Last week’s gathering of EU heads of state and government was convened to address some lofty questions – such as where Europe is headed as we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – and some practical business – such as electing a president of the European Council. Inevitably, Hungary’s new law on managing migration also came up.
Europe will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty in March, and it offers a timely moment to take a hard look at the direction the EU is taking. The EU, as Prime Minister Orbán said, needs to define its place in the emerging new world order but future power and influence will not come from taking powers away from Member States. Hungary’s position on the so-called ‘multi-speed Europe’ is that, as the prime minister said, “there is no first-class and second-class Europe”.
“Europe continues to be the best place in the world,” he said. The Europe of nation states has achieved great results since the Second World War, and it is the common duty of all EU Member States to keep things moving in that positive direction.
And it’s important to have EU leadership that understands that. The European Council re-elected Donald Tusk as president for another two-and-a-half-year term. Hungary supported Tusk, the former Polish prime minister, as the sole candidate of the European People’s Party. Hungary’s governing alliance of Fidesz-KDNP belongs to the EPP.
“European politics is organized on a party basis, and the EPP has a candidate,” said Prime Minister Orbán. “The EPP party supports the EPP candidate.” The prime minister was responding to questions about why the government could not support the candidate backed by Poland. That candidate had left the EPP, and Warsaw’s decision to designate a challenger to the incumbent Tusk, an opponent of the ruling Law and Justice party, was wrought with Polish domestic political considerations. While Poland remains an important ally to Hungary in many questions concerning the EU and NATO, we see the re-election of Donald Tusk as Council President serves Europe’s unity and gives emphasis to the power of nation states in Europe’s future. That’s an important issue to both Poland and Hungary, as well as many other European members.
Despite the media hype over Hungary’s new law affecting migrants and asylum-seekers, leaders of EU Member States raised no objections. In fact, the Hungarian approach, which PM Orbán explained using the example of airport transit zones, bears strong similarities to current proposals being put forward by Austria and Germany.
The new law, said Prime Minister Orbán, “answers the need to separate genuine asylum-seekers from migrants at locations outside the territory of the EU,” and that serves the interests not only of Hungary but all of Europe. We expect continued push back from Brussels, but last week’s Council meeting suggests that the Members States largely agree.