What is the future of a Franco-Hungarian cooperation ?

This Thursday, the 12th of October and this Friday, the 13th of October, the French Minister for European Affairs, Mrs Nathalie Loiseau, went to Budapest to meet her Hungarian counterpart, the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Mr Szabolcs Takács. It was an opportunity for the French Minister to draw a roadmap for the future of Franco-Hungarian cooperation.

Finally a hand extended by France to Hungary!

10/15/2017 - 22:25
On Friday, October 13th, at the library of ELTE Hungarian University, Minister Nathalie Loiseau gave a speech to students, journalists and representatives of France and Hungary. This speech, fundamentally pro-European, by drawing the contours of a positive and cooperative future between France and Hungary, marked a turning point in Franco-Hungarian cooperation.

Official visits of French representatives to Hungary are very rare, so that the one of the Minister responsible for European affairs proved to be as new as promising. The conference given by her in ELTE was supposed to be one of the highlights of this visit, and it was undeniably one of them. The Minster wishes to deliver to a largely French audience a message of hope for the future of Europe. Her message is clear: the response to current international issues, such as the migratory crisis, or terrorism, can only be European. According to Nathalie Loiseau, the future of Europe is the future of each of the member states, and it is up to them to take part in a collective effort in favor of the European project, since only a "reformed Europe" can face the immense challenges of our century. This is a point on which Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban agree, both wishing to reform the European Union.

France and Hungary, future reformers of Europe?

The Minister for European Affairs said that the European Union has to be reformed to become a "sovereign, united, democratic Europe". However, she stressed that France does not want to "decide" on ways to reform but only "propose", in order to reach a compromise with other Member States, including Hungary.

France wants to build a sovereign Europe, that is to say, a Europe that protects its citizens and ensures their security, facing the terrorist threat for example, as explained by Nathalie Loiseau. The latter has launched an unequivocal appeal to Hungary on this point. Indeed, if changes have been reached about European defense (eg creation of a European defense fund), France hopes to go further and to promote the creation of a European army, a measure wished by Hungary in the past. The Minister thus opened the door to future discussions with her Hungarian counterparts on this subject, and above all hoped that Hungary could support France at the European level for the creation of such an army. She then added that a sovereign Europe would be a Europe that would be able to respond to the migratory crisis, and that would not allow the control of flows to rest on some Member States. If this message seemed to be directed mainly to Spain, Italy and Greece, it is also likely that the Minister had in mind the control of flows at the Serbo-Hungarian border. 

Moreover, the protection of European citizens should be achieved also on the European market for the representative of the French Government, who has again extended her hand to Hungary. Thus, the Minsiter stressed the need to reform the Common Agricultural Policy in close cooperation with Hungary, a country sharing a major interest in agriculture. She added that no Member State can accept that on the European market products of different quality can be sold, indirectly supporting the countries of Central Europe, after the scandal that broke out around quality of food products, particularly in Hungary. France also wants to create a united Europe. Nathalie Loiseau pointed out that this will involve the gradual convergence of all the Member States, both economically and socially, with as a key measure the reform of the European directive on posted workers. This reform is fiercely wanted by President Macron, who promoted it during his trip to Central Europe. However, the minister stressed the need to find the best compromise on it and congratulated the Hungarian leaders for their commitment to the reform of this directive since they took over the presidency of the Visegrad Group.

Finally, the last part of the European reform that France wants will be the construction of a truly democratic Europe. This is a real concern for the Hungarians, attached to their freedom, because they suffered a lot in the past. The Minister then expressed the hope that Hungary would welcome the proposal made by Emmanuel Macron to set up democratic conventions, such as direct consultation of all European citizens. Through its Minister, France thus expressed the wish to cooperate more with Hungary, and to strengthen the "historical" links between these two countries, which marks a significant step forward.

A new discourse about the usual "ugly duckling" of Europe

Beyond the calls for more cooperation with Hungary, the Minister held a new speech about the Central European countries, which are often criticized. Nathalie Loiseau has issued some disguised criticism to Hungary, pointing out that Europe must not become a "scapegoat", and that no member state can leave "Europe sick" without reacting. Also she added concerning the migratory crisis that "humanity is also part of Christian values".

Nevertheless, a certain political realism seems to have taken precedence over the pure and simple criticisms of the Central European states. Indeed, the Minister clarified that it was understandable that, in times of trouble, "European peoples have doubts". She even insisted on the need to respect the sometimes legitimate interrogations of the latter. Moreover, while the French objective is to move Europe forward at "28 today and 27 tomorrow", Nathalie Loiseau acknowledged that the will of the member states should be respected and that those who wished to cooperate more should be able to do so. She explained that it was necessary to "let the avant-gardes advance", perhaps the ones capable of creating a dynamic in favor of the European project. 

The European affairs officer in France, however, ruled out the creation of a two-speed Europe, saying that the common goal must remain the convergence of all member states. Reading between the lines, a Europe with several speeds seems to appear for France as a temporary solution to keep progress in Europe. The political pragmatism of Emmanuel Macron seems to dominate, and a positive message is sent to all European leaders. Thus, instead of criticizing those who are not ready to move forward, France seems to accept that the European construction can occur at a different pace, depending on the state, with the exception of the single market and the rule of law, for which there can be no more than one pace, as pointed out by the Minister for European Affairs.

Here there is a double discourse by the French government, both for and against a two-speed Europe, which lead to a certain regrettable vagueness. However, the choice of France to respect the choices of its European counterparts should be welcomed. Indeed, France is clearly reaching out to Hungary, while at the same time it still wants to continue reforming the EU, with or without the Hungarians. Thus the French government participates in remaking Europe a space of debate between all the member states. In this regard, Nathalie Loiseau recalled the importance given by the French President to maintaining relations with the Visegrad group, considering that these forms of cooperation between several member states support the European project. 

If one should not be naive about the intervention of the French Minister in charge of European affairs, her speech at ELTE University in Budapest being polished by the traditional politico-diplomatic language, it has the merit to be an obvious first hand extended by France towards Hungary, which is encouraging for the future of Franco-Hungarian cooperation.

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