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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 3:17–24.


Hungarian Foreign Policy, the European Union and Regional Cooperation


I. Hungary’s foreign policy and European Integration

The Republic of Hungary has a three-fold foreign policy priority structure comprising Hungary’s full integration to the Euro-Atlantic institutional framework and specifically to the European Union and NATO, the maintenance of good relations with neighbouring countries and the protection of ethnic minorities. These are the main objectives that have constantly characterized our foreign policy ever since the change of the system and we firmly follow this in the years to come as well.

There is a close interdependence among these objectives. We are keen to make parallel progress among the above mentioned priority areas, a balance, that besides our own interests takes into account the sensitivities and national peculiarities of our partners on their own right. Central and Eastern Europe’s history has shown all too often that no enduring cooperation can be established in its absence.

The Hungarian government puts a particular emphasis on Hungary’s full reintegration to the Euro-Atlantic institutional, economic and social frameworks, handling the issue of our accession to the European Union understanding that in a way it also involves the other two priorities.

Hungary’s foreign policy principles correspond to that of the European Union and its members. This is why we consider the extension of cooperation in the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU towards the associated countries a very important new development. As the experiences of the first few months of this exercise prove the relevant initiative was highly successful and have shown the wide acceptance of European values and objectives.


1. Integration

a) Why it is a must for all

In Hungary we believe the guarantees of our countries’ security, economic prosperity and social development all lie in our and our neighbours’ accession to the Euro-Atlantic institutions. As far as the EU integration is concerned there is a broad, general consensus among the political parties in the Hungarian Parliament and a large majority of the population is strongly in favour of Hungary’s accession. For Hungarians – and for the other peoples of Central and Eastern Europe the general prevalence in our region of European values in terms of democracy, open market economy and political culture will be the best imaginable assurance of stability and prosperity. The tasks of modernization are also in full accordance with the tasks demanded by our future accession in all spheres of life. There is no real alternative to integration for Hungary, there are no other equally viable options. It is the only way of the region’s and of my country’s modern existence.

I am confident that the Eastern enlargement is equally beneficial for the EU members. The burden of the EU resulting from the envisaged integration of Central and Eastern Europe is usually overestimated. On the contrary, the future accession of Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries provide a historically unprecedented chance to improve the security, the international competitiveness and the global economic position of Europe as a whole. Extending membership to the Central and Eastern European states the Union would radically reduce the risk of instability or new conflicts in Europe. The accession of these countries would also give the EU a leverage to preserve its dominant position on the international scene together with the North-American and the Pacific region. EU firms would gain a larger market access and new production possibilities while Union consumers would benefit from a greater variety of less expensive products. (In fact, last year the trade balance with Hungary showed a one billion dollar surplus in the EU’s favour.)

b) Current state of EU-Hungarian relations

The conclusions of the 1993 Copenhagen European Council session have declared the first time the will to integrate the Central and Eastern European Associated countries into the European Union. The Essen summit in December last year has adopted a strategy for the preparation of the associated countries’ accession. The political decision has been made, the process of integration has become irreversible. It is obvious at the same time that both the associated countries and the EU have a lot to do until accession and a close interaction is imperative to make our efforts effective.

With the Europe Agreement between Hungary and the EU – which entered into force in February 1994 – a complex Hungarian-EU institutional framework of association was established comprising the Association Council, the Association Committee and its parliamentary dimension the Parliamentary Committee of Association. Based on our European Agreement and backed by a national consensus and the consensus of all the parliamentary parties the Hungarian Government submitted the country’s application for membership on 31 March 1994. We expect now the Commission to prepare its “avis” in due course, immediately after the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). We hope to begin our accession negotiations already during the IGC ratification period so that our talks could lead to full membership around the year 2000.

c) Preparations for accession

Preparations for accession have several sides that we may categorize as external and internal sides though we consider a close relationship and interaction of the two as essential.

