There is a feeling of unease in Brussels about the future President of the Council of the European Union. Hungary is due to take over this role on July 1, 2024, just after the next European elections. But many MEPs, and – something rarer, certain Member States – have publicly expressed their doubts about the ability of the Central European country to accomplish this mission. MEPs are voting this Thursday, June 1 on a resolution to question Budapest’s ability to fulfill the missions entrusted.
Because although Budapest is one of the 27, its relations with most of the other Member States are very tense. The latter reproach him for his attacks on democracy and his ambiguous positions on the war in Ukraine. German Secretary of State for European Affairs Anna Lührmann thus affirmed that she had “doubts about Hungary’s ability to carry out its presidency of the Council”, Tuesday, May 30, during a meeting in Brussels. The Netherlands also expressed its “discomfort”, in the words of its foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra. “That’s how we all feel,” he added.
The risk of a European Union in slow motion
Hungary must hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union, like all the countries in turn every six months. “The State exercising the presidency cannot turn everything upside down and cannot take initiatives against what will have been decided before,” explains Fabien Terpan, lecturer at Sciences Po Grenoble, specialist in the law of the European Union.
Even if the position does not allow him to impose his own policies, it is a key role for the proper functioning of the European Union. “We do not know how Hungary can act, nuance Fabien Terpan. There may be an obstruction and blocking strategy. We would then have six months of slowdown. Or it can seek to be the good pupil to show that it exercises the presidency like any other state, and thus gain legitimacy, and make people forget other subjects, such as its positions on Ukraine or the rule of law. »
A symbolic vote
The Hungary of Conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban is regularly accused by European authorities of not respecting the democratic values dear to Brussels, of having a political stranglehold on the media and justice as well as of flouting the rights of LGBTQ + people. The EU has tried to put in place political or budgetary sanctions, without success so far. The close ties between Budapest and Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine also pose a problem for an EU that is resolutely committed to Ukraine.
Even if the European Parliament resolution against Hungary were adopted, it will not have direct effects and will not be binding. But it would have a symbolic significance. MEPs also call on the European Council, the institution where heads of state sit, to act on this issue.
According to European rules, it is possible to ensure that Hungary does not take over the presidency in 2024. This decision is up to the European Council, therefore to the heads of state, who only need a qualified majority. So even if Hungary and its allies like Poland object, the order of the presidency could be changed. But that would pose another problem. “The rotating presidency must put the States on an equal footing, continues Fabien Terpan. If it were decided that Hungary should not exercise it in 2024, that would put an end to this principle of equality between States. States are therefore faced with a dilemma: deny one of the founding principles of the EU, or take the risk of having the institution blocked.