On 24 and 25 May, the EU-Hungary Joint Parliamentary Committee held its 13th meeting in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
The Hungarian co-chairman, Mr József Szájer (Fidesz-MPP) could not resist the temptation to open the proceedings with a reference to the unlucky number, quipping about how commercial aircraft do not have a thirteenth row and hotels no thirteenth floor, but hoped the occasion would prove auspicious in spite of superstitions.
The agenda was full, including visits from both the Prime Minister, Mr Orbán, and the President, Mr Göncz. Pre-accession funds, institutional reform and the Tisza disaster all featured prominently.
At the end of the deliberations, the following resolution was adopted by both sides:
1) noted with satisfaction that the necessary preparations were made to further develop the National Plan for the Adoption of the Acquis [this plan enables Hungary to bring its legislation in line with the corpus of laws that has been adopted in the EU, the so-called acquis], a document of primary importance for the Hungarian accession preparations, which reflects the importance Hungary attaches to the successful completion of internal preparation as one of the most important basic conditions for achieving accession as soon as possible;
2) acknowledged with appreciation that the fulfilment of tasks set for 1999 in the National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis represents serious progress in the preparation for EU accession, and at the same time emphasised the necessity of overcoming as soon as possible shortfalls existing in certain areas as a significant part of the preparation tasks is linked to specific deadlines undertaken during the negotiations;
3) reiterated its satisfaction that the European Commission evaluates positively the process of Hungary's preparations for accession and that the second Regular Progress Report confirmed that Hungary continues to belong to the leading countries in the current enlargement process;
4) supports the Hungarian intention to maintain the pace of internal preparations in order that Hungary can complete preparations for EU-membership by 2002 and will be ready for accession as from 1 January 2003 [this reflects the Orbán administration's recognition that the original target date of 1 January 2002 was overambitious. The important point to note here is that this is the target date by which Hungary is supposed to be ready for accession, not the EU, and represents a subtle act of moral blackmail, the meta message of which is that "if we as an applicant country can make the huge efforts at adaptation and catching up, then you have no excuse"];
5) welcomed the resolution of the Hungarian government from March 2000 on measures necessary for ensuring the planned progress of preparations, the continued implementation of monitoring and the prevention of lags;
6) acknowledged the importance of the revised Accession Partnership for Hungary, which is - on the basis of the assessment in the last Regular Progress Report of October 1999 - setting out in a single framework the priority areas for the further work to be done, the financial assistance from the EU side and the conditions which shall apply to that assistance;
7) noted with satisfaction the measures taken by the Hungarian Government in the course of 1999 and early 2000 to increase the institutional and administrative capacities available for the use of pre-accession funds (Phare, ISPA, SAPARD); recommended to continue to pay specific attention to the legal, budgetary and administrative framework for the programming and management of these funds, including the strengthening of financial control;
8) congratulated Hungary on the conditions favouring private investment in Hungary and the continuing confidence shown by foreign investors in the Hungarian economy, generating new exports and creating new jobs, thus positioning Hungary to compete in the Single Market of the European Union;
9) considered it important to emphasise that by further reinforcing the programme implementation capacity, Hungary will be able to benefit even more from EU funds to finance measures which will facilitate accession, and expects the Government of Hungary to encourage accelerated investment in these measures through co-financing with the European Union;
10) welcomed the fact that the decisive majority of the Hungarian parliamentary parties agree with Hungary's EU membership and welcomed the system of six-party reconciliation created in the Hungarian Parliament for EU-integration issues;
11) welcomed the recent launching by the European Commission of a comprehensive communication strategy on enlargement aiming to meet the need for better information, to generate the dialogue with the citizens and to dispel misapprehensions about the enlargement process in the Member States as well as the candidate countries;
12) reiterated the importance of implementing the Hungarian government's medium-term Roma action programme aimed at improving the social situation of the Roma minority, including the provision of the necessary financial support at national and local levels and the close involvement of representatives of the Roma community;
13) welcomed the steps made by Hungary in the field of regional development and supported the Hungarian initiative which would give the possibility to the Hungarian regions to have an observer status in the Committee of Regions;
On the accession negotiations
14) appreciated that during the Finnish and Portuguese Presidencies accession negotiations have started with Hungary on further chapters, including more difficult topics;
