Hungary took the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from Belgium during a spectacular evening ceremony held in the presence of 270 guests on 6 January 2011. Yves Leterme, acting Prime Minister of Belgium, and Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary attended the ceremonial event hosted in the Cupola Hall of the Houses of Parliament (the seat of MPs as well as the government).
The extraordinary significance of the occasion was highlighted by the presence of Pál Schmitt, President of the Republic of Hungary, every government minister, the Speaker and deputy speakers of the House, the chairmen/group leaders of each parliamentary party and the complete diplomatic corps accredited to Budapest.
A spectacular shower of lights illuminated the Cupola Hall, which at other times is only moderately lit to pay tribute to the royal crown of Hungary, a relic displayed in the centre. Blue and white lights engulfed the dome when, to the sound of the fanfares, the flag of the European Union was brought in.
When the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Hungary proceeded into the hall, the lights turned to red, white, green and yellow. After the national anthems, the traditional flags of Hungary were also brought in along with the Belgian and the Hungarian national colours.
Leterme: Europe in motion again
The Belgian Prime Minister started his speech by revoking the spirit of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and confirmed that Hungary was the first nation to punch a hole in the wall dividing Europe.
Yves Leterme highlighted that the European Union sprung into motion again during the six months of Belgian Presidency. He recognised the excellent cooperation between the Belgian Presidency, the various institutions of the EU, the President of the European Council, the Commission, and the European Parliament. He expressed his conviction that the EU will maintain its momentum during the Hungarian Presidency. He called the cooperation between Spain, Belgium and Hungary an excellent presidential trio.
The Belgian head of government acknowledged the four priorities of the Hungarian Presidency, particularly the social aspect, and declared that governments will be judged by their power to create jobs. The
Hungarian Presidency is responsible for lending impetus to the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, he said. He referred to the stabilization of the Euro as a high priority and reminded that it was in the best interest of every member state. He declared his conviction that the EU will display unprecedented momentum during the Hungarian Presidency and concluded his speech in Hungarian by wishing great success to the Hungarian Presidency.
After his address, the head of the Belgian government handed over the presidency flag and baton.
Orbán: Maintaining EU's competitiveness
Viktor Orbán thanked the Belgian Presidency for their power to withstand the extraordinary circumstances during the global economic crisis. Belgium has upheld the hope for Croatia to join the EU and for Romania and Belgium to enter the Schengen Area, Hungarian Prime Minister said. He underlined the radical change that the world is going through, the entry of new competitors and that the EU cannot be competitive in these novel circumstances unless it can revive itself on a major scale.
The head of Hungary’s government also noted the importance of job creation. “Our most important job is to face the challenge and thus make Europe greater”, he pointed out.
In conclusion, Prime Minister Orbán said the Hungarian Presidency "can work no wonders but can rub the bottle to help release the spirit, the spirit of Europe's revival".
Following the speech by the Hungarian prime minister, actress Marianna Szalay recited excerpts from the Hungarian national anthem in French; and actor Péter Bozsó took the stage to render a part of a poem entitled Europe, penned by early 20th century Hungarian poet Dezső Kosztolány. Next, Katalin Szvorák, internationally acclaimed folk singer, sang the Evening Song by Zoltán Kodály, one of the greatest Hungarian composers in the 20th century. Next to appear was pop-rock singer Magdi Rúzsa, followed by pianist Tamás Érdi whom played Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody, a piece by 19th century Hungarian composer Ferenc Liszt.
The ceremony ended as the flags were carried out of the Hall.
The next day, 7 January 2011, the EU Commission and the Government of Hungary are to hold a joint meeting in the Houses of Parliament. The visit by the Commission to the country inheriting the presidency and the meeting held with the host government to discuss the agenda of the upcoming six months, has by tradition become the most prestigious event during the term of a presidency.