Challenges of the Hungarian Presidency
The presidency does not provide notable additional rights or influence in decision-making for the country running it. It rather imposes tasks of protocol and organisation. Within this framework, we can see what Hungary finds important for the prosperity of the EU, as president, during this time of huge challenges.
Taking on the EU presidency is a great moment and a cause for deep satisfaction for Hungary. It is also a sign of the integrity of Europe. In the years since World War II Hungary suffered the largest blood-toll in the continent for freedom, liberty and democracy, especially in 1956 and its aftermath. This country first tore open the iron curtain, making an end of the division of the European continent. Now Hungary works within the EU as president for its success and cooperation.
Besides the historical moment, the Hungarian leadership confronts an extraordinary difficult time in life of the EU: in fact few governments have met such numerous and hard challenges in their presidency.
The global effects of the international crisis, which began in 2008, are still significant, and the EU must position itself in the changing global economic and political environment. The EU itself, and several of its member states, struggle with serious economic problems. The situation may destabilise the common currency, and so the economic framework of European cooperation. There are fears about the sustainability of the Euro, about the birth of a "two-speed EU". Employment, energy and food security are all looming problems. The multicultural model is also suddenly the subject of debate.
The target of the Hungarian presidency is to strengthen the EU economically and politically. Managing the crises is clearly the Presidency’s overall priority.
It’s good news, that the present FIDESZ government in Hungary has good skills in economic crisis management. They proved it a decade ago, and it is again one of their main task in Hungary. Some months after the government came to power amidst a full national social and economic crisis, now the Hungarian budget deficit target is to be less than 3 %, and the level of national debt will be decreased in 2011. This is an outstanding goal, which may be a positive sign about Hungary’s credibility for the whole EU.
Among the main priority topics, the first is economic growth and employment, so as to preserve the European social model. The presidency looks to the EU 2020 Programme, to maintain and improve the living standards of EU citizens. Its specific focus will be on creating jobs and sustainable competitiveness. One major instrument to this end will be to support small and medium size enterprises, as the main drivers of job creation. The presidency also wishes to alert Europe about the demographic question and the family policy in this context. It has its effect on employment and economic growth as well. Hungarian experts also hope to formulate a European-level Roma strategy, since this question has evidently become an issue for Europe as a whole.
The motto of a stronger Europe primarily refers to the strengthening of internal policies about food, energy and water. The current rise in food prices in many countries manifests how crucial is this topic. Hungary wishes to reduce the vulnerability of the EU and its member states in the matter of energy dependence. Pipelines are being connected, new pipelines are to be laid, alternative energy is strongly supported. In relation to the debate on preserving water resources, the development of the Danube region will also be in focus.
Hungary wishes to be citizen friendly. Within this framework, she wants Europe to focus on cultural diversity as a European value which needs to be protected.
Hopefully the Hungarian government will draw attention as well to the protection of the indigenous minorities, which no doubt needs to be improved in more areas.
On the subject of enlargement, Hungary wishes to help Croatia to join the EU as soon as possible, for the benefit of all parties. Recently, due to its internal problems, the EU has become less "enlargement friendly", so to cultivate a positive approach to this question may not be easy.
Hungary takes the banner in a difficult time again. Time is short and the presidential task is less about making decisions than about enabling procedures for those decisions to be taken collectively. We will see how things will develop, the skilled experts and the visions are very promising.
Executive manager, OCIPE – Jesuit European Office, Budapest