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Hungary might not 'credibly fulfil' tasks of EU Council presidency, MEPs say in critical resolution

Hungary is scheduled to take over the EU Council's rotating presidency in the second half of 2024.
Hungary is scheduled to take over the EU Council's rotating presidency in the second half of 2024. Copyright European Union, 2022.
Copyright European Union, 2022.
By Jorge LiboreiroSandor Zsiros
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Hungary is scheduled to take over the rotating presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2024.

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Hungary might not "credibly fulfil" the tasks associated with the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union due to the government's "deliberate and systematic efforts" to undermine the bloc's fundamental values, the European Parliament has said.

Hungary is scheduled to take over the six-month presidency in the second half of 2024, following turns by Spain and Belgium. The position does not carry executive powers but allows the selected country to set the agenda, host meetings, steer negotiations, draft compromise texts and organise votes on legislative files.

In a non-binding resolution approved on Thursday afternoon, MEPs cast doubt on whether Budapest, which has long been under scrutiny for democratic backsliding and rule-of-law breaches, could sustain such high-level responsibilities.

Hungary first held the presidency in the first half of 2011. 

The European Parliament "questions how Hungary will be able to credibly fulfil this task in 2024, in view of its non-compliance with EU law and the values enshrined in Article 2 (of the EU treaties), as well as the principle of sincere cooperation," the resolution reads.

Lawmakers ask the EU Council, the bloc's other co-legislator, to find a "proper solution as soon as possible," which they do not specify.

"Parliament could take appropriate measures if such a solution is not found," it goes on, without providing further details.

The resolution, which is symbolic and therefore devoid of legal power, was passed with 442 votes in favour, 144 against and 33 abstentions.

It was jointly tabled by the European People's Party (EPP), the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left. Several amendments filed by far-right parties were overwhelmingly rejected.

The text raises multiple concerns regarding the state of democracy inside Hungary, including lack of transparency, mismanagement of EU funds, manipulated public procurement, fraud, corruption, conflicts of interest and the continued use of emergency decrees since the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also sounds the alarm about "serious threats" against academic freedom and LGBTIQ+ rights in relation to a new amendment to the Whistleblower Protection Act that MEPs believe will "legitimise open discrimination."

Despite the criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government, the resolution falls short of calling for an outright cancellation of Hungary's scheduled presidency of the EU Council.

Such a move has no precedent in European history and legal experts have raised questions on whether the European Parliament could interfere with a prerogative that rests exclusively in the hands of member states.

Lawmakers could adopt an uncooperative attitude to slow down the work of the Hungarian presidency, although this could backfire and damage the hemicycle's reputation.

"I don't think that the European Union is the campaign team for Mr Orbán, we have allowed him to do that for the last 13 years, so enough is enough," said Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch MEP who co-sponsored the text.

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During a Council meeting on Tuesday, ministers did not discuss the possibility of re-shuffling the presidency calendar, which is set years in advance to allow countries to prepare for the arduous and expensive undertaking.

Judit Varga, Hungary's minister of justice, rejected calls for a suspension and said her government would not bow to pressure.

MEPs "are constantly attacking the free elections of Hungary and they don't accept the result that the Hungarians, in the name of democracy, choose as a government," Varga said on Tuesday.

"Secondly, they don't respect the rule of law, because here the European Parliament has no role to play."

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Last year, the Parliament passed a non-binding resolution in which it declared Hungary was no longer a fully-functioning democracy and should instead be considered a "hybrid regime of electoral autocracy."

The European Commission is currently withholding nearly €28 billion in EU funds from Hungary over unresolved rule-of-law concerns similar to those raised by MEPs on Thursday.

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