Towards accession in small groups
Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen on Thursday told the European Parliament and EU Integration Committee of the Hungarian Parliament that a Commission country report to be released on 8 November will suggest the conclusion of accession negotiations for the best prepared states in 2002. According to Endre Juhász, Hungary's chief negotiator, 2002 doesn't make sense, as 2001 would work just fine.
Verheugen's only criticism was health insurance reforms and high inflation, but otherwise he said the political and economic conditions for membership remain fulfilled, describing Hungary's economic growth as "unprecedented."
On a three-day visit to Stockholm, Speaker of Parliament János Áder, after having held talks with Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallén and Swedish counterpart Birgitta Dahlon, said that Sweden has "great ambitions" for the upcoming EU presidency. He especially welcomed the fact that Sweden backs the early accession of the most individually prepared candidates.
Meanwhile, EU Director General for Enlargement Eneko Landaburu said on 11 October that any enlargement scenario was still possible, but predicted that "we can have a scenario where we have two or three countries joining the EU very quickly in two or three years." This would mean that a few states, including Hungary but excluding Poland, could join in 2003.
Government MP arrested
The Chief Prosecutor's Office reported on Friday that Smallholder (FKGP) MP Zoltán Székely had been arrested after having been caught receiving a HUF (Hungarian forint) 20 million (USD 66,000) bribe.
Székely immediately denied the charges, saying that he had been set up. He said that instead of being handed a briefcase with documents as promised, he was given a case full of money.
Attila Bánk, the FKGP parliamentary group leader, reacted with shock. He told Hungarian radio that "it is intolerable that a Smallholder MP should be involved in such a case." Székely was expelled from the parliamentary faction on Friday.
However, a certain Dániel Balla, who personally handed the briefcase over to Székely, reported the Smallholder MP to the police for extortion straight after the hand-over. Balla, in turn, was reported to the police by Csőszer Rt, a company which—after presumably not having offered a (big enough?) bribe—lost out on a contract to Balla's company.
Székely, who on Hungarian radio later admitted to having received the HUF 20 million bribe, is not only accused. He is also accusing Balla, claiming that his dealings are linked to the Free Democrats (SZDSZ).
Orbán and Kasza on Yugoslavia
As the dust is beginning to settle following Yugoslavia's mini-revolution, Hungarian politicians have commented further on the situation and what the future might hold. While congratulating Vojislav Koštunica on his election victory and praising the overthrow of the Milošević regime, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has demanded that the Vojvodina Hungarians be "given equal treatment and be allowed to live a decent life" as a condition for Hungarian assistance.
Orbán stressed that it is in Hungary's interest that there is "normal life" in the neighbouring states, especially where there are a large number of Hungarians.
The Prime Minister said on Wednesday that a USD 100 million fund intended to assist Hungarian investment in Yugoslavia was still available, and added that he would discuss doubling the sum with Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai.
President Ferenc Mádl, who quickly phoned Koštunica to congratulate him after his victory, has sent a letter to the new Yugoslav president, saying that he would like Hungary to be one of Koštunica's first destinations abroad.
Alliance of Hungarians in Vojvodina (VMSZ) Chairman József Kasza, also mayor of Subotica (Szabadka), would like the two presidents to meet in his hometown. On the changes, Kasza envisages that human rights and autonomy in Vojvodina will be discussed as the speed of reforms picks up. He emphasised that the Hungarians do not wish to partition Yugoslavia but seek to be part of building a democratic state.
After having held talks with Kasza in Budapest, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh said that Hungary supports a VMSZ proposal to abolish the five per cent threshold needed for minority parties to gain representation in the Yugoslav parliament.
Martonyi on sanctions
In line with earlier statements, Foreign Minister János Martonyi last week confirmed that Hungary would join the European Union's lifting of sanctions against Yugoslavia, and did so on Tuesday. The lifting of sanctions, he said, was an important part of normalising relations between Hungary's southern neighbour and the international community.
A Foreign Ministry statement released last week said, "Hungary supports and immediately joins the political decision to lift the sanctions and will make the necessary steps to implement the decision at home."
Martonyi has also had phone conversations with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Southeast European Stability Pact Coordinator Bobo Hombach regarding Yugoslavia. According to an MTI report, Martonyi and Albright emphasised that the strategic co-operation between Hungary and the US would continue in order to establish and strengthen regional stability.
PM meets Szabó
After earlier disagreements, Viktor Orbán last week assured Defence Minister János Szabó and the Defence Ministry's leadership of his backing. Orbán met with Szabó on Thursday, and afterwards confirmed that he wishes to carry out armed forces reform with the leadership he started with.
According to initial statements, the number of ranks of General will be cut from 85 to 45, with the Prime Minister and Defence Minister having decided to remove eight out of ten army officers considered for promotion to General.
And in other news...
- On Monday last week, Pope John Paul II welcomed 5000 Hungarians in St Peter's Basilica. The Pope said the large number of pilgrims was evidence of the Hungarian people's devotion to the Holy See, which had been a key part of Hungarian history and culture since St Stephen 1000 years ago was crowned with the Holy Crown sent by the then pope. There was also a commemoration for the Hungarian victory over the Turks at Nándorfejérvár (today Belgrade) in 1456, which, throughout the Christian world, still is marked by the daily ringing of church bells at noon.
- The Dalai Lama arrived in Hungary for a four-day visit on 11 October. Tibet's spiritual leader is in Hungary at the invitation of the Central European University. The Prime Minister met His Holiness on Wednesday, but neither wished to comment on the meeting. (For more information on the 14th Dalai Lama's visit to Hungary and Central Europe, visit the Website of the government of Tibet in exile.)
- Reconstruction of the Mária-Valéria Bridge across the Danube will commence on 17 October, when the transport ministers of Hungary and Slovakia will meet with EU officials to put pen to paper. The estimated cost of the bridge, which will once again link Esztergom and Štúrovo (Párkány), is EUR 20 million (USD 17.25 million), half of which will come from the PHARE programme.
- Finally the turning point or just a glimpse from the past? As Hungary crushed Lithuania 6-1 away on Wednesday evening, hopes were raised that Hungary might at least clinch second place in its World Cup qualification group. Not quite as glamorous as Wembley 1953, but still...
Paul Nemes, 13 October 2000
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