Interview with Jobbik MEP Márton Gyöngyösi
Congratulations on becoming a MEP after working 9 years as an MP in the Hungarian Parliament! What’s the atmosphere like in Brussels? What differences have you experienced between the Hungarian and the European Parliament so far?
Unfortunately, Hungarian parliamentarism has become completely empty in recent years as Fidesz, with its two-thirds majority, feels entitled to ignore the various discussion forums entirely. This is a move in a very bad direction because half of the country has an opposition stance, regardless of the electoral system.
The European Union is undergoing formative times right now. Citizens clearly expect a change of direction. The time has come to truly implement the generally accepted slogan that Europe should be brought closer to the people. However, this also means that Europe needs more democracy and backroom deals should no longer be made. That’s why I’m so frustrated to see certain politicians ignoring the lead candidate system or party affiliations overriding expertise when committee memberships are determined.
On the other hand, I believe that European politics will gain significantly more weight in the upcoming years. At critical times like these, it is especially unfortunate that the Hungarian governing party is increasingly isolating itself and Hungary as well. I want to demonstrate that there is a civic and democratic centre-right in Hungary, too.
What were the most important moments during your service in the Hungarian Parliament?
As a Hungarian MP, I have always done my best to call the public’s attention to the increasingly grave social gaps and tried to find solutions for them together with my fellow MPs. That’s why we launched the initiative for a European Wage Union. I’d also like to point out that Jobbik, as the largest parliamentary opposition group, stood up against the slavery act as well as several other anti-democratic measures so typical of the Fidesz government.
Jobbik has been in the European Parliament for 10 years. What have been your party’s greatest achievements so far? What would you carry on with and what would you change?
Jobbik is the only party to offer a centre-right, conservative, Christian-Social alternative to Fidesz’ exercise of power which has been centre-right in its words but rather Bolshevik in its deeds. We believe the Wage Union initiative was a great achievement as we gathered the support of several allies despite the headwind generated by the Hungarian government. Jobbik is a patriotic, conservative, social and democratic party. That’s the concept I want to carry on with.
Besides that, I also want to make our European parliamentary work more visible and more palpable for Hungarian voters. European politics in general and the European Parliament in particular have an increasingly important role in our lives. Unfortunately, the Hungarian government employs whatever means it can to prevent Hungarian citizens from getting an insight into this work. Therefore, as an opposition MEP, I will need to use all the available tools to involve the people in European politics. There’s a third sad thing, too: since Orbán’s growing dictatorship is now curbing MPs’ rights and undermines the functioning of entire political parties, the only politicians still immune to Fidesz’ omnipresent network and machinations are the Members of the European Parliament.
At the moment you are working in Brussels on your own as a non-attached MEP. What are your short and mid-term plans?
I am indeed a non-attached Member in the European Parliament but I don’t feel being on my own at all. I have been in cooperation with several MEPs on certain issues in the past few weeks and I think our joint efforts may lead to a common parliamentary group as well. Jobbik’s goal is to offer a centre-right, conservative alternative to Fidesz’ dictatorial exercise of power, as a significant part of Hungary is conservative.
And what are your long-term plans? Do you have some agenda items that you want to implement by 2024? What are your ambitions in Brussels?
Democracy, solidarity, social justice and Christian values. That’s what I want to represent.
What committees are you going to work in and what are your primary goals there?
I will be involved in the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on International Trade. This is a great achievement for me because many MEPs, who are already members of certain party families have only been given seats in committees with much lower prestige and, last but not least, influence.
The Committee on Foreign Affairs is especially important for us in Hungary because we border on non-EU countries which nevertheless have close EU relations and their ultimate accession, albeit distant, is constantly on the agenda. These are the areas where I want to represent the Hungarian view on Eastern Europe or the Balkans.
There’s an intense debate among member states, political parties and the Parliament on who should be the next President of the European Commission. How did you experience this process from inside? What could Ursula von der Leyen’s potential presidency bring for Hungary?
I was disappointed to see how European heads of state backtracked on the Spitzenkandidat (”lead candidate”) system. If we talk about bringing Europe closer to the people, we should truly involve European people in the decisions. Backroom deals are just the polar opposite of that. Ursula von der Leyen might possibly become suitable as Commission President, or she might not. However, the principle of Europe being a servant of the people rather than an elitist formation, has just failed. On the whole, although I do not support Ursula von der Leyen’s candidacy, I still hope that she will be able to conduct a successful work, since that’s a common interest for all of us.
As far as Hungary is concerned, we have no reason to be optimistic, unfortunately: in Europe, Viktor Orbán is a despised and isolated leader whose irresponsible actions are likely to drift Hungary into an increasingly difficult situation. Eventually, we might even run the risk of him distancing Hungary from the European Union on account of his own personal resentment. I hope it will never happen and I will do my best to prevent it, but you can’t exclude the possibility.
The European Parliament is often unduly considered as a place for sidelined politicians. How do you view this assignment? Do you have ideas how a MEP could become an important political player in Hungary?
As I said, the Hungarian Parliament has become almost completely useless during Fidesz’ reign: even though the opposition parties still sit there and they do an excellent job as professionals, the governing party’s two-thirds majority considers them as enemies and operates Hungary as a single-party dictatorship instead. Unfortunately, the situation has become even more grave now when state authorities are openly taking action against opposition parties and politicians. We, Hungarian opposition MEPs are still privileged in the sense that we are immune to the machinations of Orbán’s regime. It’s up to us what we can make of this opportunity.
Back to the first half of your question: the European political arena is increasingly important and there are fewer and fewer of these “sidelined” politicians, fortunately.
You’ve been running joint campaigns with Momentum’s MEP Katalin Cseh. Do you think you will keep up a close cooperation in the EP as well?
Although we disagree on several issues, I think it’s important for Hungarian opposition MEPs to sit down at the same table and coordinate their efforts in key matters. This is not a question of political sympathy, it’s a must.
Did the EP elections cause a crisis in Jobbik? Do you think there’s a way out?
You’re never happy to see a bad result so I was somewhat disappointed on May 26, too. However, there’s no feeling of crisis and rightfully so. We’ve been through a very difficult year, the leader who helped us achieve our best results has gone, we suffered under giga-fines from the state and we had to endure ignoble smear campaigns, too. However, the number of Jobbik members is growing, new local organizations are formed one after the other. Of course, we will need to learn our lessons from the EP election and correct our mistakes. We have already started this process.
Let’s put political issues aside for a while and tell us about your private life. Will your family follow you to Brussels? Where will you live? Have you set up your residence yet?
They are going to follow me. Right now we’re looking for a school for my 11-year-old son who will start the year here in September. We found a flat in a quiet suburban area a bit farther out from the centre. I’m happy about that because I’ve always considered myself as a provincial man who finds great comfort in nature, even though my work tied me to Budapest and now to Brussels.
Living in a different country, what sights are you planning to see in your spare time?
Between moving to Brussels and my parliamentary work, I’ve had little time to discover Belgium but I will likely have a chance to do so in the upcoming years. The Belgian coast is a bit chilly for my taste but I would love to visit the historical cities, such as Gent and Brugge, for example.
How about gastronomy? Are Brussels and Strasbourg completely different from Budapest? Do you have any local favourites yet?
I’m not quite familiar with the Belgian cuisine yet, that’s something I still need to discover. Also, my stomach is used to Plzen type beers so I will have to adapt to Belgian beers as well. However, I did spend considerable time in Strasbourg recently so I have a great favourite there: it’s kind of a local pizza called tarte flambée. I love Alsace white wines and the champagne called crémant d’Alsace, too. Due to the German influence, local beers are great there as well.
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