They love their paperwork in Brussels. Data too. And statistics. And there’s a whole organisation for the European Union that does nothing but generate statistics for a whole army or statisticians to analyse and ponder over.
But there’s an interesting thing about statistics and particularly the scale and depth collected by Eurostat — the data provides a very real insight into the psyche of politicians and their policies.
How, for example, can officials determine if sections of the 508 million or so who live within the 28 member-states of the European Union (EU) — it’ll be down to 450 million in just about six months’ time — are deprived? Or how do you define ‘deprived’?
Well, Eurostat has a methodology for doing just that. To lead an adequate life — one that is not deprived — people should be able to pay their bills on time; keep their home adequately warm; be able to meet unexpected expenses; eat meat or fish regularly; take a one-week holiday every year away from home; own a television; own a car; and own a telephone.
As you’re mentally checking off that list, know that Eurostat considers if you can’t have four of these items, you are officially deprived.
According to Eurostat, across the EU in 2017, 6.7 per cent of the 508 million, or about 33 million, were deprived — down from 7.5 per cent in 2016. Things are looking up, and the data for 2017 continues a trend that was at 9.9 per cent in 2012.
Here’s an interesting point too — Eurostat reports that 30 per cent of Bulgarians, 21.1 per cent of Greeks and 19.4 per cent of Romanians were deprived. At the other end of the scale, just 0.8 per cent of Swedes, 1.6 per cent of Luxembourgers, 2 per cent of Finns and 2.6 per cent of Dutch were deprived.
In Hungary, Eurostat reports that 14.5 per cent of the population led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban were deprived.
For starters, given the high deprivation rates in Romanian, Bulgaria and Greece, the governments there haven’t deliberately picked a fight with Brussels over refugee and migration policies. And they’re working with the Eurocrats in the EU to improve matters.
Those statistics on the age of motor vehicles might also point to the fact that fewer of his people can actually afford to go out and buy new ones. It’s certainly a reasonable indicator that things are not indeed well when comes to Orbanoptics and Orbanomics in Hungary.
Could it be that Orban is talking tough on refugees because he can see more than anyone else that the economic miracle his policies predicts might indeed be running out of steam? Another strong man, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, had a similar economic policy, one that was based on borrowing heavily, keeping interest rates low and cutting taxes. Might the forint suffer the same fate as the Turkish lira should there be a sudden downturn in Hungary’s economy?
One of the benefits of being in the EU is that any goods, services, people or finances can move freely from the Baltics to the Balearics, from the Atlantic to the Adriatic. Yes, and by people, that also means refugees, regardless of their religion.
Orban is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the EU over his anti-refugee policies, so much so that in august, the European Court of Human Rights ordered that Hungary must feed refugees trapped in two border camps with Serbia as they await the outcome of their asylum appeals. Things were so bad there that Hungarian officials refused food to the refugees, and a rights group from Helsinki had to intervene with the court action. Orban’s government passed laws in June that made it a criminal offence to assist refugees, and said it would no longer accept asylum applications from any refugee who was now in what was considered to be a safe nation — and Serbia is categorised as such.
Last week, the European Parliament censured Hungary, with the necessary two-thirds of its members voting for sanctions against the Orban government. It’s the first time that has happened and the move came because of his anti-refugees and right-wing policies that crack down on the freedom of the media and other liberal values that are a bedrock of the EU principles.
Right now, no one is quite sure of what the next move will be. Orban points to the next elections for the European Parliament in May, 2019, as being a watershed moment, and predicts that there will be a right-wing majority in the new Strasburg-based legislature. Maybe.
Or maybe the Hungarian economy will have slowed for Hungarians to see through the economic panacea offered by their tough-talking prime minister.