CEPOL

European Police College in Budapest? Not likely at the moment

While Fidesz was trying to discredit its political opponents in a tiny electoral district of a small town in Hungary, another struggle was taking place in Strasbourg over Hungary’s right to be the new site of the European Police College or CEPOL. Most likely few people have ever heard of the institution, which is currently situated in Bramshill in the United Kingdom. The UK a few months ago decided not to continue to host the college, and thus the European Commission and the Union’s other institutions had to come up with another location in one of the member countries. While they were at it, the Commission made the recommendation that CEPOL and Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency with its headquarters in The Hague, should be merged. Europol has a big, modern building, and combining the two institutions would be more cost effective. It seems that many people in the European Parliament and elsewhere in other European institutions are not too keen on the idea of the merger, believing that the college should be a professional training ground and fearing that it might be politicized by this fusion.

European Police College, Bramshill, United Kingdom

European Police College, Bramshill, United Kingdom

And now enters Lithuania, whose prime minister and right-wing political leadership have a soft spot for Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. In December 2012, for example, when the Hungarian government was under considerable pressure from Brussels because of its less than democratic tendencies, the Lithuanian parliament issued a proclamation “defending” Hungary. The Hungarians were naturally most grateful and thanked the Lithuanian people and their politicians for their brave act.

What does Lithuania have to do with the fate of CEPOL? A lot. Lithuania currently holds the presidency of the European Union. You may recall that when Hungary had the post for six months in 2011 the ministerial councils of the member states held their regular meetings in Gödöllő in the former summer palace of the Hungarian royal couple. It is Vilnius that now chairs these meetings, and on October 7 when the council of the ministers of the interior met they agreed to the Lithuanian proposal that the new headquarters of CEPOL should be in Budapest.

It turned out that seven countries had submitted proposals, but Hungary was the only country from the relative newcomers. And there is an attempt in the European Union to distribute European institutions in such a manner that eventually there would be no great differences between the long-time members and the newcomers.

For a while the Hungarian government felt pretty certain that the deal was sealed. CEPOL will be in Hungary from 2014 on. But then came all sorts of unforeseen complications, the least of which, as it turned out, was Rui Tavares’s objection to the location as long as the Hungarian government leaves the European Parliament’s report on the country’s democratic inefficiencies unanswered. In Hungary an awful lot of time and energy was wasted on Tavares’s objection. On October 14, Máté Kocsis in parliament called attention to the “communist” Comrade Tavares’s machinations in the hope of preventing CEPOL headquarters from being located in Budapest. And while he was at it, he accused the Hungarian socialist members of the European parliament of treasonous behavior because he “suspected” that they were the real instigators. Of course, that was followed by some tit for tat from MSZP, which decided to sue Kocsis.

All that was just a lot of useless noise because two days later MTI reported that “nobody stood by Tavares” at the hearings of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), one of the standing committees of the European Parliament. The report also added that even Kinga Göncz, one of the MSZP members of parliament, argued for the Budapest location. Magyar Nemzet was graphic. Their article, based on the MTI report, announced that “Tavares’s spectacular failure was something else!” But the problem with all this boasting about the great Hungarian victory at the hearing is that the issue didn’t hinge on Tavares’s objections. The situation is much more serious than that.

If one has the patience to listen to the forty-minute video of the hearing, it becomes clear that the procedure Lithuania adopted is most likely flawed. Moreover, despite what Kinga Gál (Fidesz) claimed at the hearing, the European Parliament has veto power over the decision. So does the European Commission. And it is clear that both the representatives of the Commission and the parliamentary rapporteur of the European Parliament are against moving CEPOL to Budapest.

The Commission still prefers the merger of CEPOL and Europol in The Hague, and the parliamentary rapporteur, the Spanish Agustin Diaz de Mera Garcia Consuegra, a member of the European People’s Party, expressed his opinion that the procedure adopted by Lithuania is unconstitutional and therefore most likely void. The European Parliament was not consulted as it should have been. Lithuania misread the constitution or misconstrued it  The whole affair is “pathetic,” he announced.

Another EPP member, the French Veronique Mathieu Houillon, who will be the rapporteur of the question, suggested taking a look at all seven applications which up till now the European parliamentary members didn’t have an opportunity to review. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 26 when perhaps a decision will be made.

So, that is the true story of the hearing of LIBE on Thursday. No great victory, at best a setback. Moreover, it is a distinct possibility that Budapest, after all, will not get CEPOL because neither the European Commission nor the representatives of the European Parliament are keen on the Budapest location. Also, keep in mind that both people who suggested reviewing the whole procedure are members of the conservative European People’s Party. Hungary will be the site of CEPOL only if both the Commission and the Parliament endorse its bid. From the tone of the discussion I wouldn’t be too optimistic if I were Viktor Orbán.

I also wonder how much damage Lithuania did to its own reputation and to the Hungarian cause in bypassing EU rules to support its ideological friend, Orbán’s Hungary. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Hungary asked Lithuania’s help in mending its relations with Armenia. It seems that the Lithuanians were ready to assist, but their efforts ended in a large embarrassment for both Lithuania and Hungary. There may also have been close cooperation between the two countries in the case of CEPOL’s headquarters. Given the tone of the hearings, such cooperation (if it existed) wasn’t a good idea.