Oliver Varhelyi, Hungary’s nominee for European commissioner, told a hearing in the European Parliament on Thursday that he will carry out his duties as commissioner independently of any government, emphasising his intention to follow the EU’s policy objectives. He failed to convince the coordinators.
Varhelyi said national and European interests need not be considered separately, underlining that the common aim was to create a strong and successful bloc. The commissioner candidate for enlargement and neighbourhood policy told the foreign affairs committee that in his post he would seek to act as a link between the main European institutions and neighbouring countries.
The situation of the European Union’s neighbours is of strategic importance to the bloc, he said, underlining the importance of maintaining stability, security and prosperity in these areas, as well as of reducing gaps in their levels of development.
Different targets and approaches are needed for the various partner countries, and it is not possible to apply a standardised solution, he added. Accession talks must be started with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible, as the credibility of the European Union is at stake, Varhelyi said, adding that the possibility of opening an integration process must be given to eligible states.
The EU must be prepared to accept new member states if they meet the requirements, he said, adding that the accession talks must be made more effective. Varhelyi underlined that, if appointed, he would work towards concluding dialogue between the Serbian and Kosovo governments next year. The Western Balkans is an integral part of Europe and it is in the bloc’s interest to maintain the prospect of accession, he said.
Varhelyi expressed the view that no choice should be made between deepening and expanding the European Union. He called Turkey the EU’s key strategic partner in many areas. This cooperation must be strengthened, while “negative developments in the rule of law and human rights and an increasingly assertive foreign policy in Ankara must not be ignored”, Varhelyi said.
There are close to four million refugees in Turkey, Varhelyi said, urging continued assistance to be provided to that country in catering for them. Turkey must also be helped in curbing illegal migration, he said. Ankara is clearly moving away from European values and norms, so plans must be put forward on developing future cooperation with the country, said Varhelyi. Concerning foreign policy, Varhelyi mentioned the Turkish government’s “provocative and illegal” oil drilling off the coast of Cyprus along with the country’s military incursion into Syria.
He also talked about the importance of strengthening cooperation with partner countries in southern Europe as regards migration, emphasising the need to further enhance security, stability and prosperity in the region.
Concerning measures relating to migration, Varhelyi underlined the importance of quelling illegal migration, eradicating people-smuggling rings, supporting border defence and increasing the number of illegal migrant repatriations.
Varhelyi also said it was important to facilitate the voluntary and safe return of refugees to Syria once conditions there have improved. Humanitarian conditions in Libya must also improve first, he said. Europe needs allies such as the United States in its stabilisation efforts, he added.
The European People’s Party (EPP) said after the morning hearing that they will support the Hungarian candidate. Others, however, expressed concern over Varhelyi’s ability to work on promoting the rule of law in prospective member states “with his own country having enacted a number of questionable laws in recent years”. Momentum MEP Anna Donath said in a tweet that there was “no guarantee” that Varhelyi would act independently of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Marton Gyongyosi of nationalist Jobbik said at the hearing that although Varhelyi’s professional qualifications had not been called into question, many saw him as a “partisan soldier of [ruling] Fidesz”.
The Greens and several Social Democrat and liberal centrist MEPs, however, said they would vote against him. Some of the MEPs proposed a portfolio swap.
Varhelyi has been asked to answer further written questions, the spokesman of the European Parliament said after coordinators of the EP’s parliamentary groups failed to reach agreement over Varhelyi’s approval for the post. EP’s foreign affairs committee has set a Monday deadline for Varhelyi to return his answers, Jaume Duch said on Twitter.
Source and photo: MTI