The candidacy of Hungary’s European Commissioner-designate Tibor Navracsics hangs in the balance after his performance at a three-hour hearing in the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels this week saw him summoned for a second hearing next Monday.
Just two of the 28 candidate commissioners have been asked to return: Navaracsics and Britain’s Lord Hill: the nominees of the only two countries that opposed Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as president of the European Commission (EC). Each EP caucus was then asked to submit up to two questions to be put to Navracsics, who is commissioner-designate for education, culture, youth and citizenship.
In his opening speech, Navracsics laid out six main priorities: education for jobs and growth; ensuring cultural diversity; making Europe’s universities the world’s best; reducing youth unemployment; bringing young people into the center of policy making; and renewing European citizenship.
He then faced over two hours of questions from MEPs. Asked about the legality of Fidesz’s scheme to make university students sign contracts to prevent them from leaving the country in return for state funding, Navracsics said the government had been driven to this solution out of necessity because Hungary faced a brain drain due to low salaries. The MEP who asked the question, Luigi Morgano, noted that the law contradicts the European Union’s principle of free movement of labour.
Navracsics dismissed a suggestion that he was not committed to European values, saying he had been an advocate of European integration even when it was “not too fashionable in Hungary”, and claimed to have helped resolve several disputes on legislation with the EC and bring them closer to the spirit of European integration.
He also insisted that Jewish culture is thriving in Hungary and firmly rejected charges of anti-Semitism, recalling that he had underlined Hungary’s responsibility in the Holocaust. He added that he is proud of Hungary’s ethnic diversity.
“Navracsics has clearly shown that he is a true European,” Sabine Verheyen, coordinator for the EP’s culture and education committee, said after the hearing.
Many disagreed, however. European Socialists and Democrats (S&D) vice-president MEP Tanja Fajon issued a statement that Navracsics had failed to distance himself from his past and had concerned the majority of MEPs. “Despite his statements on his respect for EU values and his pledge to act independently, S&D members believe that he has not dispelled the doubts concerning his candidacy,” the statement added. S&D education and culture spokeswoman Petra Kammerevert MEP said “Navracsics was also unconvincing in terms of knowledge of his portfolio”.
Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi said it was disappointing that while Navracsics had delivered a European programme in the EP, he has been a “collaborator” in a regime that has “eliminated cultural diversity, curbed press freedom, limited the independence of universities, destroyed education and spread fear in civil organisations in Hungary”.
Dialogue for Hungary MEP Benedek Jávor said he had expected Navracsics to be more fiercely questioned during his hearing. Jávor told ATV’s “Start” programme he had heard about “an alleged backstairs deal between European Social Democrats and the conservative European People’s Party not to attack each other’s candidates”, yet he had sensed a definite will among Social Democrat MEPs to articulate more definite criticism against the Hungarian government to Navracsics.
“Navracsics has found himself in a very particular situation because – after all of the things the second Orbán government did, often attacking the EU – he has suddenly found himself in quite a different position: as a commissioner-to-be, he is expected to represent the European values and obligations,” Jávor said.
According to Jávor, Navracsics clearly stated that his position now is different, and in a possible debate between Hungary and the EU “he clearly will represent the latter against the former”, the green MEP added.
Fidesz said Navracsics had proven to the committee his expert competence and commitment to the basic values of Europe, and had delivered “one of the best performances” of all the candidates.
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