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“The European People’s Party tolerated Fidesz for too long, we will not do the same,” says European socialists’ top candidate

In the end, the deciding factor for releasing some of the blocked EU funds was that the teachers had indicated their need for a pay raise. "We will check whether the money indeed goes to the teachers", Nicolas Schmit claims.

We released some of the funds, including a part of those intended for teachers. I consider the issue of teachers’ salaries a serious problem, since a nation is only as good as its teachers. They need to be adequately compensated, and I don’t understand countries that fail to do so. This decision was made after we had realised that we didn’t want to punish the teachers. The Hungarian government stated that a wage increase would happen once the funds were released. I agree that the Hungarian government hasn’t done enough in this regard, and we could have continued to press for answers. However, this money goes directly to the teachers, so we accepted what the Hungarian government did. The most important question, by the way, was the issue of monitoring teachers’ computers, whether employers could access them. Amendments were made in this regard. This was also the subject of a heated debate with the committee’s chairman as well. In the end, the deciding factor was that the teachers had indicated their need for a pay raise. We will check whether the money indeed goes to the teachers

– said Nicolas Schmit, the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, in a background conversation with during his visit to Budapest. Schmit visited the Hungarian capital to speak at the congress held by the Democratic Coalition, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), and Dialogue, supporting the Hungarian left-wing EP list. Schmit is the lead EP candidate of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the major left-wing political group in the European Parliament. In other words, if the socialists were to win the most seats in the EP elections, Schmit would be proposed for the position of President of the Commission.

Vörös Szilárd Nicolas Schmit at the campaign opening event of DK–MSZP–Párbeszéd in the Congress Center on April 14, 2024.

The question regarding teachers’ salaries may have arisen because of Schmit’s recent Budapest visit about a month ago. As European Commissioner, Schmit negotiated with Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér, and in the wake of the discussions the European Commission announced a portion of the previously blocked EU funds to be released. The approximately two billion euros were frozen due to issues related to education and gender equality. We cover this in detail here.

On an other hand, the unfreezing of funds doesn’t mean that we immediately hand over these resources. It means that this money can be used for projects in the future; invoices need to be submitted

– explained Schmit. Indeed, in practice, the release means that the Hungarian government can now submit invoices for these funds, and the two billion euros will cover the entire seven-year cycle.

This was a long and complicated process, and some resources still remain blocked. The first part was about the independence of the judicial system; we engaged in a lengthy dialogue with the Hungarian authorities, leading to the Hungarian government changing certain laws. We live under rule of law; we told them that the funds would be released only when certain conditions had been met. But once these requirements are met, we cannot opt to withhold these funds as a politically motivated decision. We need to see how these laws work in practice

– Schmit added, referring to why a much larger portion of these resources, 10.2 billion euros, had been released earlier. We present a more detailed overview about these funds here. However, the Commissioner couldn’t confirm whether the funds previously released due to problems in the judicial system could be re-blocked in the future due to the leaked recordings of Judit Varga, in which the former Minister of Justice claims that some members of the cabinet had themselves removed from the prosecutor’s indictment.

I would advise the Commissioner responsible to thoroughly investigate this, as such statements by a former minister of justice could indeed have consequences. It may be possible that Hungary’s judicial system does not operate in accordance with the law. But a loss of trust towards the Hungarian judicial system has implications for the entire EU judicial system as well. Of course, this recording has to be verified; anyone can say anything. The issue regarding which I find the answers entirely unsatisfactory is the infamous sovereignty law

– stated Schmit.

On another note, the Commissioner is not starting from a good position; for some reason, the socialists fail to achieve good representation in the EU’s leadership positions. Currently, out of the four most important leading roles, only High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell is a socialist.  The others belong to the European People’s Party or the liberals, while the socialists are the second-largest faction in parliament.

Diego Ravier / Hans Lucas / AFP Josep Borrell

We need to see what happens in the elections. Needless to say, I will be fighting for the best results possible. Even the presidency of the parliament belonged to the socialists during the first half of the term, but this will surely be subject to debates in the future. Right now I’m here to support the Hungarian left, the progressive forces. I’m glad they are running together, especially considering the current situation in Hungary. They need to campaign and express that Europe is not an enemy but a friend of the Hungarian people, of Hungarian democrats. We are trying to defend the Hungarian people from this authoritarian direction. Despite what the government says, Europe is not the enemy of the Hungarian people.

Although the 2019 elections were won by centrist forces, the European mainstream has shifted towards the right. Recently, the European Parliament has also voted in favour of the most right-wing migration package to date. The European left faces a difficult challenge in expressing their comprehensive vision for the future of the continent.

In Schmit’s view, the left’s big idea is to defend core European values and democracy, and to get centrist parties to understand that opening up to the far-right will only result in defeat. He believes that the European People’s Party had tolerated Fidesz for too long, knowing exactly what was happening.

They did nothing, just watched until Orbán left them. It’s dangerous to play with extremists. We say there is no alliance with extremists, with the far-right. This is not politicking; these are the fundamental values on which Europe is built. We had a problem with one of the parties in one of Hungary’s neighbours that had teamed up with the far-right. We suspended them immediately. The European People’s Party didn’t do this; but we did.

Schmit referred to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, which the socialist group suspended almost immediately after the formation of the coalition government. However, there has been no expulsion yet. We asked the Commissioner whether he would be happy if Fico’s party – like Fidesz –were to leave its own political family.

They do what they want. If they leave, that’s fine with me

– Schmit put it.

BENKO VIVIEN CHER / MINISZTERELNÖKI SAJTÓIRODA / MTI Viktor Orbán on the second day of the EU summit in Brussels on June 24, 2022.

He believes that another important idea on the left is to defend Europe. The way he sees things, it’s simply impossible to reach an agreement with Putin.

This is a danger to Ukraine, a danger to Europe, to our values, to our security. It is inconceivable for the left to make a deal with the Russian president. We hope that one day there will be an opportunity for peace, but for now negotiating with Putin is out of the question, as the only thing he is willing to discuss is making everything his own.

According to Schmit, the proposition of the left is to support a strong economy. Serious investments are needed; the economy needs to be modernised, with particular emphasis on carbon neutrality.

But social solidarity is also the foundation of our security because a divided society cannot be secure. I don’t think this is part of Fidesz’s program.

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