The Hungarian Presidency has fully accomplished its objectives, hence, the European Union is now stronger than it was six months ago, Viktor Orbán said on 5 July 2011 in Strasbourg. The Hungarian head of government summarised the results of the six-month Presidency in the Europeam Parliament’s plenary meeting.
Hungary’s main objective was to strengthen the EU, Mr Orbán reminded the representatives, presenting the program of the Hungarian Presidency, which was printed in a green covered booklet. He said, “In my opinion, the EU is now stronger than it was six months ago, even though it had received three punches in the stomach.” These were: the deepening crisis of the eurozone, the nuclear disaster in Japan and the crisis in North Africa, he added. “The EU was able to respond quickly and efficiently to these, without making any changes to the six-month agenda,” Mr Orbán underlined.
The head of government noted that the citizens living far from the “witch’s brew” of the EU, do not perceive the strengthening of the Union, owing to the deepening crisis of the eurozone; and most of all, the crisis in Greece. Therefore, he invited MEPs to find quickly a solution to these problems.
Main accomplishments of the Presidency
Mr Orbán listed the main accomplishments of the Presidency, which promoted the strengthening of the EU: the European semester aimed at the control of Member States’ budgets, the six legislative proposals for reforming the economic governance, the Roma strategy, the Danube strategy, the conclusion of the accession talks with Croatia, the reinforcement of the external Schengen boards, the “creation of capacities necessary to contain migration”, and the important steps taken in order to deepen and expand the Schengen cooperation.
“Europe now has the means necessary for handling crisis prevention, and such means were not available six months ago. We can prevent the common currency from plummeting t such a difficult situation as it is now”, Mr Orbán stated. He added that the package of six legislative proposals, which is aimed at the strengthening of the economic governance, is “more than 95 percent ready.”
Talking about the Roma strategy, he highlighted: it is not only important from a humane and human rights prespective, but it also enables several million European citizens to enter into the labour market. He said, “This is the first document that considers Roma community not only a challenge, but also a significant opportunity and resource,” for the European Union.
Concerning the Danube strategy, he stressed that not only Union Member States are involved in its implementation. He said that we have finalised the intellectual preparations, and “if we can add substance to it, I can visualise a real chance for it to become a success story for our community.”
Mr. Orbán also praised the closing of the accession negotiations with Croatia. According to him, this will also provide an encouraging outlook for other states within the Western Balkans. He reported that he delivered a memorandum about the policy, relating to the Western Balkans to the Prime Ministers of Member States, the West Balkan countries and Union institutes.
After Mr Orbán's speech, President of the European Parliament (EP) Jerzy Buzek said that the memorandum contained a strategic vision and programme on the Western Balkans. Orbán's document considers the EU integration of the Western Balkans states will complete the reunification of Europe, Mr. Buzek added.
Useful role in interinstitutional cooperation
According to Mr Orbán, the Hungarian Presidency has played a useful role in the cooperation amongst the institutes of the Union. He highlighted the agreement on the involvement of the EP in the preparations process for the multi-annual budget. Recalling his “personal efforts, which were aimed at relaxing inter-institutional tensions”, the Prime Minister reported that he had 13 separate discussions with President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, 13 with President of the Commission José Manuel Barroso and 9 with President of the EP Jerzy Buzek.
Mr Orbán expressed his hopes that the Hungarian Presidency was a good preparation for the Polish Presidency, and the two consecutive Presidencies will validate the decision made ten years ago about the accession of Central European countries to the EU, i.e. that “Central European countries make the EU more colourful, stronger and more imaginative.”
The Hungarian head of government thanked the former Belgian Presidency for its “fantastic work”, in preparing the Hungarian term, President Buzek for providing “full support” to Hungary in its efforts to be “a Parliament-friendly Presidency”, President Barroso for enabling “the most open and honest discussions, even on the most difficult issues”, and the representatives for the EP’s People’s Party and head of faction, Joseph Daul for “preparing the political background necessary to ensure undisturbed work.”
Barroso: a very competent Presidency
Mr Barroso highly appreciated the performance of the Hungarian Presidency. In his contribution following the speech of Viktor Orbán, the President of the Commission reminded that: while confronted with very testing circumstances in the Union, Hungary had risen to the challenges and delivered a very competent Presidency of the Council. Mr Barroso underlined the openness of the Presidency for dialogue with the EP, on the next Multi-annual Financial Framework.
