28th May 2023

MEPs to urge block on Hungary taking EU presidency in 2024

  • Hungary's premier Viktor Orbán visiting the European Parliament in 2019 (Photo: European Parliament)
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In an unprecedented move, the European Parliament is questioning if Hungary should be allowed take on the EU's rotating presidency next year, according to a new draft resolution to be voted on next week.

The parliament "questions how Hungary is able to fulfil this task credibly in 2024 in view of incompliance with EU law and the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU [EU treaty] as well as the principle of sincere cooperation," the draft resolution, first reported by Hungarian newspaper Népszava and also seen by EUobserver, said.

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The parliament "asks the Council to find a proper solution as soon as possible; reminds that the parliament could take appropriate measures if such solution is not found".

A vote on this resolution is expected next Thursday (1 June).

"If Hungary doesn't take sincere measures to improve the rule of law, I think that they are unfit to hold the EU presidency in 2024," Swedish MEP for The Left, Malin Björk, one of the lawmakers backing the resolution, said.

"If the council doesn't act to make this clear, I want to see that we in the EP [European Parliament] take decisive action. That can mean different things, such as putting trilogues [legislative negotiations] on hold, or not inviting Hungarian ministers to committee work and meetings," Björk said, on what measures could the parliament take.

Hungary will take over the council's rotating presidency in July 2024 for six months. The order of the presidencies is decided by the governments.

The government of prime minister Viktor Orbán has been under scrutiny for years by the EU under the Article 7 procedure, and it is the only member state whose EU funds have been suspended due to concerns over the rule of law and democratic backsliding.

"This will be the first time a member state that is under the Article 7 procedure will take over the rotating presidency of the council," French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who is the key lawmaker on Hungary's Article 7 procedure and backs the resolution, said.

"We are seriously concerned by the ability of the Hungarian government to lead the EU Council presidency and adhere to European values, so long as Hungary cannot be considered a functioning democracy," she added.

Hungary's justice minister Judit Varga on Thursday (25 May) reacted in a Facebook post, saying the parliament "was not assigned any role in this process", adding that "of those who were actually assigned any role in this process, no one thought that Hungary should not take up its rightful position".

"We will not let such an opportunity be taken away from Hungary!," she added.

Hostile state

Under Orbán, Hungary has been increasingly using its veto, and using a hostile tone with the EU to whip up anti-Brussels sentiment in his country to solidify his voter base.

A few examples: in 2020 it threatened to upend negotiations on the long-term EU budget, it has diluted or vetoed sanctions proposals on Russia , worked to soften criticism of China and Israel and blocked the use of wording referring to "gender" in different EU texts.

And Budapest has been accused by other member states and EU institutions of "blackmail".

As recently as Tuesday, Germany's defence minister Boris Pistorius said he was "somewhat disappointed or irritated by the behaviour of Hungarian friends" for blocking €500m of EU reimbursements to EU countries sending military aid to Ukraine, Germany's dpa reported.

Why does it matter?

The roster of countries taking over the EU's presidency is preset, based on a decision made by EU governments, not the parliament.

The current running order was set in 2016, (after the UK's Brexit vote) until 2030.

MEPs involved with the draft resolution on Hungary expect the EU Commission and the council next Wednesday to explain how it will work with Hungary when it holds the EU presidency.

Hungary's six month stint will come right after the European elections in June. Then the EU calendar is expected to be dominated by setting up the new parliament and negotiating for the top EU jobs, such as the EU Commission and European Council presidents.

The country that runs the EU presidency gets to set the agenda, and has the task of pushing through legislation in the EU machinery, giving weight to those it values more. However, presidencies are supposed to be facilitators and neutral brokers with other member states, and with EU institutions.

Immediately after the elections, the usual legislative grind will come to a halt, but Orbán will have a large platform to exert his influence.

"Orbán will be in a position to influence quite a lot, especially the preparation for the negotiators on the top jobs," said an EU official, adding that "Orbán can set the scene for the distribution of positions."

Last time around, it was opposition from Hungary and Poland that prevented then centre-right candidate Manfred Weber (EPP), and centre-left candidate Frans Timmermans (S&D), from clinching the EU Commission presidency.

If current EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wants to keep her job, she has an "extremely complicated political process" to navigate — with Hungary's EU funds currently suspended, the official added.

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