The Brief — A march to the Hexit

The Brief — A march to the Hexit |

Each time you think Hungary’s estrangement from the EU couldn’t get any worse, another front opens up – this time, over Budapest’s turn at the helm of the rotating six-month EU Council presidency in the second half of 2024.

MEPs are saying that Viktor Orbán’s government is ‘unfit’ to hold it and are almost certain to confirm that stance in a resolution in Brussels next week. The resolution also accuses the Orbán regime of “systemic corruption” as part of a wide-ranging charge sheet. 

In truth, the six-month presidency is not as politically important as it used to be, though, as the first presidency after next year’s EU elections, it is more significant than most.  

Hungary’s last presidency in 2011 – when Orbán’s government was well entrenched and already starting to ruffle feathers in Brussels – passed without major controversy.  

This time, the reaction of Orbán’s ministers has been as predictable as could be expected. 

“The same old, tired charge that Hungary violates the EU’s basic principles and is hence unable to hold the presidency,” retorted Orbán’s attack-dog-in-chief, government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs. 

It may, in any case, be a moot point. Legally, the European Parliament does not have the power to strip a member state of its right to host the presidency. 

Even so, it is hard to imagine that the mutual mistrust and sheer political difference between the Orbán government and the EU institutions could be any more toxic.

For those of us who watched the UK’s relationship with its EU neighbours steadily deteriorate, particularly after the end of Tony Blair’s government, the collapse in relations between Hungary and its partners makes Brexit look like a garden party. 

However, there is one big difference between the UK and Hungary. One of the most effective and easy-to-understand arguments of Brexiteers was the complaint that the UK was a net contributor to the EU budget to the tune of about €10 billion a year.

Lest we forget, that argument allowed Boris Johnson to promise – entirely dishonestly – that leaving the EU would allow the UK to spend an extra £350 million per week on health spending. 

In 2021, there were 4.3 billion reasons why Hungary wanted to stay in the EU.  It is the third largest net beneficiary of EU funding. Only Poland and Greece received more than the €4.3 billion net that Budapest got from the EU budget in 2021.

That figure will inevitably rise significantly if and when Hungary finally convinces the European Commission that it has met the conditions for over €20 billion in post-pandemic recovery funds to be paid out. 

“Those who don’t understand the values maybe understand the money,” EU Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourová commented on Friday (26 May). 

Apart from the cash and, perhaps, single market access, it is increasingly hard to see why Orbán’s government would want to stay in an EU club where they are at odds with other members on most major policies – from sanctions against Russia to the rule of law and EU integration. 

It is perverse for a member of a club to wage a near-permanent rhetorical war against the club’s secretariat and other members – and it is not sustainable.

The Roundup

French MPs and senators overcame their disagreements on the bill aimed at regulating commercial influence and combating abuses on social media on Thursday, with the text heading to a final vote next week.

Olivier Vandecasteele, the Belgian aid worker held for 455 days in Iran, has finally been released, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday

Government delays in responding to thousands of residency applications by EU nationals could lead to a repeat of the Windrush scandal, where UK citizens were wrongly deported, UK lawmakers have warned. 

Billions of COVID-19 vaccines reached Africa only when rich countries’ populations were vaccinated, but building up manufacturing capacities in Africa could ensure African countries are not left behind.

French MPs and senators overcame their disagreements on the bill aimed at regulating commercial influence and combating abuses on social media on Thursday, with the text heading to a final vote next week.

Sam Altman, CEO of Microsoft-backed OpenAI, has backtracked on recent comments that the company might leave the EU if the bloc ‘overregulates’ Artificial Intelligence which provoked frustration from EU lawmakers.

The European Parliament’s environment committee has adopted its position on EU rules to slash industrial emissions, including from the largest farms, which is in direct contrast to that of their agricultural counterparts, who may now table their own amendments for the final vote.

Last but not least, don’t miss this week’s Tech Brief and the Agrifood video: Irrigation irritation: Spain’s battle for water in Doñana.

Look out for…

  • Commissioner Nicolas Schmit gives keynote speech at Porto Social Forum on Saturday.
  • Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans meets with government representatives, stakeholders and civil society to prepare for COP28 UN Climate Change Conference, Saturday-Sunday.
  • Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager takes part in fourth meeting of the EU-US Trade & Technology Council on Sunday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]


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