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Hungary/press freedom – France/EU budget

Published on January 7, 2011
Interview given by Laurent Wauquiez, Minister responsible for European Affairs, to the “RMC” radio station (excerpts)

Paris, January 6, 2011

(…)

HUNGARY/PRESS FREEDOM

Q. – Hungary holds the European Union Presidency and that’s arousing debate.

Luxembourg is wondering if Hungary still deserves to hold the European Union Presidency, particularly in view of the recent law passed in Hungary, which makes provision for fines of up to €730,000 for radio stations or TV channels in the event of damage to the public interest, public order or morality, or partial reporting.

Does Hungary still deserve to hold the European Union Presidency?

THE MINISTER – Yes, of course: we’re not going to start demonizing anyone, and the problem isn’t whether or not Hungary holds the European Union Presidency. The problem is that our chief foundation in the European Union is democracy and the rules of freedom of expression. Having a journalist like you who tortures us politicians is part of the foundations of Europe and freedom of expression.

They’ve adopted a law on the media which was passed very recently. It raises questions.

Q. – Should Hungary repeal that law?

THE MINISTER – The European Commission is currently working with Hungary. I had an exchange yesterday with my Hungarian opposite number. I warned her that questions had been raised about the law: “we need you to take an open and constructive attitude, in order to put everything on the table”. She told me they were ready to do so and would work objectively with the Commission and put their law on the table.

Q. – Are you going to help Hungary change its law?

THE MINISTER – The Commission will analyse it, and if there are problems my counterpart has told me they’re ready to adjust it and change it.

Q. – Could Hungary possibly be sanctioned if it doesn’t change the law?

THE MINISTER – For the time being that’s not the issue, and it’s also positive because they say that if there were ever any difficulties with their law, they’re ready to change it.

That’s where Europe contributes a great deal, too, because if Hungary were outside Europe those exchanges wouldn’t take place.

The advantage of Europe is that it’ll give us a calm, objective working framework. The Commission, which is the guardian of the treaties, will put this through its screening process and tell us: “there’s a problem here, this must change in Hungary”, etc.

Q. – Will France intervene on the question of media reform in Hungary?

THE MINISTER – The job shared by all the European Union countries is to ensure we all stay on course. Our course is the Republic, democracy and therefore defending press freedom. It’s the job of us all, and the Commission’s role is to assure and maintain that foundation. That’s what it’s currently doing, so it’s a step in the right direction. (…)

FRANCE/EU BUDGET

Q. – What’s France’s contribution to Europe’s budget?

THE MINISTER – On average – but we have to be careful because it can fluctuate – France contributes around €6 billion.

Q. – So we’re contributing €6 to 7 billion to the smooth running of Europe. How do we control how our money is used?

THE MINISTER – We have extremely strict control. First because the budget is presented to us; second, there’s a huge number of safeguards and control procedures surrounding all European spending which are designed to ensure, precisely, that the money is well spent.

And then, because we have the so-called great debates on the European Union’s financial perspective where all the European Union countries hold discussions and say, “look, I want there to be this much money for the Common Agricultural Policy”, “I want there to be money for a policy enabling us to support the least-favoured regions such as my dear Auvergne” and “look, I’d like to have some support for the Erasmus policy, which is a policy I very much believe in because it’s positive for our students”, etc.

Europe isn’t an irrelevance to us. We’re in Europe, we’re in control of Europe, it’s part of us. We need to take ownership of it, it’s a Europe which protects us. That’s what I’m fighting for. (…)./.

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