The 1996 IGC should take major decisions concerning the institutional structure of the Union, and related to this, concerning the future enlargements. The closer we come to the IGC conference the more it is becoming clear that the institutional issues have become one of the major problems to be solved before any new entrants may be accepted. On the other hand it is exactly the inclusion of Central and Eastern European states that could push most current member states through the unavoidable reforms needed to maintain the European Union’s competitive edge thus becoming the most decisive event in the coming years of European policy in the making. It would be important to perceive this unique state of affairs not as a threat, but as a possibility to overcome certain already visible structural and competition difficulties of its own. The preparations for this conference are well under way, and Hungary would be more than ready to participate in some form and express our views. We believe that if the applicant states of Central and Eastern Europe take part formally or informally in this preparatory exercise, several issues at a later stage will be easier to handle for all concerned

Updating the system and framework of our association is also necessary taken into consideration the important developments since it was formulated. Adaptation of the Europe Agreement to the recent enlargement of the EU and to the results of the GATT Uruguay round is mandatory. Hungary has had free trade agreements with the new EU members. With their accession however those advantages we used to enjoy according to these agreements have faded away. The same applies to the successful conclusion of the Uruguay round.

The work has already begun to prepare the White Papers on harmonizing the internal market issues. We believe that the associated countries’ involvement into this work to the furthest possible extent will help to understand each other’s position and possibilities and thus the creation of an extremely useful set of guidelines for all of us in this very sensitive topic.

What we Hungarians can and have to do internally is equally important. Our National Assembly is expected to pass the Hungarian program of economic modernization. In line with the EU criteria and following the general international trend the Hungarian government puts a strong emphasis on economic policy issues as we consider the economic transformation of our region as the root of the integration process. Our objective is to strengthen free market economy in Hungary, to pursue further the privatization so that by the time of our accession our economy would be able to cope with the stringent requirements of the EU. Understanding the importance of legal harmonization our government adopted a working program in January. In the Hungarian legislative work no contradiction may be allowed with the existing EU legislation. A communication strategy is also being prepared although an unusually high proportion of the Hungarian public supports our integration efforts. We wish however that a referendum should approve our future decision on the basis of the knowledge rather than emotions or illusions of our people.


2. Neighbouring countries, minority issues

It is widely known that in most Central and Eastern European states that would like to join the European Union there are substantial national minorities, and the peaceful resolution of the situation in accordance with Western European norms is an indispensable condition not just for good neighbourly relations between them, but for their European integration as well. Since the European Union has accepted subsidiarity as one of the basic principles of its legal system, it will undoubtedly have a great impact not just on the member states, but on all countries aspiring to join, especially in the course of their legal harmonization. Accordingly, the Hungarian government’s efforts to contribute to the protection of national minorities fit perfectly well into the main trend of European integration. The same principles apply to our firm commitment to maintain good relations with the neighbouring countries. It is clear, that the development of our immediate region cannot be separated from the future of all-European evolution, each and every country will have to find its own place through a gradual, natural process in this new, multipolar system. The European Union will not abolish any nation states, but will tear down the physical, intellectual and political barriers separating them from each other, while at the same time it will create the necessary conditions for our commonly accepted goal, “a citizens’ Europe”.

At this point I would like to make a special reference to the Stability Conference in Paris. There can be no doubt that two countries have made an outstanding contribution to the successful conclusion of the conference. The conference itself and the contribution of Hungary and Slovakia will be analysed, discussed, criticized and praised in the years, perhaps decades to come. However nobody can deny the political courage and vision of the interested parties, their readiness and political will to solve problems and ease century old tensions along the European norms and standards. We should not overestimate the practical consequences of an agreement but it would be a very short-sighted policy to underestimate it either. These countries have certainly made the first significant step towards a historical reconciliation. It is very encouraging. The momentum can and should be maintained.


II. Regional cooperation

In Hungary we follow with keen interest how the concept and principle of subsidiarity is being introduced in Western Europe. As the state delegates part of its legislative and executive powers to the regions or counties and districts, a more decentralized, more democratic and human state is being born.

1. Regional cooperation as a worldwide phenomenon

In several parts of our globe – as is the case in Central and Eastern Europe – the geographically and economically interdependent, natural areas of cooperation do not necessarily coincide with the political borders. Also, a smaller country may not constitute in itself an economically viable entity. Cooperation of more countries or regions of more countries may however provide a solution to this problem and dynamise the growth of a formerly invalid economy. A dynamic and prospering country or region elevates confidence, trust and political stability in the whole region to the benefit of all of us.

