30 June 2011

Farewell to the Hungarian Presidency – or “is there life after the Presidency?”

(There is definitely life for this blog after the Hungarian Presidency, as we will carry on blogging and tweeting, so you are welcome to follow us.)

During the last six months the Presidency has fully occupied our days and part of our nights. A few presidencies had a rougher start than ours, but equally few have finished more successfully if we look at the actual achievements (we don’t want to bore you with the details, you can read them here if interested). This spectacular comeback was based on the solid moral strength and the concentrated effort of our colleagues. Such concentrated effort can of course lead to addiction, which will unavoidably cause a few weeks of post-presidency depression. (Even though at the moment we can’t wait to see our families in normal daylight and get our lives back.)

However what we are interested in this post is a wider question: Is the presidency just a passing moment or does it serve a higher purpose? How did it change us personally and how did it change Hungary’s role in the European Union? 

In the new post-Lisbon institutional setup the rotating presidency is the last link that connects the Brussels Bubble to the Member States. And we must protect this role! The fact that the presidency rotates between Member States lends it great importance, but also creates its Achilles-heel: presidencies come and go and each one tries to reinvent the wheel again. This is why we tried to look at the incoming presidencies as a continuous flow and not as separate, conflicting or competing entities. We did our best to involve the Polish (and the Danish) communication team into our work and share all good and bad experiences honestly. Hereby let us wish good luck to the Poles, we are really crossing our fingers for your success!

But what is going to happen to Hungary’s role in the EU? We fully agree with what Greg Dorey, UK Ambassador to Hungary wrote: ”The Hungarian EU Presidency has gone well, with much-needed legislation and business of importance to the EU as a whole steered through in a professional and competent manner. The challenge now is to preserve the expertise and skill that has been built up – it is only when a new Member State has held the Presidency for the first time that it can really understand how to use the EU to best effect.”

Even though the Hungarian Permanent Representation will now go back to a “normal” operation, we expect that: 
  1. the Hungarian public administration back in Budapest will be much more efficient in defining Hungarian national interest very early on, and
  2. our Brussels based diplomats will be even more competent in representing these positions
  3. furthermore we hope for more Hungarian lobbyists/activists in Brussels. 
As the Multiannual Financial Framework* negotiations are just starting (see live tweeting from @hajduspox on 29/06), this improvement comes at the best moment. 

*aka EU Budget, fate of lots of money, in the 7 years between 2013 and 2020

We are caught up now between worlds 

And how about us, Kovács & Kováts? Well, we are in a strange situation. In the Brussels institutional setup, most people spend their EU-career in one institution and they begin to identify with their institution. If we wanted to draw a caricature, we could say that Commisison officials tend believe that the Commission equals Europe and Council and Parliament are only there to disturb. Council sometimes lives in a diplomatic ivory tower thinking they are the only real power in town and everyone else is just a joke. Finally Parliament officials believe their institution is the only one with a democratic legitimacy. 

In our “normal existence” Kovács is a Commission official, while Kováts is a Parliament official, and both of us have been seconded to the Hungarian Presidency. Thus we are caught up now between two worlds – carrying the original identity of our proper institutions while having gone through a very intensive crash course in Council mentality. Whether this ”double-identity” will be appreciated upon our return to our sending institutions or whether we will be castigated, is to be seen. (Kováts has been asking for more blood in Brussels, now he might get it – in London.)

And before we go a few words of thank you to a few special people!

First to the whole Brussels press corps – thank you for taking us at face value, (mostly) without preconceptions and for a straightforward relationship. For those journalists with whom we had more regular contacts and have grown closer to our hearts (you know who you are), well we hope to stay in touch. 

For the Brussels bloggers, especially to the Bloggingportal editors: we are happy that you came to that meeting in the winter that started us on an intellectually motivating cooperation that finally led to the pilot project of opening up the Council to bloggers. 

We are grateful to colleagues in the Council’s press team who have run most of the press relations for us or instead of us. Sometimes we thought that we were only a nuisance disturbing the smooth operation of the system, but you never made us feel as outsiders. Also colleagues at the 26 permanent representations were extremely helpful and cooperative on a bilateral basis when we needed them. 

We must thank the spokespeople and press officers of all other institutions for their cooperation (some were more, others less cooperative, but we met no bad intentions and have no ill feelings) and for bearing with our sometimes rather undiplomatic blog posts without much complaint.

A great thank you to the interpreters, whom we have often criticized (and might have gone over the top –new blog post on this subject coming up), but without whom the Presidency could not have survived for one day. 

And finally, the Hungarian Presidency team, including the Brussels diplomats who endured our constant pestering, but still proved to be most helpful. And of course our closest collaborators (Emi, Eszter and Magda) for enduring the hardship of supporting our work.

We will miss you!


  1. I will miss you, too - thanks for a spectacular effort on this witty, interesting blog! I enjoyed every entry equally much... with the exception of the Eurovision one which I LOVED.

    Enjoy your normal lives again. You deserve it : )

  2. we will miss your blog too! backing to normal life is ok.dont worry :) and good luck