One of the Commissioners-designate rejected by the European Parliament was Hungary’s László Trócsányi, slated to manage the Neighbourhood and Enlargement portfolio. SOLIDAR Foundation focuses on the implications of Hungary’s replacement nomination for potential EU members, and especially North Macedonia. We take this opportunity to launch our report on North Macedonia, developed in the framework of the Citizenship and Lifelong Learning Monitor 2018.
Regardless of who becomes the next Hungarian Commissioner, the Neighbourhood and Enlargement mission letter prioritises starting accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. It remains to be seen how committed the EU is and what resources it will dedicate for this, especially since for the third time in 16 months EU ministers failed to reach a decision on such negotiations within the Council. These unfortunate developments were replicated at the European Council’s Leaders’ Summit yesterday, where France opposed starting enlargement negotiations, indefinitely postponing North Macedonia’s and Albania’s EU aspirations. For now, the EU’s willingness is encouraging, including for the country most likely to receive this portfolio. The Hungarian foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, reiterated his country’s support for Western Balkans enlargement, frequently criticising the EU for not doing enough in this direction.
However, accession under a Commissioner tied to Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán is difficult. A government infamous for disregarding EU values and for straining democracy in Hungary sends wrong signals to potential EU members, opening up ways for candidate countries to join for economic and political integration but not for ideological integration. Member States sceptical of enlargement will have their position reinforced as they will see the dangers of candidate countries replicating the illiberal Orbán government. Hungary is not only ‘leading’ by example but also actively eroding anti-corruption fights in these countries, most famously by aiding former FYR Macedonia PM, Nikola Gruevski, to flee the country on the eve of being jailed for corruption. Hungary provides him with political asylum and rejects extradition requests, sending a message that runs counter to EU values.
Hungary’s replacement nomination seems likely to be Olivér Várhelyi, its ambassador to the EU. A loyalist to Orbán’s Fidesz party, Várhelyi is even more problematic due to his abrasive management style and combative approach. Given the sensitive nature of enlargement and the opposition to it in the EU, Várhelyi seems inadequate for the portfolio.
Our report shows North Macedonia developing a citizenship education curriculum and promoting EU values. These efforts, coupled with fighting corruption and its landmark agreement with Greece to change its name, reveal how North Macedonia is actively working for EU membership. However, it is in dire need of support to continue on this path, as our report reveals limited capacities for civil society organisations and a flourishing fake news industry destabilising the country. North Macedonia needs a partner, through accession, that will embolden forming links in the country, among civil society organisations, local and national authorities and all stakeholders to contribute to promoting EU values and citizenship education. A Hungarian Commissioner risks pushing the country on a path to backtrack.
SOLIDAR Foundation expresses concerns about the Hungarian nomination to the Commission and the EU’s commitment to enlargement. Read more in our report about North Macedonia’s needs in developing civic competences and in empowering civil society organisations to be active.