‘Europe in need of a night watchman’

Hungary’s Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany made the headlines during the last European summit in Brussels, with his warning that a «new Iron Curtain» risks splitting the continent anew. We asked the speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, Katalin Szili, to clarify this statement on her visit to Athens this week. Dr Szili argued that what is mostly at stake in this period of severe financial turmoil is the notion of European solidarity, the very foundation of the EU. What was the purpose of your visit in Greece? The goal of my official visit to the Hellenic Republic between March 10 and 11 was to further strengthen the already strong parliamentary ties between our two countries, and also to reciprocate the memorable visit to Hungary of Ms Anna Benaki in December 2006, the then speaker of the Hellenic Parliament. What were the main issues on the agenda of your official meetings in Athens? The main issues on the agenda of my official talks have been the future of Europe, including the hopefully successful ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and Hungarian-Greek cooperation to promote the Euro-Atlantic integration of the countries of the Western Balkans. In addition, we also exchanged views on the leading foreign policy issues, like the Middle East. Both our countries have a vested interest in a strong and united European Union. The region of Southeastern Europe and within it Greece, which is playing a significant role, have become increasingly important for the foreign policy interests of Hungary. Speaker [Dimitris] Sioufas and myself have also covered the role and responsibilities of the national parliaments of the EU in trying to find a way out of the current financial and economic crisis, in implementing the necessary reforms and strengthening understanding between voters and decision makers. We were able to continue the discussion started by the speakers of the parliaments of the 27 European Union countries in Paris on February 27-28, 2009. [Sioufas] and myself have additionally discussed the preparations for the European Parliamentary elections which will be held in both countries on June 7, 2009. This represents a challenge and at the same time also an opportunity, to defeat skepticism, fragmentation, fatigue and to strengthen our common European values such as solidarity, as well as our commitment to the further evolution of our European ideals. Are you satisfied with the state of Greek-Hungarian relations? Is there room for improvement? Our bilateral relations, which are based on historical links and mutual understanding, are excellent but there is always room for exploring additional fields of our traditionally friendly cooperation. Just to name a few, this year we will restart our scientific-technological cooperation and we will continue our joint efforts in the civil reconstruction of Afghanistan, under the umbrella of the Hungarian-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). We would like to expand our relations in tourism into new areas like health and religious tourism or cruising on the Danube. An excellent beginning for this was the «guest of honor» status of Greece at the International Tourism Exposition in Hungary last February. The Greek community has made a significant contribution to my country over the centuries. Their role in the economic, scientific and cultural development of Hungary was commemorated by the exhibition «Greeks in Hungary» which was inaugurated by [Foreign Minister] Kinga Goncz during her visit to Athens on September 11, 2008. EU and Hungary’s economy Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany recently said that a «new Iron Curtain» risked splitting the European continent anew. What exactly did he mean by that? The new member states of the EU are facing a severe financial slowdown for the second time in their recent history. However, there is not a single and unified European response to this crisis. The comment of the Hungarian premier was, in a sense, the expression of a demand for European solidarity. If this demand for solidarity is not satisfied, we risk ending up with a two-tier Europe. However, Hungary has already received billions of euros in EU stabilization funds, as well as assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. Is there anything else which can be done to help the Hungarian economy recover? Indeed. However, countries outside the eurozone are in a dire situation. Financial assistance is not enough. The EU should responsibly lead all efforts for recovery. We should act as one entity. Do you think that there is indeed a division between «old» and «new» Europe in fields like economic and foreign policy? For example, «new» Europe appears to be more Atlanticist in its foreign policy, while ahead of the recent European summit, the leaders of nine countries [Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and the three Baltic states] forged a common stand to press richer members to back up vague pledges of support with action. Are there two camps in Europe? No there aren’t two camps in Europe, but there will be if we don’t somehow «forget» that the EU consists of «old» and «new» member states. All this rhetoric about new Europe should disappear from everyday public discourse. The meeting before the last European summit was aimed at preventing such divisions. Does the financial crisis necessitate a major reform in the rules of the global financial system? First of all, we should move beyond the old dichotomies between socialist and liberal responses to financial woes. Second, as I said before, the EU and its member states should demonstrate their commitment to the principle of solidarity. Third, Hungary has already suggested the creation of a pan-European regulatory authority that will supervise the function of our financial system, a sort of night watchman that will prevent similar crises in the future.

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