EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Budapest will in its time at the EU helm in 2011 seek to shepherd through EU financial governance laws, block off cash for eastern Europe in the post-2013 EU budget and earmark EU money for energy inter-connectors.
Citing a campaign slogan by former US president Bill Clinton, Hungarian foreign minister Janos Martonyi told press in Brussels on Monday (20 December) that Budapest aims to draw a line under the sovereign debt crisis when it takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 January and to work on future economic stability instead.
"'It's the economy stupid.' We all know this famous saying and now with the European Council last week the message is clear: Let's leave the crisis behind us and let's lay the foundations for the future," he said, referring to an EU leaders' meeting which created a permanent bail-out fund for eurozone countries.
With bond market vultures continuing to circle Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy and with some, such as former British prime minister Gordon Brown, predicting worse to come in 2011, the minister may not get his wish.
"Hungarians are optimists by nature. Some say that we are pessimists, but this is only a way of concealing our optimism," he joked.
Mr Martonyi laid out an economic agenda for the next six months which covers: shepherding through six European Commission bills on tougher financial governance; implementation of the so-called Europe 2020 strategy on future economic growth; and launching talks on the post-2013 EU budget, with an accent on preserving EU Cohesion Policy and Common Agricultural Policy spending on poor regions in former-Communist countries in eastern Europe.
Other items on Hungary's to-do list include: completing Croatia accession talks; helping Bulgaria and Romania to get into the passport-free Schengen zone; launching EU-mediated Kosovo-Serbia negotiations; an EU summit on energy policy in Brussels in February; an EU leaders' meeting with counterparts from six post-Soviet countries in Budapest in May; a new policy on Roma integration; and boosting wealth along the Danube river by putting the EU commission's Danube Strategy into play.
Commenting on energy, Mr Martonyi said: "One shouldn't believe energy security is a specifically eastern or central European issue ... It's not just about pipelines in the east. It's also about pipelines and other facilities in the south, about creating a genuine single energy market."
His junior minister for Europe, Eniko Gyori, said Budapest will inject a Hungarian flavour by organising a string of cultural events along the Danube river as well as concerts in EU capitals in honour of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, born 200 years ago in 1811.
Despite Mr Martonyi and Ms Gyori's upbeat mood on Monday, Budapest has put obstacles in its own way in terms of running a happy EU presidency.
Its team in Brussels numbers a modest 200 people, hardly any of whom have EU experience after the strongly right-wing Fidesz government a few months ago purged the mission of diplomats appointed by its predecessor.
Budapest has also earned itself a bad name in the Brussels press pack for passing new media laws which will see political appointees control content in radio and TV broadcasts in what critics have compared to censorship in the Communist era.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Belgian EU presidency in a separate briefing on Monday underlined the shrinking profile of the rotating chairmanship under Lisbon Treaty rules.
Belgium's EU affairs minister Steven Vanackere said presidencies are "less in the limelight" but still have an "essential role" to play.
In contrast to Mr Martonyi, who deferred to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on press questions about Belarus and Cote D'Ivoire, but hardly mentioned her new European External Action Service, Mr Vanackere said 2011 will be defined by a "paradigm shift" in EU foreign policy.
"In 2011, the first steps will be taken on the implementation of the external service and this is essential if we want to create a dynamic EU foreign policy," he said.