Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 25
26 June 2000
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News from Hungary News from Hungary
All the important news
since 17 June 2000

Paul Nemes

A resolution adopted at the end of the EU summit in Feira, Portugal, "reaffirms the priority for the Union of the enlargement process... [and] reiterates the commitment of the Union to maintain the momentum of the accession process," but any hope of a speed-up of the process is shrinking. There was no mention of establishing a timetable for accession at the upcoming Nice summit, but instead a promise to "review progress on enlargement and consider how to take forward the accession process."

Foreign Minister János Martonyi and EU ambassadors have denied that the accession date for Hungary and other applicant countries has been delayed until 2005. Michael Lake, EU ambassador to Budapest, also said that it was not true that the process would be delayed, while Martonyi said that no date at all was mentioned at the Feira summit. Paul Poudada, the French ambassador, verified that the EU would be ready to admit new members by late 2002.

Meanwhile, EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said on Thursday that applicant countries cannot yet rely on the EU to set an accession date. He said that expansion would be feasible between 1 January 2003 and 1 January 2005, and pointed out that it is not true that the EU wants to slow down the process. Foreign Minister Martonyi told journalists on 22 June that he hoped the EU would set a date for accession at the upcoming Nice summit, and stated that the EU must decide by late 2002 "what to do with Central Europe."

Speaking at the opening session of the Central and East European Working Group of the European People's Party in Budapest on 20 June, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made it clear that Hungary would be prepared for European Union membership by the end of 2002, and urged that the EU Nice summit work out a strategy for the completion of membership talks.

Orbán reiterated that Hungary is just as ready for accession as Greece, Spain and Portugal were when they joined the EU. The vice-president of the European People's Party, Wim van Welzen, who described Hungary as the most stable country in the region with a very stable government and positive economic growth, said he would like to see Hungary as a member of the European Union as soon as possible.

Jörg Haider, of the Austrian Freedom Party, sent a letter last week to the Prime Minister denying a remark made in an interview published by Népszabadság earlier in the year. Haider denied he had said that fully balanced wage levels would be a prerequisite for Hungarian membership. Meanwhile, during talks on 20 June with István Stumpf, head of the Prime Minister's Office, Austrian Commissioner for EU Enlargement Erhard Busek asserted that Austria supports Hungary's EU membership.

The only area that could cause alarm was the free movement of labour, he said. However, he did not think that this was a "real problem." Busek said he would be able to use a study presented to him by János Martonyi, according to which the free movement of Hungarian labour will only have a negligible effect on the labour markets of current EU member states, to support Austrian arguments for enlargement. Magyar Nemzet, however, reports that Austria and Germany will submit a request to delay the free flow of labour for several years after Hungary's accession.

On 20 June, Parliament passed a bill which will reduce the armed forces from 61,000 to 42,900. The law, which will be put into practice in stages until 2010, will also amalgamate the Armed Forces General Staff with the Defence Ministry. A proposal to introduce a professional army was rejected. The initiative was put forward by the Free Democrats who had collected around 150,000 signatures in support of the debate on conscription.

The Socialist Party (MSZP) suspended its involvement in talks on armed forces reorganisation on Wednesday. MSZP MP Ferenc Juhász said the party would rejoin the talks when details, instead of guidelines, are presented. Lajos Erdélyi of the Defence Ministry promised that details would be provided to parliamentary parties.

Smallholder László Pallag, in charge of the committee investigating the oil scandal, on 21 June declined to name the ten to 20 per cent of MPs who he alleges are connect to illegal oil dealings. Parliamentary Speaker János Áder earlier in the week urged Pallag to bring forward any evidence which supports allegations against MPs involvement in the oil scandal. Moreover, Áder said that "it is in the interest of us all to make public the name or names of MPs who are concerned in the oil cases - if there are such MPs - so that they will have the opportunity to defend themselves, and for us to carry out the due proceedings against them."

The oil committee heard László Nógrádi, whose statement was made public by Pallag because he was concerned that the government might censor the testimony. Nógrádi admitted to being part of the illegal oil shipments and stated that National Police Chief Pintér also knew of the dealings and that the Socialist Party financial officer had received HUF (Hungarian forint) 750 million (USD 2.7 million) from the oil mafia. Government spokesman Gábor Borókai said on Tuesday that the government has asked that the National Judicial Council expedite the trials in the oil case and added that only 340 out of 4042 indictments had been heard so far.

After the second round of local elections in Romania, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) emerged more successful than four years ago but were defeated in Cluj (Kolozsvár) and Tîrgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely). RMDSZ President Béla Markó said the nationalist campaign of Dorin Florea and changing demographics, a constantly shrinking Hungarian population, was behind the defeat in the latter city and called the re-election of Gheorghe Funar - who Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman said ran a grossly anti-Hungarian campaign - in Cluj a defeat of democracy.

MOL (Hungarian Oil and Gas Company) chairman of the board János Csák resigned on 21 June. Csák said that he hoped his resignation would make it possible for the company's management to "define the company's future role in gas distribution and its overall future plans from a news perspective." He pointed out that the 12 per cent gas price increase was proof that MOL could not get the government's supports for its economic strategy because the company had argued for a much greater increase, as increasing world prices caused the company losses.

The recent drought has caused damages worth at least HUF 100 billion (USD 0.36 billion). The national Federation of Co-operatives and Producers is currently working on establishing the damage caused by the dry weather. The Ministry of Agriculture is also, according to Népszabadság, conducting its own enquiry into the damage caused by the drought. The Ministry's state secretary, Károly Tamás, said that the government would provide HUF 10,000 (USD 36) per hectare to farmers in areas affected by the drought.

Ferenc Ligetvári was sworn in as Environment Minister on 19 June. Ligetvári plans to speed up
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Hungary's adoption of EU environmental standards. Ligetvári told Magyar Hírlap that he plans to reorganise the Ministry, and hopes to see the return of MPs who earlier left the Ministry. Ligetvári will also appoint an undersecretary who will be head of matters related to EU integration.

On the tenth anniversary of the Central and East European Regional Environmental Centre, environment ministers from 19 countries met in Szentendre. EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said that environmental issues could become an obstacle to EU accession unless candidate countries give it more priority, and pointed out that Hungary does not yet meet EU environmental standards. She did, however, stress that the EU not only sets requirements but also helps through a number of funds, such as PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD, and added that the EU would not introduce EU legislation that "imposes insufferable investment costs on Hungary."

Egervin's 1988 Egri Szürkebarát has won gold at the World Wine Championships in Bordeaux. The company, which also won two bronze medals, said the prize was a great honour as 5000 products from 40 countries were competing in this year's World Championships.

Paul Nemes, 23 June 2000

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