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EuropeOrban's Hungary takes the helm of the EU

Orban’s Hungary takes the helm of the EU

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Unease in Brussels as On 1 July 2024, Hungary, led by Viktor Orban, takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months.

**Brussels, July 1, 2024** – Concern is growing in Brussels among some of the EU’s 27 member states. Following Belgium, Viktor Orban’s Hungary assumes the presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months starting this Monday. With worries about democratic backsliding and ties to the Kremlin, Hungary’s presidency is causing unease, especially as France also faces concerns with the far-right leading the first round of legislative elections.

Budapest Promises Impartiality

In Budapest, the government is attempting to reassure its partners. “We will act as an impartial mediator, with full loyalty to all member states,” Hungarian Minister for European Affairs Janos Boka declared in mid-June. “At the same time,” he added, Hungary will use the spotlight to showcase its “vision for Europe.”

On issues such as the rule of law, immigration, and the conflict in Ukraine, Hungary intends to make its divergent views heard, leading to repeated clashes with its partners and the freezing of billions of euros in EU funds.

After Hungary’s last EU presidency in 2011, Viktor Orban boasted about having given “nudges, slaps, and friendly punches” to the “excited executioners” of the European Parliament, which he views as a haven for “liberals and leftists.” This time, the 61-year-old leader appears even more combative, criticizing the “Brussels technocratic elite” and issuing numerous vetoes in recent months to block military aid to Kyiv.

Orban’s Lost Battle Against von der Leyen

However, Viktor Orban was unable to influence the key EU appointments last week. Despite his opposition, leaders agreed to extend Ursula von der Leyen‘s term as President of the European Commission. As for the European Parliament, the Hungarian Prime Minister remains far from having any significant influence. In the recent European elections, he lost seats, and his party, Fidesz, remains among the non-attached members. Nonetheless, negotiations are ongoing with other Central European parties.

In Brussels, Viktor Orban plans to focus Hungary’s presidency on seven priorities, including strengthening the bloc’s “economic competitiveness,” better combating “illegal immigration,” and bringing Western Balkan countries closer to EU membership. Experts, however, do not expect a very ambitious agenda as the new Commission settles in.

The rotating presidency allows the presiding country to control the meeting agendas of the 27, a significant but not absolute power, according to several European diplomats. Hungary will, however, have a substantial communication role. The presidency’s slogan, “Make Europe Great Again,” has already sparked controversy, echoing former US President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, whom the Hungarian Prime Minister hopes to see re-elected in November.

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