Regional cooperation is therefore an increasingly important phenomenon of our times all over the world. In the recent years in all continents various forms of regional cooperation have been established such as the Benelux or the European Union itself in Europe, the NAFTA in Northern America and the MERCOSUR in Latin America. There are also organizations of cooperation in the Baltic region and of the Black Sea area as well. Besides the intergovernmental cooperation other forms of regional cooperation are also mushrooming. In Central and Eastern Europe there are also initiatives for both intergovernmental and lower level cooperation – the Central European Initiative, the Visegrad Group, the Alp-Adriatic Working Community or the Carpathian Euro-Region could be mentioned.

2. The Western European experience

Regionalism in Western Europe has grown into a widely accepted and acknowledged movement since WW II. Intergovernmental cooperation is perfectly complemented and enriched since the 70s by various other forms at the level of local governments typically by the establishment of Euro-regions like the Maas-Rhine Euroregion, Pyrenean Working Community, etc. The Maastricht Treaty provided legal and political recognition to the regional cooperation by establishing the Council of Regions in 1994 (consisting of 189 members and the same number of deputy members). It is to be noted that though the Committee of the Regions is not without important predecessors, it is the first organization of this kind within the legal framework of the European Union. The previously existing bodies like the direct predecessor of the Committee namely the Consultative Council of Local and Regional Authorities all missed this status though have always been in very close contacts with various European institutions.

The evolution of European integration presented regionalism a new dimension which is between the level of the state and integration and which proved to be effective in handling and solving certain contradictions and conflicts of interest as well as institutionalizing and synthesizing common sub- regional interest. We saw the regional cooperation becoming a driving force of integration itself for instance in the case of the BENELUX Union. Regional cooperation effectively fosters integration process too, by harmonizing the decisions made at supranational and at local communities’ level.

3. The Central and Eastern European perspective

Following the changes in Central and Eastern Europe and after the demise of the Warsaw Pact and of the Comecon new political and economic systems were introduced in the countries of our region. Even new countries were born or reborn, obviously resulting in new economic, political and security priorities both at state and regional level. It has quickly been realized that for all countries in the region political and economic cooperation is essential. Therefore it is necessary to reorganize the cooperation this time on a democratic basis and to revive the economic and political cooperation.

We must see, however, that with the development of cooperation new problems have to be tackled sometimes also inviting new conflicts of interest and contradictions in spite – or sometimes because – of the common history and ethnic links. Geographic and economic interdependence, common cultural heritage and our common goals regarding Euro-Atlantic integration exert positive influence though. Nevertheless, it is sometimes yet to be understood by certain governments in our region that although historically a short period has elapsed only since the birth or rebirth of their statehood, it is imperative for their own sake too that they waive part of their sovereignty in order to facilitate regional cooperation and thereby the development and prosperity of their people and stability of their country. This may not be an evident course for those inhabited with distrust towards their neighbours or even the national minorities in their own country.

Our region in Central Europe is not exposed today to military threat but rather to stability problems connected with the necessary transformation such as economic and social tensions, migration, distrust, xenophobia, radical nationalism or disregarding the rights of national and ethnic minorities, environmental damages, undeveloped infrastructures etc. These are all problems that can be addressed not only in the framework of states or integration but through regional cooperation as well.

4. Regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe today

a) CEI. Among the three levels in current Central and Eastern European regional cooperation the most comprehensive one is the Central European Initiative based on intergovernmental cooperation. Its predecessor, the Quadragonale was established in 1989 by the NATO member Italy, Warsaw Pact member Hungary, neutral Austria and non-aligned Yugoslavia. Although this cooperation was a positively unique and innovative one it was quickly outgrown by the course of the changes in the region. It did not cease however but adapted to the new conditions and comprises today ten countries (Austria, Italy, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and, of course, Hungary). Though its character and role have changed we continue considering the CEI as an adequate forum to discuss political questions concerning the states of the region as well as an effective way to realize a number of projects serving the national priorities, regional interests and European integration alike.

