Germany doubts Hungary’s ability to hold the EU presidency in 2024

On May 30, Germany questioned Hungary’s ability to preside over the EU Council next year.

Hungary is scheduled to preside over the EU Council in the second half of 2024, which will give it a key role in coordinating political measures in the EU.

This prospect has worried some of Budapest’s critics, who note that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government faces numerous accusations of retreating from democracy and stays in a constant battle with Brussels over the rule of law. This was reported by Politico.

In addition, Hungary often takes a pro-Russia stance in matters of support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, which contrasts with Brussels’ policy.

“I have my doubts about the extent to which Hungary will be able to preside over the EU Council successfully,” German European Minister Anna Luhrmann told reporters in Brussels, where ministers from the EU governments were meeting. Luhrmann recalled Hungary’s alleged violations of the rule of law and its precarious position in supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Photo: Screenshot from a @IhrProgramm video on YouTube

These remarks add a powerful voice to what has been primarily theoretical chatter about blocking or deterring Hungary’s future EU presidency. A resolution is making its way through the European Parliament that vaguely calls on lawmakers to take “appropriate measures” regarding Hungary’s role. But the measure, up for a vote on May 31, is non-binding and offers no specific guidance on next steps.

The presidency of the EU Council rotates among EU countries every six months, giving the country in charge the opportunity to help set the agenda and priorities, chair meetings, and coordinate the EU’s political work during that time.

Arriving at the meeting, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga called initiatives to postpone Hungary’s presidency of the EU Council “nonsense.”

“The European Parliament has no role to play here; there is a unanimous, long-standing decision of the EU Council that determines the presidency,” Varga said.

Germany’s critical remarks are just the latest example of Berlin criticizing Budapest. Last week, during a meeting of foreign ministers, they clashed over the role of a controversial Hungarian bank in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Other countries were less outspoken than Germany, though many said the European Parliament proposal was off the agenda.

“Hungary already has to work with Spain [which will hold the EU presidency in July], and we expect neutrality and impartiality,” said French European Affairs Minister Laurent Boehne.

It is still unclear what specific measures may be taken against the Hungarian presidency. Dutch legal experts have recently published a paper describing three options for preventing or mitigating conflicts of interest during Hungary’s EU presidency. The document also discusses similar options for restrictions for the country that will hold the EU presidency after Hungary: Poland.

In April, the leaders of almost all political groups in the European Parliament called on the European Commission not to approve Hungary’s requests for additional European funds due to its issues with democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights.

According to a Freedom House study, the state of democracy in Hungary under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban continued to deteriorate in 2022.

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