Hungary to block EU’s Africa-Pacific trade and development deal

Hungary's Foreign and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto (L) talks to Portugal's Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva during a European Foreign Trade ministers meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 20 May 2021. [EPA-EFE/FRANCISCO SECO / POOL]

Hungary cannot approve a new European Union trade and development accord with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries because it would bring more migrants into the bloc, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday (20 May).

Budapest’s refusal to ratify the accord with 79 countries, which was agreed by EU negotiators in December, would imperil years of talks to update the two-decade-old Cotonou development treaty with new provisions on areas including climate protection, human rights and migration.

The pledge to block the treaty is Budapest’s latest step in holding up EU policies ranging from China to Lebanon. On Tuesday, Hungary declined to support an EU call for a ceasefire in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hungary blocks EU declaration on Israel-Palestine ceasefire

EU foreign ministers called on Tuesday (18 May) for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and boosted humanitarian aid for Gaza, but failed to reach the unanimity that might give the EU leverage in peacemaking.

“All of our proposals have been swept off the table, so we will surely not give our names to this agreement,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said of the Post-Cotonou deal.

“There is no need for fresh migration waves, especially now,” he told reporters in Brussels, referring to the impact of COVID-19, according to a news conference posted on his Facebook page.

Meanwhile, perhaps the main new addition of the December deal is the text on migration which includes new commitments from ACP countries on return and re-admission, which the EU pushed hard for in the negotiations.

EU and ACP finalise post-Cotonou treaty, after two-year delay

Negotiators from the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific community signed off on a broad 20-year partnership deal to succeed the Cotonou Agreement on Thursday night (3 December) after nearly three years of difficult talks.

“We want to get away from a system (on migration) where Cotonou had vague principles but couldn’t be legally enforced,” said an EU official, a reference to the refusal of African countries to agree to readmit failed migrants, despite having promised to do so in the Cotonou treaty.

If there is no cooperation, the official added, there are ‘proportionate measures’ that can be taken in dispute settlement.

The new treaty must be ratified by all 27 EU states to take effect and, along with trade, it includes ways for African, Caribbean and Pacific nations to take back migrants whose asylum applications have failed in the EU.

But Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán, who rejects EU efforts to share out refugees across the bloc, has objected to some of the terms of the Post-Cotonou agreement.

The treaty would allow for some legal migration for African, Caribbean and Pacific citizens to the EU through visas and family reunification, for instance.

Orbán told Reuters in an interview in September that Hungary did not want “a parallel society, or open society or a mixed-up culture,” that included Muslim migrants from non-EU countries.

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