At our invitation, the European People’s Party Group chose Budapest as the site for last week’s bureau meeting. When Hungary has been the subject of debate recently in the European Parliament, the positive outcome of the visit came at an important time. The session focused on pressing European matters, particularly economic growth, unemployment and immigration, and its outcomes were encouraging, especially on the issues of tax fairness and data protection.
Hungary’s Minister for National Economy Mihály Varga briefed the group on the country’s economic performance and latest indicators. MEP Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, underlined that sustaining growth remains one of the EU’s greatest challenges and Hungary has demonstrated a successful path to recovery.
Looking at the key indicators of stability, we can see that Hungary has been steadily reducing its debt-to-GDP ratio, a debt that ballooned under the previous, Socialist-Liberal government, and has kept the deficit below 3 percent since 2012. We’re seeing strong GDP growth – 3.6 percent in 2014 and 3.5 percent in the first quarter of 2015 – and unemployment, now below the EU average, continues to fall. According to Eurostat, unemployment is currently at 7.3 percent in Hungary, compared to an average of 9.7 percent in the EU and 11.1 percent in the euro zone.
Speaking about immigration, among the most important challenges confronting Europe today, the Commission’s proposal will go before EU leaders later this month. Recently, Hungary has found itself at the center of a lively debate on immigration, but discussion at the bureau meeting showed that views among EPP members do not differ widely. The Hungarian government and the EPP share similar ideas on the issue: both are committed to offering help to refugees, those genuine asylum seekers fleeing instability or armed conflict, but hold the view that illegal migration for economic reasons must be stopped. Weber, in an interview following the meeting, said that approximately two-thirds of immigrants entering Europe last year were “illegal immigrants, who, according to the current rules, have no right to remain in the EU.”
This is a reasonable, balanced position, especially in contrast with the irresponsible approach, proposed by some socialists, which would open the way to mass immigration, or the populist proposal that would reject both groups, not drawing a distinction between refugees and illegal immigrants.
Europe continues to struggle with high unemployment and while Hungary has been successful in creating jobs and getting people back into the active labor force, Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog urged more effort to integrate a group that has been on the continent for centuries, namely the Roma community. If the European market needs more low-skilled labor, it should invest in training the six to eight million Roma already living in Europe.
The government of Hungary has made it a priority to reduce poverty and support the empowerment of the most vulnerable social groups. The efforts are now showing results. With the public work scheme, more than 200 thousand people returned to the active labor force, out of which almost 60 thousand people got their first opportunity to work.
On the subject of capital punishment, the matter has been put to rest and is not a topic of debate. Weber expressed satisfaction with PM Orbán’s assurances that the government has no intention of introducing any legislation that defies the founding treaties of the European Union.
Weber confirmed that contrary to press allegations, the exclusion of Fidesz from the EPP had never been on the agenda. “Our Fidesz colleagues do an excellent job in the EPP and Viktor Orbán is a strong partner of ours within the Group.”