And so the Bacardi bruiser changes his mind, and steps back into the ring for another pop at Orbán Viktor and Hungary. Manfred Weber knows nothing of patience, and his self-control is on a hair-trigger.
Weber is an MEP, and has been since 2004. Viktor Orbán, on the other hand is an MP, and Prime Minister of Hungary. Orbán has been a member of the Hungarian parliament since 1990.
Weber’s problem lies in the fact that he overestimates his own worth. As an MEP, Weber arguably has a far easier time of it than a prominent national politician or prime minister.
Weber, as a prominent, powerful man in the EU, sits in the middle of a bureaucratic behemoth in Brussels, far away from the realities of life. Unfortunately, being as far as he is from the knock and tumble of national politics, his skin has grown ever thinner, and he’s a man who knows how to hold a grudge.
The grudge in question goes back to 2019 when Weber failed in his attempt to be elected President of the European Commission when Jean-Claude Juncker finally succumbed to the attractions of life which lie outside the Commission: presumably alcohol.
Weber, prior to 2019 had shown a bit of a mixed bag of opinions when it came to Hungary. In 2013, he dismissed the LIBE (European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs) Committee’s report (the Tavares Report) which criticised the erosion of fundamental rights in Hungary, as a politically motivated attack on the Hungarian government by the Left. By 2018, he’d apparently changed his view: in September 2018 he approved the Sargentini Report which triggered the Article 7 procedure against Hungary (Sargentini’s report was just as much of a witch-hunt device as the Tavares report).
Weber decided once and for all that he couldn’t stand Orbán in 2019 when he failed in his attempt to be elected to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the Commission. Convinced that he was a shoo-in, especially after Donald Tusk, European Council President tipped him for the top job, he nonetheless withdrew his nomination when it became clear that he didn’t have snowball’s chance in Hell.
“There were backroom talks and late-night sessions in which the Macron and Orbán axis prevailed and the Spitzenkandidat system was dismantled…”
Macron was, in fact, perhaps Weber’s biggest critic, stating that Weber was lacking in “experience” and “credibility”. Weber himself was bewildered by Macron’s attacks alongside Orbán, not expecting this behaviour from a man whose very election campaigns were directed against Orbán.
Whatever caused Macron to see sense and work with Orbán in order to thwart Weber’s ambitions, we know what inspired the Hungarians to withdraw their support for Weber as ‘Spitzenkandidat’…that’s easy: Weber stabbed the Hungarians in the back.
In 2019, the Hungarian prime minister had assured Weber of his support for Weber’s bid to become president of the European Commission. Two days after this declaration of support, Weber publicly stated that he did not want to win office with the support of Hungarians. If that was what it took for him to win, then he would prefer to lose. He declared that he would refuse to become president if it required ‘populist’ Fidesz votes to get him there.
Anyway, the bad blood dates from that break-up. Orbán, as we have come to expect, cut straight to the heart of the matter: pointing out that Weber wasn’t insulting him. Even if Weber had been targeting Orbán, the prime minister pointed out that after many long years in politics he’s developed the skin of a rhinoceros. In passing, I’d just like to note that the same cannot be said of Weber.
As the Hungarian prime minister pointed out, Weber with his ill-mannered comments was insulting the people of Hungary, the people who support Fidesz, the majority of Hungarians. That is beyond the pale. It’s one thing to attack political opponents, quite another to attack the citizens of a member state. Presumably Weber rued his words at the time, slinking away in a huff, as he did, but as we can see he’s bounced back and has decided to attack the Hungarian prime minister again.
Orbán responded to the accusations. Accusations that didn’t have to be made. Weber deliberately sought to attack Hungary, presumably because as a top-EU official, he’s got little else to do other than scan the horizon looking for people to attack: Hungary, Great Britain, and so on, and so forth.
But, having been attacked, Orbán was obliged to respond, pointing out the ridiculousness of the accusation. The policies Hungary has implemented in the past ten years brought unemployment down from 12% when Fidesz were elected in 2010, to below 4% prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Similarly, as a result of the policies that Weber considers to be ‘on the wrong track’, our state debt, in turn, was brought down from 84% to below 66%. Surely those figures speak for themselves. As if that weren’t enough,
the minimum wage has doubled and the average wage has almost doubled. Households now have three times the financial resources available to them compared to before 2010. Since 2014 Hungary’s GDP has grown between 2 and 3% above the EU average.
In which parallel universe does Weber reside where these figures indicate that government policy is on the wrong track?!
Weber should remember who he is, where he is, and what his role in life is. He’s not there to insult the populations of member states. Neither is he there to take offence at anything and everything, and spend his life climbing back into the ring to take on all comers, no matter how much stronger they are than him.
Unfortunately, that message, the message of what the point of Weber is, seems to have missed the man himself. In 2021, we should expect more of the same: Weber continually climbing back into the ring to get his nose bloodied.