Klára Breuer-Rudas, Hungary’s Chargé d’Affaires in the UK, looks at the key challenges facing her country’s EU Presidency and the need for strong leadership
Belgium passed the baton of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union to Hungary in a ceremony held in the Hungarian Parliament on 6 January. Hungary has set out broad policy goals with Spain and Belgium – the previous presidency holders – in an 18-month joint programme or ‘presidency trio’. It’s the first formalised cooperation of presidency countries, aimed at taking the EU agenda forward in a more efficient way. To mark the start of Hungary’s six months, festive events – including a Budapest Festival Orchestra concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall – took place in several European capitals. But we know that we can only really celebrate at the end of the presidency, if we manage to achieve our key goals supporting a ‘strong Europe’, with a human touch.
My country has no doubt that a ‘strong Europe’ is the answer to the questions of stability, prosperity and security. Hungary suffered greatly because of the division that once existed in Europe and the country is happy to be fully integrated into the EU. It has been a long journey, and in a symbolic way it started in 1956, with the revolt against Soviet domination. We also take pride in remembering the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and punching the first hole into the Berlin Wall when we let 50,000 East German refugees leave Hungary for Austria in 1989. At that time Hungary was still officially part of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet troops were stationed there.
Becoming a full member of the EU was a final step that only a few decades ago people couldn’t even dream of. Now the freedoms of the European Union feel quite normal to our young citizens. No wonder that Hungarian citizens are dedicated to the notion of the Union.
We realise that holding the rotating presidency is a huge challenge after the demanding work of accession. It is a role we are fulfilling for the first time and it’s clear that we are taking over at an extremely important moment in the EU’s history. Together we must overcome the recent economic crisis and, in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty, ensure Europe’s development.
Hungary is dedicated to helping create an economically, socially, politically and institutionally stronger and more attractive Europe, because we believe that this is the only answer to both the recent crisis and how Europe can become more competitive on the global scene going forward.
Hungary, as part of the presidency trio, has prepared herself for the task. But we are also aware that the agenda of the Hungarian presidency is largely determined by the need to handle the consequences of the economic crisis and to launch new forms of cooperation; the aim is to ensure that we will be better equipped to prevent crises in the future. Europe’s key tasks include establishing a European Stability Mechanism (ESM), reinforcing economic co-ordination and strengthening control over fiscal discipline. It would be a historic mistake to lose momentum – Hungary’s role is to help bring the important economic and financial decisions made during the Belgian presidency into a reality.
Aside from these urgent steps, we have to focus on what kind of long term changes we need to accomplish so that the European economy can be successful and competitive in global terms. We have to make economic growth sustainable and recovery from the crisis irreversible by effectively implementing the Europe 2020 Strategy (a ten year revival programme) and concentrating on job creation. ESMs can be engines of job creation and important to small communities.
We also need to face new challenges with new policies. Creating a unified and efficient common energy policy for example is a new priority and an important opportunity for the EU. The informal European Council in February 2011, dedicated to energy policy and innovation, is a flagship event during our presidency. It can provide a pathway to building and connecting key infrastructure as well as financing necessary investments.
The presidency programme is built around four main priority areas: promoting economic growth by strengthening economic governance, as well as concentrating on job creation and social inclusion; strengthening our common policies by finding ways to make them more efficient and competitive, while preserving the fundamental values underlying those policies and their ability to create cohesion in Europe; bringing Europe closer to its citizens; moving forward with the enlargement process in a credible and responsible manner.
The presidency programme is based on the human factor: the goal of our presidency is to put Europe at the service of its citizens. The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, with its new legal framework, should help do just this. Substantial progress must be made in this area in order to demonstrate that the EU can effectively improve the lives of its citizens. It is also in the citizen’s interest to preserve Europe’s cultural diversity. Equally, it will be an important moment when, hopefully soon, the Schengen Area incorporates Romania and Bulgaria. European citizens want an efficient EU, which is able to respond quickly to new challenges. This necessitates strong and smooth cooperation among all the institutions of the Union. Strong Europe implies strong institutions and strong Member States working together for the common cause. The Hungarian Presidency is dedicated to this objective.
The wish for a more competitive Europe based on sustainable growth and job creation brings with it many long-term issues that we need to deal with. We need to tackle demographic questions, including migration, poverty in certain sections of European society and the integration of the Roma. The Hungarian presidency, in line with the presidency trio programme, wishes to put these issues into focus. And we hope that we can all create a long term European Roma strategy.
It is also important to take the enlargement process forward. The presidency will do its utmost to take at least one step forward with each candidate country: Croatia, Turkey and Iceland. We believe that welcoming Croatia into the EU will also have an important positive message for other countries of the Western Balkans. It is Hungary’s priority, too, that the Strategy for the Danube Region will be adopted at the June European Council, which joins many EU and non-EU states together.
Renewing the EU’s neighbourhood policy is a special priority. The EU should pay significant attention to its closest neighbours in economic, political and cultural terms. We should continue our commitment to a strong Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The second Eastern Partnership Summit will be held in Gödöllő near Budapest. Our goal is to strengthen relations between the EU and the six participating non-EU member countries with targeted programmes and projects, which are differentiated according to the needs and capabilities of these countries.
The Embassy of Hungary in London will hold events, seminars, conferences and talks that put these important elements into focus for the London diplomatic community. Our aim is to take events outside London to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Liverpool, Torquay, Exeter, Oxford and Cambridge.
It will be a very busy term and I hope that we shall have good reasons to celebrate at the end of it.
This year also marks the bicentenary of the birth of Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer whose works encapsulate European values. Liszt was a true European, not only because he lived all over the continent, but also through his free and creative spirit, supporting democratic movements and honourable causes and making friends over many borders. This human factor in a Europe which is so culturally diverse will always be a key asset to our continent. An asset on which we can build our immediate work and long-term future.