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Central Europe's year

Published on , , Sofia

This is how the Bulgarian foreign minister Nickolay Mladenov described it at the end of last year, as in 2011 the European Union will be presided by two Central European countries - Hungary (in the first semester) and Poland in the second. The new centre-right government of Viktor Orban provoked us, with several legislative decisions, to write about the first Hungarian Presidency, but in the ecstasy in doing so we did not share after all what the priorities for the next six months would be. No matter how Hungary would cope, for which we wish the country success, it is clear from now that on July 1st the Union will get a new face with the presidency of Poland.

Hungary relies on the well beaten track

The Hungarian programme for the six months on the lead of the Union is based on four main pillars, on which not one presidency developed ideas. Budapest will bet on economic growth, jobs and social inclusion; stronger Europe; EU close to its citizens; and on enlargement and Union's global role. In fact all the four issues, although sounding a little bit deprived of meaning, are fundamental for the EU and its future.

Under the priority "Economic Growth, Jobs and Social Inclusion" Budapest understands consolidation of European economy's recovery as a major goal. Besides, Hungary intends to continue with the efforts of the previous two countries in the Presidency trio (Belgium and Spain) in strengthening European economic governance. Aside from this, the Hungarians promise to ensure that the necessary Treaty amendment is adopted as soon as possible. This amendment is necessary for the creation of a permanent crisis resolution mechanism.

During the discussions under the presidency of Hungary on job creation, innovation and Europe 2020 strategy, Hungary will focus especially on child poverty and the social integration of Roma. Furthermore, a special priority of Budapest would be endorsing a European framework for national strategies for Roma inclusion and finding a real solution to this European problem.

Hungary puts very high in its agenda the work on the Single Market Act, proposed by Michel Barnier, EU Commissioner on Internal Market, last year. According to the Presidency, the success of the reform of the economic cooperation, as well as a strengthened supervision on financial markets and efficient implementation of Europe 2020 strategy requires the completion of the internal market through removal of remaining barriers to free and fair competition.

The second priority of the Presidency - "A Stronger Europe" - includes work on some of the most important Community policies. This would be a real test for Budapest because the reform of some of them always led to exhausting debates within the European Union. Clashes are expected on several policies: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on which it is expected the Commission to present legislative proposals this year; on cohesion policy; the creation of a really common energy policy (it is written precisely like this in the programme of the Hungarian Presidency) and, last but not least, on the next multiannual financial framework.

These issues are extremely complex and always led to heavy battles that ended after many days of debates in shirts and without ties. Especially interesting would be the discussion on the common energy policy because this is a new priority for the Union and so far there were no battles on it. For the purpose on February 4 the first special European Council will take place, dedicated entirely on energy policy and innovation. According to the Presidency, achieving European energy security is the biggest challenge the EU is facing. For the purpose it is necessary a common energy market to be created, the necessary infrastructure to be built, reaching consensus on community methods of funding, achieving a single position toward EU's external partners, diversification of sources, routes and suppliers.

Separately from the Energy European Council on February 4th, the Hungarian Presidency plans holding a political discussion at an informal Energy Council on the preparation of a low-carbon energy roadmap by 2050. It is nice to read in the Hungarian programme that the Presidency wants to pay special attention to water policy in the context of climate change, as well as to biodiversity.

"A Union Close to its Citizens" is the third priority in the programme of the Hungarian Presidency, on which Hungary intends to seriously work on the Stockholm Programme in the area of justice and cooperation in home affairs. Another focus under this priority will be put on fighting organised crime and cyber crimes. And also, Hungary commits to fight for speeding up the implementation of the rules in one of the novelties, introduced with the Lisbon Treaty - the European Citizens Initiative.

Within its third priority Hungary will support Bulgaria's and Romania's accession to the Schengen area in the first semester of 2011, but only provided that they meet the necessary requirements. It is not explicitly shown in the programme whether these requirements should be technical or political, nor it is stated anything more than what is written above.

