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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 28:129–135.


The Impact of the Southeast-Oriented Transport of the EU on Hungary


The Balkans of hardly 40 million inhabitants cannot expect the distinguished economic attention of Hungary compared to the 460 million market of the European Union (EU). This is corroborated by the fact that Hungary has been consistently realising 75% of its export-import turnover with the EU since the mid-1990s. On the other hand, in addition to the relatively small market of the Balkans it is less than one third of the EU average in respect of its specific output capacity (GDP/head). Nevertheless, having regard to the present situation, future opportunities and challenges of transport in the region the assessment of the Balkans is changing. Traffic between the EU and the Balkans, going through Hungary is already the most marked transit direction. The engines and growth-generating resources of this traffic, however, are only partially the Balkan countries, the Turkish, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern economies have a larger share. These emerging markets demand an increasingly large network capacity and improved quality service from the Hungarian transport system for their transit shipments going to the EU.


Directions of the Flow of Goods

The main directions of Hungarian export-import in decreasing order are (Figure 1): Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Russia (in this case the import of energy resources is decisive). Currently the aggregate Hungarian export-import for and from the Balkan countries does not even reach the value of the Austrian one. Based on geographic proximity, historical relations and the raw material wealth of the Balkans, however, a faster growth of the Hungarian-Balkans trade, investment (FDI) and industrial relations is expected, particularly after Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the EU. Growing relations will enhance mobility and output in cargo transport. The Danube-Kris-Mures-Tisza as well as the Danube- Drava-Sava Euroregions in contact with the Balkan countries will also strengthen and develop the organic economic and cultural relations with Hungary (Figure 2).

While the present direct economic relations do not as yet generate significant transport demand between Hungary and the Balkan countries, the Balkans is the most significant direction of traffic in Hungary. During the past years the transit lorry traffic from the direction of the Balkans, crossing the Romanian border to and from Hungary and going to Western Europe was more extensive than the traffic of all the other directions taken together (Figure 3). The proportion is nearly similar in the railway transit cargo traffic, but here transit through the Serbian border is already significant (Figure 4). Presumably after the opening of the M5 motorway in March 2006 transit traffic along highways through the Serbian border would also grow similarly to the railways. In addition to the transport of goods the guest workers from the Balkans employed in Western European countries already represent an outstanding traffic load at the Austrian-Hungarian and Hungarian-Romanian borders as well as along the domestic transit routes in the peak period of tourism and particularly at the time of longer holidays and the collective holidays of factories.

A significant part of transit traffic generated by guest workers is actually not originating from and not directed to the Balkan countries, but from Turkey crossing the Balkans. This traffic is expected to grow as a result of the associated country status of Turkey and of its becoming a full member at a time currently impossible to forecast.


The Balkans as the Gateway of Asia

From the Hungarian point of view it is the development of economic relations between the Union and Asia that would have a prominent role in the cargo traffic of the EU moving in south-eastern direction, to the Balkans or going through it and affecting Hungary. According to some forecasts more than 20% of the EU imports will come from China from the early 2010s onwards. A significant part of this Far Eastern traffic would come through the Suez Canal to the container ports of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea to be unloaded, another part of it would travel along the Asian railway lines.

A significant part of the traffic going to the central regions of the EU and coming from it may use the Hungarian road, railway and inland water routes to and from the dynamically developing port of Constanţa, the expanding Trieste and the Croatian ports. (During the past years the container ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg have found it increasingly difficult to receive the Asian container carriers. With the eastern enlargement of the EU the container ports of the Mediterranean and of the Black Sea would be revaluated. This creates new opportunities for the Balkan countries, though obviously they will get into keen competition with the Greek, Italian, French and Spanish ports.) Cargo traffic directed to the EU along the Asian railway may be a promising one for the Hungarian railways (Figure 5). Here primarily the Central international railway main line (Asia–Kiev–Záhony–Budapest–Madrid), the Southern international railway main line (China–Tashkent–Ankara–Budapest– Berlin), and the Europe–Caucasus–Asia corridor (Asia–Baku–Constanţa– Budapest) should be considered.

The decisive part of the transport of goods in Asia is container traffic, and with an intelligent transport policy, coordinated with the Balkan countries, it may promote the growth of the share of multi-modal transport.


The Hungarian Transport Network

The Hungarian transport network is already partly satisfactory for the transit traffic coming from and going to the Balkans, but several segments of it require urgent development. It is a favourable situation that of the thirty projects of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), approved by the European Commission in 2005, three strengthen the transport relations between the Balkan countries and Hungary. Project No. 7 would ensure a motorway connection in the direction of Athens– Sofia and Brasov–Nagylak respectively. To this the Hungarian M5 motorway is already in operation up to Röszke at the Serbian border, and the building tender for the M43 branch towards Szeged–Nagylak is expected to be announced soon.

It is of outstanding significance for the domestic inland water transit traffic that project No. 18 of the TEN-T wishes to make the currently narrow cross-section segments of the Danube continuously navigable. Overcoming the still critical water depth of the Danube–Maine–Rhine waterway would allow for a dynamic growth of goods traffic on the Danube between the Balkans and the central regions of the EU.

The development of the railway network by project No. 22 may also link important junctions in the Balkans (Athens–Sofia/Bucharest–Budapest–Vienna–Prague–Nuremberg).

Nevertheless, the weak points of the financing of the TEN-T project which is intended to be realised up to 2020 should be pointed out. Currently the EU would finance 15–20% of the TEN-T projects by way of grant, and the decisive part is to be allocated out of national resources. The newly acceded countries, however, may also apply for sums from the Cohesion Fund, where a 50–60% proportion can be achieved. In case the Balkan countries, including Hungary, coordinate their application aims, the three projects may be implemented, otherwise it may already be considered as an achievement if at least certain segments are realised without network homogeneity and equivalent capacity.

The 10/b Helsinki corridor, the Budapest–Kelebia railway line, a particularly important one to Hungary, does not figure among the TEN-T projects. This line already operates at the upper limit of its capacity, and will not be able to carry the Serbian traffic and that of the south-eastern peninsula of Montenegro without developing it into a dual-track one. The M6 motorway (Budapest–Osijek–Sarajevo–Adriatic) may mean the strengthening of the north-south road connection, which would link Bosnia and Croatia from the direction of the Adriatic to the central and northern regions of the EU through Hungary. Hungary shows a significant progress in building this 5/C Helsinki corridor without EU support, out of its own resources.


The Impact of the Balkans Transit

The biggest flows of transit traffic crossing Hungary are decisively of north-western–south-eastern direction. In the future goods and passenger traffic would grow dynamically towards the Balkans. Every commercial flow and route may provide benefit as well as damage to the transit countries. It is a historical lesson that flourishing cities and regions have evolved along trade routes and in their junctions.

Profit and cultural enrichment, however, is not automatic. Hungary, being in a favourable geo-political position from the angle of the Balkans traffic, may be relatively easily avoided or bypassed by the development of the transport network of the neighbouring countries. In this case the national economy would be divested of the profit obtainable from commercial flows. In an even worse case the traffic would affect the country, but because of an ill-considered policy of tariffs, or due to the lack of logistics systems and value-added services the damage caused by transit traffic (deterioration of track, environmental burden, crime, etc.) would be bigger than the income realised.

Due to these factors it is important for Hungary to have a transport policy which may profit from the Balkans transit traffic with the help of the continuous analysis of competitors (competitive market) and the (environmental and economic) monitoring of that traffic, and which may also simultaneously promote the development of the Balkan countries on the basis of mutual advantages.