A notable event could be observed at the meeting in Sopron, where Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán commemorated the Paneuropean Picnic, which took place 30 years ago. The tone between the German Chancellor and the Hungarian Prime Minister was quite friendly. The two leaders expressed their mutual respect for one other as well, which surprised analysts to some extent, after the tension that has been highlighted in their relationship over the last few years. The change, in which Merkel, who modified her earlier position more-so than her counterpart, can be explained by several factors.
Firstly, statistics show that the German economy is doing badly, nearly stagnating, while the Hungarian economy is enjoying a 5% expansion this year. Hungary is closely related to Germany economically, considerably depending on its performance. Germany is the greatest foreign trade partner of the country and German automobile giants like Mercedes in Kecskemét, Audi in Győr, and BMV in Debrecen, are or will be producing cars here. Germany has the biggest European economy, the fourth biggest in the world, and its position is solid.
However, it is facing serious challenges from the shortage of labour and the aging population through intensifying competition with America, China, India etc., to structural problems of the European Union. It is unlikely that, together with other rich and ’ripe’ societies in Western Europe, it will be able to reach essential growth in the next few years. At the same time, Central European economies including Hungary, seem to have more potential, dynamism and better prospects, even if they themselves share some of the same problems as Germany and, as mentioned before, are dependent on the German economy. Since the Central European region with Romania and the Baltic states will likely be a new source of development in the European Union, the future of the German economy will also depend more on its profit-making capacity in this region. A kind of modern ’Drang nach Osten’ tendency is being formed before our eyes. Of course, its realization has a lot of question marks and unforeseen circumstances to be considered.
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Another reason is a political one. FIDESZ finally supported the CDU politician, Ursula von der Leyen to be elected the head of the Commission. This move was returned by a gesture of hers when she used a more understanding language when speaking about Hungarian, and also Polish domestic policy. Although the so called ’populist’ politicians like Mr. Orbán himself are often mentioned and labelled critically in ’Eurospeak,’ giving ammunition specially to radical and ultra-liberal forces, dramatic and imminent challenges will probably neutralize or at least lessen these mostly ideologically-stimulated debates.
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The colossal problems to be solved or managed somehow are issues such as trade wars worldwide with increasing economic rivalry, the rise of China and later India, climatic changes with extremely hot summers and drought, migration, artificial intelligence etc. Among all these exponential tendencies, the aging continent should find fresh and innovative answers to fix its place in the rapidly changing world. If Central Europe can contribute notably to gaining good solutions to the problems of the European Union, then the relations with Germany may develop promisingly.
Featured photo by Balázs Szecsődi/PM’s Press Office/MTI