Judit Varga – Photo: BZT / Nóra Halász

Justice minister calls for strengthening CoE

Justice Minister Judit Varga on Monday called for strengthening the role of the Council of Europe (CoE), saying that the European Union "should not be allowed to overshadow" the organisation's mandate.

Addressing a meeting of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Varga noted that Hungary will take over the presidency of the CoE’s Committee of Ministers later this month.

The minister said the principle that the council’s member states should be united in their values and ideas was just as valid today as it had been at the time of the founding of the organisation 70 years ago. However, diversity and national sovereignty are equally important, Varga said, arguing that the council’s member states differed in their legal, cultural and historical traditions.

Varga said the priorities of Hungary’s CoE presidency running until mid-November are future-oriented, pragmatic and committed to the protection of national minorities.

She also said it was “clear that there is a certain implicit rivalry between the EU and the CoE”, and urged strengthening the role of the latter.

Concerning the upcoming Hungarian presidency, she said Hungary will organise a conference of CoE justice ministers on the digitalisation of judicial systems on Oct. 4.

In November, Hungary will organise a conference on the European Convention on Human Rights and the practices of Hungarian courts, she said.

Meanwhile, Hungary is evaluating the best way to organise this year’s Octopus conference on cybercrime, the minister said. “Hungary is a leader in sharing its experiences in the fight against cybercrime,” she added.

Foreign ministry state secretary Peter Andras Sztaray noted that the priorities of Hungary’s CoE presidency will include, among others, the advancement of the protection of national minorities, a focus on future generations, youth policy, strengthening the dialogue between religions, and on meeting the challenges posed by artificial intelligence, cybercrime and climate change.

In response to a question, he said Hungary will spend 2 billion forints (EUR 5.6m) on the CoE presidency, rather than 4 billion as originally planned.

As regards Hungary’s upcoming takeover of the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group, Sztaray said talks are still ongoing among the four countries on that presidency’s priorities.

Zsolt Nemeth, the (Fidesz) head of the committee, said the two presidencies would attract greater attention to Hungary, giving it more room for manoeuvre.

Concerning an upcoming debate of the future of the EU, Nemeth said the Hungarian government believed that “Europe is not just the EU, but the entire continent”. The bloc should also pay attention to the European countries outside it, he said, adding that this made cooperation with the CoE all the more important. Nemeth said it was also important that the Christian Democratic vision was also represented in the debate on the future of the EU.

He also said that Hungary would be pushing for the EU to make good on its commitment to join the European Convention on Human Rights.

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