2nd Oct 2023

Germany unsure if Orbán fit to be 'EU president'

  • Germany's EU state minister Anna Lührmann (l) and Hungary's justice minister Judit Varga (r) shaking hands before the meeting (Photo: European Parliament)
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Germany has raised doubts on Hungary's 2024 EU presidency, amid an European Parliament vote on rethinking prime minister Viktor Orbán's eligibility.

Hungary is "currently isolated in the EU because of problems with the rule of law that are really serious," Germany's state minister for Europe Anna Lührmann said as she arrived in Brussels on Tuesday (30 May) to meet her peers.

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"I have doubts about the extent to which Hungary can succeed in holding a successful presidency," Lührmann said.

The issue is being pushed to the fore as the EU Parliament prepares to vote on a resolution urging the other 26 member states to rethink Hungary's EU chairmanship one year from now.

The vote could come on Thursday, with Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra also saying on Tuesday that "concerns have to be addressed by Hungary — that is of pivotal importance".

He stayed short of backing a challenge to Hungary's EU presidency, saying he had to "look into it".

"It is essential for the well-being of the EU that Hungary takes these concerns seriously," Hoekstra added.

The Europe ministers, also on Tuesday, discussed Orbán's backsliding on democratic values and basic rule of law.

He has faced a so-called 'Article 7' EU oversight procedure since 2018, without tangible results.

But for her part, Austria's EU minister Karoline Edtstadler took a softer approach in Tuesday's meeting.

She urged Hungary to "prepare" for the prestigious EU-presidency mantle.

It would give the Hungarians a chance to show that they're "pro-European, and will bring things forward, and not [act] in their own interest".

Arriving at Tuesday's meeting, Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga was less conciliatory, however.

Talk of suspending Hungary's EU presidency honours was "complete nonsense," Varga told the press in the EU capital.

"The European Parliament has no role to play — there is the unanimous resolution of the [EU] Council since many years, which makes the order of presidencies," she said.

The EU presidency timetable had nothing to do with the Article 7 procedure, Varga added.

She called Hungary's 2011 EU presidency over a decade ago, when Orbán was already prime minister, "perfect".

And she punched back at MEPs, saying the "European Parliament's left-wing majority doesn't like" Hungary's stance on migration, family, and the Ukraine war.

"There is little discussion about whether the European Parliament, which is bathing in corruption cases, complies with its own rules," she added, alluding to the Qatargate MEP-bribery fiasco last year.

Tuesday's talks in Brussels didn't officially handle the Hungary-presidency hot potato.

European Commission vice-president Věra Jourová also said after the meeting: "We did not discuss it in the commission."

But the parliament is set to move forward with its resolution.

And Lührmann, Berlin's Europe minister, isn't the only German voice stirring debate.

"Taking over the [EU] presidency comes with a lot of responsibility. It means no matter the topic, be it rule of law, migration or sanctions against Russia, the member state in charge must swiftly put the topic on the agenda and speak in the name of all member states," German MEP Monika Holhmeier, said.

"There are serious doubts Hungary is willing to do this job," he added.

"The Hungarian government needs to fundamentally change its behaviour if they want to speak on behalf of the European Union," added Holhmeier, who chairs the parliament's budgetary control committee.

MEPs to urge block on Hungary taking EU presidency in 2024

"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, the key lawmaker on Hungary, warned.

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