Hungary at the head of the EU: "Let's make Europe great"

Viktor Orbán/ Photo: EPA-EFE/ARIS OIKONOMOU / POOL

Hungary takes over the rotating presidency of the EU Council, with possible implications for Ukraine and climate policy. Will the wheels of the Union continue to turn with its most vocal dissident?

It came as no surprise when Hungary released an official Trumpian-sounding slogan this week to mark its six-month presidency of the European Union. However, Make Europe Great Again has raised eyebrows in Brussels.

Hungary's ultra-nationalist, populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump, is the most openly Eurosceptic leader in the European Union.

Over the past decade, his government has clashed with EU officials and other member states over the country's democratic backsliding, migration and, more recently, the Union's military support for Ukraine.

Budapest often used its veto on key votes, delaying policy measures when everyone else was ready to proceed. Hungary was denied billions of euros in EU funding due to violations of democracy and the rule of law, although some of it has since been released following reforms. However, just last week Hungary was fined 200 million euros ($216 million) for violating EU asylum laws.

A question of the ability to preside

The Presidency of the Council of the EU is a six-month rotating post held by 27 member states. Noting that the role of the Presidency is to act as an "honest mediator" between member states and rise above national interests, and that the Presidency is responsible for promoting the Union's legislative agenda, the European Parliament questioned Budapest's ability to perform this task.

Last June, a majority of EU representatives adopted a resolution asking "how Hungary will be able to credibly fulfill this task in 2024, given its non-compliance with EU law".

But this non-binding objection never had any consequences.

On July 1, Hungary will begin chairing ministerial meetings and summits, taking over the current presidency from Belgium. By the end of the year, he will represent the other member states in the negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission, the executive authority of the European Union.

"Honest broker" with Trumpian overtones

On Tuesday, at a press conference in Budapest, Hungarian EU Minister Janos Boka promised that his country would work productively.

- As a presidency, we will be an honest mediator who works loyally with all member states and institutions - Boka said.

Boca said that during his tenure, Hungary would strive to strengthen the EU's economic competitiveness, strengthen defense policy, pursue a "consistent performance-based enlargement policy" and stop illegal migration through tighter borders and more effective deportations. in cooperation with non-EU countries.

In addition, he said, Budapest will reshape the Cohesion Fund, which seeks to close the gap between richer and poorer regions, promote a "farmer-oriented EU agricultural policy", taking into account protests against EU climate measures and address demographic challenges.

And then he presented the official slogan: "Let's make Europe great again", said Boca - a clear reference to Trump's famous slogan "Let's make America great again".

Relations between the EU and the US worsened during Trump's presidency, which lasted from 2017 to 2021. Despite the recent criminal conviction, Trump is again running for president in the November election.

- It actually shows... the expectation that we should be stronger together than individually, but that we should be allowed to remain who we are when we are together - Boka said, commenting on the Hungarian slogan.

A "rebellious" member takes the reins

Alberto Alemanno, a professor of European law at HEC University in Paris, also advocated that Hungary be denied the presidency.

- My main concern regarding the Hungarian presidency is that it will further normalize the idea that a rebel member state can ignore the rules of the game and still benefit from the game - he said in a written statement to DV.

Budapest takes over the presidency at the time of the transition to Brussels. The elections for the European Parliament were held in June, and the new European Commission will finalize its composition only at the end of the year. This probably means very few new legislative initiatives.

Slow accession process of Kyiv

One area where there could be potential ramifications is the early stage of Ukraine's bid to join the EU. Kiev hopes to make quick progress by opening concrete talks on the necessary reforms, known in EU jargon as "negotiating chapters".

On Tuesday, Boca suggested there would be no major changes until 2025. "According to my expectations during the Hungarian presidency, the issue of opening chapters will not be raised at all," he told reporters.

The "Green Deal" under pressure from the right

Alemanno also believes that the Hungarian presidency can influence the EU's climate policy, especially the 2030 targets, which should put the EU on track towards the overall goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

"The Hungarian government led by Fidesz has often criticized the 'Green Deal' and the climate agenda of the EU," he says. "In the political landscape that is expected to shift to the right (after the recent EU elections), the presence of a climate-skeptic country at the head of the Council during the second half of 2024 may affect the positioning of the EU - Alemanno believes.

Even so, the influence of the EU Presidency's role should not be overestimated. The vast majority of legal proposals come from the European Commission, and are signed by the member states and the European Parliament.

A Western European diplomat told DW, on condition of anonymity, that they expect a fairly normal six months. "Orbán and his people are very aware that other member states will intervene and take action if they mess up the EU's agenda," the diplomat told DV.

– The platform will be used mostly for trolling, as with their slogan. It is up to us to be disciplined enough not to take the bait - says the source.

Source: Deutsche Welle/ Author: Ella Joyner

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