MEP Tibor SZANYI: Let’s talk about Europe too!
During the parliamentary election campaign that will soon end, many people often mention misleading facts about EU policies, therefore I think it is important to talk about the truth as well.
The EU's major concern currently is the Brexit. Just under a year’s time the United Kingdom is expected to leave the EU. There is a prior consensus on substantive issues, especially on financial and legal issues, but there is no clarity about the future relations between the EU and the UK. The positions tend to prefer a very close relationship after the Brits leave. The British are keen to continue to follow the EU-defined policies in the future, although they will be able to take part only in informal decision makings at best. The parties are seeking the solution to avoid a 'hard' border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is also the big question of the future mobility of EU and British citizens, although until the end of the ’transitional period’ (31st December 2020) their rights are indisputable. No drastic changes will be expected in case of new Hungarian workers (and other EU and British workers) either, although stricter administrative regulation is expected. The future of bilateral trade relation is still undecided. Furthermore the United Kingdom's global trading perspective is also rather vague. In the other key areas, there is a strong and mutual willingness to cooperate, in particular regarding security issues. Although there is a fundamental dilemma in this area too, namely that in the EU the last word is with the European Court of Justice, the institution that the Brits desperately want to get rid of.
Except for one previous extraordinary and temporary decision, there is no binding refugee settlement quota on the EU’s agenda. Back in 2015 – also supported by Viktor Orbán! - Member States' leaders agreed with a one-off decision to allocate 120,000 (+40,000) asylum applications among each other, but because of the failure of this plan, the quota issue was removed from the agenda. There is a talk, however, about the setting up of a voluntary mechanism, but this is only part of the slowly formulating Dublin asylum system reform. Nevertheless, the strengthening of common border protection is moving forward with great progress, and as a result the internal migration tensions were significantly reduced. In the meantime, foreign policy concepts are being created to alleviate potential external migration pressures, as a kind of Marshall plan in the Middle East and Africa.
It should be noted that the Hungarian government did fulfil its transitional quota in 2015 (instead of evaluating 1,300 requests it took in 3,000 refugees). On the top of this, it distributed Hungarian residents bonds without control (more than 21.000 for good money), unfortunately often to internationally wanted individuals.
Cohesion policy (EU funds)
Contrary to the Hungarian belief, EU institutions do not support any link between handling migration and disbursing EU development funds. The mission of the Cohesion Fund is to offset some of the differences between the developed and the less developed Member States, which are mainly due to different capabilities to succeed on the single internal market.
There is, however, a link to the question of the rule of law, since in the absence of jointly respected legal institutions, the verifiability becomes questionable, which currently is based on loose trust. That is why the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor's Office was created by the legitimate need of European taxpayers to make a truly joint and accurate check on the spendings of the Community. By now, across the EU from taxpayers to politicians, it is a common view that those beneficiaries who try to stay out or even protest against it are revealing their own corrupt practices. However, efforts are not aimed at withdrawing money but for strengthening the rule of law.
The wider adoption of the euro was given new impetus within the EU’s economic policy priorities. One of the reasons for this is that the euro area has been more successful than the outsiders. In our region the development of Slovakia is stronger than the others, while Hungary has became the tail ender.
After the expected Brexit, only one country (Denmark) will have derogation, although the Danish crown is heavily tied to the euro. The remaining 7 Member States, including Hungary, that are struggling with the conditions for the introduction, can take advantage of the wide-ranging assistance offered by the euro zone. It should be noted that the Hungarian government does not have much to do with the budget deficit and inflation, but the magnitude of government debt has doubled in the last eight years, and it is not an easy task to curb it.
Over the last 4 years, the European Parliament has taken a number of initiatives as a direct consequence of the recent tax evasion scandals, while the European Commission has also imposed a set of fines, mainly on global companies. The main ambitions now are the creation of a unified European income tax base, the clarification of the concept of tax havens and the inclusion of the list of countries belonging to the latter. It is also a new principle that everyone must pay where their profits arise. In order to ensure the stability of the EU budget, it is on the agenda to create own revenues through EU –wide exposed taxes. One obvious tool for this could be a financial transaction tax on large money movements. In order to better control cross-border VAT movements, the finalization of the rules of the European VAT system is expected to take place imminently.
Within the EU, the Hungarian government is most hostile towards the legal harmonization effort – but not to protect the interests of citizens or SMEs, but that of the privileges of the oligarchs and multinational companies.
The preparation of a new budget planning period, starting January 2021, is currently under way. The new order of political priorities proposed by the European Commission, which already reflects the prior opinion of the Member States are: (border) security, (military) defence, climate protection, social market economy, youth mobility, digital transformation, research and innovation, monetary union, cohesion policy, common agricultural policy, investment outside the EU. It is clear that the number one priority does not aim at any mass migration, but rather to achieve the opposite.
It is a great result of the EU institutions that they have finally created the European Pillars of Social Rights. As the EU has achieved its highest accomplishments in bringing closer the national economies, it was high time to act on social issues as well. The social pillar summarizes the rights in 20 points that all European citizens must enjoy in a uniformed manner, including education, labour protection and health. However, the social pillar is still at the stage of declaration, so the detailed and common rules are yet to be defined. However, the very first principle is the need to protect women and children in a comprehensive way.
Although Russia should be one of the EU's most important external co-operating partners, the Putin regime has unfortunately became one of the world's largest troublemakers. Today, the EU, together with the entire international democratic community, is clearly flagging Russia as an aggressor and imposing sanctions on it. It will not tolerate for long that one of it members is breaking this unity, exposing the EU to a potential military threat, and exposing our common security to an aggressor. The EU has become very united in tackling harmful Russian policies, although three Member States (Hungary, Italy, Greece) have adopted a more tolerant position. Nevertheless, the EU's foreign policy unity is sound, while its success is, for the time being, highly doubtful due to its maverick members.
To summarize, the EU is nothing more than the common will of its member states. Where the joint will is strong, the EU is successful, however, where there is a lack of member states' joint will the EU is weak. Nevertheless, it can be said that the EU as an institution - by virtue of its being – cannot be the enemy of any of it Member States. However, it is quite possible conversely, that is any Member States can block the common will and unfortunately Hungary (along with Poland) is currently 'leading' in this role.
European social democracy is particularly interested in creating a closer European unit, especially in the area of human, employee, social and environmental rights, while conservatives believe mostly in economic cooperation and the freedom of capital. These struggles, however, are only constructive when complemented by the necessary compromises. In the new debates on the future of the EU, the socialist standpoint is to strengthen solidarity and consistently stand up against harmful selfishness aiming to destroy the Union.
Mutual! solidarity remains to be the essence and fuel of the EU, just as it is the essence and fuel of the European Left too. Therefore, the success of the renewed European integration also includes the promise of the resurgence of the European Left.
Let's keep talking about Europe!