My two latest posts focused on a key challenge for the German EU presidency: the EU’s seven-year budget (MFF) and the closely related economic recovery package aimed at managing the crisis caused by the pandemic. As it has been reported in the media, the European Council of Member States’ heads of government agreed on the multiannual financial framework last week but, just a few days later, the extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament adopted a resolution with a two-thirds majority and rejected the agreement, voicing several critical remarks. Since the agreement cannot enter into effect without the approval of the EP as a co-legislator, the German presidency will need to put a serious effort this autumn into harmonizing Member State interests with the concerns of the Members of European Parliament.
Looking into the two most important tasks of the German presidency in my post last week, I discussed the adoption of the EU’s seven-year budget (MFF) and the economic recovery plan aimed at preventing the negative consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. Originally, I wanted to devote this week’s post to another great and pressing challenge with an equally large impact on the EU’s future: the agreement on the post-Brexit EU-UK relations. However, the topic has changed as the European Council reached an agreement in terms of the financial frameworks in the meantime. Just as for every other EU Member State, this agreement has some important lessons for us in Hungary, especially considering Viktor Orbán’s unorthodox maneuvers on the political stage.
The rotation of the Council presidency is in the centre of attention every 6 months. Each EU Member State gets a chance in every thirteen years to shape the agenda of the EU’s highest decision-making body through presiding over Council meetings and prioritizing the objectives that are important for the particular country.
Many people consider it as a divine miracle that the EU Council’s presidency is taken over by Germany on 1st July, right when the institution is about to face the gravest crisis in its history. We all know the reasons why Germany has always had a primary interest in keeping up the EU and reinforcing its agencies that are based on political and economic cooperation. Germany’s increasing economic weight and the fear of a German dominance drives the other Member States to call for an ever deeper integration. Furthermore, there is an enormous pressure on Chancellor Merkel, who is still considered as Europe’s leading politician despite getting closer to the end of her political career, to guide Europe out of its economic recession and all-out social depression.
The need to choose leaders to organize work activities, command armies, give guidance and help their communities to overcome difficulties is as old as the formation of the earliest human groups. Although leaders are selected in a completely different way now than they were in prehistoric times, the fundamental goals and needs have hardly changed over the millennia.
Due to their position, leaders tend to be granted certain powers and privileges but the very point of these privileges is to enable them to remove the obstacles from the way so that they could devote their full attention to the community’s welfare. Abusing these privileges or misusing them for the leaders’ private purposes is one of the most obvious markers of leadership incompetency. Leadership privileges certainly come with a significant amount of risk: leaders have to bear the weight of their decisions and sometimes even take personal risks in order to promote the welfare of the people. Just as ship captains are the last to jump in the lifeboat and police officers need to engage in a gunfight on occasion, politicians must be present in the public sphere and be the last to leave. Leaders who abuse or misuse their rights typically lose the people’s respect and are slowly forgotten or, in some cases, quickly ousted from their positions.
If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law. We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.
For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.
Parliamentary elections held in Serbia last weekend did not hold too many surprises for those familiar with recent political developments in the small Balkan republic. In an election originally announced for 26 April but postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Alaksandar Vučić’s populist right-wing Serbia Progressive Party (SNS) snatched over 60 percent of the vote and some 190 mandates in the 250-seat Skupština, the Serbian parliament. The dominance of SNS is further underlined by the fact that virtually all real opposition parties dropped out of parliament regardless of parliamentary threshold cut down to 3 percent prior to the elections. Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party scoring second place with just over 10 percent of the vote functions more like a satellite organization in a permanent governing coalition with the SNS. Thus, the strongest and only opposition party in the Serbian parliament will be the novel formation of Aleksandar Šapić, barely scraping through the threshold.