Reviewing the economic accomplishments of the Hungarian Presidency, the President of the Commission mentioned the marathon negotiations on the package of six legislative proposals in the first place, underlining that concerning the package of economic governance, the final agreement is within sight. Mr Barroso acknowledged the agreement on the unitary European patent: the Hungarian Presidency has made a critical contribution to breaking the deadlock. He emphasised that the EU must keep focussed on investing in our future, and the Hungarian Presidency has helped us in this respect.
Mr Barroso mentioned the closing of the accession negotiations with Croatia, and highlighted the determined support that the Commission had received from the Presidency. He welcomed the strong commitment given by Hungary regarding the future of the Western Balkans.
Acknowledgment and criticism during the debate in Parliament
Following the speeches of Mr Orbán and Mr Barroso, over thirty MEPs had the opportunity to contribute during the debate in Parliament, about the Hungarian Presidency.
Group Chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP) Joseph Daul, expressed his opinion that the Hungarian Presidency made significant progress despite the difficult economic and political environment, in several economic and foreign policy fields,. According to Mr Daul, the green light given to Croatia for EU accession is a good news not only for the Croatian nation, but also for other Balkans nations. Mr. Daul especially acknowledged the work of the Minister of State for EU Affairs Enikő Győri, a former MEP, and welcomed for the Schengen zone to be opened up for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
Talking on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) faction, Hannes Swoboda thanked the Hungarian Presidency, especially highlighting the adoption of the Roma strategy of the European Union, for being able to make decisions on several policy issues. At the same time, referring to the adoption of the Hungarian media law and the Constitution, he stated that Hungary could not always fulfil the other task of the Presidency: to act as a role model for other Member States.
On behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Alexander Lambsdorff said that the Hungarian Presidency has accomplished an impressive list of remarkable results, but he believed that in order to protect the Schengen aquis, the Presidency should have demonstrated more commitment. The MEP especially acknowledged the excellent work of Foreign Minister János Martonyi and Ms Győri. At the same time he regretted that the media law “ had cast a shadow on the Presidency.” According to Mr Lambsdorff, the recommendations of the Venice Commission should have been followed during the adoption of the Hungarian Constitution.
Co-president of the Green Party, Daniel Cohn-Bendit had strongly criticised the Hungarian Prime Minister for a speech given in Hungary during the semester, in which Mr Orbán compaired the decisions made in Brussels to the dictations imposed from Vienna, during the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, or from Moscow during socialist era. Although he criticised the media law and the Constitution, but he also appreciated the work of the Presidency at the officer level.
At the end of the plenary discussion, Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, Maroš Šefčovič warned that the debates concerning the media law and the new Hungarian Constitution should not over shadow the accomplishments of the Hungarian Presidency. Mr Šefčovič stated: the report of the Venice Commission concerning the Hungarian Constitution is being analysed thoroughly, but the Constitution itself, which will take effect in 2012, is not considered as being in conflict with the Community law.
Orbán denied criticism
In his second contribution responding to the debate, Mr Orbán stated that “from the beginning, the Hungarian Presidency has been in the crossfire of the international Left, and without the support of the People's Party faction of the EP, the Hungarian Presidency could not have been successful.”
Mr Orbán denied the criticisms voiced concerning the new Hungarian Constitution, and stressed that “in its nature, the Hungarian Constitution is a modern European one.” He affirmed, “We insist that our Constitution is created by the Hungarians.”
Buzek: the Roma strategy may also serve the integration of other minorities
In the press conference following the plenary debate, Jerzy Buzek gave special thanks to the Hungarian Presidency for the inter-institutional compromise that was reached on the Multi-annual Financial Framework. “You created quite a new way of tackling the problem by the three institutions,” the President of the EP said. In this context, the Hungarian Prime Minister said that he was very proud of the compromise, and added, “The cooperation is now defined by the Hungarian innovation.”
When evaluating the accomplishments of the Presidency, Buzek highlighted that in the future, the Roma strategy could also aid the support for the integration of any other minorities in Europe.
Responding to criticisms about the “double rhetoric” of the Hungarian head of government, Mr Buzek stated, “It is very important to acknowledge that all the solutions of the Member States are controlled at all times by the European Commission. (…) So, if the conclusion is that, from the perspective of the EU law, something should be changed, there is always a very tough proposal from the side of the Commission.” The President of the EP reminded that the Hungarian Government had amended the disputed media law according to the proposals of the Commission.