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Roundtable discussion on the evaluation of Europe’s future – where is Europe heading?

Within the framework of the “Stronger together” series of events, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade organised a roundtable discussion on Europe’s future and the possible forthcoming perspectives of the European integration on 15th of June. The invited guests were Dr. Balázs Molnár (Deputy State Secretary for European Union Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office), and Dr. Gábor Zupkó (Head of the European Commission Representation in Hungary). The discussion was moderated by Dr. Sándor Gyula Nagy (Senior Research Fellow, IFAT).

The panelists opened the session by presenting their personal remarks with special regard to drawing a slight comparison between Hungary’s overall attitude towards the European integration prior to and after the act of accession. Then they covered a specific agenda which was established through a pool of questions posed by the audience members. These sets of topics can be arranged along the themes of Europe’s global and regional role, and the citizens’ satisfaction with the services of the European Union - including trust-building and providing a secure and peaceful environment.

Dr. Gábor Zupkó reminded the audience that following the regime change in 1989 Hungary assiduously pursued compliance with the accession criteria. The persistent work towards this goal was propelled by the impetus of an idea about Europe: namely that belonging to a community sharing common values and interests enhances Hungary’s abilities to influence international events. He lamented that we tend to forget the basics: the daily role and relevance of the EU that we take as given, regrettably, however, the formerly omitted consciousness was re-discovered and re-introduced in the Rome Declarations signed in March 2017. Namely, this document can not be perceived merely as a solemn pour féliciter carte, but a basis of real policy content in which all Member States actively participate and contribute to. Regarding the possible improvements in the field of CSDP, he pointed out that the question is not whether a European standing army should be built up, but by what means the Member States could harmonise the billions of euros spent on defense and security in parallel, and without coordination – an unfortunate method which proved to be ineffective and inefficient. He also addressed the issue of the European Citizens’ Initiative on a wage union much appreciated among the V4 countries by highlighting that the vision on such a deeply-integrated welfare system embedded in the draft surpasses even the most courageous considerations on a Social Europe of the Commission rapporteurs, hence the proposal is prematurely ambitious.

Dr. Balázs Molnár evaluated that the reason for the recent wavering discontent towards the EU lies within its scarce capabilities to respond to and tackle challenges and crises in a proper manner, thus to mitigate the citizens’ fear of jeopardising the already facilitated tangible achievements of the European integration, for instance, the French-German rapprochement, the Schengen Zone, the four fundamental freedoms, and the common currency. However, the phenomenon of these acquis communautaire can be deemed a double-edged sword, since – taking into account the Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe – multi-speed Europe could be easily transformed into a two-speed Europe, should the re-ignition of the Franco-German tandem accelerate excessively without due vigilance. In the view of Hungary, that outcome would render the Union dysfunctional, therefore it would cease to exist, nevertheless, the relevant articles of the Treaties safeguard the cohesion of the integration and inhibit such drastic and discretional leaps forward. He set forth, as well, that Hungary cordially advocates a more sophisticated integration in the fields of counter-terrorism, security and intelligence-sharing (thus, becoming less reliant on USA capabilities), while consistently arguing against the necessity of deepened cooperation in the social field (since the conception of a work-based society purported by the Hungarian government drifts against the current of the European mainstream).

The experts agreed that according to Eurobarometer and other statistics, too, CentralEastern European countries and thus, Hungarian citizens, as well, tend to be more optimistic and enthusiastic about the EU than their Western European counterparts, and – notwithstanding Poland – neither electoral base decided to give secessionist parties mandates in the most recent parliamentary elections. In addition, Hungarians prefer placing trust in European institutions to Hungarian ones, even though the ruling parties are fond of employing the buck-passing rhetoric vis-à-vis „Brussels”, i.e., if something fails, the blame is on „Brussels”, and if something succeeds, the merits of the national government have to be praised for it. Consequently, the sole European achievements should be clarified and recognised instead.