In June 2015, the tenth anniversary of the leading Central European conference GlobSec took place in Bratislava and on this occasion three of the V4 Prime Ministers (and the Polish Vice-Premier) met in a panel to discuss some of the most important economic and security issues facing Visegrad region. Demagog.SK had its representative at the conference and it was indeed a unique chance to see how the national politicians debate on international stage, whether they adjust their debating styles when debating on international stage and how would they compare with their foreign countries’ counterparts. Of course, the focus of our interest are facts and how the politicians are using the facts to back their arguments.
Let us start with a few hard data and major findings:
|speaking time (min)||number of statements||factual mistakes (truth and misleading together)|
Compared to what we are used to in Slovakia (according to the statistics of Demagog.SK) and the Czech Republic (Demagog.CZ), the respective Prime Ministers did not do much differently to their usual performances.
Bohuslav Sobotka spent talking much less time than his counterparts and throughout his speech he mentioned also less factual statements than the rest of the speakers. Nonetheless, he might be content with the result that we did not discover any factual problem in his speech. To be fair, it should be said that his facts were rather simple – information such as that the Czech Republic is going to be presiding country in the V4 or that Slovakia and Hungary are in difficult situation from the perspective of energy security could be regarded as almost generally known information.
Sobotka, however, proved to be a skilled statesman when faced with a factually incorrect statement of Robert Fico who claimed, wrongly, that Slovakia is the most industrialized nation in the EU. In fact, Romania and the Czech Republic itself have higher shares of industries in their GDP. When Sobotka responded he diplomatically did not oppose the Slovak Premier but only noted that the Czech Republic ‘also’ belongs to the industrial core of the EU.
Slovak Premier Robert Fico took as the host the most time and also used more than twice as many factual statements as either his Czech or Hungarian counterpart. However, we found one untruth and two misleading statements in his speech. Fico repeated a statement he used before in a domestic debate and which was already labelled by Demagog as misleading. He claimed that in case Russia stops transporting gas via Ukraine in 2020, Slovak pipelines would ‘dry out’ and Slovakia would lose transport fees. In reality, according to the agreement with Gazprom, if the Russian company stops transferring the gas via Ukraine to Slovakia, it will have to pay – as part of the contract terms ‘deliver or pay’ – until 2028. Moreover, even the pipelines might not dry out – they are being used even now for delivering gas in reverse direction to Ukraine.
Looking at the Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban, it could be stated that while he talked almost as much as Fico, he used much fewer facts to back his argument. Even then, we discovered one untruth information and one misleading.
Similarly to his V4 colleagues, Orban wanted to present his country in the most possible light. When mentioning the GDP growth of Hungary for the next year, his claim about the consensus of surpassing 3 % is misleading. While, indeed, according to Hungarian prognosis it would be 3.2 %, according to the European Commission it would be just 2.8 %. Therefore, unless one does not look only within Hungary, there is no consensus and the statements is misleading. His second mistake was simply wrong claim there is no inheritance tax in Hungary – which there is.
Main arguments and their factual structure
After reviewing the mistakes (some of) the politicians made, it is interesting to look at the main arguments they made in their speeches and relate how much these arguments are based on the facts and whether the factual mistakes do not make their arguments weaker.
Firstly, the easiest situation is to analyze the Czech Premier Sobotka. With the shortest time speaking and the smallest amount of factual statements, it would not surprise anyone that he also made the fewest arguments. In fact, besides talking about the Czech economy and mentioning (correct) data about the GDP growth and the structure of the economy, he made only few more points, such as for example that the so-called Slavkov process is not a competition to the V4.
Analyzing speech of Hungarian Orban is, on the other hand, more interesting. Orban made many more points, although it should be noted as well, that the number of his factual statements is not much higher than Sobotka’s. This suggests that at least some of his arguments are based not on data, but on opinion.
Examples would include for example interesting point about political leadership in Europe. Orban was saying that what Europe needs is more political leadership as institutions are not capable to solve crises-like situations, such as the one we are in right now. Another of his strong points was an argument that deep reform – or state rebuilding process, as he labelled it – was needed due to terrible economic situation the country found itself in five years ago. His comparison of Hungary being in the same position as Greece, is, however, difficult to prove. Hungary’s national debt or budget deficit were, for example, significantly lower, although it is not clear whether this is what Orban meant.
Over here, however, we can see, that the misleading statement Orban did with regard of the GDP growth is making his argument about the successful economy weaker – there is no consensus (internationally) that Hungarian economy will grow more than 3 % this year. Similarly is affected Orban’s argument with his second factual mistake. When he was claiming that Hungarian state is not a welfare society and its taxes are very low, he was not correct that there is no inheritance tax in Hungary. There is and it is usually at about 18 % value.
Finally, the Slovak Premier was making lots of arguments as well – and compared to Orban backed them twice as often with the facts. This approach made many of his points stronger. For example his comparison of Hungary having more asylum seekers at the moment than Greece or Italy; the points about the importance of automotive industry for the Slovak economy (although his claim about the industry carrying Slovak economy during crisis is hard to prove); or the criticism of the Commission which did not follow the common position of the European Council who suggested originally voluntary schemes for assistance with the asylum seekers.
Conversely, however, Fico’s mistake with the pipeline makes his argument much weaker. As was already mentioned, worries about drying out of pipelines and losses of transport fees are not based on the reality. In this light his argument that the trip to Moscow was meant to help the Slovak economy lost much of its sound.
While not having a large effect, his argument about Slovakia being the most industrial state in the EU – which he made in front of a representative of a country which actually has larger share (the Czech Republic) – is only a bit awkward.
Two winners, one loser?
Simple answer on the question which one of the three Prime Ministers debated the best is disputable. While the Czech Premier was the only one without factual mistake he said altogether very little as well. His Slovak counterpart, on the other hand, scored (by far) the most correct statement, but also collected three mistakes. While at least one of them affected his argument, thirteen truth factual statements suggest quite good work with the data. Furthermore, the share of his truth statements was over his domestic average.
Finally, the Hungarian Premier chose perhaps too often not to base his arguments no the facts rather than on ideological or political opinions. This shall perhaps not be regarded as the positive approach, if we agree with the thesis that national policies should be made based on objective reality rather than personal opinion.
The full analysis of all the factual statements of the V4 Premiers in the debate are available on the Demagog.SK webpage.
(Demagog.SK would like to thank its partners Demagog.CZ, Demagog.org.PL and iDemagog.HU for the factual analysis of their representatives).