The consequences are unpredictable – interview with Tibor Navracsics

We have to make it clear that maintaining EU member status and continuing integration are primary strategic points – even for Hungary too. A common European development would be more fruiting, than one, where everyone separately – or even at the cost of others – tries to seek prosperity. ‘It is regrettable that on the domestic political stage, only a minority advocates and supports this idea with concrete facts and not with empty words’ said Tibor Navracsics, Hungarian member of the European Commission, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Minister of Administration and Justice.

Péter Zentai: It is not only Southern and Eastern Europeans, but many from Western Europe are feeling negative about the European Union. Public opinion surveys and elections results are reflecting this growing anti-union tendency. Do you not think the atmosphere in Europe is alarming?
Tibor Navracsics: I am more optimistic about the situation. History tells us that since the beginning of the union – and even during the European Economic Community – there have always been conflicts of interests. However, integration, despite serious disputes between member states, not only did not fall apart, but has gotten even stronger and more harmonized.
One of the main advantages of the EU is that it can solve and settle disputes between members by its institutionalized consultation mechanism.
However, I agree that currently the willingness to settle disputes is rather weak, while conflicts of interests seem stronger. If the majority of them give in to reason, these alarming tendencies can still be stopped.

It is rather unusual, that today, Eastern and even Western European countries, politicians on power describe the European Union and its Commission as a soft power (HÁTTÉRHATALOM). Do you not think it irresponsible?
For me and every other Commission members it was a mandatory requirement not to form opinions, and label the domestic policies of member states, their political communication and the statements of a given politician.

The Commission and other European institutions could even take legal actions against Warsaw because of the Polish domestic situation. The Commission interfered in decisions of the Hungarian parliament too…
It only happens when a member state’s legislative process goes against or breaks EU standards. In addition, the Commission also interferes, if the given government ignores warnings and concerns from Brussels. Some years ago, our government held political dialogues with Brussels; it considered the findings of the Commission, and even though sometimes it argued them, but if it was defeated, the government fulfilled the responsibility of a member state, and changed its legislation and law. It seems that the Polish government is not willing to cooperate, like the Hungarian is. They want to pass laws and legislations, which are not harmonious with the EU standards.

This situation supports the concerns that some of the Eastern European members challenge the standards of the Union. It has also turned out that some Eastern members mismanage EU supports. According to the most recent report of OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, one billion euros of Western European tax payers have ‘disappeared’ in Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary alone. This fact, indeed, has led citizens of Western donor countries to raise concerns against the EU…
People of the North West have also done the same when they heard news of mismanagements in Italy and Greece. However, I do not disagree with you; we are witnessing processes which contribute to member states losing their trust in the EU. The only viable answer to this would be increasing transparency and reinforcing control over member states: a breakthrough could be establishing a European prosecutors’ network, which would also take on tracking corruption and mismanagements. It would operate under a supranational surveillance system and have international scope of authority.

So far the situation leans more towards falling apart. Do you not think that the events in Europe have taken a dramatic turn?
I agree that we have arrived to a critical point. 2016 is going to be one of the most significant years in the history of the European Union. The culmination of the Greek budgetary problems, the refugee crisis, and Brexit – great challenges even on their own, but now we must face all three issues at the same time. I cannot predict how dramatic the outcome will be.

What do you think about the possible effects of Brexit?
If Britain decides to leave, it would lead to a yet unprecedented scenario because this would be the first time in the history of European integration that the union shrank and not expanded. More definite financial and economic consequences cannot be predicted yet. However, I am sure we have arrived to a turning point. I do believe that there are absolutely more reasons, serious strategical reasons to continue the European integrity and keep the Union together, than to give it up.

Those who believe that keeping the Union together is not vital anymore also bring up national strategy. They usually turn to citizens and so to say entrust them to decide.
Probably we, advocates of the Union should communicate with people just as passionately and clearly as supporters of independent nations. We have to show that, for example, keeping up integration and maintaining our EU member status is in Hungary’s absolute interest; furthermore, a common European development is more advantageous than one where everyone independently – and even at the cost of others’ – tries to seek prosperity. It is regrettable that on the domestic political stage, only a minority advocates and supports this idea what I am talking about, with concrete facts and not empty words.

The countries of the Union often address the issue whether it should shift towards a more serious political, financial, and economic integration, or stop increasing and turn the Union into a ‘Europe of nations’. Which scenario would you welcome?
If I had to choose between total federation or the ‘Europe of nations’, I would say the latter one is more realistic – under the condition that certain common institutions have to become stronger in such a Union.
In this regard, whether we can solve or effectively manage the refugee crisis within our common institutional framework is a good test. I think, the standpoint of the Commission – regarding the quotas – is absolutely appropriate because it only says that if the number of refugees exceeds the norm – which has not happened anywhere yet –, then the other countries help the given country to house the refugees. So this is not equivalent with an imposed mandatory quota.

Original date of Hungarian publication: June 08, 2016