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Viktor Orbán’s ‘Cardinal Richelieu’ takes hit from premier’s new rival

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Viktor Orbán’s ‘Cardinal Richelieu’ takes hit from premier’s new rival

For more than a decade, Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal” rule in Hungary has seemed ironclad. But recent European elections have shown that the Hungarian prime minister and his right-hand man are struggling to contain an unlikely challenger from within.

Antal Rogán, who has been by the premier’s side for three decades and is dubbed his “Cardinal Richelieu” by opponents, is currently in charge of the government’s media strategy. His wide-ranging ministerial portfolio includes secret services and checks on foreign funding received by opposition politicians, independent outlets and rights groups.

In his first interview with international media, Rogán sought to downplay his party’s setback in the European parliament vote, in which the ruling Fidesz party received 45 per cent, its lowest vote share since Hungary joined the EU in 2004.

“You can’t always be in a winning position in government,” Rogán told the Financial Times. “Very often someone else communicates more powerfully.”

Rogán was referring to a former Fidesz member-turned-rival, Péter Magyar, who joined a small party called Tisza this year and propelled it to 30 per cent at the ballot boxes, a first indication that the Orbán base is fracturing.

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Magyar was never a prominent member of Fidesz, but his former wife Judit Varga was Orbán’s justice minister. They divorced in 2023. Magyar quit Fidesz this year on the day Varga was forced to resign as the party’s lead candidate for the European parliament amidst a child abuse scandal.

Rogán dismissed the idea that Magyar posed a serious challenge to Orbán. He expressed confidence that the prime minister, who is Europe’s longest-serving premier after taking office 14 years ago, would stay in power after the next general elections in 2026.

But Rogán himself, who is not as popular as the PM, could turn into a liability for Orbán. Magyar has accused the premier’s éminence grise of corruption and toxic disinformation campaigns, including about the west’s role in aiding Ukraine.

“This is Waterloo for Fidesz,” Magyar said after the EU election results came out on June 9. “All the billions wasted on propaganda, the war psychosis that the prime minister tried to build with Antal Rogán . . . this is the beginning of the end for Fidesz.”

Magyar, 43, told the FT that he would not pull any punches with Rogán, who “lost his appeal as a politician” and “is unaccountable . . . a Richelieu”, in reference to the 17th-century political mastermind who served as chief minister to Louis XIII, king of France.

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Little known outside Hungary, Rogán has stayed out of the limelight, running what he calls the “government back office”. But he has gradually amassed power in the media and public administration, influencing sectors such as banking and information technology.

His National Information Centre, an umbrella organisation for intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies, was founded in 2022. Rogán’s secret services could also feed an investigation into foreign funding allegedly received by Magyar, which Rogán described as “a question that must be answered soon”. Magyar has called the probe a joke.

“Secret services are politicised and subjugated to propaganda,” said Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a rights group, calling the practice “outrageous”.

An economist by training, the 52-year-old Rogán defended the National Information Centre’s work and said reorganisation of the Hungarian intelligence services had been prompted by the war in neighbouring Ukraine. “The prime minister wanted more direct control over them and reintegrated intelligence and counter-intelligence,” he said.

Rogán denied the corruption allegations Magyar and others had levelled against him, noting that no charges stuck in court. He also disputed being shielded of prosecution under Orbán. “Nobody is indispensable in this government,” he said, “not even me.”

Despite the bruising EU election result, Orbán has stood by his longtime ally. “Rogán has an uncanny ability to make others depend on him, and Orbán is no exception,” said a person familiar with the situation. “He is convinced replacing Rogán would be like shooting himself in . . . both feet.”

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Another person who knows Rogán well said that the Richelieu parallel was “spot on” as the Hungarian minister had amassed power and wealth by making himself indispensable to Orbán.

Rogán rejected the Richelieu comparison because the French minister was a mentor to the king, whereas he is nine years younger than Orbán. “I saw a man who could renew conservative politics, and he did,” Rogán said of his first meeting with Orbán in the early 1990s.

Rogán grew up near Hungary’s western border with Slovenia in a Slovenian-speaking family. Described by peers as sharp, bookish and intensely political, he became chief domestic political adviser when Orbán first won the premiership in 1998.

After spending a few years as a Budapest district mayor, Rogán returned to parliament in 2010 to lead the Fidesz majority. Among the first bills he drew up was a media law as one of the initial steps towards Orbán’s illiberal state — and which set Budapest on a collision course with the EU.

The government was alleged to have allocated €3.5bn to public events and communications since Rogán became propaganda minister in 2015, according to local media outlet G7. “It is a money pump,” said Gábor Polyák, chair of media studies at Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University. “A completely opaque system of random sums spent with dubious efficiency.”

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Rogán said the ministry had struck tenders worth only €1.8bn on communications and events, including major international sporting events— an amount that, over nine years, was “defensible when we compare it to our predecessors’ spending”.

Magyar’s success is in part due to the fallout from a child sex abuse scandal in a village next to Orbán’s hometown — and the failure of Rogán’s propaganda machine in attempting to sweep the affair under the carpet.

