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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 27:37–43.


The Eastern Enlargement of the European Union and Hungary


All that takes place in our immediate surroundings and in the Balkans have an effect on Hungary and in a wider sense on Europe, too, in different forms and modes. At the same time this region is particularly important for us in political, economic and also in many other respects. On the one hand, the Balkans is a target area well manageable for the Hungarian companies or those located in Hungary, ready and capable of playing an international role, because it is close and well known to us, and attractive due to the size, condition and other features of its market. On the other hand, large numbers of Hungarians live beyond the border in this region for whose fate every Hungarian government is obliged to be responsible as stipulated in our constitution.


The Issue of Hungarians Living beyond the Borders

Hungary’s European Union membership created a new situation in the handling of this otherwise rather sensitive question, too, as a more pragmatic and affective approach has become possible. Our recent experience in relation to the issue of Hungarians living beyond the borders is that in general our partners and allies turn a deaf ear when we raise and repeat our unfortunately still legitimate historical grievances. Moreover, in contrast to our expectations, in many cases this provokes aversion or negative reactions within the international community, mostly irrespective of the forum where and the form in which our problems are mentioned. At the same time this new situation offers new possibilities to improve our relations with all the neighbouring countries by efforts towards joint development programmes, economic and commercial co-operation, encouraging investments and improving living conditions. These forms of co-operation could bring positive changes not only for the Hungarians but also for other nationalities living in the region who could directly gain from them, therefore these measures of ours can hardly be challenged. The Euro-Atlantic ambitions of the Balkan countries and their Hungarian support can create the opportunity for the ’reunion of the Hungarian nation’ in a European dimension as a result of the success of the process and the integration of the respective countries.

Thus there are innumerable reasons for handling this region in accordance with our best interests and for making efforts to utilise the intellectual capacity, experience and knowledge accumulated by Hungary in this field in the past years as successfully and efficiently as possible in the service of the new possibilities provided by the new situation.


The Cultivation of Relations

It is obviously possible to enforce our foreign policy interests through different channels. One of them, the traditional mode is the direct, continuous cultivation of bilateral relations and the utilisation of the different forms of co-operation. Though it does not fully eliminate the problems, at least it creates an opportunity for dealing with them adequately and reducing their negative effects, and also for directing measures aimed at solution into the proper channel. During 2004 and 2005 a number of state visits took place in these countries with the participation of heads of states, prime ministers, foreign ministers and ministers of various portfolios, and we held joint cabinet meetings with Romania, Austria and Croatia. These activities had tangible results besides expressing positive political messages.

Besides bilateral relations Hungary has been pursuing a resolute, consistent and constructive policy within the European Union and in the NATO in questions regarding the region and as a result our partners respect Hungary and consider it as a reliable source. Based on our old-established relations with the region’s countries and our consequent knowledge, further on, our interests formulated in relation to the development of this region and our efforts motivated by them, as well as the positive experiences of the development of democracy and market economy in Hungary, our participation is expected in handling the challenges in that region. The opportunities deriving from it are further expanded by the frameworks in which the Hungarian objectives can be presented in a more direct way. In this context mention should be made of the so-called Visegrád Four (V4), or the group known as Regional Partnership that includes the V4, Austria and Slovenia, where opportunities often emerge to formulate and successfully represent a common stand. One of its best examples was the recently held Budapest Forum which promoted efforts towards the European integration of the Balkan countries and put the various forms of integration on its agenda. Besides the general promises, specific obligations have been formulated in this forum for politically and practically supporting the Euro-Atlantic objectives of the countries of the region, which coincide with our interests, as well as sharing our relevant experiences.


The Issue of Enlargement

Currently the issue of further enlargement is not a popular topic in the European Union. To put it in a simplified way: problems had arisen in the field of economy, in social care, in the living conditions and in the labour market in numerous West European countries, which coincided with the accession of the ten new members to the European Union. Although no immediate connection can be demonstrated in these cases, rather broad social strata believe that these problems are the direct consequences of enlargement. The nature of the political mechanism is such that the social demands and expectations significantly determine the formation of the individual opinions, and at times the leading, governing political party’s stand.

