Every Presidency claims that their six months are the hardest to handle of all. But when it comes to Hungary, this claim seems to be true.
During 2010 Sweden shared some lessons learnt from our own recent presidency with Hungarian politicians and civil servants. Many times we agreed that no matter how well and meticulously the programme is planned, what really matters in the end, is how we handle unforeseen events.
And, indeed, Hungary has had its fair share of unexpected events of great magnitude. As an example, when the Swedish Minister for Finance was here in November to discuss the upcoming Hungarian presidency with the Hungarian government, he stressed the finalisation of the package of economic management as being the most important task for Hungary. At that time, he did of course not know about several other European countries that would come to need financial help from the EU during the spring.
But even more importantly, one of the largest earthquakes of our time took place in Japan, with widespread risks of nuclear meltdowns. At virtually the same time, the southern neighbourhood shook in a political earthquake, starting with Tunisia, followed by Egypt, Libya and others, events that are still developing today. Even though the External Action Service (EAS) of the EU is now in place, and foreign relations are the responsibility of Catherine Ashton and her team, Hungary has had very important tasks to fulfil. The Hungarian Presidency has fulfilled their tasks with efficiency, elegance and a true sense of wanting to contribute with added value in areas of development assistance, migration flows and energy discussions.
If nothing else, the Hungarian organisers surely got a taste of crisis management in the thundering rain, during the ASEM meeting in Gödöllő, where even electricity could not be taken for granted.
For Sweden, it has also been very important to see that the Baltic Sea Strategy now has a twin strategy in the Danube region. We believe strongly in this sort of macro regional approach and have already seen some positive results from the strategy in our own region. We stand ready to share our lessons learnt when Hungary together with the countries along the Danube will start the implementation of their strategy.
The other highly welcome strategy that will be concluded during the Hungarian presidency, is the one about Roma in Europe. This is a long overdue strategy, which is to be formulated and forcefully implemented. The Roma are an asset for our societies and need to be empowered to reach their full potential.
Luckily enough, the EU also gives space for profoundly different opinions. For Sweden, the field of agriculture policy is one of those areas where we have different beliefs than Hungary and several other Member States. Nevertheless, Hungary has proved its commitment in several areas where the management of the agricultural portfolio has been intense, such as the future of the CAP and the Quality Package. The informal agriculture ministerial meeting in Debrecen was also much appreciated and our minister even found himself to be the focal point of a protest arranged by Greenpeace. Little did he expect to face protest banners in the middle of the smoking hot Hungarian puszta. For our Swedish minister, this was an excellent occasion to have a quick personal meeting with engaged European citizens.
Now we are all getting into the mood of excitement with less than 20 days left before the June European Council. The future economic management of the EU and the faith of Croatia’s negotiations will be a crucial issue for this meeting. And even if the closure of negotiations with Croatia might take place in the close future after June, Hungary should have a large part of the credit for having paved the way for Croatia’s accession.
But then, a well-deserved holiday will follow. From our Swedish experience, I must however warn my Hungarian friends: it will not take long before you too will get into post-presidency depression, when realising that you are not in the driver’sseat any more! In sum, while we will miss the wonderful wines, the great food and all the fantastic cultural wealth Hungary has allowed us to experience these last six months, we look forward to a summer with rest and seeing the work at our embassy moving back to its standard mode of operations. At the same time, we can rest assure that the Hungarian presidency has made a substantial contribution to the community we call Europe.