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The last few years cannot be regarded as the European project’s brightest, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at an award ceremony for students held in Parliament. The European Union’s last success was in 2004, when ten countries joined the bloc, followed by three others, he added. Gulyás insisted several EU candidate countries “could be approved tomorrow” but the EU “doesn’t appear to be up to the job of accepting new members”. He said changes were needed over the next five years to ensure the participation of the Western Balkans in institutionalised European cooperation became “a realistic alternative”.

Gulyás said Hungary’s experiences of 15 years of EU membership had been mixed. “In a club … it’s not obligatory to praise everything; there’s room for criticism too,” he said.  The chief of the PM’s office said not only had the EU not expanded, it had actually shrunk, having lost a member with its second largest economy. “For some countries the EU is no longer as attractive as it used to be.” The EU has not been up to the task of effectively handling the economic and migration crises of the past decade, he said, adding however that “no alternative to European cooperation” existed and Hungary “has no other option than to be a member”.  Gulyás said hopefully the upcoming European parliamentary election would lead Europe in “a new direction”.

Gábor Zupkó, the head of the European Commission’s representation in Hungary, pointed to an increasing number of challenges, such as illegal migration and climate change, which, he said, called for joint European efforts. “At the same time, what can effectively be handled at national level should be handled at national level,” he added.