Germany doubts Hungary's ability to hold EU presidency
On Tuesday, Germany questioned Hungary's ability to hold EU’s rotating presidency for six months in 2024
Berlin’s remarks come as EU lawmakers seek to delay Hungary’s upcoming 6-month presidency, Politico reports
Hungary is scheduled to hold the EU Council presidency in the second half of 2024, giving it a key role in coordinating political work. This prospect has worried some of Budapest's critics, who note that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government faces numerous accusations of retreating from democracy and is mired in a constant battle with Brussels over the rule of law.
"I have doubts about the extent to which Hungary will be able to lead a successful Council presidency," German European Minister Anna Lührmann told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday, where ministers from various governments were meeting. Lührmann recalled Hungary's alleged violations of the rule of law and its shaky position on supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia.
These remarks add a powerful voice to what has so far been mostly theoretical chatter about blocking or deterring Hungary's future EU presidency. A resolution is making its way through the European Parliament that vaguely calls on lawmakers to take "appropriate measures" regarding Hungary's role. But the measure, up for a vote on Wednesday, is non-binding and offers no specific guidance on what could be done.
The presidency of the EU Council rotates among EU countries every six months, giving the country in charge the opportunity to help set the agenda and priorities, chair meetings, and coordinate the EU's political work during that time.
Arriving at the meeting on Tuesday, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga called the initiatives to postpone Hungary's presidency of the EU Council "nonsense."
"Here the European Parliament has no role to play, there is the unanimous resolution of the Council since many years, which makes the order of presidencies," Varga said.
Germany's critical remarks on Tuesday are just the latest example of Berlin criticizing Budapest. Last week, during a meeting of foreign ministers, they clashed over the role of a controversial Hungarian bank in Russia's war in Ukraine.
Other countries were less outspoken than Germany on Tuesday, though many said the European Parliament proposal was not on the agenda.
"Hungary should already be working with Spain [which will assume the presidency in July], and we expect neutrality and impartiality," said French European Affairs Minister Laurence Boone.
It is still unclear what specific measures may be taken against the Hungarian presidency. Dutch legal experts have recently published a paper describing three options for preventing or mitigating conflicts of interest during Hungary's EU presidency. The document also discusses similar options for restrictions for the country that will hold the EU presidency after Hungary: Poland.
In April, the leaders of almost all political groups in the European Parliament called on the European Commission not to grant Hungary's requests for additional European funds because of issues with democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
As a reminder, MEPs want to deprive Hungary of the right to lead the EU in 2024 due to value inconsistencies.