Another pleasant to read thing is the third priority of the Hungarian Presidency, which is enlargement. According to Hungary it is important Croatia to fulfill all the requirements before completing negotiations and also not to delay their completion. Besides, it is important for Hungary the integration process of the Western Balkans to continue, to maintain the momentum in the negotiations with Turkey, as well as to start negotiations on substance with Iceland.

Are you listening, Europe?

Quite self-confident sounds the text, written by the foreign minister of Poland, Radek Sikorsky for the Economist's edition of the World in 2011. I remember that when I met Radek Sikorsky for the first time in Washington more than 5 years ago, his confidence impressed me very much. Indeed, when reading one thinks that the text sounds too much self-confident but when you speak face to face to Mr Sikorsky you realise that he is just a well educated and mature politician.

His article in the Economist starts like this: "Let me begin with a prediction. In 2011 the world will finally wake up and realise that Poland has become a country to reckon with in Europe. We survived the recession: in 2009 we were the only country in Europe with positive growth and in 2011 we are poised to take full advantage of Europe's recovery. We survived a terrible test of our democracy: following the tragic death of President Lech Kaczynski in April 2010, our constitution worked - we held new elections and we now have a new president, Bronislaw Komorowski".

Sounds self-confidently but one can hardly argue the arguments. In the same style but with even more arguments the Polish foreign minister outlines the main priorities of the Polish Presidency of the European Union in the second semester of 2011. Poland would focus on the Eastern Partnership initiative, the main purpose of which is broadening European Union's ties with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. By the way, the Eastern Partnership will be put as a priority in the programme of a European Presidency for the first time.

Radek Sikorsky demonstrates maturity with regard to Russia too. Here is what he writes: "We also hope that in 2011 Russia will at last begin the genuine reform of its political and social institutions, in preparation for a new bid to become part of a broadly defined West. Not all the Russian leadership has yet worked out that joining the West - which means accepting Western standards and conditions - is in their interests. Not all of them yet realise that, whatever quarrels they have with Warsaw or Washington, these will soon pale beside the existential challenge they face along Russia's eastern and southern borders".

Of course, just like 5 years ago, today too Radek Sikorsky pays a great tribute to transatlantic relations. He writes that America will be too obsessed with its internal problems this year to pay the kind of attention to its European allies that they have come to expect. This is why another Polish priority would be common European defence. Mr Sikorsky thinks that the US is no longer afraid that a European defence identity would undermine NATO but, he says, that transatlantic relations would continue to be polite but unexciting.

And it is exactly here that Sikorsky puts the subtitle "Are you listening, Europe?", writing that Europe's moment has come because America no longer fears a possible common European defence would endanger NATO. On the contrary, America would welcome a European Union with better organised defence capabilities. "Indeed, given the defence cuts which the United States must eventually make, we should be prepared for the day when Europe has to take care of its own security - at least on its own periphery. We need greater specialisation and greater military coordination between European states: 2011 is an excellent year to begin", Radek Sikorsky writes further.

Polish Presidency's vision is much more global unlike Hungary's, at least if we judge from Radek Sikorsky's text and before the official programme of the Polish Presidency is published, which is expected in early summer. But, judging from foreign minister's article, Poland will look upon problems globally and would act locally. "Anyone who looks hard at the long-term demographic and economic trends should conclude that Western nations must work together: we need more strategic integration, not less, Fellow Western politicians, please take note", the Polish foreign ministers ends his article.

It was not once that Poland stated, without boasting of its size, that Europe has to reckon with it. Poland is the sixth largest country in the EU and the seventh largest economy. It was not once that it made it clear that it wants its voice being heard and it obviously succeeded if we remember the dispute with Russia several years ago. Poland also turned into the voice of EU's new member states by asking pension reforms costs to be deduced from the budget deficit in the peak of the debt crisis in the euro area. So, although I wish Hungary the very best with its presidency of the EU, I think that Poland will impose a new type of EU Presidency, no matter what is written in the Lisbon Treaty.

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