Hungary’s definite standpoint is that the European Union has to continue enlargement, basically because it is also in the interest of the Union. The approach defining the further extension of the borders of the European Union as a kind of philanthropic obligation or perhaps as a gesture of charity is extremely false. On the contrary, it is our conviction that enlargement is a type of investment, a long term, efficient, and most of all cost-effective investment. Unfortunately, a lot of examples have shown in the recent past that stopping a local conflict and separating the adversaries, making peace and managing the post-crisis situation cost an enormous amount of money primarily to those countries which could have significantly decreased the grave problems and the financial burden that occurred when the conflict broke out if they had taken appropriate action resolutely and in time.

Naturally this is true, and the Member States of the European Union can only emerge victorious from this process if enlargement remains on the previously applied basis. The first step is to open the possibility of the European perspective and everything else would depend on the candidates or rather on their performance. All that I have stated in this context in relation to EU-interests, and ’investments’ can be meaningful if new members admitted to the Union truly meet the admission criteria and are ready for and capable of integrated co-operation.


Conditions and Expectations

While we talk about criteria, beside the general and the previously asserted preconditions region-specific expectations can also be formulated. Such an example is the issue of the war criminals and the respective obligation to co-operate with the Hague Tribunal. Today this is an already decisive element of the set of criteria specified in respect of the Western Balkan countries striving for EU-integration. In addition regional co-operation is also a prominent requirement, together with respect for the rights of minorities and of human rights.

As far as the current situation is concerned, Romania and Bulgaria have got closest to the goal from among the countries interested in European Union membership. Their present status means that the ratification process of their Accession Treaty has begun. In relation to these two countries Hungary intended to send a positive message and stressed its interest in and willingness to co-operate. The joint Hungarian- Romanian cabinet meeting held almost at the same time surveyed mostly the opportunities deriving from the existing situation and from the future EU-membership of Romania, and defined the joint development and cross-border projects which might help to exploit these opportunities. At the same time Romania and Bulgaria still have to accomplish harmonisation in several fields and perform their obligations undertaken for this purpose, which was also worded in the EU’s monitoring report. The original targeted date of accession set for 1 January 2007 was not altered, but obviously both countries are considerably lagging behind. Hence even the possibility of the one-year delay included in the Accession Treaty for the case of late performance cannot be excluded. Hungary would naturally like to see that these territories, occasionally of direct significance to us, are made EU-conform in time, thus making an early accession possible.

Croatia belongs to the next category in which case the previously expressed Hungarian interest and the consequent Hungarian foreign policy was, perhaps, best realised. It is well known that initially there were very few who resolutely stood for the opening of accession talks with Croatia without delay, due to the controversial views expressed as a result of the fulfilment of the obligation concerning war criminals set as one of the specific criteria. Hungary was among those few. Naturally Hungary’s viewpoint did not challenge in any form the importance of this issue which is indeed of great significance in the region. In fact we could state that when the UN Security Council made a decision about war criminals, Hungary was a non-permanent member of that body. In other words, we have promoted the establishment of the institution by taking up a direct role, therefore it would be unthinkable to challenge its competency, or to undermine its authority.

At the same time we urged to provide an opportunity to Croatia just on the basis of Hungarian experiences, for the lack of collaboration with the jurisdiction of The Hague has not been supported by genuine information. The authentic integration perspective had a tangibly beneficial result in case of Hungary. It unambiguously had a positive influence on both Hungarian domestic and foreign policy. Without this perspective the Basic Treaties with Romania and Slovakia respectively would presumably not have been concluded. The fact that Croatia was ultimately given the green light has opened up a new period in our bilateral co-operation. Hungary may contribute to the rapid and successful conclusion of the negotiations of a well prepared and ambitious country by transferring Hungarian experience and ongoing political support.

