Finally, doing all the small job diligently and thoroughly, has brought success - this is how Viktor Orbán evaluated the first three months of the Presidency at his press conference in Brussels, on 14 April 2011. According to the Prime Minister, with the first half of the Hungarian Presidency’s term behind us, the EU, “On the whole, is in good condition despite the challenges,” however, regarding enlargement, the situation is dramatic.
The first five minutes of the second half of the Hungarian Presidency’s term are already over, but during that, we have accomplished three very important results, said the Prime Minister, using a football metaphor to begin his press conference, on the assessment of the first half of the Presidency. A unanimous agreement was reached in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, on the short-term handling of the migration pressure, which appeared in the wake of the Arab revolutions. An agreement was made on the Council conclusions of the Danube Region Strategy . And concerning the Roma Strategy, a framework document was created that “almost guarantees” the strategy will be approved by heads of state and government in the June summit, Viktor Orbán said, in his summary of event of the last few days.
Assessing the events of the first three months, Mr Orbán first reminded that Hungary had not been anticipating, “a festival Presidency, like a beauty contest or fashion show.” On the contrary: it selected the toughest and most delicate issues which Europe has experienced the most problems, coping with and incorporated them into its Presidency program. The country trusted “the many small jobs built on one another, completed systematically and diligently, would finally achieve a breakthrough, success and the appreciation of the external world. I believe that we have a good chance for this,” Mr Orbán emphasised.
The Union has been doing well
According to Mr Orbán, this year has been the most difficult year of European integration since the downfall of communism. The Union has been doing well in the face of the Arab transformations, the disasters that hit Japan and the recurring financial crises. “The EU on the whole is in good condition, despite the challenges,” the Prime Minister underlined. He mentioned that in the first three months Hungary conducted a total of 750 workgroup meetings and 16 Council meetings, in Brussels. A Guinness record was also reached: In the past, there had never been more than three Council meetings on a single day, while the Hungarian Presidency conducted fourministerial meetings on 21 March (Foreign Affairs Council, General Affairs Council, ECOFIN Council and the extraordinary meeting of the Energy Council). 12 informal meetings of Ministers were organised.
Economic governance is on the right track
According to Mr Orbán, economic governance is now on the right track. “There is nothing to indicate that this train would derail. But there is still some uncertainty as to what exactly will arrive at its destination. There is a good chance that it will be in June, before the end of the Hungarian Presidency’s term, but it might also be one or two weeks later. Nevertheless, the main point is that the train of economic governance consisting of six legislative proposals will arrive at its destination,” the Prime Minister said, summarising the outlooks. He highlighted that, in the Council an agreement has already been reached regarding the six legislative proposals and he also pointed out that the approach of the European Parliament (EP) to these issues is very constructive. “Only a small conflict area has remained, so I believe that in the time that we still have, we will be able to settle (...) the disputed issues.”
Having launched for the first time in the EU’s history, the European Semester is also progressing well, as its first stage has already been closed. In the next few months, Member States will have to submit their stability or convergence programs within the set deadline; as well as their national reform programs, and the Commission will have to prepare the assessment of these programs by the end of May, then the Council will accept it, therefore, concluding the first European Semester. “This has been an extremely tight work schedule, but now success is within reach; deadlines are realistic since we have already accomplished a great part of the work,” Mr Orbán said. He added that the European Stability Mechanism will also be up and running by the end of the Hungarian Presidency.
Cohesion policy funding will be an exciting issue
According to Mr Orbán, one of the most exciting issues of the period following the Hungarian Presidency will be the matter of cohesion policy. He called it fortunate that the debate on cohesion policy funding will only begin during the Polish Presidency, thus the debate on money did not complicate the adoption of the package on the strengthening of economic governance. During the Hungarian Presidency, the main objective was to have the Council adopt a political statement of intent, declaring that the EU continues to consider cohesion policy important for the future and is committed to preserving it. “We have completed this work,” the Prime Minister confirmed.
Breakthrough in energy policy
A breakthrough was achieved in energy policy. In this respect, Mr Orbán pointed out, the agreement on the need to supply the energy demand of every Member State from at least two independent sources is vital for Central Europe. It is also evident that the north-south energy networks must be built in the region. He described it as a seemingly small but highly important success, that enhanced cooperation was launched for the establishment of a unitary patent protection and that the Council agreed on the detailed rules of the European Citizens’ initiative.
Enlargement: the situation is dramatic
According to the Prime Minister, the biggest difficulty for the Presidency is in the field of enlargement. “I cannot dramatize the situation about enlargement, because the situation is dramatic”, he stated. Mr Orbán said that since he first started coming to Brussels regularly (since 1996), he has never seen such a low point in the support for enlargement. “We keep hitting walls and facing tactics, playing for time,” Mr Orbán said, adding that Central Europe’s most important task in the upcoming period will be to remind Europe: It would be in much bigger trouble, if the economic crisis was more serious and deeper; and if the enlargement process of recent years had not taken place. The West Balkans is not a burden but an opportunity, the next possible engine for the growth of Europe, the Hungarian Prime Minister pointed out.
In his visit to Brussels, Mr Orbán participated in the Joint Parliamentary Meeting, titled “West Balkans - Towards a more integrated Europe”, which was organised jointly by the EP and the Hungarian Parliament, with the participation of EP representatives and representatives of national parliaments of West Balkan countries. Mr Orbán also met Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. They discussed current tasks of the Presidency and the Council during the meeting.