BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungary’s disputed nominee for the European Commission sought to distance himself further from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government on Monday in written answers to win confirmation by the European Parliament.
Tibor Navracsics, who was justice minister and later foreign minister in Orban’s right-wing nationalist administration until his nomination for the EU executive in July, criticized laws on the media and education adopted while he was in office.
It was the second round of written answers he has submitted to secure confirmation by the European Parliament. Budapest has repeatedly clashed with the EU over its treatment of minorities and laws Brussels says restricted the media and free speech.
“Media freedom and media pluralism are of key importance for a democratic society. I regret that sometimes in the past, not enough importance has been given to this important aspect by the Hungarian government, to which I no longer belong,” he told EU lawmakers.
Left-wing, liberal and Green lawmakers have expressed deep misgivings about appointing a leading political ally of Orban as commissioner for education, culture, youth and citizenship given what they see as his government’s illiberal record.
Navracsics repeated his pledge to respect the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and ensure that all member states complied with it.
On another widely criticized Hungarian law making students who receive government grants commit to work in Hungary for a prolonged period, he said: “I have expressed doubts on whether the Hungarian government’s law on higher education was the best response to ‘brain drain’.”
He vowed to counter any anti-European trends in Hungarian education. Navracsics was the main negotiator with the EU in modifying laws passed by the Orban government.
He said Budapest should have consulted the EU and the Council of Europe before enacting widely criticized legislation involving the justice system and media pluralism rather than having to amend them under pressure afterwards.
“I also learned that it would have been wise to engage in these discussions and consultations earlier, and in a more sensitive manner as regards the importance of fundamental rights and the rule of law across the European Union,” he said.
There was no immediate response from lawmakers on the committee considering his candidacy.
Some have suggested the Hungarian should be moved to a less sensitive portfolio or stripped of some responsibilities, but aides say Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker is keen to avoid any unraveling of his proposed team and is hoping Navracsics has done enough to show his independence from Orban.
Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Tom Heneghan