Turkey belongs to a different category. It is ’a bite off more than one can chew’, a serious challenge, for in this particular case there are much more problems to be handled, the dimensions are greater, and there are significant differences in tradition, in the legal system and human rights. At the same time interests related to the integration of that country are manifest in a far more indirect way. Foreign journalists often ask why Hungary did not cavil in the case of Turkey, for it is commonly known that once that country became a member Hungary would receive significantly less EU-assistance and the same holds true for other countries of a status similar to ours, too. Obviously it would have an unfavourable effect on Hungary, since one of the tangible positive influences of the European Union is access to development resources promoting catching- up. At the same time the positive returns of Turkish membership should also be considered in the long run in a broader context, including Turkey’s strategic significance. It should be stressed that this is true only if Turkey is ready and capable of meeting the expectations and complied with the admission criteria without fail. This explains why the European Union inspects the process of complying with the accession criteria in a rigorous system on the one hand, and places special stress on the precondition of earlier validity, namely on the absorption capacity of the EU on the other. It means that Turkey’s EU membership can only be realised if both Turkey and the European Union are prepared to take this significant step.


The Status of Kosovo

It is the intention of all the countries of the region to progress along this European, Euro-Atlantic road towards integration. Although there are significant differences as yet in the level of preparedness among the countries concerned, in one respect they are similar: Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina could recently enter into a new phase of the process.

Naturally enlargement is a serious challenge not only because of compliance with the criteria, for the region cannot be separated from the problems that influence the progress of these processes indirectly, or sometimes even directly. Here mention should be made briefly of the efforts of Montenegro towards independence that may negatively affect the internal political power relations of Serbia, and may also make the realisation of integration efforts more difficult. The temporary solution by which the preparation for integration was to progress simultaneously in Serbia and in Montenegro and the two countries would be assessed jointly or separately depending on the nature of the topics has not proved to be convincing in practice. The situation has become even more complicated by initiating a referendum and by outlining separation as a real perspective. It is particularly the case if one approaches the problem from yet another important issue waiting for solution, namely in the case of Kosovo, where the primary expectation is to achieve a settlement that would not undermine the security and stability of other territories of the space.

Irrespective of what ultimate status Kosovo will obtain those conditions cannot be disregarded that have been defined by the international community affected and involved in this issue. It is inconceivable that normal existence and functioning would be possible for Kosovo without possessing an effective and operational system of public administration, a really functioning and viable economy, without guaranteeing the basic principles of the rule of law, and without the full respect of human and minority rights. In this context for instance, the repression of corruption and the issue of successful combat against drug trade can be mentioned. In addition there is the political expectation of achieving a solution that would be acceptable for all parties involved.


The European Union has been primarily mentioned in relation to efforts towards integration. It should not be forgotten, however, that the UN has a highly important role to play in the handling of challenges, particularly in the settlement of the Kosovo issue, in addition to guaranteeing the stability and security of the region. It is not accidental that a special envoy of the secretary-general to the UN has been appointed to conduct negotiations concerning Kosovo. During the latest meeting of the foreign ministers of the EU I had the opportunity to discuss the issue with M. Martti Ahtisaari, UN Representative in Kosovo. I can confirm that even he does not know at present what the magic formula of the solution could be that would meet all the previously mentioned expectations. It is hoped though that the gradual approach proposed by him would ultimately prove to be successful. The participation and role of NATO, and in particular the United States is also required to be able to guarantee security and to enhance the weight of international policy in general.

Keeping in mind the importance of the region the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has seen to it that despite the limited resources our diplomatic presence in the region should be made complete by opening our representation in Podgorica and Pristina. At least in one of the two stations, in Podgorica Hungary is going to operate the representative office in a form which is new to us but has been known in the EU, namely jointly with Austria, another EU Member State.