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Hungarian presidency in 2024 questioned by Germany

Hungarian presidency in 2024 questioned by Germany

Germany cast doubt Tuesday on Hungary’s ability to lead the EU’s policy-making process next year, adding fuel to nascent chatter about whether the EU would ever delay Budapest’s turn helming its rotating presidency.

Hungary is slated to hold the position for the second half of 2024, giving it a key role in coordinating policy work at the Council of the EU. The prospect has unnerved some Budapest critics, who note Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government is facing pervasive allegations of democratic backsliding and is mired in an ongoing rule-of-law fight with Brussels.

“I have doubts about the extent to which Hungary will be able to lead a successful Council presidency,” Germany’s Europe Minister Anna Lührmann told reporters on Tuesday in Brussels, where various government ministers were gathering for a meeting. Lührmann cited Hungary’s alleged rule-of-law violations and wavering stance on backing Ukraine in its war against Russia.

The remarks add a powerful EU voice to what has thus far been mostly theoretical chatter about blocking or restraining Hungary’s upcoming presidency. There is a resolution working its way through the European Parliament that vaguely calls for lawmakers to take “appropriate measures” regarding Hungary’s role. But the measure, set for a vote on Thursday, is non-binding and nonspecific about what could actually be done.

Still, the Parliament’s largest group, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) — which once housed Orbán’s Fidesz party — is pushing for action.

“During these unprecedented times, it is crucial that the Council is led by a country capable of upholding the strong collaboration among member states in decision-making, especially on issues such as sanctions against Russia or support for Ukraine,” Petri Sarvamaa, EPP group spokesman on budgetary control and issues related to rule of law, told Brussels Playbook.

The Council presidency rotates among EU countries every six months, giving the country in charge power to help set agendas and priorities, chair meetings and coordinate the EU policy work done during that time.

“I have significant concerns regarding Hungary’s ability to fulfill this role, especially given that Hungary at the moment is in incompliance with EU law regarding the rule of law,” Sarvamaa added.

Indeed, Hungary is currently unable to access billions in EU funds over various rule-of-law disputes with Brussels. Separately, Parliament long ago triggered the bloc’s Article 7 censure proceedings against Hungary — an extreme move that can result in a country losing its voting rights — but the process is stalled. 

Arriving at Tuesday’s gathering, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga dismissed the initiatives to delay its Council presidency as “nonsense.”

“Here the European Parliament has no role to play, there is the unanimous resolution of the Council since many years, which makes the order of presidencies,” Varga told reporters.

“Article 7 never says anything about who is the presidency, this is an obligation,” Varga added. “This is settled by European law.”

Germany’s critical words on Tuesday are just the latest example of Berlin going after Budapest. The two clashed during a foreign ministers’ meeting last week over the role a controversial Hungarian bank is playing in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Other countries on Tuesday were less outspoken than Germany, though, with many saying Parliament’s proposal is not on the agenda.

“Hungary should already be working with Spain [which will assume the presidency in July], and we expect neutrality and impartiality,” said French European Affairs Minister Laurence Boone.

It’s still unclear exactly what concrete measures could be taken against a Hungarian presidency. Dutch legal experts from the Meijers Committee recently published a paper describing three options — including an outright ban — to prevent or mitigate conflicts of interest during Hungary’s time in charge. It also examines similar options to restrict the country assuming the presidency after Hungary: Poland.

Source: Politico