Olivér Várhelyi, Hungary’s nominee for European commissioner, had a hearing on Thursday with preparatory questions for the European Parliament’s professional hearing, where he said that as EU Commissioner, his only objective is “to represent the European Union’s political priorities towards our enlargement and neighborhood partners and to work in a genuine European spirit in the Western Balkans, as well as in the relationship with our Eastern and Southern neighbors.”
Várhelyi pledges to be independent of the Orbán government
The commissioner designate was asked by MEPs about his relationship with the Hungarian Prime Minister. Várhelyi has repeatedly stated that he will work completely independently and will not accept instructions from anywhere, saying that he only “will carry on in line with EU principles, I will not accept any governmental voice in my portfolio.”
During the hearing, it was mentioned that earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the 7th Turkic Council summit in Baku that Hungary can offer the council a bridge to Europe and the European Union, saying that Hungary was fighting to get the enlargement and neighborhood policy portfolio in the new European Commission. “Our chances are not bad, but it’s a tough battle,” he said. “If we succeed … then there will be close cooperation with Azerbaijan within the Eastern Partnership and [EU] membership negotiations with Turkey,” adding that “we will be pleased to be at your service.” While Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that the European Union enlargement “is in good hands,” Péter Szijjártó, the minister of foreign affairs and trade, said during a World Economic Forum event that if the Hungarian Commissioner-designate would get the enlargement and neighborhood portfolio then EU enlargement would receive a boost as „Hungary not only talks about its political objectives but takes action to realize them, too. Now that a Hungarian commissioner will oversee EU enlargement, the EU policy…will gain new momentum.”
However, Várhelyi said that a proof of his independence is his previously served four years as Head of Unit at the European Commission, with complete independence. He added that he represents the European Commission and implements the decisions. Várhelyi said he had to represent the EU as a commissioner, and cannot accept instructions from any government.
Szijjártó: EU Enlargement ‘in Good Hands’ with Hungarian Várhelyi
Várhelyi: Accession Talks with Albania and North Macedonia ASAP, Turkey EU’s Key Partner
The commissioner candidate for enlargement and neighborhood policy told the foreign affairs committee that serving in his post he would seek to act as a link between the main European institutions and neighboring countries, adding that national and European interests need not be considered separately because the common aim is to create a strong and successful community. Different targets and approaches are needed for the various partner countries and it is not possible to apply a standard scheme, Várhelyi added.
He said accessions talks must be started with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible, as the credibility of the European Union is at stake, adding that the possibility of opening an integration process must be given to eligible states. He also said in his opening speech that he would place great emphasis on the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in the candidate countries.
Várhelyi underlined that, if appointed, he would work towards closing the dialogue between the Serbian and Kosovo governments next year. The Western Balkans is an integral part of Europe and it is also in the community’s interest to maintain the prospect of accession, he said. Várhelyi expressed the view that no choice should be made between deepening and widening the European Union.
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He called Turkey the EU’s key strategic partner in many areas. This cooperation must be strengthened, while “negative developments in the rule of law and human rights, and an increasingly assertive foreign policy in Ankara must not be ignored,” Várhelyi said. There are close to four million refugees in Turkey, Várhelyi said, urging continued assistance to be provided to that country for them. Turkey must also be helped in curbing illegal migration, he said. Ankara is clearly moving away from European values and norms, so plans must be put forward on how future cooperation should be developed with the country, said Várhelyi.
Cooperation with partner countries in southern Europe must be considerably strengthened as regards migration, he said, adding that security, stability and prosperity needed to be further enhanced in the region.
Among migration-related measures, he underlined the importance of quelling illegal migration, eradicating human-smuggling rings, supporting border defense, and increasing the number of illegal migrant repatriations. Várhelyi said it was important to facilitate a voluntary and safe return of refugees to Syria once conditions are apt. Humanitarian conditions in Libya also need to be improved, he said, adding that Europe needs allies such as the United States in its stabilization efforts.
At the end of his speech, Várhelyi summarized his plans in four points. Accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania should be opened with a clear perspective; continue the structural reforms in the Eastern Partnership with a view to strengthening the economic situation; cooperation with southern neighbors should be based on a ‘more for more’ principle, and concentrate more on investments by using neighborhood policy.
featured photo: Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI