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Orbán proposes diplomat as commissioner-designate

EU

Photo: Gergely Botár / kormany.hu

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Monday he will nominate Olivér Várhelyi, the head of Hungaryʼs permanent representative office in Brussels, as candidate for European commissioner for enlargement, replacing original choice László Trócsányi, who was blocked by the European Parliamentʼs Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI).

Finnish PM Antti Rinne (left), pictured at a joint press briefing with Orbán (photo: Gergely Botár / kormany.hu)

The Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament (EP) confirmed earlier Monday that it had rejected Trócsányi, Hungaryʼs original candidate for EU commissioner in the incoming European Commission (EC) of Ursula von der Leyen, citing concerns over conflicts of interest with respect to the candidateʼs former law firm and security concerns related to connections with Russia.

The government cried foul over the rejection of Trócsányi, claiming that it was a political decision motivated by opposition within the European Parliament to Hungaryʼs stance on immigration. As a former justice minister, Trócsányi was instrumental in the drafting of legislation attacking NGOs assisting asylum seekers, among other controversial laws subject to ongoing EU infringement procedures.

At a joint press conference held with Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, Orbán said that EC President-elect von der Leyen had asked him to propose a new candidate.

“I did not reject the presidentʼs request, but I could not allow others, such as the EP, to make their pick among Hungarian politicians instead of the Hungarian people,” he said, adding that this is the reason a technocrat has now been proposed for the post instead of a political delegate. He noted that there has been no change as regards the enlargement portfolio to be overseen by Hungary.

Rule of law concerns

Finland, whose government is currently presiding over the Council of the European Union, is pushing for funds in the next EU budgetary cycle (covering 2021-2027) to be tied to the observance of democratic principles, the fight against climate change, and the response to migration, noted a report by Emerging-Europe.com.

Asked about the proposal to tie the receipt of EU funds to compliance with standards regarding the rule of law, Orbán noted that there is already a mechanism in the EU budget by which the European Commission can halt the transfer of funds to a country deemed to not be using them properly.

Now, the Hungarian prime minister added, there are proposals to create another mechanism, which he observed requires a “mature” proposal that answers the most important legal questions. He added, however, that he does not yet see such a proposal.

Today, the matter of making the receipt of EU funds conditional on complying with standards regarding the rule of law “is more of a political slogan” and not a written proposal, Orbán asserted.

For his part, Rinne said that the positions of EU member states are “coalescing” around the issue. The day before the meeting of the two PMs, Rinne told the Finnish press that no EU member state directly opposed his proposal, according to Emerging-Europe.com.

Hungary has been widely criticized for its backsliding over the rule of law, and last year the European Parliament launched Article 7 procedures against the Hungarian government, which could potentially lead to the suspension of EU funding for the country.

Finnish-Hungarian relations have significantly worsened since Orbán’s government and its allies in the Hungarian media launched a political offensive against the Finnish government over its plans to connect European principles with the distribution of EU money, noted Emerging-Europe.com.

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