It is sometimes a widely shared belief that the country fulfilling the presidency of the EU can pursue its own interests. Nothing can be farther from the truth - says international relations expert Tamás Magyarics in article for Diplomacy & Trade.
The bulk of the tasks are European in the broadest sense and they are taken over from the previous presidents – in Hungary’s case from the members of the ’trio’, that is, Spain and Belgium, while Poland will take over a number of issues from Hungary, too. Handling the financial crisis will be certainly on top of the agenda in the first six months of 2011, but as things are standing at the moment, one of Poland’s top priorities will remain this issue. Second, the presidencies have to deal with the actual problems of the EU which come to the foreground periodically.
Thus, for instance, Hungary will have to start negotiations over the next financial perspective. Naturally, each of the Presidents tries to bring its own pet projects to the foreground. Budapest is – among other things – vitally interested in the integration of the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic community. Specifically, Hungary would like to see the conclusion of the accession talks with Croatia during its presidency and the beginning of them with Serbia before it hands the Presidency over to Poland. Another signature issue of Hungary’s presidency will be the Danube-basin strategy.
It aims at bringing together eight EU members and four non-EU member states in realizing a complex project, which incorporates a vast array of issues from infrastructural development to the promotion of the cultural diversity of the region. Third, Premier Viktor Orban has declared that Hungary will try to put together a strategy for solving the so-called Roma question. It is stating the obvious that it is impossible to solve the complex, predominantly economic and social problems of the gypsies in a mere six months but, at least, initiatives of long-lasting importance can be put into motion.
The list can be continued almost without end; instead, let’s concentrate on the questions which are likely to be priorities for Warsaw, as well. The single most important – and most complicated – question will definitely be energy security.
Both Budapest and Warsaw have a vested interest in the diversification of the energy resources and distribution systems (the ’upstream’ and ’downstream’). One aspect is the creation of a north-south energy network, which will incorporate liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Poland and Croatia alike as well as north-south pipelines and closer cooperation in issues related to energy security.
This issue is part of a planned comprehensive European energy policy, which – in turn – is hoped to be incorporated into a trans-Atlantic energy security policy. Hungary and Poland, of course, are making efforts on their own for their respective energy security: the Hungarian Prime Minister has signed the AGRI (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, and Hungary) agreement (which envisions the transportation of LNG under the Black Sea to Romania and onwards), while the Poles have signed a momentous treaty with Gazprom.
Another shared priority is the EU’s Eastern Partnership within the Union’s neighborhood policy. The EU has a Southern and Eastern Neighborhood policy; when France initiated the Mediterranean Union (MU) within the framework of the former, a Polish-Swedish initiative called the Eastern Partnership into so as the MU should not eclipse the importance of the area east of the EU. Hungary and Poland share a common interest in the integration of the states between the EU and Russia for obvious strategic reasons. The task, however, is daunting: the European perspective is getting more and more elusive for the target countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia): the EU is unwilling to offer membership in the short- and medium terms; one of the explanations is the so-called ’enlargement fatigue’.
The EU have tried various strategies, some of them bordering on nation-building efforts, but none of them has proved to be extremely successful. On top of all, the EU has allotted far meager resources (a few hundred million euros) for the rather ambitious objectives; Hungary’s and Poland’s responsibility will be lying partly in restarting and/or reinforcing the efforts to realize the initial goal of the eventual integration of these countries. To highlight some of the problems, Budapest will be hosting a summit for Neighborhood Policy in late May 2011 (besides one on energy security).
Hungary and Poland, in a broader context, will be likely to do their best to keep the momentum for a deeper integration of the European Union; as Premier Orban stated in his visit to Poland in early December 2010, the slogan of the Hungarian Presidency will be ”strong Europe”. This will not be an easy job: the economic crisis that started in 2008, the financial troubles of a number of countries from Greece to Ireland have encouraged and strengthened the position of those who would like to see a less integrated Europe.
Both countries’ and, by extension, the whole Central Europe’s overall strategic goal is to avoid being marginalized again in Europe. In other words: they wish to belong to the ’core’ rather than to the ’periphery’.
In order to achieve this goal, the shortterm interest of the countries in this region is to maintain the current system of the distribution of structural funds, the termination of inequalities (in areas such as the free movement of labor), and the integration of the Western Balkans – Croatia’s membership is likely to become a reality in 2011 or 2012 at the latest. At the same time, Hungary’s and Poland’s responsibility is to prove that the Central European states are prepared enough to provide the necessary leadership within the EU. These constitute a tall order; given the magnitude of the tasks lends a truly historic importance to the EU-presidencies of Hungary and Poland in 2011.