Hungarian Commission candidate put on hold by EP committee

Portfolio
After a nearly three-hour hearing, members of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs have not approved Hungarian Commission candidate Olivér Várhelyi for the neighborhood and enlargement post on Thursday, Politico.eu reported. The report was confirmed by Hungarian news portals 24.hu and index.hu, as well.
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Várhelyi’s written answers to questions from the committee could be summarized as “I’ll be a good boy and I’ll toe the party line," Politico noted.

However, neither his written statement, nor his nearly three-hour quizzing by the committee were enough to get the green-light.Instead, Várhelyi will have to answer extra written questions.

Committee members representing the Greens, Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left asked for the extra questions, while the other political families backed the Hungarian candidate, officials told Politico.

There are strong concerns around Orbán’s candidates, as we are deeply worried about the deterioration of rule of law within the country

, Politico cited one MEP, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Várhelyi did not do much to distance himself from Orbán, but regarding the portfolio, he put forward a solid performance. I think the majority feeling is that we wouldn’t get anyone better and we need to have the Commission in place as soon as possible.”

Olivér Várhelyi, Hungary’s ambassador to the EU, is a career civil servant known for his loyalty to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He nominated to the post after MEPs rejected Hungary’s first choice, former justice minister László Tórcsányi, over conflict of interest concerns.

Politico highlighted that while Várhelyi is highly familiar with Brussels and considered extremely knowledgeable when it comes to EU policy, former Hungarian officials have said that the ambassador routinely yells and swears at staffers. The ambassador also adopts a more combative approach in ambassadors' meetings than colleagues from other countries, according to multiple diplomats. He has declined to respond to these allegations, the portal added.

MEPs were expecting Várhelyi to clear and unequivocally set himself apart from his current boss, Viktor Orbán and his cabinet and give guarantees that he will represent EU values and policy as enlargement and neighbourhood policy commissioner credibly and reliably. 

Várhelyi stressed that he will work closely with Parliament and follow Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines. He emphasised that he will be working for the EU, rather than his national government.

As Commissioner, my only objective is to implement the political priorities of the European Union towards all the Enlargement and Neighbourhood partners, elaborating and implementing policies in the Western Balkans as well as in the Eastern and Southern neighbourhood in true European spirit.

The Hungarian candidate told MEPs he wants to be a “bridge” between the European Parliament, Council and neighboring countries. 

Our partnerships in the Neighbourhood are of paramount importance. The core of my mission will be
to continue accelerating cooperation with the Neighbourhood partners on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in order to foster stability, security and prosperity in and around Europe.

There is a “need to ensure that nobody is left behind,” he told MEPs, adding that “if we do not assume our responsibilities, others will take our place.”

He pledged he will continue to defend the proposal to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. “What is at stake here is the EU's credibility,” he said. The EU must be ready to take on new members once conditions are met, added Várhelyi.

"We must acknowledge that there are countries, as is the case with Albania and North Macedonia, which have made impressive progress on difficult reforms and are meeting the conditions set for the opening of negotiations. Opening accession negotiations with these countries should boost the reform momentum elsewhere in the region and inject new confidence in the enlargement perspective."

Cover photo by MTI/EPA/Olivier Hoslet

This article is part of the work programme titled "The impacts of EU cohesion policy in Hungary - Present and Future" which is carried out by Net Média Zrt., the publisher of Portfolio.hu, between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020 with European Union financing. The views in this article solely reflect the opinions of the author. The European Commission as the funding entity does not take any responsibility for the use of information presented in this article.

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