“This is the deepest crisis Fidesz has yet faced,” one person with knowledge of the events said. “And the same goes for Rogán.”

Magyar said Rogán would be one of his early targets if he won power in 2026 and, on the campaign trail, suggested that the Orbán aide “find a country with no extradition treaty with Hungary”.

Rogán declined to discuss the child sex abuse scandal but acknowledged that his political career was tied to Orbán’s tenure.

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“I will be in the political field as long as Viktor Orbán is the prime minister,” he said.

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years
Shoppers crowd Seoul’s Myeongdong district, but analysts expect South Korean domestic spending to deteriorate © Hon Wah Oong/Dreamstime

South Korea’s economy unexpectedly contracted in the second quarter on cooling consumer spending despite stronger exports, increasing expectations of an interest rate cut in the coming months.

Gross domestic product in the April-June quarter shrank 0.2 per cent from a quarter earlier in seasonally adjusted terms, according to the Bank of Korea, while analysts polled by Reuters forecast a 0.1 per cent rise.

This marks the sharpest contraction in six quarters, following 1.3 per cent growth in the first quarter.

Private consumption fell 0.2 per cent and construction spending dropped 1.1 per cent, while exports rose 0.9 per cent.

Capital Economics expects domestic spending to deteriorate, prompting the Bank of Korea to cut interest rates in October, but cautioned that there was an increased chance of a rate cut in August.  

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

Left: Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling, Right: John Wink

Nate Smallwood for NPR


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Nate Smallwood for NPR

PITTSBURGH – Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling of Moon Township, a municipality that sits a few miles northwest of Pittsburgh, smiles as a server at local staple Primanti Brothers delivers a sandwich stacked higher than a double AA battery.

The story that locals like Madonna-Emmerling tell is that this Pittsburgh-style sandwich – layered with coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries – was created so that local blue collar workers could drive large trucks and eat with one hand while on a shift.

The sandwich ties back to her family’s history – and that of many other residents in the area – of working in the steel industry and other blue collar jobs, many of which disappeared long ago. Her father was an auto worker involved in the local union. That led to her now working as a community organizer and “multi-hyphenate” political pot stirrer, she said.

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When there were talks of closing a local school, she protested. She’s president of the library board and fought to keep a LGBTQ book on the shelves. She’s run for public office and trained activists to knock on doors at election time to shore up votes for Democrats.

But selling locals on President Biden at the top of the ticket has proven a struggle. His poor showing at the June debate with former President Donald Trump zapped a lot of energy. Then came the attempted assassination on Trump in nearby Butler, which caused a lot of “whiplash” in this area where many voters don’t adhere strictly to one party or the other.

“People are a little bit checked out. People are very tired. And we’re just trying to say, ‘OK , you’re going to be tired about the top of the ticket, but there’s still work to do,’” Madonna-Emmerling said, noting that some door-knocking efforts were slowed down after the shooting out of respect for Republican voters.

She couldn’t quite see a way forward.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

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But then came the historic news that Biden was dropping out and making way for Vice President Harris to take his place. While she wasn’t necessarily calling for Biden to drop out, Madonna-Emmerling said she feels like his decision may prove a consequential one in Pennsylvania, which will again prove key to winning the White House.

“It was a literal exhalation, shoulders lowering,” Madonna-Emmerling said. “We’ve stopped the bleeding.”

More and more volunteers, she said, have called her in recent days about voter outreach efforts since Biden’s move.

“Plug in, let’s go,” she told them. “Get on the train. We’re all going together to the top.”

Their involvement in getting more voters to turn out could make all the difference in Moon Township, and other suburbs that surround Pittsburgh, which historically have voted for Republicans.

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Trump won most of Moon Township’s 13 voting precincts in 2016 when he carried the state, according to Allegheny County Election Results data. And though most precincts again went his way in 2020, Democrats and Joe Biden picked up support in the town, when almost 2,000 more people voted. The same happened in small counties across the state, between here and Philadelphia and helped Democrats win the swing state back.

With the vice president now in the race, a new NPR poll found that the presidential race has hit a bit of a reset. Trump and Harris are now statistically tied, and some independent voters now say they are undecided,

Madonna-Emmerling feels that Harris’ campaign has injected new energy into Democrats, and she feels that the vice president’s background as a prosecutor is a winning combination and makes her an “ideal suburban candidate.”

Polling in the immediate aftermath of Biden’s endorsement for Harris shows she has more work to do with suburban voters, but also has more opportunity with folks in these areas who may now be undecided.

“Often in the suburbs, people want someone who is pro-public safety, pro-police,” Madonna-Emmerling said, adding that many in the area have family who are former military now working in law enforcement. “That can be a really hard barrier to overcome sometimes. And when you can say this is a clear case of a prosecutor against a felon, it’s a home run.”

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But across town, a local Republican says, “We’ll see …”

Moon Township’s elected Republican tax collector John Wink, speaking to NPR from his backyard on a slightly muggy afternoon, said he believes the luster of Harris replacing Biden at the top of the ticket will wear off in the coming weeks.

