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Looking back at Hungary’s EU presidency

July 4th, 2011

Regardless of their political affiliations, commentators appreciate the diplomatic performance of Hungary during the six months of the EU presidency, but this professional success story does not silence the usual controversies over the government’s democratic legitimacy.

Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of Népszava suggests that only Europe can save Hungary from the government’s authoritarian ambitions, which are bound to deepen now that the presidency is over and Hungary will no longer be in the limelight.

“If Orbán’s government did not shrink from restricting press freedom in the broad light of day, it will surely not shy away from suppressing it altogether in the hours of darkness” – writes Németh, who adds that the Media Commissioner is currently conducting an inquiry into a complaint against an anonymous reader’s comment on Népszava Online, which allegedly offended the memory of late President Ferenc Mádl.

(Népszabadság remarks that it is unclear whether or not readers’ comments fall under the Media Act. They don’t, according to the spokeswomen of the Media Authority, which means the Commissioner will have to declare that he has no competence over the matter.)

Magyar Nemzet’s Brussels correspondent István Lovas deems the presidency a success, despite the incessant attacks of the left-wing opposition. He recalls a proposal by Socialist MEP Kinga Göncz to strip Hungary of the presidency on the grounds of what she termed the government’s antidemocratic tendencies. The “wicked tale of the failure of our Union presidency was meant to be revenge, but in fact is doing a great deal of harm to Hungary, as well as to those forces (the left-liberal critics) themselves which are already falling apart”.

According to the ’code of initiation’ in Brussels, a country becomes a full member once it has held the six month rotating Union presidency – Gábor Lambert reminds his readers in Figyelő, and points out that Hungarian diplomatic staff now have direct experience of solving problems and representing national interests while seeking alliances and compromises. “It is vital for us to keep these European mechanisms alive…. Central European history teaches small countries that the alternative lies in competing with one another to win the favours of a giant patron, whilst trampling each other underfoot. If just one thousand more people understand that now, then we have not held the presidency of the EU in vain.”

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