At presidency midterm, Orbán denounces EU ‘absurdities’

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán presented in Brussels yesterday (14 April) his country's accomplishments halfway through its EU presidency. Pre-empting tough questions on Hungarian internal politics, Orbán lashed out at some of Europe's "absurdities".

Using sports terminology, Orbán, who is a former professional football player, said the Hungarian Presidency had successfully reached "half time" in the match.

But he added that all the "goals" were scored in "the first five minutes" of the second half, referring to the first few days of April.

In particular, he portrayed as a success the last Justice and Home Affairs ministerial meeting, which dealt with the immigration challenge posed by the recent Arab revolutions.

In fact, France and Italy clashed at this meeting, while most EU countries rejected recourse to a "temporary protection" mechanism, which would have allowed the immigration burden to be shared more fairly between the bloc's member states.

Orbán also described as successes the EU's Danube Strategy, adopted the previous day by foreign ministers in Luxembourg, as well as a recent European Parliament resolution on the 'EU Strategy on Roma Inclusion' and European Commission's proposal for an 'EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies'.

'Against the stream' on enlargement

On the negative side, Orbán voiced disappointment over what he called a delay in Croatia's accession talks.

"We are rowing against the current. There has never been less inclination to enlarge the EU, but we do want to enlarge it," he said, speaking via a translator.

"I cannot dramatise the situation, because it's already dramatic," he went on.

Orbán said that since he had first come to Brussels in 1996, support for enlargement had never been lower than it was now. "There are doubts, there are reservations, there are fears, there are uncertainties: these are the key words attached to enlargement," he said.

He said the leaders of EU member states were not answering a simple question: is EU enlargement in the interests of the Union? "There is a delay in the Croatia file, we are making a tremendous effort, but we are running against a wall," he said.

Asked about Macedonia's membership bid, Orbán for once spoke in English, saying that this was "the toughest issue". "If I should characterise this situation, I would say that it's the embodiment of absurdity," he said emphatically.

Orbán said he was tired of having to remember that as EU presidency holder he must call the country "FYROM". Hungary recognises Macedonia under its constitutional name, but due to the position of Greece, which refuses to recognise its small neighbour under this name, the EU institutions refer to it as "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

"This is an absurdity. An absurdity unimaginable in Europe," Orbán repeated.

'No political support' for Romania, Bulgaria's Schengen bid

Similarly, Orbán deplored delays to the accession of the EU's newest members to the borderless Schengen area.

Both Romania and Bulgaria were expected to join this spring, but their accession was delayed mainly due to the opposition of France and Germany. Paris in particular insists that Sofia and Bucharest must improve their judiciary and law enforcement, neither of which are criteria for joining Schengen.

"At least we have a document which shows that these two countries are sufficiently prepared to join the Schengen area, but despite that, there is no political support," Orbán lamented.

"These are strong countries standing in the way, making a wall, to use a football analogy. It's very challenging. All we can do is keep the talks alive," he said.

New constitution to be 'adopted this week'

EURACTIV also used football terminology to ask Orbán whether a vote on the country's new constitution, scheduled in parliament this week, was not "a match played in an empty stadium without an opponent".

The prime minister responded he was very proud that the final vote on the new constitution would take place in parliament "this week".

"If the other team doesn't show up, maybe they don't want to play the game. That's why you don't have any of their fans turning up," he added.

Hungary's new constitution is highly controversial in neighbouring countries as it defends the rights of Hungarians living outside the country.

A few days ago, Slovakia published an official statement warning that Bratislava would reject "any attempt to interfere with its sovereignty, including the implementation of collective rights of persons identifying as ethnic minorities".

Hungary's opposition socialist leader, Attila Mesterhazy, has called the new constitution "a Fidesz party constitution," referring to the name of Orbán's party, which is affiliated to the European People's Party.

Orbán said the new constitution was "a fine document" and rejected the view that his country could have avoided controversy by pushing the text through after its stint at the EU helem.

The new Hungarian constitution will be adopted in April, a week before Easter, its main author, centre-right MEP József Szájer – who wrote part of it on his iPad – recently announced.

The country's opposition claims that the procedure for adopting the new constitution is illegitimate and the controversy could impact further upon the Hungarian EU Presidency.

On 21 March, the Hungarian parliament started a debate on Hungary's new draft constitution. The speaker of the house, László Kövér, called the current constitution "void". The opposition claims that the Hungarian government has started a "constitutional coup".

Only about a quarter of MPs bothered to participate in the debate on the constitutional draft.

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