Austrian Chancellor Schüssel arrived in Budapest on 27 April for talks on Austro-Hungarian relations, Austrian government policy and enlargement of the European Union with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Schüssel stated that the Cabinet continues to be committed to "the basic principles of Austrian policy," like democracy, human rights and enlargement of the European Union. Orbán said he was pleased to hear that Austria supports Hungarian EU membership. Schüssel also confirmed that the Austrian government would donate ATS (Austrian Schillings) 1.5 million (USD 100,000) to flood victims in Hungary.
Before the Austrian Chancellor's visit, the Prime Minister again explained why he had invited Schüssel to Hungary: "First of all, I trust the Austrian People's Party to be true to the principles of European Policy. Secondly, we are talking about two neighbouring countries. Thirdly, since its formation, the Austrian government has done nothing to deserve criticism. And there is also a fourth reason, a long term one. I have always hoped that Austria will do more to emphasise its Central European character." Orbán went on to say, "Austria is no longer the easternmost country of the West, but the westernmost country of Central Europe. I sincerely hope that the new Austrian government will carry out a potent Central European policy. I am also trusting that there will be a strong Central European policy within the EU, in which I also would like to count on Austria." Foreign Minister János Martonyi also expressed a similar view in an interview with the Austrian daily Kurier. Martonyi said, "The first signs that Austria is becoming conscious of belonging to Central Europe are becoming noticeable in the most recent statements made by Schüssel. So far, Vienna has exclusively been orienting itself with the West. This is an important support for the Hungarian government that has been in office for two years, which played a role in restoring Central European cooperation in the framework of the Visegrád group."
There was, however, plenty of opposition to Schüssel's visit. Free Democrat (SZDSZ) and Chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee István Szent-Iványi called the visit a "provocative and unsightly opposition to the policies and values of the European Union," while US Congressman Tom Lantos said it was a mistake to invite the Chancellor, because it would be remembered in Western Europe and the United States. Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman László Kovács voiced the same fears, saying, "The move amounts to a provocation against the EU and can unfavourably influence international opinion about Hungary." Magyar Hírlap put it more bluntly, " Wolfgang Schüssel has no business in Hungary." Foreign Minister János Martonyi said he did not think the EU would criticise Schüssel's visit.
Hungary will slow down reforms if the European Union delays the country's accession. Government Spokesman Gábor Borókai said that Hungary could delay market liberalisation and the adaptation of EU rules on savings cooperatives. Borókai said, "The government's view is that the measures disadvantageous to Hungary should be taken at the time of EU accession, not in the originally planned time, by the end of 2002." He did, however, say that legal harmonisation which Hungary already have committed itself to in accession talks would be unaffected and that preparations for new legislation would aim to be completed by 1 January 2003.
In contrast to this statement, Foreign Minister Martonyi said on 27 April that Hungary would not alter its timetable of EU preparations. During a visit to Stockholm, Martonyi said, "We expect the European Union to meet its commitment assumed in the Helsinki summit, namely that it will become prepared to admit new members by early 2003," and added, "Hungary aims to complete negotiations by late 2001, and expects the Swedish EU presidency, scheduled for the first half of 2001, to support this goal." Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said that enlargement is in the interest of both Sweden and the European Union, and backed up Martonyi by saying that enlargement would be a major priority during the Swedish presidency.
President Árpád Göncz, Prime Minister Orbán, János Martonyi and Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid, among others, last week met with Lord Irvine of Lairg, Lord Chancellor of the House of Lords. After assuring Orbán of the British government's support for Hungarian membership, Lord Irvine said, "British foreign policy-makers persistently support the soonest possible enlargement of the European Union and by no means postpone this process to infinity," and "London objects to the idea that the applicants be admitted to the EU in a bloc. Instead, it insists that all candidates should be judged on individual merits."
József Torgyán did not accept the nomination of Smallholder (FKGP) presidential candidate on Saturday. Viktor Orbán met Torgyán on Thursday, before the Smallholders chose the party nominee for President of Hungary. If Torgyán declined, it was thought the FKGP would let the government chose a candidate. Orbán did not reveal what had been discussed but it is thought that FIDESZ refused to offer the Smallholders anything in exchange, like more portfolios, for not nominating Torgyán. It was instead Torgyán himself who should make the right decision and not accept the nomination. Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) President Ibolya Dávid said that her party would not accept vote for Torgyán, while Smallholder Attila Bánk described David's statement as "disgusting." Bánk said, "No matter how hard Dávid tries, she will not smash the coalition." Constitutional Court President János Németh was thought to be a possible candidate for the nomination.
