Former Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany talks to the press after the results of the European Parliament elections on May 26, 2019 in Budapest. (Photo by FERENC ISZA / AFP) (Photo credit should read FERENC ISZA/AFP via Getty Images)
'We lied': Hungary's former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany © AFP via Getty Images

Beata Javorcik is right to stress the importance of good governance and the problems of demography in the new EU member states (“Eastern Europe could grow old before it becomes rich”, December 3). However, her account of the recent past is idealised and incomplete.

Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, may well enjoy his posture as a champion of “illiberal democracy”, but it was his predecessor Ferenc Gyurcsany, not Mr Orban, who famously admitted in 2006 that his government “screwed up” and instead of pursuing economic reforms, “we lied in the morning, we lied in the evening” (“Excerpts: Hungarian ‘lies’ speech”, FTcom, September 19 2006).

So much for good governance after 1989, when these countries “enjoyed two decades of rapid economic growth and development”!

Demographic problems didn’t get worse because of populism; they deteriorated because joining the EU made it much easier for people to leave. The main beneficiaries of the EU’s freedom of movement are the individuals who chose to improve their own futures rather than to struggle for a better future for their countries, and the populist leaders, who — as a result — have far fewer opponents to contend with.

Dr Stefan Auer
Associate Professor in European Studies,
Jean Monnet Chair, The University of Hong Kong

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