European Western Balkans

Bieber: Von der Leyen should reshuffle the Commissioner’s portfolios

Florian Bieber; Photo: Tanjug / Dragan Kujundžić

GRAZ – Olivér Várhelyi might appear to be an apolitical bureaucrat, but Orbán government has not afforded diplomats and other technocrats any independence and those whose careers have advanced during the past decade have had to display full loyalty to the regime, wrote Professor at the University of Graz and Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) coordinator Florian Bieber.

In an opinion piece for Balkan Insight, Bieber emphasised that the President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen should use the opportunity of the rejection of László Trócsányi by the European Parliament to reshuffle the portfolios.

According to Bieber, a Commissioner close to Orbán cannot promote the enlargement’s rule of law agenda, when the rule of the Prime Minister of Hungary has been marked by state capture and the systematic erosion of the rule of law.

“While Commissioners represent the Union and not their country of origin, it is hard to imagine that a person nominated by Orbán would be a plausible candidate to promote the rule of law. Even if he, or she, did, it would stink of hypocrisy, further undermining EU credibility in the Western Balkans”, he wrote.

Bieber pointed out that, while Hungary itself is supportive of enlargement, there are more skeptical EU members, such as France and the Netherlands, whose governments and public will not be convinced if they are being lobbied by a Commissioner from Hungary.

He also reminded that Orbán has granted asylum to former Prime Minister of North Macedonia Nikola Gruevski, sentenced to jail for corruption, last November.

“The complicity of embassies and the foreign ministry in bringing Gruevski to Budapest highlights how in Orbán’s Hungary, there is little space for independent and professional institutions”, concluded Bieber.

BiEPAG’s releases proposed questions for Olivér Várhelyi

The date of Várhelyi’s hearing in front of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee is still unknown. However, BiEPAG has already released a set of questions it proposes for the MEPs.

Among the proposed questions are Várhelyi’s opinion on in-depth, tailor-made rule of law inquiries for all Western Balkan countries based on Priebe report for North Macedonia, his credibility for promoting the rule of law and media freedoms in Western Balkans given his country’s record, as well as his view of the civil society organisations in the region, in comparison to Hungary’s own strict rules for their activities.

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