Particular importance of CEI is that by promoting Euro-conformity in the countries of the region and providing assistance to political dialogue and political-economic inter-linkage it also marks and paves the way connecting EU members, associated countries and other states.

The CEI pays due attention to projects bringing all the member countries closer through very practical activities. The Trieste-Budapest-Kiev rail and road connection is such a project together with others aiming at various other transport and communication systems, legal and business training courses corresponding EU standards, technology transfer etc.

b) V4-CEFTA. By the Visegrad summit of 1991 of Hungary, Poland and then Czechoslovakia a new kind of regional cooperation commenced with the aim to exploit each other’s experiences and to combine efforts in order to speed up democratic transformation and the change to market economy as well as to establish favourable conditions to cope with European development with a view to integration.

Though, not without differences and problems, the V4 has attained important achievement particularly in coordinating foreign policy and economic cooperation. Concerning the Latter the most important manifestation is the CEFTA signed in December 1992. CEFTA agreement was revised last year and the full establishment of the free trade area is foreseen now to be accomplished by 1998. In November 1994 CEFTA Premiers met in Poznan and agreed about the principles of possible enlargement by setting the criteria with a view to open the membership to Slovenia.

It is unfortunate that there is no full agreement concerning V4 or CEFTA cooperation among the participating states. Due to the difference in comprehension of the pros and cons of V4, there are lots of opportunities left unemployed especially regarding political issues and external relations.

c) Other forms of cooperation. Hungary attaches great importance to the cooperation at the level of local governments. Hungarian local governments participate in the Alp-Adriatic Working Community and in the Carpathian Euro-region. Preparations have been made for the establishment of a new Euro-region as well including the South-Eastern counties of Hungary and the bordering counties of Romania and Serbia. In this activity Hungarian participants are guided by Western European experiences and legal standards. We observe the Madrid Convention of the Council of Europe and delegate a wide scope of responsibilities to the local authorities.

5. The attitude of CEE countries towards regional cooperation

Romania and Slovakia support the intergovernmental forms of cooperation like the CEI, and V4 or CEFTA. These forms may easily be made subject to tighter government control at any stage. Their consent is probably motivated also by political considerations and the desire to get closer to European integration. At the same time both decline cooperation at the cross border areas between or among the local governments.

In the Czech Republic the official expectation is that the country’s relatively high level of economic development mandates the EU membership by itself. The importance of regional cooperation is held low and in my opinion is underestimated. At the same time they probably comprehend that the V4 might be considered as a block by the Union when it comes to admission and as part of it they would pay the price for eventual internal problems of certain partners. (Slovakia) The Czech government emphasizes therefore its readiness to participate only in such forms of bilateral or multilateral cooperation which by no means would hinder the country’s aspiration to become member of the European Union.

Poland’s position to a large extent coincides with the Hungarian one.

6. The Hungarian position

We believe that for all countries of our region regional cooperation of the new kind and integration into Europe are both essential. Regional cooperation could and should promote and enhance euro-conformity of all Central and Eastern European countries and prepare them for membership. A successful economic cooperation among the countries in our region will not only provide experiences and consolidate the economies concerned but also through its stabilizing effect would care for the solution of political problems among these countries. We understand that enhanced regional cooperation is an integral and essential part of our countries’ preparation for accession to the EU.

The experience of European integration clearly shows that economic and political interdependence inevitably leads to peace and stability, abolishing previous national rivalries. This seems to be a lesson of universal value.

Having analysed the developments in the World and particularly the tendencies in Western Europe we expect that the importance and role of regional and sub-regional cooperation will strengthen parallel with the extension and progress of European integration. In Central and Eastern Europe regional and sub-regional cooperation will probably gain momentum after these countries will be all integrated since the political, legal and economic preconditions will be brought about in all countries by that time only.

Hungary is a charter member in all regional cooperation establishments.

We do not consider regional cooperation as an alternative to European integration but as a complementing and catalysing factor of that process. We wish to build and strengthen a variety of fori for political dialogue with our neighbours in order to facilitate understanding and trust, economic prosperity and interdependence.