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As the second so-called “new” Member State to take over the EU Presidency after the much-maligned Czechs in the first half of 2009, Hungary was eager to showcase itself and demonstrate its leadership potential.

However, due to circumstances both inside and outside its control, it is hard to assess the Hungarian Presidency as anything other than a slight disappointment.

The big story of the last six months – indeed the last year – has been the Euro crisis, but as a non-Eurozone member Hungary was forced to retreat to the shadows whilst the two Jean-Claudes (Juncker and Trichet) hammered out a series of provisional solutions together with the big-hitters in the Council, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel.

This, in addition to the degrading of the rotating EU Presidency following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, also prevented Hungary from taking leadership on the issue of fiscal governance, which has divided both the EU and the Eurozone.

Yet Hungary also managed to shoot itself on the foot on several occasions, particularly at the beginning of its tenure, insodoing calling to mind their Czech predecessors.

The now infamous “media law”, which is causing concern for the Commission regarding its treatment of the press, the imposition of emergency taxes on foreign companies in Hungary, and an ill-judged carpet placed in the Council building which appeared to reference the idea of a much larger “Greater Hungary”: all emphasised the gap between established core European values and a Hungary that in recent months has been treading on dangerous ground.

But what of the successes?

It is true that Hungary has been key in supporting Croatia’s accession process, which now looks likely to take place on 1 July 2013, and has also successfully pushed through EU strategies on the Danube region and the Roma people – both of which give a distinct Hungarian flavour to this particular EU Presidency.

And yet, in these areas too, Hungary has been found somewhat wanting. Whilst Croatia was indeed a success, particularly given the supposed “enlargement fatigue” plaguing the EU today, the much heralded “Eastern Partnership” Summit has been pushed back for the Poles to organise in September, the Danube Strategy lacks teeth and does not bring any new funding to the table, whilst the Roma Strategy only affects a handful of Member States, as worthy as it may be.

Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, EU Presidencies have had to focus even more on compromises. However, decision-making in the EU has always been centred on so-called “horse-trading” between various interests, and as ever the devil is in the detail.

This is why, when looking to influence the decision-making process within the Council, it is critical to focus on the Presidency as well as the other 26 Member States.

Building consensus across national boundaries is, after all, what EU decision-making is all about.

– Rob

Greetings and Happy New Year! (Can we still wish people Happy New Year on 19 January? Oh well, who cares!)

Apologies for the rather long Lobby hiatus.  It’s been a very busy few months, culminating in an exciting office move of 100 metres which now sees us sitting above the junction of Avenue des Arts and Rue Belliard.

The Lobby has never seen so many cars whizz by its office window, yet paradoxically the number of crashes appears to have decreased from that of our former base on the Rue du Luxembourg.  (Fewer buses, taxis, cyclists – who knows?)

Not only has this first post of 2011 been a rather sly way of informing you about our move, we would also like to champion our rather marvellous Grayling Update on the Hungarian Presidency, written largely by The Lobby and our friends at Grayling Hungary.  You can view it in all it’s glory here.

We hope you enjoy reading it and that it gives you some food for thought (Hungary – geddit!) for the coming six months.

Like its Central European neighbour the Czech Republic, the Hungarian Presidency has got off to a rather rough start, with EU Member States criticising its recently adopted media law.

The Lobby’s understanding of both the intricacies of media law and the Hungarian language being somewhat limited (the law has only just been translated), we dare not comment on this – merely recall that the Czechs got off to a bad start a few years ago and never recovered.  We hope the Hungarians don’t go the same way.

That’s all – happy reading!  And it’s good to be back…

– Rob

Up next...

We might be faced with this situation sooner than we think: on Thursday Belgian Prime Minister Leterme handed in his resignation to the Belgian King due to his five-party coalition government being about to collapse with the Flemish Liberals and Democrats pulling out over the “BHV” affair with less than three months left before Belgium takes over the reigns of the EU Presidency on the 1st July.

Moral-political question: should they be allowed to run the EU Presidency? I have heard all three answers in the last 24 hours:

  • Yes, of course, because with the new institutionalised troika system, Belgium will be supported by Spain and Hungary and/or in any case the country holding the Presidency is simply following the Union’s priorities so their input is minimal. Also, Belgium is known to work particularly well when there is no government in place and, hence, they will probably even do a better job with a “Caretaker government”!
  • No, because how can Belgium lead from the front, find compromise solutions, broker deals and demonstrate leadership – fair point!
  • Don’t know: is the majority view because most citizens are clueless about what the EU Presidency is, let alone what it is supposed to do – a sad state of affairs.

Then I heard someone comment on the radio – no fear Herman Van Rompuy – a Belgian – will come to the rescue as the President of the European Union!

The reality is that Belgium will most probably muddle through with the support of the Spanish and the Hungarians and with a structure and system which seems to just keep rolling, despite institutional upheavals such as the “NON” to the EU Constitution or the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty.

But do we simply want to push through and hope that the institutional snowball takes us forward? Clearly not and, hence, this latest possible scenario demonstrates that Europe still has a long way to go and needs to mature…

Blaming it on the Belgians though would be unfair as other Member States like the Czech Republic have been in the hot seat without a Government.

Russell Patten

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