“We’ll see if that lasts,” Wink said. “I think she’s a terrible candidate. When she actually ran for president, she couldn’t get votes.”

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

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The core issues that Wink said he feels matter most to voters in this part of Pennsylvania – how they are currently experiencing inflation and securing the U.S.-Mexico border – still favor Trump.

Wink, who serves on the GOP’s state committee, has lived in the Pittsburgh area since he was two years old. His father was once mayor of Hampton Township, north of the city. Wink said he started working on campaigns, stuffing envelopes and putting mailers together for candidates, as early as 15 years old.

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And his wife serves on the library board alongside Democrat Madonna-Emmerling.

Residents and voters here are by and large happy with how the town is run, regardless of the party affiliation of those running the local government, he feels. The roads are well maintained and the police force is good, he added.

It’s Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state, closely watched by national politics, that makes living here interesting from a political perspective, Wink said.

“I’m glad Pennsylvania is a swing state, much more interesting than if it was one way or the other,” Wink said. “It’s a whole lot more fun.”

One of his gauges for how elections might go is looking at campaign signs in front yards.

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“I kind of thought Trump was in trouble in 2020 because I was seeing too many Biden signs, much more so than in 2016, where there were very little in the way of Hillary signs,” Wink remembered.

His verdict right now? It’s too early. There aren’t that many signs out yet, Wink said, but he’s still confident Trump will win.

So what are the keys for Trump and Harris here?

Wink said many local Republicans are excited to vote for Trump again, though he said he wished the party had nominated a younger candidate.

He would’ve liked to see Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley be the nominee. But Trump won the primaries, and Wink plans to vote for him.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

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As for whether Moon Township and areas nearby will vote for Trump or Harris, if she becomes the nominee as expected, Wink and Madonna-Emmerling have a similar view.

Families and seniors on fixed incomes here are struggling with the cost of groceries and other costs of living. Under Trump, “things were humming along pretty well,” Wink said, and if Republicans can communicate that message and get their lower-propensity voters to turn out, the election will be theirs.

Madonna-Emmerling thinks voters here will want a candidate to be honest and relatable and Harris fits the bill.

She says people in this community work hard and care about their families and those around them. Speaking authentically to that could motivate those among them who are non-voters to head to the polls.

“Don’t be fake,” Madonna-Emmerling advised. “We have a strong bull**** detector.”

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The audio version of this story was produced by Taylor Haney and edited by Gabriel Spitzer.

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Kering warns on profits after Gucci sales fall almost 20%

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Kering warns on profits after Gucci sales fall almost 20%

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Kering, owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent, warned on Wednesday that its operating income could fall by as much as 30 per cent in the second half of the year, compounding the woes at the French luxury company.

One of the biggest names in luxury, Kering was a laggard compared to peers LVMH and Hermès during the pandemic-era boom and its performance has only worsened as the industry as a whole has slowed.

Kering said sales at Gucci, its biggest brand accounting for half of revenues and two-thirds of profits, have fallen further with a turnround under a new designer having so far failed to gain traction.

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Second-quarter sales at top brand Gucci fell 19 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared to one year earlier, including “a continuing marked decrease in Asia-Pacific”, Kering said.

Group sales in the three months to June 30 dropped 11 per cent to €4.5bn, and fell short of analysts’ expectations.

Operating income dropped 42 per cent in the first half of the year to €1.58bn, in line with expectations compiled by Reuters after the company guided sharply lower at its last results.

A recurring operating margin of 17.5 per cent in the first half was significantly lower than during the same period last year, which the company attributed to “negative operational leverage”.

“In a challenging market environment, which adds pressure on our top line and profitability, we are working assiduously to create the conditions for a return to growth . . . While the current context might impact the pace of our execution, our determination and confidence are stronger than ever,” said Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault.

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Kering has said it is continuing to prioritise long-term investment in its brands despite strained demand.

Gucci is still rolling out product lines from its new designer Sabato de Sarno, which the group said were being well received by customers.

But it is not the only brand that is struggling. At Saint Laurent, Kering’s second-largest label, sales fell 9 per cent on a like-for-like basis in the second quarter, accelerating a trend from earlier in the year.

Bright spots were Bottega Veneta, where sales rose 4 per cent in the second quarter, and the company’s eyewear division, where they increased 5 per cent. 

Kering’s shares have fallen more than 23 per cent so far this year to trade at €300 each, giving it a market capitalisation of around €36.6bn.

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This is a far sharper sell-off than industry bellwether LVMH, after Kering shocked investors in April with a sharply lower profit outlook for the first half of the year. 

Controlled by the Pinault family, Kering had already issued a rare profit warning for the luxury industry in March amid falling sales, especially in the crucial Chinese market.

Smaller luxury companies Hugo Boss and Burberry, also in a turnround, have recently warned on profits. 

“More bad news and downgrades,” said Luca Solca, analyst at Bernstein. “The Kering guidance for the first half of the year is de facto materialising.”

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