could counterbalance the Orbán government’s fake news factory. Do we really need external help to fight against fake news?
It’s important to note that living in a democratic Europe and a democratic Hungary requires access to objective information, which we believe is a fundamental human right. This should specifically be laid out in an EU directive or guideline, or perhaps even as an amendment to the EU treaty. We need to use all available means to ensure that this fundamental human right is respected in the European Union, and the establishment of a European public media corporation could be one way to do it. I read István Teplán’s article in which he also pointed out that a European public media outlet could contribute to the reinforcement of the European identity, too. That’s an important goal as well. The struggle for the free media also has another aspect which is related to the municipal elections. In the city of Szombathely, where the opposition gained the majority in the council after the recent elections, their so-called zeroth resolution was to liberate the local media so now it allows opposition voices, too. Local media outlets are controlled by the municipalities so their content depends on the local government.
The three classic branches of power have already been gobbled up by Fidesz and now it’s devouring the fourth branch; the media, too. So local or national efforts are indeed important but the European Union must also have a real say if any of the member states fail to provide the conditions for objective information.
You recently participated in a conference on European autonomy efforts. The event was attended by German and Italian experts from South Tyrol and was followed by several embassies, too. The Hungarian governing parties failed to show up and most of the opposition parties ignored it, too. Is there really no chance for any non-partisan compromise on a national minimum, at least in the matter of the Hungarian communities living beyond our borders?
As far as rhetoric goes, all parties support the idea of autonomy but it is still a major challenge, just as Márton Gyöngyösi explained in the conference, that many people don’t really understand the concept of self-governance and they often label it as revisionism. Clearly enough however, border revision is not a realistic option in a 21st-century Europe.
Let me mention our EP programme, which lays great emphasis on granting autonomy for national minorities. Europe has many good examples of autonomy, such as the one in South Tyrol. It’s high time we adapted these functional Western European models to the situation of the national minorities living in Eastern Central Europe, too. Autonomy is a realistic option but Hungarian diplomats have not been very active in promoting this solution.
For many years, the government has been monopolizing the migration issue in Hungary’s domestic political discourse. Is there anything new or different you could represent with credibility on this matter?
If you look at it in a European context, the Hungarian government is very far from any credibility on this issue. Just a few years ago, Viktor Orbán was, quite rightfully, banging the table in Europe for reinforcing the EU’s border protection and reinforcing Frontex. While the whole of Europe has accepted this initiative by now, he’s attacking it today, saying that “Brussels” would deploy foreign armed forces to Hungary’s borders and these soldiers would be under EU command. It’s very far from the truth. I am aware of Fidesz’ overwhelming dominance in the Hungarian media and I know that’s the reason why the idea of Fidesz stopping migration is all over the news: it’s because their entire communication is based on the migration issue. On the other hand, what we need to do is to get our truly credible opinion through to the people and promote the concept of reinforcing European border protection and, yes, we need to set up a special Hungarian border guard service.
You speak several languages; didn’t it cross your mind to find a job abroad as a young college graduate?
To be honest, I started working as a foreign policy specialist in Jobbik right in the middle of my college years when most young people consider this idea, so it did not. But I do understand and feel for the many other young professionals who decide to move abroad.
Many young people envision their future abroad, typically in one of the Western European countries. How could we keep them in Hungary?
If Hungary maintains this current economic policy of keeping wages low to provide cheap labour for assembly plants, we will not be able to keep our qualified young professionals at home because they can make multiple times more in Western Europe than here. This is a complex matter which has social, geographical and economic aspects, too. Jobbik’s earlier initiative for a European wage union is still relevant and is a part of our EP programme.
The Democratic Coalition Party held its European parliamentary campaign launch event last weekend. The party’s top EP candidate Klára Dobrev said that the upcoming years were going to bring such challenges that no country can meet on its own. Jobbik’s EP election programme contains the same reference. Does Jobbik go hand in glove with Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition?
Not at all, but everybody must realize that we are facing such global challenges in the 21st century which neither Hungary nor, let’s say, Portugal or even Germany can truly handle on their own. Let me give you a simple example: climate change is not interested in national borders.
It’s great if all member states have their own strategies, too, but if you think on a global level, you can’t afford to fail in reaching a consensus among European countries in issues like this. Of course, we know that the Democratic Coalition clearly stands for the United States of Europe concept, which we disagree with. On the other hand, we have to remember that you can’t do it alone; Europe has no future without cooperation.
Now that you mention it: the Hungarian opposition parties rejected the idea of a joint list of EP candidates but can you imagine a cooperation of the opposition in the new European Parliament?
In specific issues, I can. The Hungarian opposition tries to point out the problems caused by Fidesz’ excessive power and I believe it’s important for us to voice our concerns in the European Union about how things go in Hungary and how the rule of law is being undermined here. Also, we can cooperate with other opposition parties on such specific professional matters as the climate change, for example. I don’t think we would have major disputes with, for instance, Politics Can Be Different on the need to address the climate change issue at a European level.
Tamás Nótin - Alfahír.hu - Jobbik.com