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“Nach der Wahl 2017: The outcome of the German federal elections and its effect to the German-Hungarian relations”: a joint conference by the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Hungary

The aim of the joint conference of the Institute for Foreing Affairs (IFAT) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), which was held on 25 October, was to present the results of the 2017 German federal parliamentary elections and to analyze its consequences and possible effects on German-Hungarian relations. The discussion amongst several experts on the topic as well as high-level politicians and diplomats was attended by an audience of nearly 120 people.

When Germany holds an election, the world pays attention. With Germany being the most populous, economically powerful and politically one of the most important member states of the European Union, the federal elections bear significance not only for Germany itself, but beyond its borders as well. Although German politics is not usually known for radical shifts, the parliamentary elections in 2017 gave off a bit of a different impression: German political life might change considerably in the future. Apart the examination of German domestic developments, the joint conference also provided an opportunity for analyzing future German foreign policy, particularly in relation to Hungary and the European Union.

Following the welcome speeches of Márton Schőberl, Director of IFAT, and Frank Spengler, Resident Representative of KAS, Dr. Csaba Hende, Vice-President of the Hungarian National Assembly, held the opening speech. After outlining the main points of the thousand-year-long shared history of the two countries, Mr Hende pointed out the interdependence between Hungary and Germany: Germany’s political and economic stability had and has still a major impact on Hungarian social development.

The first discussion panel was moderated by Tamás Levente Molnár, Research Fellow of IFAT, and focused on the results of the election and their demoscopic analysis. Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, Executive Director of the “Nézőpont” Group, pointed out the particularities of Germany’s electoral system and stated that despite the difficulties of the Jamaica-coalition negotiations, a stable government could be established in Germany, as it was the federal chancellor's responsibility to determine the direction of policy and take responsibility for it (Richtlinienkompetenz). The experts of the panel explained the emerging of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in different ways. According to Boris Kálnoky, correspondent of the daily newspaper “Die Welt”, the Union parties (CDU and CSU) have taken on more classic left-wing issues in recent years, which led to the voters looking for a political formation “right to CDU”. Frank Spengler presented detailed statistics on the election results and said that, although the Union parties had lost their support from four years ago, they were still the winners of the elections, as without them no government could be formed. Mr. Spengler pointed out the importance for the "political center" to be able to fill the topics covered in the broad political spectrum with content again, a task for which credible politicians would be required.

In the second part of the conference, which was moderated by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schlie, Director of the Diplomacy Center of Andrássy University Budapest, the focus point lay on German-Hungarian relations and their role within the European Union as well as the Central European region. According to Dr. Gergely Gulyás, Chairman of the Fidesz Parliamentary Group in the Hungarian National Assembly, the German-Hungarian relations are characterized by the “lasting friendship of a thousand years and a stable cooperation" and the common history of the two countries as well. Reflecting on this, Volkmar Klein, MP of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the German Bundestag, praised Hungary's contribution to the reunification of Germany. He also mentioned the difficult relation between critical German press and Hungarian politics, and pointed out the importance of a discussion about political differences based on objective facts rather than emotions. Dr. Péter Györkös, Ambassador of Hungary in Berlin, said that “the Visegrad countries are Europe’s economic powerhouse”, adding that this was not paid enough attention to amongst the German public. The ambassador also criticized the image of Hungary in German media emerging in connection with the migration and refugee policy of Hungary, although Hungarians contributed significantly to the security of the European Union by protecting its external borders.