The Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU: A Test of EU Values and Governance

The Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union commenced on 1 July 2024. Despites concerns about its ability to do so, the Hungarian government is promising to act as an honest broker, pledging to facilitate concrete steps towards EU enlargement during this period of institutional transition with the formation of the new European Parliament and European Commission. The main narrative of the Presidency is to “guarantee peace and security in Europe,” while improving the continent’s competitiveness. Other key priorities include boosting the defence industry and joint European defence procurement, forming partnership agreements to reduce migration, and ensuring a calculable and merit-based enlargement policy.

According to its priorities, the Hungarian government is particularly focused on the Western Balkans, aiming to open a new cluster with Serbia, close most chapters with Montenegro, and establish an intergovernmental conference with North Macedonia and Albania. The government also advocates for a gradual approach to involving candidate countries in EU programmes before full membership, such as integrating them into the Single European Payment Area. Additionally, the Presidency seeks to secure the cohesion policy, including its role in promoting competitiveness and employment, tackle demographic challenges, and promote a farmer-friendly agricultural policy. The government also supports full membership of Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen Area. Although the country has lifted its block on EU accession negotiations with Ukraine, significant progress is not anticipated during its Presidency.

However, several concerns regarding the Hungarian government’s ability to fulfil this agenda persist. Under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the government has been curbing press freedom, judicial independence, and LGBTQIA+ rights. These actions have led the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings and the freezing of billions of euros in funds. The European Parliament’s Article 7 disciplinary procedure in 2018, and the 2022 declaration of Hungary as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy,” highlight serious breaches of democratic norms. Accusations of corruption involving Orbán’s family and allies, along with the government’s refusal to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, further exacerbate these issues. Additionally, the consistent use of veto powers in the Council to delay approving sanctions against Russia and block military aid to Ukraine calls into question the Presidency’s commitment to EU principles, casting doubt on its ability to effectively lead the Council in 2024.

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 European Movement International’s Position 

The European Movement International welcomes the Hungarian Presidency’s focus on enlargement, however, this commitment must align with fundamental EU values. As we argue in our policy positions on “Promoting Peace, Stability And Investment In The Western Balkans” and on “The Future Of European Security And Defence Cooperation”, we stress the strategic importance of EU enlargement to anchor democratic reforms in accession countries and counter unwarranted influence from malign external actors. We advocate for a clear pathway for candidate countries, urging the EU to advance accession processes while upholding the Copenhagen criteria and EU values. Enhanced cooperation and support for reforms, including technical and financial assistance, are crucial. Strengthening cooperation should prioritise democratic governance and adherence to European standards.

Moreover, the EU needs to show strong political will to keep supporting Ukraine and advance its security and defence capabilities. The EU can protect its citizens, as well as Ukraine, and contribute to international peace and security by adopting a more uniform security and defence policy. Ensuring consistent assistance and cooperation with Ukraine underscores the EU’s commitment to fostering stability in the region and upholding democratic values in the face of external pressures.

Finally, we emphasise that the protection of democracy must be at the forefront of the EU’s agenda and that the rule of law must always be the bedrock of the European Union’s integrity and credibility, irrespective of which Member State holds the Presidency of the EU Council. As we argue in our policy position on the rule of law, we call for robust measures to enforce and defend fundamental EU values, including the full application of the rule of law conditionality mechanism to the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework, retroactively applying it to any breaches of rule of law or judicial independence since its introduction on 1 January 2021. Additionally, comprehensive institutional reforms, such as transitioning from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council for enforcing the rule of law framework, are essential to enhance democratic governance within the EU and effectively address rule of law breaches in Member States. No government is above the rule of law.



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