The Hungarian EU Presidency [Archived]

  

Budget talks, farm reform and economic governance top the agenda of Hungary's EU presidency, but the country's six-month stint at the bloc's helm has been overshadowed by criticism of a controversial media law adopted by Budapest.

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Overview

Hungary is the final member of a 'trio' that also includes Spain and Belgium to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers. It did so on 1 January.

Formal talks on the next EU budget and future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) kick off during its six-month term at the bloc's helm.

Another potential landmark for the Hungarian Presidency could be the enhancement of Central Europe's visibility on the world stage as it seeks to implement the Danube Strategy before Poland, another Visegrád country, takes up the task in July.

On social issues, the Hungarian Presidency considers it a priority to "break taboos" and tackle the EU's demographic challenge, improve family policies, alleviate child poverty and achieve a breakthrough in the area of Roma inclusion.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party won April's legislative elections and his EU presidency programme was described as being "very ambitious" by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso at the beginning of October.

In November, Orbán was forced to shelve two original priorities – water management and cultural diversity – because of more pressing issues on the economic front, namely the need to secure treaty change in order to accommodate the euro's bailout mechanism and dealing with the first EU semester of economic governance.

Hungary is not a member of the euro zone but its finance minister will still have to chair Ecofin Council meetings during the next critical months of negotiations.

Nationalism

With the Hungarian population typically apathetic towards the EU, expectations for the presidency could centre on its nationalistic rhetoric, which is back on the rise.

The last general election, held in April, saw far-right party Jobbik win 47 seats, becoming the country's third largest party after the ruling centre-right Fidesz (263 seats) and the socialists (59 seats). Jobbik also has three elected MEPs in the European Parliament.

"We should not be afraid of being good patriots," Orbán stated following the final EU summit of the Belgian Presidency. "The idea that nationalism is a danger for Europe is an idea I cannot accept."

The presidency got off to a bad start after the adoption of a controversial law on media in Hungary before Christmas. The move drew criticism from various corners of the EU and strained relations with the European Commission (see 'Issues').

Hungary's traditionally Eurosceptic government will see its diplomatic skills tested as it oversees a treaty amendment for the euro zone's permanent bailout fund. It also faces a baptism of fire in managing the new institutional arrangements under the Lisbon Treaty.

Balint Odor, Hungarian deputy state secretary for European affairs, said the basic principle of their approach would be to promote the EU interest above all and sort out other ongoing issues "by playing the role of honest broker".

The number of meetings between heads of state is yet to be decided and depends on the turn of events, but 15 informal ministerial meetings are already scheduled for the six-month period.

Gödöllö Castle near Budapest, a symbol of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, has been chosen to host high-level meetings during the presidency.

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