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Greg Dorey


Part of UK in Hungary

18th January 2011

When exactly is dawn?

We are already well into the Hungarian Presidency, with Ministers and senior officials pouring in from other EU countries for Presidency meetings. In the last week we have had meetings of Europe Directors; Political Directors: and Europe Ministers for a GAC or General Affairs Council (all from Foreign Ministries); we are in the middle of meetings of EPSCO (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs) Ministers: and later this week we have JHA (Justice and Home Affairs) Ministers arriving. These are informal meetings, intended to give EU partners a chance for a general, relaxed review of key current issues before they head into formal negotiations in Brussels.

The Royal Palace at Gödöllő, the venue for most of these meetings, has survived its baptism. It is not the easiest place in which to operate and we are still arguing over some of the logistical difficulties – there is less room for cars and participants than is usual. But it is without doubt a beautiful venue and our Ministers and officials are fascinated to see it. They are certainly being well exposed to the history and culture of Hungary – entertainment has included an unusual sand animation show and a fusion of local folk music and flamenco (a reflection of the fact that Spain is part of the Trio – the three successive EU Presidencies of which Hungary is the final member).

The GAC meeting was preceded by a dinner with candidate countries – those who are on a path leading to eventual EU membership, subject to meeting the criteria. This fits well with our government’s approach – which is generally welcoming of the concept of enlargement of the Union to allow suitable partner countries to join. In this policy area we are close to Hungary, which would welcome Croatia and the Western Balkans countries taking further steps towards accession during its Presidency, as we also are on Eastern Partnership questions.

Much of my life currently revolves around Ferihegy Airport – I am travelling out there frequently to meet UK Ministers and the British Residence is being put to good use as a venue for meetings and place for them to stay. Given the variety of their interests, it is difficult to know what the next question is that will be thrown at me. (A predecessor once told me that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s first question to him when arriving in 1984 for an official visit was “when exactly is dawn”? I’ve suddenly realised that I don’t know – I must log off and check, just in case!)