The building of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg – Photo: wikipedia

Hungary takes over chairmanship of CoE council of ministers

Hungary took over the chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) from Germany at a meeting in Hamburg on Friday. Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister, said after the meeting at which he briefed participants about the Hungarian Presidency's programme running until Nov. 17, that Hungary had chosen three priority areas: national minority protection, religious communities, and the rights of children and families.

Concerning the protection of national minorities, Szijjarto highlighted Minority SafePack, an initiative urging European Union protection for national and linguistic minorities in the bloc, which the European Commission had not added to its agenda. The minister said he hoped Hungary’s chairmanship of the CoE council of ministers would lead to “Strasbourg doing a better job than Brussels”.

As regards the protection of religious communities, Szijjarto noted the issue of the persecution of Christians “in Europe’s neighbourhood”. He said it was especially worrying that protests against the Israel-Palestine conflict had recently taken an “anti-Semitic turn” in several European countries.

Turning to the protection of children and families, the minister said the pandemic had forced many children to “join the digital space without experience”, making them vulnerable to cyber criminals and predators.

Szijjarto said the protection of families and children required broad European regulation, adding that Hungary, too, was introducing strict regulations in this area.

Szijjarto also said that the CoE provided a sufficient platform for “relaunching civilised dialogue” between the East and the West, which he said was all the more necessary in light of growing political conflicts.

Being a central and eastern European country, Hungary’s interest lies in dialogue, rather than conflict, he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged his country’s support for the Hungarian presidency, adding that common values should guide its work.

Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the CoE’s secretary general, said the outgoing German presidency had “set a high bar”, adding that multilateral cooperation to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law was “perhaps more important than ever.”

Justice minister: CoE presidency ‘serious responsibility’, ‘special opportunity’

The Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which Hungary officially took over for six months on Friday, comes with “serious responsibility” and also “a special opportunity”, Justice Minister Judit Varga said.

She said in an English-language Facebook post that the responsibilities that came with the presidency, which include coordinating the standpoints of 47 member states and consulting continuously with their representatives, were not easy tasks.

The priorities of the Hungarian CoE Presidency include the protection of minority rights and maintaining a dialogue on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Varga said. “Our principle is to respect the cultural, legal and historical traditions of nations and to represent the interests of future generations,” she said.

The main topics the Hungarian presidency will focus on among future challenges include the digitalisation of the judicial system and the application of artificial intelligence in justice administration, Varga said. A conference of justice ministers focusing on these issues will be hosted by Budapest in the autumn, she added.

She noted that Hungary’s parliament on Tuesday adopted a political declaration reaffirming the national assembly’s commitment to the work of the CoE, which functions as a framework of cooperation among free, independent and democratic European states.

“Hungary has been, for a long time, a devoted participant and shaper in the development of law in Europe, a fact that will be proved in the following months again,” the justice minister said.

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