"Big Bang" ruled out
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán arrived in Nice on Wednesday, hopeful that a favourable decision on enlargement would emerge from the EU summit, but added that "it seems probable that everything will be decided in the last five minutes." Orbán was accompanied by Foreign Minister János Martonyi and Foreign Ministry State Secretary of Integration Péter Gottfried.
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Orbán told reporters on Thursday that Hungarians are optimistic, but do not rule out a less happy scenario, saying, "This would cause disappointment and some disruption in the country, but would not change the commitment with which Hungary is striving to become a member of the EU."
Orbán also announced that the idea of a "Big Bang"—enlargement in groups—had been ruled out. On Thursday, the Prime Minister said, "The dream about the big bang died this morning." He also told reporters that "all the prime ministers insisted on the principle of individual performance." The comments came a day after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder stated that Poland must be part of the first wave.
On Hungarian Radio, Orbán, who commented that the skills of a crossword expert were needed for deciphering EU documents, said Hungary would not anymore be prepared to accept new conditions for membership, adding that the Government's objective remains the same—joining the EU as soon as possible.
Orbán visits Italy
On his way to Nice from Rome, Prime Minister Orbán stated that his visit to Italy had convinced him there was "complete uncertainty" about the Nice summit. After a meeting between Orbán and his Italian counterpart, Giuliano Amoto, there did, however, seem to be considerable hope that the summit would turn out to be a success.
The Italian prime minister said the Nice summit should give the enlargement strategy drawn up a seal of approval. Diplomatically, he stated, "We hope the Nice summit finds appropriate ways to transform European Union institutions so that they can prepare to receive new members."
The Italian side saw Hungary as playing the role previously filled by Vienna—acting as intermediary between the Western and the East and Southeast European states, according to Orbán, who again expressed hope that the Nice summit would remove the last barriers standing in the way of a major European "family reunion."
SZDSZ and MIÉP elect leaders
On Saturday 2 December, Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky was elected president of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), beating Gábor Fodor to the post. Demszky and Fodor attacked each other before the vote, Demszky saying that the SZDSZ's future in parliament depends on his election and criticising Fodor for suggesting that the party should ally itself with the Socialists. Departing party president Bálint Magyar, former SZDSZ president Iván Pető and Parliamentary faction leader Gábor Kuncze all declined to accept nominations for the leadership.
Kuncze resigned from his post on Monday, as he had vowed to do if Demszky was elected leader. The House faction had come in for heavy criticism from Demszky during his campaign before being elected president. Kuncze did not accept the criticism and said he resigned in order to prevent a conflict between the party and the parliamentary faction.
Demszky said he was not pleased about Kuncze's resignation when he heard about it two months ago, nor was he now. István Szent-Iványi, Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee leader, has accepted the nomination to succeed Kuncze as parliamentary faction leader.
Demszky promised to renew the party, saying that the SZDSZ is the only liberal party in Hungary identified with European values. The congress approved a party programme called "Change of Era," which is meant to establish the SZDSZ's long-term strategy.
István Csurka was re-elected Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) chairman on 2 December. Facing the media after his re-election, he stated that his party would advance because "the situation is as it is," adding that he believed the party would treble its parliamentary seats in 2002. Csurka said that the MIÉP differs from other parties, because it focuses on issues concerning the Hungarian nation, never becoming preoccupied with itself.
No exodus from Transylvania yet
Hungarian Consul General László Alföldi in Cluj (Kolozsvár) has refuted reports that the consulate has been overwhelmed by emigration enquiries after it became clear that Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party would face off against former Communist Ion Iliescu in Sunday's presidential elections in Romania (See Glutton for Punishment in CER).
According to a Financial Times report, Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) Zsolt Nagy said on Tuesday that inquiries about how to leave Romania had risen tenfold. Alföldi responded by saying that there had been no change in the number of residence permits or visas issued, but acknowledged that a great many people had been shocked by the success of Tudor's party in the elections and added that he would expect a "rush" if Tudor won the presidency.
The RMDSZ last weekend urged those who voted for György Frunda in the first round to vote for Iliescu in the presidential run-off, as the Hungarian votes may be crucial in preventing Tudor from gaining power, thus saving "Romania's chance of integration."
Meanwhile, the Hungarian Standing Conference, comprising Hungarian political parties from Hungary and beyond the borders and the Hungarian government, will meet on 13 and 14 December in Budapest to discuss the status bill for Hungarians from neighbouring states.
Commenting on the meeting, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh said on Wednesday that the Government would be prepared to discuss the citizenship issue at the meeting, but that this would be treated separately from the status law. Németh added that the bill would most likely go before Parliament in early 2001, coming into effect no sooner than 1 January 2002.
And in other news...
- Central European centrist parties will meet in Budapest on 15 and 16 December. The prime ministers of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovakia are expected to attend the event, as well as Béla Bugár and Miklós Duray (Party of the Hungarian Coalition) from Slovakia and Béla Markó and László Tőkés (RMDSZ) from Transylvania. State Secretary Zsolt Németh of FIDESZ said that co-operation between center-right parties would guarantee Euro-Atlantic integration as well as being a bulwark against far-right extremism.
- In Miskolc, more than 1000 people began a three-day protest on Thursday, which will seek to attract awareness of the state of the public health service. Ágnes Cser, head of the Democratic Union of Health Workers, forewarned that the health service is almost bankrupt. Health Ministry officials, meanwhile, said they were surprised by the protests. Health workers planned to present a petition to Speaker of Parliament János Áder outside Parliament.
- On Sunday, President Ferenc Mádl was expected to begin a seven-day trip, during which he is to visit Finland, Estonia, Belgium and Slovakia. The President is to attend the third Finno-Ugric World Congress in Finland, meet President Lennart Meri and Prime Minister Mart Laar in Estonia, attend a conference in Brussels and in Slovakia hold talks with President Rudolf Schuster as well as speak at the opening of the Europe Courtyard in Komárno (Komárom).
- The Federation of American Critics on Wednesday named István Szabó's film A napfény íze (Sunshine) one of the ten best films of the year. The Hungarian Film Union on Thursday said that Paramount Pictures would enter the film into seven categories at the Oscars, MTI reports.
Paul Nemes, 8 December 2000
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