Eastern Central European countries are finally talking about something that connects rather than divides them
How does the wage union initiative progress, when does the collection of signatures begin on-line and on paper in Hungary and how much have the initiative’s successes changed Jobbik’s international reputation? Hungarian website Alfahír talked with Jobbik’s president Gábor Vona and MP Márton Gyöngyösi after their meeting with the representatives of VMRO in Sofia on 10th July.
How do you evaluate the Sofia meetings? Did the discussions meet your expectations?
Gábor Vona: It was a short but fruitful visit. We are satisfied with each of our foreign visits but I think this one was outstandingly successful in the sense that our Bulgarian partners have a very similar view on the potentials lying in the wage union initiative. We could also see that they took our joint work very seriously as the meetings were attended by a VMRO MP, the party’s MEP as well as the leader of their youth organization, so they were represented at all levels. “In conclusion, I feel that our opportunities in Bulgaria are very good, especially because our ally is a member of the current government coalition while the party’s president is the country’s minister of defence.
Márton Gyöngyösi: We already addressed practical details such as how to prepare for the collection of statements of support in the upcoming weeks and months. Specific dates have been set and our partners proposed to organize a grand kick-off event in Bulgaria in early September, to which they invited Jobbik as well.
Márton Gyöngyösi and Gábor Vona in the meeting with VMRO’s representatives
Talking about specific dates, you mentioned that you were going to start collecting Hungarian signatures on paper on 20th August. Why did you choose this particular day?
Vona: This is a symbolic date since it is a national holiday and a highly important day in Hungary’s life. I think the matter of the wage union is worthy of the occasion. The 20th August has multiple meanings: we celebrate the foundation of our state, St. Stephen, Hungary’s existence and survival, and they are the key aspects of our initiative as well. However, the wage union concept has other objectives, too: “It aims to enable Hungarian and Eastern Central European people to stay in their homeland and prosper there.” If you still want to emigrate, you should be allowed to do so but it should not be driven by a necessity of financial pressure. It should be your freedom.
On the whole, how satisfied are you with the progress and the current status of the wage union initiative? How do you evaluate the work with the foreign partners?
Vona: I believe that the wage union is a success story so far: I announced our project on 18th December 2016, the Citizens’ Committee was formed on 14th March 2017, and the European Commission registered the initiative as early as in May. We will start collecting online statements of support very soon while the paper-based collection will begin on 20th August. Although we don’t wear seven-league boots, we are making good progress to reach our goals. “In addition to the work of our foreign partners, my optimism also derives from the fact that we could win more and more Hungarian trade unions and NGOs for the project.” Let me compare the initiative to the snowball effect: “It began with a tiny snowball which now goes on with an increasingly overwhelming power towards the goal which will hopefully be achieved next year.”
Gyöngyösi: It is a historic success and a real milestone that the European Commission registered the initiative because it means that our motion was correct legally and formally as well as legitimate in terms of its content and objectives, too. Since then, we have overcome one technical obstacle after the other - I mean such things as meeting the various data privacy regulations, the installation of the IT system, the discussions with our partners on the structure of the campaign and organizing the collection of signatures. All of this was expected of course, since we knew that this summer would be the time of preparations. “In my view, we are right at the point where we should be in this project: online signature collection can start soon and everything will be ready for starting to collect the paper-based statements of support by 20th August.”
Márton Gyöngyösi and Gábor Vona in the meeting with VMRO’s representatives
I think one of the biggest achievements is that we could trigger a wide social dialogue on the wage union, which was our key objective. It is also natural that questions or criticisms are voiced about the initiative: “There is no such thing as a perfect initiative but there is a good and noble cause for which we are fighting and we are very happy that we have been able to involve experts, trade unions, politicians and NGOs in a dialogue on reducing the wage gaps within the EU.
