The European Parliament has called on the governments of the EU members by a large majority not to let Hungary lead the Union in the coming year as planned. On Thursday, 442 MEPs voted in favor of a corresponding resolution, which had been written and tabled by all major parliamentary groups, and 144 voted against.
In the second half of 2024, Hungary is to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, to which the governments of the 27 member countries belong. The country would then be responsible for coordinating and advancing the Union’s political and legislative agenda for six months. There is criticism of this because the government in Budapest repeatedly violates democratic values and the rule of law in the EU. The EU Commission has therefore blocked the country from grants worth billions.
The Council decides alone and unanimously on the Council Presidencies, the EU Parliament has no say in this. In the resolution, however, MEPs demand that the Council “find a good solution as soon as possible” to the problem of the Hungarian presidency. Otherwise, “Parliament could take appropriate action”.
Hardly legally possible, politically sensitive
At the moment it does not appear that governments want or can follow Parliament. Taking the presidency away from Hungary is hardly legally possible and politically very delicate. Hungary’s consent is required for many decisions. Even governments like Germany, which have openly expressed doubts that Hungary can successfully fulfill the prominent role of a Council Presidency, see no way in practice to prevent this. The Hungarian government is therefore very self-confidently dismissing the debate as “complete nonsense”. As for the bottom line, she might even be right about that.
In this respect, the EU Parliament will probably have to take the “appropriate measures” threatened in the resolution itself if Hungary takes over the Council Presidency on July 1, 2024. What this might look like in practice is an open question. It is conceivable, for example, that the MPs would forbid the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to give a speech in parliament. Whether Orbán, who can hardly hide his contempt for the EU parliamentarians anyway, really hits the mark is another question.
In addition, Parliament could boycott cooperation with the Hungarian Presidency. The Greens, for example, have warned that they will not sit down at a negotiating table with “autocrats” like Orbán. If this were to happen, progress in formulating and passing EU laws would be prevented. But whether all the factions that voted for the resolution on Thursday will still participate in such a boycott remains to be seen.
In addition, the work of Parliament in the second half of 2024 will be rather limited anyway. The European elections will take place in June next year, and the newly elected parliament must first be constituted in the months that follow. In addition, a new EU Commission must be appointed and approved by Parliament. All of this leads some observers in Brussels to the conclusion that the resolution and the debate about the Hungarian Presidency is one thing above all: election campaigns.
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