Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Schengen, Nabucco and media are the warm link between Bulgaria and Hungary

Adelina Marini, Ralitsa Kovacheva, January 11, 2011

Energy and Schengen - it is on these issues that there is a full overlapping of interests between Bulgaria and the Hungarian Presidency of the EU. Budapest's priorities for the upcoming 6 months were presented for the media by the Hungarian ambassador to Sofia, Ms Judit Lang, in the presence of the ambassadors of the other two countries in the Presidency Trio - Luis Canovas del Castillo Munoz, Charge d'Affaires a.i. of Spain in Bulgaria and the ambassador of Belgium, Marc Michielsen.

Hungary supports Bulgaria's wish the bank guarantees EU member states have to take from European financial institutions for the construction of the Nabucco project, not to be taken into account in the budget deficit. This is what Ms Judit Lang said, responding to euinside's question and explained that as a side in the project Hungary was also interested in its realisation.

As you know from previous publications of ours, this Bulgarian initiative became popular in a very odd way - from an official press release by the Government Information Service after the meeting between PM Boyko Borissov and US's ambassador on energy for Eurasia Richard Morningstar in October 2010 in Washington. It is interesting that since this idea has been for the first time announced in Washington (not in Sofia or Brussels), it never gained a more complete and formal view than unofficial consultations with the countries participating in the project. The Hungarian support is the first, announced officially so far. In an interview for euinside last month Deputy Minister of Finance Boryana Pencheva explained that at that stage this was a purely political position, which had not been discussed specifically on an economic level.

The creation of a "really common" energy policy is one of the priorities, written in the programme of the Hungarian Presidency. It is occasional then that in February Budapest will organise the first ever European Council dedicated entirely on energy. Ms Lang did not explain whether the Nabucco issue would be raised during the summit. "For us this summit is very important because we want to invest efforts in strengthening our energy security, in finding new resources and diversification of energy supplies", Ms Lang emphasized.

Regarding Schengen the Bulgarian journalists could not extract from any of the three officials a forecast whether and when Bulgaria could be accepted in the area of free movement. Patiently and several times the diplomats explained that this would happen when the technical criteria were fulfilled and expressed hope that this could happen soon. To one of the numerous questions, Mr Luis Canovas del Castillo Munoz responded sharply by saying that no one can suppose when Bulgaria would join Schengen and added that this was not a matter the diplomats could solve.

Belgian ambassador Michielsen explained that there were three aspects that needed to be taken into account when talking about Schengen. Firstly, the results from the latest expert mission in Bulgaria are not yet discussed at a European level - this will happen in January and the results should be awaited. Secondly, the European Parliament has to give an opinion on the issue and, thirdly, the position of member states is also important. "We cannot peek into MEPs' heads nor into the heads of the governments of the 27 member states and guess what their decision would be", Mr Michielsen commented.

To our huge surprise (and maybe Ms Lang's too) the issue of the new Hungarian media legislation did not evoke the interest of Bulgarian journalists. The law, which entered into force together with Hungary's taking over the Presidency of the Council of the EU, drew sharp international reactions and accusations that the new centre-right government, led by Viktor Orban, was attempting to bridle media.

An interesting element in Hungarian ambassador's biography is that Ms Lang was a fellow journalist: she worked as a correspondent with the Hungarian News Agency in Prague from 1986-1990. She has been an ambassador in Bulgaria for two years now. This is why we asked her whether it was possible to draw a parallel between what was happening in the area of media in Hungary and Bulgaria, especially given the fact that here it is also attempted an amendment of the media law to be made. Her Excellency said that she could not compare both laws because the specific conditions in a country are different.

Regarding the Hungarian media law she reduced her comment to saying only that currently it was being assessed by European Commission experts and that Hungary was ready to fully cooperate. After her words, when created the law was based on the legislation of other European countries like France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Poland, Sweden and Slovenia.

The new legislation was necessary because the previous one was created in the beginning of the transition, when the two political systems changed, after a lot of disputes and quarrels. The previous law lacked to cover Internet media which made it necessary such a regulation to be adopted, as well as Hungary had to transpose the European Directive on Audiovisual Media into Hungarian legislation. Judit Lang described the law as complex and comprehensive because it treated all kind of media and for the first time addressed issues like human rights, human dignity and child protection.