Vona: The very existence of the initiative has made the issue unavoidable and it is now voiced in a form clear for everyone: in the past, employees, trade unions, business owners, politicians, the families torn apart by their members being forced to emigrate to the West could do nothing but rage in frustration but these fires were too far apart and could not unite. “Finally, there is a well-articulated initiative, legitimized by the European Commission, which can help us turn these negative energies into positive and creative ones.” We have no illusions: We know the struggle will be hard and long but finally we see a glimmer of hope: a project you can support. “As for how successful it could be: it depends on how many people decide to stand by us.” So far we have overcome all obstacles and our efforts have paid off, that’s why we are optimistic.
How did the project’s successes shape Jobbik’s international reputation?
Gyöngyösi: I believe the project had a highly positive effect on Jobbik’s international reputation, considering all the sceptical voices when we started to seek allies: “Critics have said that we were an isolated party that would be unable to build an international alliance to support the initiative.” However, we could involve seven Eastern Central European member states, all the way from the Baltic to the Balkans, in the campaign for a European Wage Union. Not to mention that it is a very heterogeneous community: The cooperation have integrated opposition and government parties as well as trade unions and NGOs, all united for the same purpose.
Gábor Vona in the Chamber of the Bulgarian Parliament
Besides, we also began to seek allies to represent the project in the European Parliament and we are making good progress, I believe. “Let me note that we Eastern Central European people are finally talking about an issue that connects us rather than divides us. This is a clear indication of the potential for building bridges in the region.” Another important goal was to correct the EU’s decades-long bad operation so that Eastern Central European member states could also benefit from it, thus making the EU an acceptable community for everybody. This is the right historical moment as Brussels is conducting a dialogue on the EU’s future right now, and our region may be able to forge an alliance to redefine itself and its role in the life of the continent.
Let me toy with the idea of how far those bridges could reach: could a successful wage union initiative be the basis for a new, regionally organized European alliance beyond the V4 Group?
Vona: Let me be a bit provocative: I hope it will! “Whenever we had meetings with political parties, we always emphasized the initiative’s benefit of bringing us closer to each other.” In the Eastern Central European region, where you can hardly get two countries to cooperate, it is especially important. And we could actually unite the forces of eight EU member states for this cause. I am convinced that the wage union concept will be the catalyst to help the region’s forces develop a common position in the debate on the EU’s future. “We could perhaps even enable political players or member states to put their historical grudges aside (without sweeping them under the carpet) and fight side by side for a Europe that is beneficial for everybody. This joint effort may as well have a historical therapeutical effect.” I find it realistic that the forces that joined an alliance for the wage union may develop a closer cooperation after the 2019 European parliamentary elections, perhaps even as members of the same faction.
Márton Gyöngyösi and Gábor Vona in the Chamber of the Bulgarian Parliament
Gyöngyösi: Let me add that it may be an act of fate that Hungary has taken over the presidency of the V4 Group on 1st July: it gives our country the mandate to define the agenda and priorities of the cooperation. “I would love to see the Hungarian government leverage on that and look into how the alliance could be enhanced into a quasi V4+ Group by involving other countries of the region, thus getting closer to the intermarium concept, in other words, an alliance stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea and the Balkans.” Besides, the work of the existing V4 Group should be intensified, too. Unfortunately, what Viktor Orbán said was that the migration issue was almost solely going to dominate the Hungarian presidency. Of course, it is a highly important topic but I still hope that positions on wages could also converge. “I think it’s important that the cooperation should not remain in a merely inter-governmental framework but it should be added an inter-parliamentary dimension.”
Vona: I think that Viktor Orbán’s current attempt to dominate the V4 agenda with one single issue is a lame solution: Another equally important and, unfortunately, equally tragic problem for our region is the emigration of our people, which he refuses to deal with.” At present, Eastern Central Europe is characterized by two essential needs: “We don’t want other people to flee here and we don’t want our citizens to flee from here, either.” It’s not enough for Viktor Orbán to “protect” Hungary when he refuses to acknowledge the problem and lies idly by as Hungarian people flee from this country. “These two problems must be solved at the same time, and that’s exactly what Jobbik’s agenda aims for.”
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