Hungarian presidency of the European Union: a “Strong Europe with a Human Touch”

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HU mapHungary is in charge of the presidency of the European Union during the first semester of 2011. A “Strong Europe with a Human Touch”, this is the motto chosen by Hungary for its mandate as president of the European Union, under which it will focus on four main topics: growth and employment and social inclusion, stronger Europe, citizens-friendly Union, enlargement, and neighbourhood policy. Hungary’s programme very much reflects the joint programme of the trio of presidencies it forms with those of Spain and Belgium in 2010, including the implementation of the Stockholm programme in the area of justice and home affairs.

The Hungarian presidency of the EU has become a topic of particular interest since the Hungarian political landscape shifted to the right in the last general elections. In April 2010, the far-right Jobbik party became the country’s third largest party and former centre-right prime minister (1998-2002) Viktor Orban returned to office in a sweeping victory, allowing his Fidesz party to change unilaterally the Hungarian constitution. His proposal to grant citizenship to all ethnical Hungarians living in other countries, as well as a controversial law that extends considerably the power of the government to control the media have been received by critics as a proof that Viktor Orban is, as they claim, a populist and a nationalist. Given the controversies about press freedom in Hungary and Mr. Orban’s open Euro-scepticism during his election campaign,  some had voiced concerns about Mr Orban’s mandate at the helm of the EU.

As president of the European Union, the Hungarian government is compelled to adopt a European position, and assume leadership in EU politics. Hungary stressed that it wants to take the role of an honest broker. Also, it has accepted to review its media law should the European Commission find incompatibilities with European laws. During the Hungarian presidency ,the EU’s incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Lisbon Treaty will undergo its first assessment. The presidency has announced that it seeks to reinforce fundamental rights in several areas. It will contribute to bringing forward the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights of the Council of Europe, which will enable citizens to initiate procedures against the EU at the European Court of Human Rights.

The roadmap for the work in the area of justice and home affaires remains the Stockholm programme and the action plan to implement it. In the field of justice, the agenda of the presidency also foresees working on data protection, particularly regarding policies aimed at reinforcing security, as well as child protection, assistance to victims, and better cross-border judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters.

The Hungarian presidency is also committed to the fight against (organised) crime in the open Schengen space, continuing the implementation of the recently adopted policy cycle in line with the Internal Security Strategy adopted by the European Council. In the field of home affairs, the enlargement of the Schengen space to Romania and Bulgaria is also one of the priorities, which again meets another core issue in the field of social affairs: the development of a European framework strategy for Roma people.

The Roma people constitute the largest ethnic minority in Europe. Member states are now home to approximately 10-12 million Roma -of which, according to the European Policy Centre, approximately 700 000-800 000 in Hungary- the majority of whom suffer from social exclusion, discrimination, segregation and severe poverty. The agenda of the Spanish-Belgian-Hungarian Presidency sets forth the need to manage existing problems with more efficient measures and instruments. The Roma people issues will also be addressed as part of the work programme of the “Europe 2020” strategic plan, for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, which will focus this year on youth employment and the fight against poverty. The objective of the Hungarian Presidency is to encourage member states to adopt a European framework system of their Roma integration strategies (i.e. a European Roma Strategy) at the European Council’s meeting in June. It has therefore proposed a programme on the social and economic integration of Roma people, and will host the 5th meeting of the Integrated European Platform for Roma on April 7 and 8, 2011, in Budapest.