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Will Hungary have another ‘EU first’ by being stripped of the EU Presidency?

Perle Petit

Date: 01/06/0023
Hungary is set to take over the rotating EU Presidency in July 2024, right after the European elections, but its damning record on respect for EU rights and values casts doubt on whether it is appropriate for Hungary to hold the Presidency at all.
The subject has risen to prominence over the last weeks following the European Parliament’s resolution from May 24, which questions “how Hungary will be able to credibly fulfil” the task of holding the Presidency. The resolution, which most political parties sponsored, was adopted this morning with 442 in favour and 144 against. This follows several EU measures thrown at the country to curb its further descent into autocracy – from the Parliament’s triggering of the Article 7 procedure to the Commission’s blocking of EU funding via the rule of law conditionality regulation. So far, few of these efforts have perturbed the Hungarian government.

Orbán’s regime thrives on the EU’s disapproval, employing the co-opted media empire at its disposal to frame any EU action as depriving the Hungarian people of their right to self-determine Hungarian values. Unfortunately, there is little the EU can currently do about this, as state-sponsored disinformation – which is rampant in Hungary – is a complicated moving target to deal with on a national level.

Technically, postponing a Presidency is a possible legal option. However, we can expect the political will from the Council to be lacking. Therefore, making all efforts to remove the ‘fangs’ of the Hungarian Presidency by reducing its platform and visibility during its tenure – rather than postponing or cancelling its turn – seems more prudent. For instance, not allowing them to preside over any meetings related to rule of law and EU values on the grounds of related ongoing legal and regulatory action against the country would be a justifiable simple and effective measure.

An additional benefit of this more tempered approach is that it will temporarily put aside the issue of what to do with Poland – the next in line after Hungary’s Presidency – as member states appear to want to deal with the former differently than with the latter. Although this is somewhat procrastinating on the ‘Poland issue’, institutional attention should be focused on the upcoming general elections from the perspective of supporting the place of strong opposition (for instance, such as the EU’s response to the recent PiS’ legislation on ‘Russian influence’).

Allowing Hungary to remain seated at the ‘EU table’ means that the government will be forced to keep being confronted with EU values and resistance. The Parliament should maintain its pressure on the Hungarian government, and demand more clarity and honesty from the Commission on the status of the super-milestones and remedial milestones attached to the Commission’s rule of law conditionality regulation. So far, there have been small steps from the Hungarian government to appease the Commission since the regulation was triggered last April. But there is always the risk of any such measures being superficially implemented only to be reverted or co-opted at a later date (see the government’s recent unfounded prolongation of the state of emergency and rule-by-emergency decree).

Perle Petit is a Policy Analyst in the European Politics and Institutions programme at the European Policy Centre. 

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