Hungarian MEP Andrea Bocskor from Subcarpathia elaborates on the latest developments in Ukraine and the European reactions.
The conflict in Ukraine continues to drag on. It looks like a stalemate, and the attention of the international press is also waning. What is the situation currently in eastern Ukraine?
The migration crisis, the situation in Syria, the upcoming elections in the United States are pushing events in Ukraine into the background. However, the conflict has not yet been resolved and there are still human casualties in the fighting. This year the Ukrainian army will conduct four rounds of enlistment, and the first round started February 11. According to the latest news there is a ceasefire at Luhansk, while in the Donetsk region, the separatists are still attacking Ukrainian positions from the Donetsk airport all the way to Troicki. Despite the restrictions in the Minsk agreement, they are sometimes also using heavy weaponry. The epicenter of fighting is still in the region of Mariupol, with on-going ‘sniper warfare’. The settlement of the eastern territory is not yet resolved, creating concern about the prospects for a settlement of the whole situation and raising the prospect of a prolonged, frozen conflict. The Russian, Ukrainian, French and German sides discuss regularly the question of a settlement in Ukraine, but without any tangible result.
What is the situation of the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia, in a country dealing with such a difficult situation?
Even though the situation is often exasperating, the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia is hanging on, concentrating on the future, on survival, and is even becoming more united, which was also reflected in the autumn local election results. Subcarpathia has a lot for which to be thankful to its motherland, Hungary, as well as all the Hungarians living in the other separated territories. The unity and support experienced recently by the Subcarpathians is amazing, filling people with gratitude. Besides donations of food, firewood and clothing distributed through charitable programs, Hungary grants income supplements to people carrying out services in the Hungarian language, including healthcare professionals, teachers or ministers, and helps families with meal programs for children as well as support for schooling and maintaining communications. This is great help, as the minimal wage is currently around 16 thousand HUF (approximately 51.5 EUR). Furthermore, certain priority institutions of the Hungarian minority community receive state support from Hungary, which is a great example of taking responsibility.
Regarding the economic situation in Subcarpathia, unfortunately, things have deteriorated since 2014. It is a good thing, however, that in autumn last year, under the EU program, the European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation, the Tisza European Territorial Limited Liability Partnership was formed as a joint initiative of Tisza ETT, the local government of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County, Kisvárda Municipality and the Subcarpathian Regional Council. This is the European Union’s first European Territorial Partnership to include a non-EU country as a member. The aim of the partnership, in line with intergovernmental agreements, is to implement trans-border cooperation in areas such as transport and communications infrastructure, energy, tourism, education and vocational training, scientific research and development, culture, healthcare, sport, protection and development of the Tisza and its tributaries, logistics, SMEs, environmental protection, agriculture and solving problems of people living in border areas. I hope that as a result, through EU tenders, effective development projects in Subcarpathia will become possible.
What do you expect in terms of Ukraine-EU relations? Will the reforms promised by Ukraine become reality? Do minorities see positive changes?
At the January meeting of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee in Brussels, the Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Presidential Administration presented the results of the reforms, which showed a positive trend in almost every field. However, ordinary citizens experience very little of this in their everyday lives.
It is also promising that Ukraine came closer to visa-free travel, needing to fulfill two more important criteria: firstly legislation on electronic statements needs to be amended and secondly, by the end of March, a national agency on preventing corruption needs to be launched. According to some news sources there is a chance that the European Commission will submit a proposal in a few weeks to the European Parliament for a visa waiver for Ukraine and Georgia. This means that Parliament might vote on it already in March. However, in my opinion, it is more likely to happen during the summer.
Due to the association agreement signed with the European Union, we can hope for progress because the EU, as a result of the agreement, requires that Ukraine implement reforms, eradicate corruption and transform into a democratic state that respects its minorities. However, if we look at the minority policy of the EU’s own member states, Slovakia or Romania, then we can say that the EU cannot and does not want to apply efficient minority protection. Regardless of this, minority language, political and educational rights have to be a European minimum. Therefore, it is our task to obtain the utmost for the Hungarian minority from the Ukrainian leadership proclaiming European sentiment.
In February there was a vote of confidence against the prime minister. Should we expect him to resign in the coming months, and if yes, what can we expect?
In his review of the government’s measures taken in 2015, Arseniy Yatsenyuk stated that financial and economic stability has been achieved, the Ukrainian economy reached 1.5 percent growth in the last quarter of 2015, and the implementation of the most important reforms regarding the economy and national security have been launched. He also spoke about the main tasks for 2016, which, however, did not convince the majority of MPs; therefore, parliament adopted a resolution declaring its dissatisfaction with the government’s work. Following this, the Ukrainian parliament did not pass the motion of no confidence launched against Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government, however several parties left the coalition, raising concerns about its stability. Furthermore, there’s the fact that the position of Economic Development and Trade Minister is still empty after the February 3 resignation of Aivaras Abromavičius, the Lithuanian who had been named to the post. Domestic politics are further complicated following the resignation of Chief Prosecuter Victor Sokin on February 19, who was asked by the president, February 16, to step down. It is still unclear who will fill this position in the future.
The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, also tried to pressure the president and the government, threatening to freeze the next loan installment if the reform process stops. What we can expect in the coming weeks is unclear. It seems unpredictable in light of recent happenings.
What is the situation in the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, where you are one of the vice chairs?
Currently in the Committee on Culture and Education, I am working on an evaluation of the EU Youth Strategy for the years 2013-2015, as a rapporteur. The nine-year EU strategy, developed for the 2010-2018 period, has to be evaluated, reviewed every three years to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs focusing on problems of youth. The strategy identifies two priorities. The first is to facilitate the transfer from school to work and the second is to encourage the active civic participation, social inclusion and solidarity of youth. The latter has become especially important due to the need to prevent the radicalisation of young people.
The economic crisis has hit young people especially hard. Gaps between certain groups of youth have widened; some have become more and more excluded from social and civic life. This situation is further aggravated by the fact that in certain cases there is a danger of social passivity, exclusion, isolation and, especially in some member states, violent radicalization.
We have to find solutions to decrease youth unemployment, improve the quality of life and vision for young people, create equal opportunities, strengthen their civic consciousness and prevent radicalization. In order to reach these goals, we need more systematic cooperation on the EU and member-state levels in several policy areas, such as employment, education and vocational training, social policy, youth policy, culture, sport and healthcare. Recently, I had several meetings concerning the preparation of the aforementioned report. For example, I met with Csaba Borboly, rapporteur on the same topic from the Committee of Regions, Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, representatives of the European Youth Forum and Katalin Novák, the Hungarian government’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs. I hope that my report brings out new elements, which can improve the European Youth Strategy and also introduce our specific Hungarian aspects to Europe. I will also try to present in my report the Fidesz-KDNP alliance’s youth, family and talent management programs as well-functioning models. It is important to emphasize the youth policy measures taken on a regional and local level, the role of youth organizations and communities in supporting young people and shaping their future, as well as the joint role of families, schools and the church. We need to deal with the methods of creating equal opportunities, especially for youth from minority groups in multi-ethnic states. In light of the report, I also find it important to facilitate a positive vision and opportunities for young people living outside the borders, around Hungary, to succeed in their homeland, like in Subcarpathia, for which we all must work.