Hungary's commissioner candidate wins European Parliament approval
Várhelyi, currently Hungary's ambassador to the EU, got the green light from members of the Parliament's committee on foreign affairs after he has given assurances about his independence from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in answers to additional questions from MEPs.
Hungary was the last country to not have a Commission candidate approved after the Parliament backed French businessman Thierry Breton for an expansive portfolio overseeing the internal market, industrial policy, defense and space, and Romanian MEP Adina-Ioana Vălean was backed for the transport post, Politico reported on Monday.
I will neither be bound nor influenced by any statement or position of any Prime Minister of any country or any other representatives of any government
, Várhelyi wrote in answers to members of the committee.
Critics accuse Orbán of meddling in the Balkans and maintaining an overly close relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Some members of Parliament said they were particularly concerned about a speech made by Orbán in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, last month, where he appeared to pledge Várhelyi's assistance to the Hungarian government's Turkish and Azerbaijani allies.
"Hungary is currently fighting to ensure that, in this European government, Hungarians are given the portfolio of enlargement and neighborhood policy," said Orbán.
"If we manage to secure this portfolio, we will have close cooperation with Azerbaijan on the issue of Eastern partnership, and with Turkey on the issue of membership talks. If we manage to secure this portfolio, we will gladly assist you in furthering your endeavors," he added.
In his written answers, Várhelyi distanced himself from the Hungarian leadership's foreign policy positions.
"The EU is a key trade partner of Azerbaijan, provides support to economic diversification and promotes reforms to improve the business climate. We also have a mutual interest in energy cooperation. However, I will not shy away from clearly addressing the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and raise relevant issues, e.g. political prisoners and freedom of assembly and speech, both publicly and directly with the Azerbaijani authorities at the highest levels," the Hungarian candidate wrote.
The same applies to Turkey. Turkey is an important partner for the EU and we have a strong interest in cooperating effectively with Turkey.
"However, this will not prevent me from giving unambiguous messages on issues such as the serious backsliding on rule of law and fundamental freedoms, the illegal drilling in the Mediterranean or the military incursion in Syria," he wrote.
The next Commission is now set to be voted into office during the European Parliament's plenary session on 27 November, although the institution still needs to find a solution to the U.K.'s refusal to nominate a commissioner.
Asked whether Várhelyi would be independent of Orbán, one senior Fidesz party official told Politico that while no one can know for certain, “I do not think” the incoming commissioner would be “really” independent.
Cover photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images