15) welcomed the fact that Hungary has presented its negotiation position on all chapters to the EU, thus confirming that it stands ready for the more intensive negotiation phase. At the same time, the Joint Parliamentary Committee considered it desirable to reinforce the individual, country-specific nature of the negotiations [the political significance of this statement is to be found in its espousal of the principle of taking each country on its own merits rather than favouring accession in groups of countries. If Hungary progressed more rapidly, in other words, it could potentially join the EU ahead of other candidate countries, including Poland, and Hungary's accession would not therefore depend on a solution to the problem of Polish agriculture];
16) welcomed the decisions of the Helsinki summit of last December with respect to enlargement that can be considered of historical importance concerning the further timetable of accession negotiations and with regard to the decision that the EU would make every effort in order to become able to welcome new Member States from the end of 2002;
17) stressed the importance that - after the opening of all chapters - during the French Presidency it should become possible to determine the scope of the strategic issues of accession, on the resolution of which efforts must be focused, thereby starting a new qualitative phase of the negotiations;
18) welcomed that - having regard to the change in the expected date of accession - Hungary continues to proceed towards its EU membership expected to be achieved in the near future, in line with its existing unified and comprehensive preparation strategy;
19) welcomed the widening of the scope of countries involved in the accession negotiations and at the same time expressed the hope that this will not result in an unjustified slowdown of the overall negotiation proceedings;
20) observed with concern some developments in the internal affairs of certain EU Member States to inform the public in a matter-of-fact fashion on the necessity of enlargement and to make every effort in order to dispel unfounded fears;
In relation to the intergovernmental conference concerning the institutional reform of the EU
21) pointed out that the purpose of the reforms to be introduced by the intergovernmental conference (IGC) concerning the institutions of the EU is to make the Union ready to accept new members; therefore the work performed in the scope of the IGC must focus first of all on the achievement of this objective;
22) agreed that in order to achieve the above objective, to ensure continued progress in enlargement preparations and to maintain the dynamism of the accession process, it is indispensable to close the IGC successfully at the end of the year 2000;
23) emphasised that for this purpose it is fundamental to keep the agenda of the IGC within reasonable limits, and to outline an accession perspective including the final schedule for the applicant countries following the internal reforms necessary for the acceptance of new members;
24) called upon the European Institutions to provide the applicant countries including Hungary - in accordance with the decisions made at the meetings of the European Council in Cologne and Helsinki - with regular and detailed information on the above mentioned process and to give them the opportunity to express their standpoints;
25) expressed its position that the parliamentary ratification of the results of the IGC on the EU level should not form a precondition for starting the ratification of the accession treaty of Hungary.
In relation to the cyanide contamination of the Tisza
26) welcomed the establishment on the initiative of the European Commission of an international task force to assess the damage caused by the cyanide spill;
27) shared the position of the European Parliament as formulated in relation to the pollution of the
water of the river Tisza that environmental protection responsibility should follow the "polluter-pays principle"; recommended at the same time that the EU should offer adequate help to relieve the consequences of the catastrophe;
28) took the occasion to stress the importance of both legal alignment to EU environmental legislation and investment in environmental technology and infrastructure in all candidate countries for accession, including Hungary.
Ending Hungary's exile from the West
The tone of the recommendations is upbeat and supportive of Hungary and indeed the other candidate countries, as might have been expected. However, there is mounting impatience on the Hungarian side about the negotiating methods employed in Brussels.
The time for pleasantries is over, Hungary is no longer content to be fobbed off with flattery about how well the country is progressing. As the Prime Minister announced during the JPC meeting, it is time for Brussels to put its cards down on the table, to be candid about any problems it has as regards the timetable for accession instead of indulging in dishonest delaying tactics disguised as a barrage of questions. This would have the added advantage of allowing the candidates themselves to focus their preparatory efforts more clearly.
Although I have
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In the midst of his mid-term doldrums, Mr Orbán will not have been cheered up by the prospect of stalling over the most important of all the negotiating chapters, that relating to the free movement of persons, the kind of issue that makes the hair of even the warmest advocate of enlargement on the EU side stand on end.
It remains to be seen whether, faced with the spectre of a mass influx of individuals from Central Europe, the noble pronouncements on equality and an end to division in Europe will evaporate like a mirage, leaving behind endless stretches of arid sand with no oasis in sight.
Gusztáv Kosztolányi, 12 June 2000
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