On Wednesday morning, MEPs discussed the December European Council, the upcoming 1 February special summit, and assessed the situation in Hungary.
On behalf of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU, Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib said she hoped that the 27 member states will reach an agreement on 1 February for the reform of the EU’s long-term budget, to serve as a basis for negotiations with Parliament. Regarding Hungary, she said the Presidency will continue working on the ongoing Article 7(1) procedure and announced that a new hearing with Hungary will take place in June. She stressed that assessing the implementation of reforms by the Hungarian authorities – to allow for unfreezing EU funds – is a Commission task. “We hope the dialogue between Hungary and the Commission will bear fruit,” Lahbib said.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the EU’s crucial role in navigating the world “in an era of confrontation and conflict, of fragmentation and fear.” She pointed to significant decisions taken by the EU, such as the new migration and asylum pact and opening accession talks with Ukraine, commending the latter on its swift and comprehensive democratic reforms. She emphasised the EU’s commitment to an ambitious enlargement policy, planning for an EU of over 30 member states. She also stressed the need to revise the EU budget to ensure continued substantial and sustainable support for Ukraine. Addressing the situation in Hungary, President von der Leyen defended the Commission’s recent decision to release a part of withheld EU funds. This decision came following the undertaking by Hungary of judicial reforms in response to several EU recommendations, she explained, adding that around €20 billion remains frozen.
Several MEPs praised the European Council’s historic decisions on EU enlargement, such as opening accession negotiations with Ukraine, but were disappointed by the failure to agree on the EU’s long-term budget review and additional support to Ukraine. The European Council must, they said, deliver and be ready to consider all possible options, hinting at the possibility of enhanced cooperation or advancing with the Article 7 procedure to strip Hungary of its voting rights.
Many MEPs urged EU leaders not to give into Hungary’s blackmail, to provide further information about the Commission’s unblocking of elements of EU funding that were frozen due to the rule of law mechanism, and to respond to Parliament’s Article 7 requests. MEPs did also, however, stress the need to maintain open communication with Hungary and to listen to its concerns.
Some speakers also wanted a revival of the idea of a European Defence Union to be ready to stand against Putin. Others raised the need to avoid austerity measures and provide more EU funds for social and environmental causes.