Taking enlargement seriously
President Ferenc Mádl has urged the European Union to accept Hungary as a member in 2003 or 2004, if the West "takes the dream of a large united Europe seriously."
Mádl told the German publication Welt am Sonntag that the absence of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterand was felt, but said he was hopeful that enlargement would proceed under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Parliamentary Speaker János Áder meanwhile has reacted with surprise to Günter Verheugen's support for a German referendum on enlargement, saying that there had "been no sign" that such a statement was coming. Áder said that this is further proof of the fact that the EU not yet has an enlargement strategy ready.
Áder said, "the EU has not prepared it [an enlargement strategy], there is no agreement on it. We are still waiting for it and urge it, because to continue substantial talks in the its absence is very difficult."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Gábor Horváth said that Hungary regards the statement as nothing but an expression of a private opinion, and added, "Hungary does not find a [German] referendum necessary either, as no referenda preceded the former expansions of the EU."
Meanwhile, France's ambassador to Budapest, Paul Poudade, said on Wednesday that it is improbable that a date for the accession of new members will come out of the EU Nice summit in December, and added that Hungary could become a member within three to five years. Poudade also stated that it would matter little to Hungarians whether they are admitted in three or five years' time.
Mádl pushes for minority rights at UN
Ferenc Mádl's trip to the UN Millennium Summit in New York last week was his first visit abroad since becoming president. Mádl addressed the summit on Thursday and also met with regional leaders. Mádl's discussions with other Central and East Eureopean heads of state focused on European integration and EU and NATO enlargement.
In his address to the General Assembly on 7 September, President Mádl said he "hopes and prays" for the creation of a legally binding treaty for the protection of national minorities. While praising the UN's role in protecting human rights, the President said the organisation still had "historical debts to pay."
Mádl later told media after having met with the presidents of Croatia, Ukraine and Slovenia that Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, had shown willingness to discuss minority protection, while the situation in Croatia had improved and Slovenia was a "model country" in terms of its treatment of minorities. The President also added that he would ask Emil Constantinescu of Romania for his backing of a private Hungarian university in Transylvania.
Furthermore, President Mádl pointed to the importance of protecting the environment. He said, "I believe that the time has come for us all to rededicate ourselves to address environmental issues, including degradation of the environment and, at the same time, exert redoubled efforts to preserve the blessings of nature on our planet for generations to come. The 'polluter pays' principle should find its proper place in all relevant international documents."
Smallholders hope for border revision
The Smallholders (FKGP) have expressed their hope for a peaceful revision of Hungary's borders. Speaking in the wake of the 60th anniversary of the Second Vienna Award (which briefly returned northern Transylvania to Hungary), Zsolt Lányi, FKGP deputy House leader, told Parliament that there would be no peace until "human rights are appropriately asserted" and "all Hungarians become citizens with equal rights."
In reply, Foreign Minister János Martonyi said that there could be no change of state boundaries in Central Europe unless all parties concerned come to an agreement, without any intervention from external states. Martonyi further said that the lesson to be learnt from the Second Vienna Award is that "good Central European co-operation" is a prerequisite for a "successful policy towards Hungarians and their place in Europe."
Armed Forces reorganisation row
The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Colonel-General Lajos Fodor has denied saying that the closure of the air base at Pápa was a political decision, and has described comments made by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as "hurtful."
Orbán had earlier responded to a Kossuth Radio interview made by Fodor, saying that the decision to close the base was a result of professional, military concerns. The Prime Minister further said, "I will consult with the Chief of Staff and ask him to speak in precise terms or, if he feels himself not to be strong enough to carry out the armed forces reform, draw the necessary conclusions."
Fodor claims that his original comments had been taken out of context, and cited an excerpt from his interview on Kossuth Radio: "A political decision has been reached that determines the clear goal of creating a smaller, more flexible military that is easier to finance and capable of guaranteeing the defence of Hungary's independence and territorial integrity in all respects."
Government spokesman Gábor Borókai later said that Orbán and Fodor would resolve the "misunderstanding" between themselves. Socialist leader László Kovács meanwhile said that it was "unacceptable" that the Prime Minister publicly questioned Fodor's integrity.
FIDESZ first to leave
FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party leaders have said that a desire to join liberal, conservative and Christian values was behind the decision to leave the Liberal International (LI) and join the European People's Party (EPP) instead. LI Secretary-General Jan Weijers, in Budapest to try to persuade FIDESZ leaders to reconsider, said it was the first time in LI history that a political party in government leaves the organisation.
President of the Christian Democratic Federation and FIDESZ MP László Surján told the press that another reason behind the move was the difficulty of working in an international organisation together with the Free Democrats (SZDSZ). FIDESZ chairman László Kövér said the switch would mean more a change to the party's opportunities than party policy. István Szent-Iványi, Free Democrat and chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, said that it was only a logical step as FIDESZ had ceased to meet the criteria for a liberal party years ago.
Gas well aflame again
The burning gas flame at the MOL (Hungarian Oil and Gas Company) gas well in Pusztaszőlős which was extinguished last weekend was re-ignited on Monday after it began to leak again. A National Directorate for Disaster and Prevention spokesman said the flame had been re-lit in order to prevent an explosion.
The spokesman also emphasised the ordeal residents are going through due to the ear-piercing noise from the burning well. According to MOL, an evacuation of residents will not be necessary, but the company confirmed that they would seek international help to put out the fire. Boots and Coots International Well Control said on 6 September that it would assist efforts to extinguish the worst gas fire Hungary has ever seen.
Gulyás to conquer the world?
With the Government planning an international chain of Hungarian restaurants as part of the scheme to promote Hungary around the globe, gulyás (goulash), húsleves és rántottcsirke (chicken soup and fried chicken) and other Hungarian dishes could soon be on everybody's menu on a regular basis.
The Ministry of Economics has hired the Hungarian tourist board to advertise the "national restaurant" idea, under which restaurants would be run in a franchise system but not be state-owned.
Paul Nemes, 8 September 2000
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