After the rejection of László Trócsányi for the post of Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner, who was deemed unfit to serve by the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (JURI), the Hungarian government has nominated another candidate for this position: diplomat Olivér Várhelyi. At the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BIEPAG), we believe that this potential appointment raises serious questions in regard to the wholesomeness of the EU Enlargement process in the five years to come. We encourage MEPs to take their duty to question the Commissioner-designate seriously, and hereby suggest ten issues that should be raised.
1) In its latest EU Enlargement strategy, issued in February 2018, the European Commission stated that “the [Western Balkan] countries show clear elements of state capture, including links with organised crime and corruption at all levels of government and administration, as well as a strong entanglement of public and private interests”. Is he committed to follow up on these findings, and in which way exactly? Would he be in favour of in-depth, tailor-made inquiries for all Western Balkan countries, given the success of the Priebe report for North Macedonia?
2) Given the track record of the Orbán administration in terms of rule of law (e.g. the demonstrable politicisation of public procurement), how committed is he to guaranteeing the strengthening of the rule of law in the EU accession countries, and how does he think his country is setting an example to follow?
3) Given the crackdown on media independence in Hungary, how committed is he to promoting media freedom in the EU accession countries, and how does he think his country is setting an example to follow?
4) Given the ousting of the Central European University from Budapest, how committed is he to promoting academic freedom in the EU accession countries, and how does he think his country is setting an example to follow?
5) Given that Hungary applies a strict law against nonprofits that receive foreign funds, how would he see the role of civil society in the Western Balkans with regard to EU enlargement? So far, civil society promotion has been at the centre of a re-energised approach to enlargement, but would he be ready to collaborate with NGOs or media outlets that receive funding from abroad?
6) Hungary has granted asylum and abetted the escape of former PM Nikola Gruevski, who has been sentenced for corruption in North Macedonia. What role have the Hungarian embassies in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia played in the transfer of Nikola Gruevski to Hungary? Would he be ready to publicly invite the Hungarian government to return Nikola Gruevski to North Macedonia to stand trial, considering the EC has noted improvements in the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in North Macedonia?
7) Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are the two Western Balkan countries without a clear enlargement perspective: given that, in both cases, the opening of the negotiations looks very far, the incentive to push the EU agenda is very limited. What will his approach be in each case?
8) Considering the denouncement of sanctions against Russia by Viktor Orbán over Russian involvement in the war in Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea, does he support the continuation of sanctions against Russia?
9) Considering tensions in relations between Hungary and Ukraine over the Hungarian minority, how does he propose to approach Ukraine and its position as a central partner in the Eastern neighborhood?
10) How is he going to make sure that Hungary respects the human rights of refugees? Hungarian parliamentarian Bernadett Szél (independent) recently visited a detention centre and reported about the inhuman conditions there. Does he think this is in line with Art 3 ECHR (Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment)?