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Budapest by night
The lights go down for the EU presidency in BudapestImage: picture alliance/Arco Images GmbH

Controversial presidency

June 30, 2011

Hungary is handing over the rotating presidency of the European Union to Poland on July 1. But the country's six-month stint has been overshadowed by concerns over media restrictions and a new constitution.


Hungary's six-month presidency of the European Union, which ends Thursday, has been overshadowed by international concerns over efforts to restrict freedom of the press through new legislation.

Alarm bells also started ringing when a new constitution was passed that curbed the powers of the country's top court and tied the hands of future governments in key policy areas.

Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek is among the most vocal critics of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"Even if it is a majority rule ... I think in modern times, a government, especially when it has such a broad majority, should be very sensitive on what it is imposing on the country," Lunacek told Deutsche Welle.

Lunacek is skeptical about Orban's democratic credentials.

"As he has said unfortunately, 'Before we were dictated by Moscow, and now it is Brussels, but we Hungarians stand just on our own.' He has to defend European values in this country as well, and not just when he comes to the European Parliament," she added.

Protesters tape their mouths and carry placards in the European Parliament
There were protests in the European Parliament against Hungary's media lawImage: picture alliance / dpa

Different view within Hungary

But Hungary's center-right government has a different take on the matter. The Fidesz party claims its tenure has helped make Europe stronger at a time of major challenges, including the crisis in the eurozone and unrest in the Arab World.

Orban has defended his policies, saying they are similar to those of other EU nations. He sees Hungary's EU presidency as a success story, pointing out that last week's EU summit adopted several Hungarian plans to make Europe stronger.

He added that for the first time in European history there is agreement on a strategy for Roma which gives that community "recognition, acceptance and a future as Europeans."

From left to right, Viktor Orban, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso
Orban (left) has said Hungary helped make Europe strongerImage: AP

Orban also said the EU took on Hungarian recommendations for a Danube strategy, which aims to improve the economies of over a dozen countries along the river and prevent conflicts from arising.

The tensions over Hungarian domestic policies underscore an ongoing discussion about the effectiveness of the EU presidency, which rotates bi-annually between the 27 member states.

Orban acknowledges that the system is complex.

"There is no real legal guarantee that the permanent president and the rotating presidency could work well," Orban said. "It depends on personality in that respect. If that kind of personal precondition is missing, that could make some troubles. I think that is a very clear warning for the future."

From July 1, that will be Poland's problem, as it becomes the next country to take over the presidency of the European Union.

Author: Stefan Bos, Budapest / ji
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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