Hungary took over the rotating EU Council presidency on 1 July. The Hungarian government's much-criticised stance vis-à-vis EU decision-making, particularly with regard to the war in Ukraine, has been raising doubts about the country's suitability for this role. The discussion continues in Europe's press. All commentaries were published before it emerged on Tuesday morning that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had travelled to Kyiv for a surprise visit.

Surprise us by acting like a statesman

Orbán should behave like a statesman if he wants to maintain his reputation as a strong politician, advises Vitaly Portnikov on Radio Svoboda:

“Those who attempt to exploit the Council Presidency to realise their own selfish goals usually end up damaging their own reputation, displaying weakness and vindictiveness instead of strong leadership. ... So if I were Orbán, I would - at least for six months - forget about my grievances, my conditions and even Putin. And I would visit Kyiv in the first days of Hungary's EU presidency. This would be a worthy, balanced and logical step by Orbán, which would show that Hungary not only holds the EU presidency but also shares Europe's values.”

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Nothing constructive on the cards

Népszava fears the signals from Budapest will be counterproductive:

“A constructive EU policy is particularly important in the shadow of the constant Russian threatChina's quest for economic dominance, a US presidential election with an uncertain outcome and the advance of the right-wing populists. However, this is not something we can expect from the Hungarian government, which may instead use the rotating EU Council presidency to push through Chinese economic interests and which is demonstratively rooting for Trump, who could inflict serious damage on the European economy.”

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“EU leaders don't understand the intentions of the current Georgian authorities,” the EU ambassador to Georgia said.

Budapest has to keep the peace for a change

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Kleine Zeitung sees no reason to worry:

“Strictly speaking, the Hungarian presidency can be regarded as a lucky break. After all, the country holding the presidency is required to take a step back as an 'honest broker' and ensure equilibrium. At the same time, there is talk in Brussels that having to search for majorities and acceptable solutions for all could teach the Hungarians a few things; they are now dependent on reaching an understanding with other countries. This does not fit with the Hungarian blockade concept. However, whether this experience will stop the country from drifting further away from the EU in the future is doubtful.”

The alarming map in his office

The taz newspaper points to Orbán's destructive foreign policy:

“He backs the aggressive nationalists in the region, and above all in Serbia, and even finances Milorad Dodik, who wants to secede part of Bosnia. Hungary's prime minister has a map of Greater Hungary on the wall of his office, depicting the borders of the Hungarian kingdom during the Habsburg Empire. Putin's dream of restoring czarist Russia could also serve as inspiration for Orbán and his party. The way is already being paved for a nationalistic shift in the EU - his speeches on Transylvania will sound alarming not only to Romanians. He will be clever enough not to push Europe too far now. But step by step he will try to implement his nationalist worldview.”

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Now we'll see whether Europe really can work as a team

The Hungarian presidency of the Council will provide many insights for the EU, says Le Soir:

“The Hungarian EU Council presidency's Trump-inspired slogan – Make Europe great again – is causing concern. Nonetheless, (at this stage) it's only a slogan, albeit a provocative one! Especially since inclusivity has become the key concept of the EU summit, an expression of the will to get everyone on board (even Giorgia Meloni and... Viktor Orbán). ... The next six months will show whether Viktor Orbán can play by the rules or wants to disrupt the European machinery. Whatever the answer, it will provide clarity at a moment when Budapest's beloved sovereigntism continues to gain ground at EU and national levels.”

Not entirely hopeless

Hvg says the Hungarian government must now be willing to make compromises:

“It's clear how important it is for Fidesz to escape its black-sheep role. ... A well-run Council presidency wouldn't be popular with the general public but it could soften Hungary's image in EU circles as a constant obstacle. ... It's no coincidence that the presidency's programme begins as follows: 'Hungary will work as an honest broker, in the spirit of sincere cooperation between member states and institutions, for the peace, security and prosperity of a truly strong Europe.' How the whole thing ends will, above all, depend on the extent to which the government is prepared to make genuine compromises and conduct objective negotiations.”

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