Népszava: Transatlanticist to replace Péter Szijjártó as Hungary’s chief diplomat

October 7, 2015

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Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár may announce next week that numerous responsibilities currently held by the Ministry for National Development may be transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, reports Hungarian left-leaning news site Népszava.hu.

According to Népszava, once the responsibilities transfer, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Pétér Szijjártó may be stripped of classical diplomatic duties by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Népszava’s unnamed sources say Szijjártó enjoys the international political battles he gets to fight on behalf of the government, but feels the battles are distracting him from strengthening the government’s “outstanding foreign trade relationships”. Szijjártó feels it would be easier for him to work on these trade relationships if his ministry’s powers extended into areas of national and infrastructure development.

According to Népszava’s sources, the government hopes the shift will result in a new and independent foreign ministry led by longtime Fidesz MP Zsolt Németh.

A promotion for Németh, who is rumored to be more Transatlanticist than most ranking members of Fidesz, would indeed signal a shift from Hungary’s heavily Russian-oriented “Eastern Opening”.

Hungary’s foreign ministry is as unpredictable as Orbán. Will change help?

Should Szijjártó’s diplomatic responsibilities be handed to Németh, it would mean Hungary would have its fourth foreign minister in less than 18 months — János Martonyi, Tibor Navracsics, Szijjártó and Németh. And every time Hungary has changed foreign minister in this period, so too have the personnel changed at the ministry. Following the national elections of 2014, the foreign ministry was also tasked with promoting foreign trade.

Numerous former employees and diplomats from the ministry have criticized the government in recent years for introducing radical changes to a ministry that relies heavily on the contacts and diplomatic relationships built up over decades.

As Hungary’s authoritarian tendencies draw more and more criticism from abroad, its untrained diplomats are finding it increasingly difficult to defend Hungary’s domestic happenings (for example, here).

Former Hungarian ambassador to NATO and the United States András Simonyi (currently serving as the Managing Director of Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies Center for Transatlantic Relations) tells the Beacon he is hopeful Hungary’s Transatlantic relationship will be strengthened soon.

Szijjártó denied on Monday that any such changes had been discussed with the prime minister.

Whatever changes Orbán may be contemplating, the fact remains that Hungary’s bilateral relations with its neighbors are at a low point, and Hungary desperately needs to reaffirm its commitment to the value-based Transatlantic community to which it belongs.