A strong pro-Lisbon and future-oriented stance

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?

 

According to the official standpoint of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although Hungary regretted the outcome of the Irish referendum in June 2008, it supported the view to respect the decision of the Irish people.[1] It is important to emphasize that this was not the first time when the Union had to face a negative vote on a treaty. After the Irish ‘No’, it is of utmost importance to find a solution that is legally and politically acceptable for Ireland, the other 26 member states and the EU as a whole. Political and economic issues in the second semester of 2008 proved that there is a real need for a coherent Union that can react to challenges quickly and that is close to its citizens.

Hungary remains committed to political integration and sincerely supports a more democratic, effective and transparent Union. Budapest is confident that the Lisbon Treaty would be a significant step to achieve these goals. Therefore, Hungary does not currently find it necessary to search for alternative scenarios. The Hungarian government is satisfied with the agreement reached at the European Council of December 2008 as it makes the Irish ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon possible, by addressing the key concerns of the Irish people. It is hoped that given these guarantees, the Irish people will approve the treaty on the next referendum. In this case, the Union must also ensure that the document enters smoothly into force: necessary institutional decisions and appointments (President of the European Council, High Representative) must be taken in due course. The election of the new European Commission has to be carried out according to the usual procedure.

The entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and the developments it brings about would make possible for the EU to finally close the issues of institutional reforms and concentrate fully on other urgent challenges that have a direct effect on citizens’ everyday life. The Hungarian government believes that there is a real need to raise the awareness of the people on EU affairs and the citizens need to be involved in the political process. The June 2009 elections of the members of the European Parliament provide an appropriate opportunity for this.

The greatest Hungarian oppositional force, the coalition of Fidesz – Hungarian Civil Alliance and the Christian Democrats are of a similar view. According to József Szájer, MEP (European Peoples Party – European Democrats, EPP-ED) the EU must stop the ’navel gazing’ behaviour regarding institutional and ’constitutional’ issues, and it must do all efforts to close these debates and to adequately face the present and upcoming internal and external challenges.[2] According to Mr. Szájer, the EU is for the time being too weak to act efficiently in many respects while it is still far from its citizens. The Lisbon Treaty will be a good remedy for these concerns, and it is to be welcomed that the EU launched strategic thinking up to the horizon of 2020-30. In Mr. Szájer’s view, the reflection on the future of the EU must embrace such aspects as the preservation of the European social model, the development of the knowledge-based society, or the strengthening of European identity (in fact he also leads a group in Hungary elaborating key issues for the EU up to 2025).[3]

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities

 

Balanced and fruitful EU-US ties

On the two-day informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Avignon, France in September 2008, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Ms. Kinga Göncz, underlined that “the best possible moment had been chosen to review the future of EU strategic relations with the United States, two months before the presidential elections. The EU can identify precise areas where co-operation with a new US president is most important, such as Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism and the Middle East”.[4] Regarding the latter issue, according to the Hungarian Foreign Minister the new president should “approach the situation in a comprehensive way and avoid narrowing it down only to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. They must consider the interests of all participants affected by the crisis, for example, those of Syria.” [5] The Hungarian Foreign Minister also endorsed the common conviction that “the two pillars of the transatlantic alliance are bound by a common set of values. Fine-tuning standpoints is all the more important as new and influential powers arrive on the scene (China, India and Brazil) and it is no longer possible to avoid a restructuring of international institutions”.[6] Further priorities are for Hungary energy security of the region and a kind of stability spill-over from the EU to southern and eastern parts of Europe mainly promoted by the Union but strongly backed by the US.

The opposition also agrees with the most important international issues to be settled by a more pragmatic EU-US cooperation and they emphasize that the upgraded transatlantic relations under president Obama should be developing on an equal footing between the parties. In close connection to this József Szájer, Hungarian MEP (EPP-ED), highlighted at a conference in Budapest that the Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance is interested in a strong European Union able to act efficiently on the international scene.[7]

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response

 

Global crisis – fragmented answers

The financial crisis hit the EU member states in different ways therefore the reactions to it have not been uniform either. In fact, a joint supranational approach could not be applied due to the fact that economic policies belong to national competences – only their coordination is effectuated at the EU level. These are the reasons why the EU does not have a single strategy to fight the crisis. The European Economic and Recovery Plan of 200 billion Euros proves this fact very well: 170 billion is originating in the national budgets, while 15 billion would be set aside from the EU budget and 15 billion could come from the European Investment Bank. Such a significant amount of money injected into the troubled economies of Europe may quickly entail the increase of budget deficits in the Eurozone countries threatening the Euro’s stability and also showing a bad example to the member states still outside the single currency area. So all in all, this is far from a genuine European response to the problem – and this criticism is shared by many Hungarian experts.[8]

In regards to the international power constellations, significant changes must be reckoned with in the near future. Obvious signs for this are the transformation of G7 to G20, reflecting the growing weight of great and dynamic economies such as China, India or Brazil. In expert circles a kind of rearrangement of the international financial institutional system is also expected. As there was Basel II there should also be a Bretton Woods II.[9] The present institutional set up should be revised (e.g. giving the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a greater controlling role, and even envisaging the merger of the Bank of International Settlements, the World Bank and the IMF, etc.). In the reformed international institutional system yielding greater voice to emerging economies seems to be inevitable. Within these developments, the EU (and especially the Eurozone) should play a more coherent role but this would require greater competences for the Union in terms of both tackling such crisis situations within the EU and being able to represent a single coordinated position on such issues in the global reform processes.

Hungary actually also made its important contribution to the crisis management efforts at the European level. At the occasion of the EU summit in October 2008, the Hungarian Prime Minister tabled four proposals in this regard.[10] The first one was about refocusing the EU’s cohesion policy in favour of the small and medium sized enterprises. The second one suggested to temporarily suspend the budget deficit limit of 3 percent of GDP in crisis times. The third one referred to widening the intervention scope of the European Central Bank to the whole of the EU, and finally, Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsány also proposed to have a joint financial supervision system at European level. These proposals were actually backed by the Hungarian opposition as well. The chairman of Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance, Mr. Viktor Orbán, reacted positively to these points and ensured the Prime Minister that these issues will also be supported by the Hungarian EPP-ED members.[11]

 

 

 

[1] Based on information provided by high officials of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
[2] Magyarország többre képes, speech delivered at a conference organized by Hungarian EPP-ED members in Budapest on the 16t January 2009, available at: http://www.fideszfrakcio.hu/index.php?Cikk=127160 (last access: 27 February 2009).
[3] Európa 2025, available at: http://szajer.fidesz-eu.hu/galeria/File/SZEK_Europa_2025.pdf (last access: 27 February 2009).
[4] Transatlantic relations and the situation in the Caucasus were in the focus of a two-day informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Avignon, France—Kinga Göncz’s statement after the meeting, press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 6 September 2008, available at: http://www.kulugyminiszterium.hu/kum/en/bal/european_union/Latest+news/080906+avignon.htm (last access: 27 February 2009).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Magyarország többre képes, available at: http://www.fideszfrakcio.hu/index.php?Cikk=127160 (last access: 27 February 2009).
[8] Based on round table conferences at the Institute for World Economics in January and February 2009.
[9] Based on round table conferences at the Institute for World Economics in January and February 2009.
[10] Gyucsány négy javaslattal érkezett Brüsszelbe, EurActiv.hu, available at: http://www.euractiv.hu/gazdasag/hirek/gyucsany-negy-javaslattal-erkezett-brsszelbe (last access: 27 February 2009).
[11] Ibid.