President Árpad Göncz has nominated Péter Polt for the position of Prosecutor General. Presidential Spokesman András Faragó said on Thursday that the candidacy was likely to be successful. Polt is supported by FIDESZ, the Smallholders and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), with the MDF supports Csongrád County Prosecutot Gábor Heidrich together with the Socialists and the Free Democrats. According to Népszabadság, FIDESZ are angry that the MDF did not support their candidate, some sources saying that the MDF made a deal with the Socialists and Free Democrats in advance. Dávid says that she did not speak to either the SZDSZ or the MSZP, but said she was happy that Heidrich had the support of those two parties.
In response to accusations by MIÉP leader István Csurka that he was a Communist agent, György Bolgár, who is a radio presenter, has said that "The show [a call-in programme] is highly popular and somehow it's one of the targets of right-wing parties." Csurka has accused Bolgár, who was a Communist Party member, of being an agent when he was working as a radio correspondent in the US. Bolgár himself says that he declined the Secret Service and that the reason behind the accusations is the nature of his show, in which peoples' views on politicians are aired.
Socialist Party Chairman László Kovács said in the Transylvanian newspaper Chronicle that the Government is wrong in putting forward a plan for special status for Hungarians beyond the borders. Kovács rejected the idea of resettling Hungarians from Transylvania to Hungary to make up for a drop in the population in the latter. He said, "Demographic problems encountered in Hungary should not be at the expense of Hungarians beyond the borders." He again defended the basic treaty with Romania saying that, at the time, the treaty signed under the Horn government, was the "best document attainable."
In reaction to Romanian report on the recent poisonous leaks, Gábor M Koller, of the Hungarian Environment Ministry, said, "How the Romanian environment portfolio can use the reference of UN experts in calling Hungary's estimate of its damage from the cyanide poisoning is totally incomprehensible." Koller drew attention to the fact that the Szarvas Fish Breeding Institute have been using the most sophisticated instruments available, of which there are only two in Europe, to determine the exact amount of fish killed by the cyanide. The Ministry estimates that the value of the 1241 tons of fish killed by the poisonous outlet is HUF 874 million (USD 3 million). Government Commissioner János Gönczy confirmed that Hungary would launch court proceedings against the Australian company Esmeralda.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said after spending a few days in the vicinity of the Tisza that it was fortunate that no major new dikes burst along the river because reconstruction would have cost so much that the Széchenyi Plan "would have gone down in the Tisza." The ban on the replenishment of fish stocks in the Tisza and its tributaries will end on. 2 May and the ban on fishing will be lifted on 16 June. The net fishing ban in the Tisza and Szamos will however remain indefinitely. At the end of last week, the water level was decreasing along the lower section of the Tisza, but by no more than eight centimetres a day. The water level of the Maros was said to be "unpredictable" due to recent rain.
Three people have been jailed for damaging flood protection efforts. A Szolnok court sentenced one man to three and a half years in prison for puncturing the tyre of a tractor building dykes after a quarrel with the driver. Two men were also sentenced to six and ten months respectively for stealing sandbags, which they claimed they wanted to use for garbage collection.
Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski visited Szolnok on Thursday last week, where he looked at flood defences and was also expected to meet local representatives and a Polish rescue team. The Polish President, who was accompanied by the Minister for Transport, Telecommunications and Water Management Kálmán Katona, brought donations from the Polish red Cross and Polish Humanitarian Action to flood victims.
The Heads of State of 12 Central European countries met in Hungary on 28 and 29 April. The 12 Presidents, who met in Székesfehérvár on Friday, were expected to discuss national minorities, the environment and the challenges presented by globalisation. The Heads of State were thought to hold bilateral talks at Balatonöszöd, a holiday resort, on Saturday, and then end the meeting in Veszprém.
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who will visit Budapest in 3 May, is expected to meet the Prime Ministers of the four Visegrád countries. The Visegrád Four premiers were scheduled to meet in Hungary this week. On 28 April, they were due to meet in Poland to discuss EU enlargement. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was also expected to attend.
According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, about half of Europeans is in favour of Hungarian EU membership. 47 per cent of Europeans approve of Hungarian accession, while 31 per cent are against. The French are most negative, with only 36 per cent being favourable towards Hungarian membership. While support for membership of Norway and Switzerland, who do not want to join the EU, is at 70 per cent, Péter Gottfried, Head of Integration Issues at the Foreign Ministry, stressed, "In the Central European bloc it is Hungary which still has most support."
Paul Nemes, 28 April 2000