Orban hopeful on ties with von der Leyen’s Commission

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during press conference after the Visegrad Group (V4) and Western Balkan partners summit in Prague, Czech Republic, 12 September 2019. [Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Thursday (12 September) he was optimistic that the new European Commission would improve ties with the EU’s eastern members, long strained by disagreements over migration and multi-culturalism.

The Visegrad Four group (V4) – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – has often been at odds with outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his team, especially over how to manage migration into the bloc.

The eastern nations, which unlike their wealthier western peers have little experience of absorbing large numbers of immigrants, successfully resisted a Commission plan to distribute asylum seekers across EU member states.

“I am optimistic. The new commission, the behaviour of the new commission, the denomination of the new commission, all that will determine how successful the next five years will be,” Orbán told a news conference after a meeting of the V4 prime ministers in Prague.

He accused the outgoing commission of pursuing policies based on “let’s let migrants in, let’s build multiculturalism”, adding that Hungary and its neighbours opposed this approach.

Orbán, who has also repeatedly clashed with Brussels over his reforms of Hungary’s judiciary and the independence of media and academic institutions, said the new Commission must not try to “impose on us the things that our citizens do not want”.

“But if this process of imposing continues, we will be resistant,” said Orbán, speaking through an interpreter.

‘Protecting European way of life’

Incoming Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen presented her proposed team of commissioners on Tuesday, including Greece’s Margaritis Schinas with a newly created portfolio entitled “Protecting the European Way of Life”.

Paris asks for explanation about Schinas’s ‘questionable’ portfolio

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The Commission’s new name for the migration portfolio “Protecting our European Way of …

Among Schinas’ responsibilities will be finding common ground on migration, including a new pact on migration and asylum, according to his mission statement.

Asked about expectations for the new commissioner, Orbán said the region was ready to cooperate but would resist any attempts to impose plans.

The other V4 prime ministers said they were happy with the portfolios secured by their candidates in the new Commission, which must still be approved by the European Parliament before taking office on 1 November.

The Czechs and Slovak candidates got vice-presidency posts, Poland’s nominee will be responsible for agriculture and Hungary’s candidate will be in charge of EU enlargement, which is a priority for the central European countries.

The Czech commissioner, Věra Jourová, will be in charge of European values and transparency, and so may touch upon the disputes Brussels has over rule of law issues, media freedom and judicial independence with Hungary and also with Poland.

The Brief – Jourová and Reynders: EU's good cop – bad cop?

Now that we know the portfolio distribution of the future EU executive led by Ursula von der Leyen, one of the big surprises was splitting the rule of law portfolio between the two names that were circulating: the Czech Věra Jourová and the Belgian Didier Reynders.


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