Europe’s response to the economic crisis is “much more comprehensive and deeper” than expected, the Heads of State and Government “have identified the pillars of Europe’s future economic system” Viktor Orbán said at a press conference in Brussels, evaluating the two-day European Council meeting that concluded on 25 March. The Hungarian premier called the agreement on the package of six economic legislative proposals a “significant partial success” of the Presidency.
Summarizing the accomplishments of the EU Summit, the Hungarian Prime Minister said “a complete overhaul of the European economic and social model is in progress,” as the EU has to respond to the crisis and the downturn of its international competitiveness simultaneously. Talking about the conclusions adopted by the European Council, Orbán focussed especially on the sections setting the directions for structural reforms designed to stimulate growth, including increasing the attractiveness of employment; assisting the unemployed to find new jobs, combating poverty and promoting social inclusion, investing in training and education; creating a balance between safety and flexibility; reforming pension systems, involving private capital in financing growth; facilitating research and innovation, as well as supplying affordable energy and the strengthening energy efficiency measures.
“This demonstrates clearly that Europe is moving towards competitiveness and breaks with some old taboos. Europe will apply brand new methods and instruments focusing on employment growth” the head of government stressed. “If Europe wants to be competitive, it will have to learn the meaning of the words again like industrial production, industrial capacity, work and wages” he added. “The post-industrial gibberish has come to an end.” It has been asserted that “there is no value without work, there is no growth without work and there is no competitiveness without work”, first of all, this assertion gave the significance of the meeting of the European Council, Orbán claimed.
Breakthrough concerning the package of six economic legislative proposals
Viktor Orbán reminded that the March EU Summit was marked in the calendar of the Presidency as “the toughest event of the entire term.” The Prime Minister acknowledged with satisfaction that it was on the first day that the European Council approved the reform of economic governance, i.e. the political agreement Member States reached at the 15 March ECOFIN regarding the package of six laws aimed at reinforcing fiscal and macroeconomic supervision. Orbán reminded of the marked differences of opinion voiced only three weeks prior on 15 items of the package of six legislative proposals. “Very few of us would have bet a brass farthing” on a compromise that would get the approval of the heads of state and government at the Summit, but this is exactly what happened eventually,” Orbán said.
The Hungarian head of government added that, based on his discussions with the six rapporteurs of European Parliament, he sees a “good chance” for closing the debate on the package of six legislative successfully in June. “I have always regarded that as the greatest mission of the Hungarian Presidency” Orbán said. The Hungarian Presidency still has a few “worthy assignments,” such as the Roma framework strategy, the Danube strategy, the common energy policy, still, these six legislative proposals posed the greatest challenge, and “we can talk about a major partial success” in that regard, Orbán concluded. “Perhaps, it is no exaggeration to call it a breakthrough” he added.
Hungary opts out of ‘Euro Plus Pact’
Talking about the ‘Euro Plus Pact’, which is tantamount to a new level of economic coordination between EU Member States, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Hungary will not join this inter-governmental arrangement yet, because it does not agree with the tax harmonisation, which is one of the six commitments.
“The question is not whether we should move slowly or quickly towards tax harmonisation. In fact, we must not move in that direction at all. Hungary’s position is firm on that.” Orbán quoted an impact study, published by the Commission, which estimates that adopting a common base for corporate taxes, would reduce Hungary’s economic growth by one percentage point a year.
Mid-term balance of the Presidency
As the Hungarian Presidency is approaching mid-term, Viktor Orbán seized the opportunity, to draw a concise balance of the last three months. “We appear to have practically completed what we planned,” the Prime Minister stated. To illustrate the most important results, the PM mentioned the unitary patent, the acceptance of the Council conclusions related to the pact on gender equality, the Council agreement on the common energy policy, and the agreement upon the North-South energy corridor.
At the same time, Orbán said the progress on enlarging the Schengen area did not advance as far as the Presidency had wished: the accession of Bulgaria and Romania “Are up against partial but powerful opposition by some Member States. We have not given up the fight,” the head of government said, but admitted, “The likelihood of closing the dossier during the Hungarian presidency, is very slim.” He also added, “The matter of Croatian accession hangs by a thread,” so; it is doubtful whether negotiations with Croatia, can be concluded, during the Hungarian term. Viktor Orbán suggested the President of the European Commission’s visit to Croatia at the beginning of April, might be conclusive. He pointed out that the Hungarian Presidency had outlined a scenario for the Union that, if accepted, it would be tantamount to closing the accession talks with Croatia, before the end of June.
Libya: protection for the civil population
Viktor Orbán invoked the idea, quoted frequently in EU circles, that presidencies are normally measured by the way it handles unexpected events that are hard to prepare for. Up to now, the Hungarian Presidency has had to face two events of that kind: Firstly, “The challenge of re-alignment in the Arab world,” and secondly, the natural disaster and nuclear accident in Japan. “We do not know, if this list is final or if there are further surprises in store for the next three months,” he added.
Orbán claimed the European Council, had adopted a “Rather firm position” on Libya. He thought the circumstances of the intervention were open for discussion, but it is beyond any doubt that “The European Union has set itself the goal, to protect the civilian population.” Orbán referred to the EU’s “Intention not to go beyond that assignment,” which explains why the Council’s words were “Unequivocal and firm,” about the goal and “Permissive and open,” about the instruments.
In response to a question, Orbán said at the press briefing, that the Libyan crisis is “One of the most complicated cases,” he had ever encountered. Recalling the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, he admitted that in cases of that nature “It is difficult to set civilians and non-civilians apart; that is clearly concomitant to any uprising against tyranny,” he added.
The Hungarian Prime Minister pointed out that a military intervention in Libya, were subject to several restraints. He approved the efforts aimed at involving “Arabian political actors,” in the operations.
Japan: the European Union reacted promptly
Concerning Japan, the Prime Minister underlined that Europe’s exposure was extraordinary, which is why, in addition to expressing sympathy and solidarity, a swift response was necessary. The Presidency gave by summoning the extraordinary meeting of the ministers responsible for energy, on 21 March.
The Prime Minister reminded of the two opposing concepts within the EU: the complete rejection of nuclear energy on the one hand, and strong support for the same on the other. He emphasised that the fears of the voters, should be taken seriously; and nuclear power stations should be immediately subjected to stress testing, “In order to gain a comprehensive picture about the security of nuclear, energy in Europe.” Orbán said in the meeting of the European Council, concluded regarding the events in Fukushima, that it was the tsunami rather than the earthquake, that gave rise to the dangerous accident; and therefore the near-sea nuclear power stations, should be investigated separately.
Heads of state and government of the EU 27 will discuss the economic reform package on their spring economic and social summit. The meeting of the European Council will also have the developments in the EU's southern region on the agenda.