Civil society organisations’ views on European issues should be conveyed to MEP candidates, and it is important to distribute them on other platforms (e.g. online) as well. This was one of the conclusions at a discussion organised by Europa Platform Hungary on 21 November, in Budapest.
Europa Platform Hungary, an open collaboration civil framework coordinated by European House Budapest involving civilians interested in European affairs, provided an opportunity for representatives of civil society organisations in Hungary to exchange ideas and experiences on three topical issues: European elections in June 2024, Hungary’s EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2024 and EU enlargement. Regarding the Hungarian Presidency, it was mentioned that the European Parliament had voted for a resolution in the summer of 2023 questioning Hungary’s aptitude to hold the rotating Presidency – leading to calls for the Presidency to be taken away from the Hungarian government.
The participants of the discussion agreed that such a radical step would have negative consequences, strengthening anti-European sentiments and further encouraging the Huxit camp. Even if one considers it justified to deprive Hungary of the EU Presidency, the Union has no legal basis for doing so.
Civil organisations believe that the Hungarian Presidency is expected to be a “light” or “low profile” semester, when Hungarian officials will take part in the daily management of the EU machinery, but no substantial decisions will be made. The Hungarian government is expected to communicate differently at home, to its own voters (criticising Brussels) and inside EU circles (accepting EU decisions).
Participants of the debate were of the opinion that there is no significant anti-EU movement in Hungary for the time being, and pro-Europeans are much stronger, but the tendency, slowly but gradually decreased number of supporters, gives reason for serious concern. The government is testing the receptiveness of the population for an eventual Huxit with various statements and communication tools (posters, questionnaires).
As part of the critical rhetoric, the Hungarian government is also opposed to Ukraine’s EU accession – however, at the Budapest discussion participants argued for Ukraine’s admission. Although Ukrainians do not yet meet membership conditions, it was recalled that Central and Eastern European countries were not ready to join either when accession negotiations started. The political and economic stabilising effect of EU enlargement is demonstrated by the example of Eastern European Member States.
As for the upcoming European elections, representatives of CSOs emphasized that most voters do not even know their current MEPs and have almost no information about the functioning of the European Parliament. Therefore, it would be important to raise the awareness about the role and importance of the Parliament, hopefully leading to higher turnout in the elections.
Everyone agreed that it would be very useful to convey the conclusions of this discussion, and the opinions of civil society organisations in general, to MEP candidates. Despite this agreement, there were differing views about how it could be best done in practice.
A relentless and sustained information campaign promoting European topics was recommended by one of participants. Each civil society organisation should publish the most relevant information on their websites and platforms – distributing these views not only in the virtual world, but also during in-person meetings.
What kind of discussions are civil society organisations holding in other countries on EU issues? This is something that would be important to know as well. European House is planning to organise debates with representatives from CEE countries, in order to facilitate the sharing of relevant information and experiences.
Young generations also need to be deeply involved in the discussions about European issues. These discussions should focus on useful and relevant topics, such as the green and digital transitions. It is also essential drawing their attention to the results of EU integration, the free travel within the Schengen area for example, something that youngsters tend to take for granted.