Hungarian government explains support for Costa at the European Council and says Von der Leyen “failed”

Viktor Orbán is the longest-serving leader at the European Council table and also the most controversial. But the Hungarian Prime Minister is confident that meetings of heads of state and government can go better with António Costa presiding over them. “We believe that Costa will be able to manage the Council effectively, because he has experience,” Zoltán Kovács told Expresso and a group of journalists in Budapest this Thursday.

The Hungarian Minister for International Communication explains Orbán’s favorable vote to elect the new president of the European Council: “the prime minister knows him. Don’t forget that (Orbán) has been in politics for 30 years”, he adds.

Hungary assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of the year. António Costa will only take up his role at the European Council in December, but Budapest expects good cooperation, not only between the two institutions, but also afterwards. Costa and Orbán come from opposite political spectrums and did not have aligned positions when the Portuguese was prime minister, but they have a cordial relationship and, a year ago, Costa even made a stop in Budapest where they watched a football game together.

The Minister of European Affairs, János Bóka describes the socialist as “a reliable partner†, with “a long track record, including at a high level†pointing out “very precise skills†. He says he is “looking forward to working” with the Portuguese.

But the friendly words for Costa contrast with the harsh criticism of Von der Leyen. Viktor Orbán was the only one to vote against the German for president of the European Commission. “We have a clear opinion about Ms. Von der Leyen: she failed,” says Kovács.

The Hungarian Government’s dissatisfaction with the Community Executive is well known, especially after Brussels went ahead with freezing part of the cohesion funds and also the Recovery and Resilience plan, because of the Budapest’s threats to the rule of law. At the end of last year, around ten billion euros of structural funds were released, but there is an equally large chunk that remains inaccessible and there is a risk that part of it will be lost forever if it is not released by end of year.

“It is being used as a political weapon, it is blackmail”, accuses Zoltán Kovács. Discontent with Von der Leyen’s team is evident, which Orbán even helped to elect in 2019. “It has not been a successful commission in the last five years”, he insists.

Budapest maintains the iron arm and refuses to back down on legislation that the European Commission – supported by the majority of Member States – considered that it threatened the rule of law and the good use of funds. But Orbán’s government disagrees. Kovács argues that the money from the funds, especially cohesion funds, should be “to improve infrastructure, access to markets” and not to be withheld for “political reasons”, “due to position ( Hungarian) on migrations, on the LGBTQ issue and others”.

Over the next six months, the Hungarian Government will preside over the various meetings of ministers – Finance, Agriculture, Internal Administration, etc. – and managing majorities and consensus among the 27 to move the legislative machine forward.

For Orbán, this is the second time he has held a rotating presidency of the EU since he was prime minister. He has been in office for over 13 years and with the departure of the Dutch Mark Rutte, he is the longest serving member of the European Council.

Expresso traveled with a group of correspondent journalists in Brussels at the invitation of the Hungarian EU Presidency


Francesco Giganti

Journalist, social media, blogger and pop culture obsessive in newshubpro

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