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All for one, one for all – the program of the Hungarian EU Presidency

Hungary will assume the rotating presidency of the European Council from January 1, 2011. Ensuring economic recovery and social inclusion will be high on the agenda. The Hungarian government promises to prefer local interests throughout the six months while also working hard for European aims. Is it possible to ride two horses at once?

The prevailing president of the European Council not only organizes EU summits but also chairs meetings of the Council of Ministers. Hungary’s hands in setting the EU agenda during the presidency are, however, relatively tied due to the long-term issues involved. Also, since the country is the last member of the Spanish-Belgian-Hungarian trio (see separate article on the trio’s achievements) and some priorities are built on the results delivered by the Spanish and Belgian Presidencies, the exact schedule will be finalized only after the December summit of the European Council.

The major issues are, however, already clear. After learning some lessons from the crisis, and with a period of planning and decision-making now behind us, 2011 will be the year of action. After adopting the 2011 budget in the shortest time possible, the Hungarian Presidency has to press forward tangible measures with a long-term perspective to make the recovery from the crisis irreversible. “The European development must be sustainable,” said Enikő Győri, state secretary at the Foreign Ministry responsible for preparing and organizing Hungary’s EU presidency. “It has to be built on innovation instead of loans.”

A stronger unity must be the basis of the post-crisis period, she added. To enhance cooperation, the program of the presidency is built on four priorities, covering both economic and social aspects but all having the human factor in focus.

Long-term perspectives

In the frame of the first priority, summarized as growth, jobs and social inclusion, the European Union aims to enhance economic coordination. As a key element, the first European semester will be launched in 2011, meaning that from then on the EU member governments will have to introduce their next year’s budget plans in order to avoid Greece-like crises. Also in the service of stronger central control, creating a macroeconomic surveillance mechanism and reaching an agreement on the Commission’s legislative proposals on enhanced economic governance is a goal as well.

Continuing discussions and starting the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy is also a main task ahead. The EU economic reform package has its ambitious objectives in the fields of employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate energy to be reached by 2020. With some local color, Hungary’s special priority is to adopt the European framework for national strategies of the inclusion of the Roma population.

The European Commission’s Single Market Act (SMA) is also planned to be adopted in the upcoming period. The act is designed to boost job creation and stimulate growth by re-legislating taxation and counterfeiting while helping small businesses. To support SMEs, the Small Business Act (SBA) is also likely to be revised.

There is hardly another country in the EU with such a strong need for the revision of this act as Hungary. The everyday difficulties of SMEs, which could be key to improving competitiveness with their huge potential to create jobs, fill the headlines day by day. The shortcomings of the sector are also clearly shown in the most recent report of statistical office KSH. With a 55.3% employment rate among the 15–64 age group, Hungary is 9 percentage points below the EU average and had the worst figures in the entire EU in the first half of 2010. “The government will consider the suggestions of local entrepreneurs,” promised Tamás Szűcs, head of the European Commission Representation in Hungary.

Strength in unity

The creation of a stronger Europe is the second priority, meaning that the obvious territorial attachment has to be further strengthened by economic and social cohesion. A truly common energy market and policy is planned to be established at a special European Council meeting on February 4. Water policy will also receive special attention. The Presidency provides an opportunity for Hungary to push the EU Strategy for the Danube Region forward. By protecting the environment of the region while also building prosperity, the strategy could be beneficial not only for the 11 countries involved but also for the entire Union. Finally adopting it could be a moment to remember about the Hungarian Presidency.

The third priority is to bring the Union closer to its citizens. This affects the issues of the everyday life. To show people the benefits of the European Union, the enforcement of legal rights and legal certainty will get special emphasis. Yet problematic cases like cross-border inheritance are planned to be adequately regulated and a better management of migration is also on the agenda. Also, the Hungarian Presidency will support the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen Area.

According to the fourth priority, the Hungarian Presidency will promote the continuation of the Union’s enlargement process. Supporting the successful conclusion of Croatian accession negotiations as well as continuing the integration of Turkey and the West Balkans are high on the agenda. Based on its geographic location, Hungary as president could bring added value to the Eastern integration policy. Also, Budapest will host the second Eastern Partnership Summit in May 2011 with a view to strengthening the relations between the EU and the six Eastern Partners.

“There is no contradiction between European and Hungarian national interests,” Foreign Minister János Martonyi said, referring to the Danube Strategy and eastern enlargement, which could be beneficial for Hungary as well.

At the same time, opposition party MSzP is afraid that the government is too busy with internal policy issues and will not have enough resources to conduct the presidency. Still, the parliamentary opposition stands behind Hungary’s program and efforts. “A successful presidency is a national interest,“ they admit. (Ágnes Vinkovits)