Real investigative journalism is rare in Hungary, but Direkt 36 is one of the flagships of such Hungarian media outlets. They published an article about the interconnectedness of the German automotive industry and the Orbán-government, from which it is clear how they serve the interests of Audi or Mercedes and, in return, these companies use their influence to edge off criticism towards PM Viktor Orbán in the German political elite. Details below.
According to Direkt 36, the leader of a big German automotive company revealed at a reception in Frankfurt that he has the private number of Péter Szijjártó, minister of foreign affairs, and he can call him anytime, provided the problems are connected to one of their Hungarian factories. He added that it happened once that even PM Viktor Orbán helped “them” out in 2015 during the Volkswagen emissions scandal, during which
he represented the interests of the automotive companies
in the European Council and, thanks to that, the relevant new regulation was full of loopholes. That is not surprising if we take into consideration that almost 13 pc of the Hungarian GDP comes from the German automotive industry and its suppliers, so it is good to be in a good relationship with them.
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Direkt 36 talked with dozens of diplomats, analysts, and business leaders about the issue and summarised their findings in 5 important topics.
The German mentors of PM Viktor Orbán
When Orbán started his political career, his first ally in Germany was the liberal Otto Graf Lambsdorff. However, when he changed his political agenda and became conservative in the mid-90s, Helmut Kohl became his greatest mentor. Kohl taught him many things about politics, but Gerhard Schröder defeated him in 1998. Therefore,
Orbán could not develop good relations with Berlin, so he changed his focus to the conservative southern German states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg)
where Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Bosch have their headquarters.
PM Viktor Orbán’s foreign strategy
Apart from the official communiqué, PM Viktor Orbán sees Hungary as the centre of the Russia-Germany-Turkey triangle. Furthermore, they should be aware of what leaders think in Beijing and Washington as well. However, according to a high-ranking US government official, Orbán thinks that, materially, Hungary depends on Russia and Germany the most. He also added that the USA only had values which Hungarians also have.
The new pact between the German automotive sector and the government
According to Direkt 36, the Hungarian government thinks that the jobs the German automotive industry creates in Hungary are indispensable. However,
they try to expel German capital from other sectors, for example, the media.
Since the automotive companies get tremendous allocations, they do not protect other German companies, for example, the Deutsche Telekom’s Hungarian interests in 2012. And that is how county newspapers and the biggest Hungarian news portal, Origo.hu, went to pro-government oligarchs in the last few years.
Furthermore, even though Orbán wanted to boost the Hungarian economy with loans, he accepted the denial of the German government about the plan and promised to keep the state budget in balance. His calculations were correct because the German government appreciated the step.
The independent Hungarian media and Germany
There are still some independent media outlets in Hungary that try to survive in Hungary with the financial support of the people and the advertisements of companies. For example, Magyar Hang, the second-biggest Hungarian weekly, started to negotiate with German companies about possible advertisements. However, it came to light that even though cooperation would be worth it for the company,
they do not want to risk their good relationship with the government.
And Orbán knows that the Germans are rational people, and if business goes well, they will not hesitate to cooperate with the government. To edge off all conflicts, there are hotlines between German companies and the Hungarian government and people, like Klaus Mangold or even former European Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who help everything go smoothly. If Mr Orbán had luxury cars and many girlfriends, it would be a completely different story.
The relationship with Angela Merkel
Even though PM Orbán thinks that politics is not for women, they have a good work relationship, and the Hungarian PM tried to convince her not to resign in 2021. In 2015, on the edge of the migration crisis, they were each other’s main antagonist but, interestingly, that helped them to win elections at home.
According to Direkt 36, even though pro-government papers always support the German nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and criticise the conservative CDU,
the government knows that the AfD cannot win the elections,
so they regard CDU as their partner in Germany. Moreover, it was best for Angela Merkel that PM Orbán led the campaign against Manfred Weber last year, with which he also acquired some plus points in the eyes of the German chancellor.
PM Orbán’s future chances
In return, for example, Angela Merkel said in August 2019 that the EU money Hungary receives is well-spent even though the government’s opposition always states that Orbán and his family and friends steal most of that money. And the mutual gestures did not stop: Hungary is Germany’s biggest arms purchaser – the country buys more weapons from the German arms industry than the Bundeswehr. Moreover, they gave further billions of forints to the German companies during the coronavirus crisis.
And that is why most people talking to Direkt 36 cannot imagine that Germany would support linking the EU funds to rule of law. Interestingly, the CDU is not clear regarding that question because its groups in former West Germany would support it while the
party members from former East Germany see Mr Orbán as a hero.
The other important question is the future of Fidesz in the European People’s Party. However, Direkt 36 says that negotiations in both issues went well between the two governments. To have an agreement in both issues, Gergely Gulyás, Minister of Prime Minister’s Office, was in Berlin, and CDU-president and German Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer came to Budapest as well.
An expert of the EPP says that many would like the Germans to lead the anti-Orbán campaign inside the party, but the CDU does not want to take the flag. Germans think that they can influence Orbán in Brussels, but
they no longer care what he does at home.
Source: Direkt 36