EU Presidency: Too Much Spotlight for a Country?
Holding the rotating presidency of the European Union can be a great method to promote your country. For instance, Luxembourg’s presidency during the first half of 2005 was a great opportunity to get people to pay attention to the small country of half a million. Similarly, it was an honor for tiny Slovenia to be the first post-communist country to hold the position when it was president from January to June 2008. The country had not even been independent for 20 years, but it was able to successfully lead the EU for six months.
However, since then, it has started to appear that holding the EU Presidency was more of a curse than a blessing. In 2009, the Czech Republic’s government collapsed during its mandate. While not a major event, it certainly brought a lot more attention to the domestic Czech politics. Belgium managed one better, as it did not even have a government for the entire six months it was at the helm (and still does not have one today). Given that during this time, the EU was forced to bailout Ireland, perhaps a Belgian government could have played a more prominent role, had it been more than a caretaker government.
The spotlight has now shifted to Hungary, who assumed the EU Presidency on January 1. Instead of the worry that the government may collapse, if anything it is too powerful since the ruling party has a two-thirds majority in parliament. Instead, the Hungarian government has been under a microscope after passing a law that critics claim will restrict press freedom.
In addition, Hungary has joined the list of countries who have managed to cause controversy through art intended to highlight its presidency. Many may recall that during the Czech Presidency, an artist was commissioned who used a toilet to symbolize Bulgaria. The Hungarian government had decided to unroll a carpet floor of the Council of the European Union building that shows historic Hungary—which included portions of modern Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. While Hungary’s intention may have simply been to highlight its long history, MEPs and others from Hungary’s neighbors have started to claim that this shows “nostalgic sentiments and even irredentist impulses of the current [Hungarian] government.” Either way, the Hungarian Presidency appears to be off to a start of being news worthy, even if not for the right reasons.
****In an update to this story, The New York Times reported that Hungary will “Tone Down Media Law to End EU Conflict” on February 17. However, it does not appear that Hungary can escape from a negative image during its EU Presidency, as apparently Budapest police are now attempting to reroute a Gay Pride march due to the fact that the Parliament Building will have more visitors while Hungary holds the presidency.