HUNGARIAN PRESIDENCY : DEFIANT ORBAN SETS OUT CHALLENGES.

Viktor Orban set out the seven main challenges, on 5 January, against which the success or failure of the Hungarian EU Presidency will be judged at the end of June, while robustly defending his government's controversial recent media and tax legislation against widespread criticism.

Speaking to the international media before meeting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and his colleagues in Budapest, on 6 January, the Hungarian prime minister admitted that the current furore over allegations of restrictions on press freedom was "a bad start" to the six-month Presidency. But he insisted that the final judgement would rest on the Presidency's ability to deliver on seven key policies.

The first two require a successful launch of the process to amend the Lisbon Treaty in March to enable the establishment of a permanent euro rescue fund and to agree the practical arrangements for its operation. Similarly, on the economic front, he cited the need to ensure the effective start of closer economic coordination under the new semester initiative and the submission and assessment of national reform programmes under the Union's 2020 strategy.

The fifth challenge involves strengthening Europe's energy security by agreeing to put in place the missing interconnectors. Hungary has already taken a step in this direction with a recent accord with Slovakia, while Orban said he hoped the latter would now take a similar initiative with Poland.

The sixth focuses on another issue close to the Hungarian government's heart: development of a European Roma strategy. Ministers insist this had been an objective long before France's much-criticised decision last summer to start deporting Roma from its territory. Elements of the policy would be continued EU funding to help the Roma, but tougher standards and monitoring to ensure the finance reaches its rightful destination.

The final objective is to successfully conclude enlargement negotiations with Croatia by the end of June. Orban said that if these could all be met, the Presidency would have "achieved 100%," but added it would be even more successful if it could integrate Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen internal border-free area.

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