In parallel with the publication of its annual Progress Reports covering each of the candidate countries striving for accession to the EU, the Commission heralded a long overdue strategic rethink of how best to approach perhaps the most significant task it has yet been called upon to deal with, that of reuniting a once insuperably divided continent.
A new "road map" designed to get down to the nitty-gritty on difficult outstanding issues with the most advanced countries was presented alongside a method for classifying requests lodged by applicants for transitional periods with a view to giving themselves more time to adapt to more stringent EU requirements.
The categories are simple: acceptable (for transitional measures of a technical nature limited in time and scope), negotiable (those, which have a more significant impact, whether in terms of timeframe or effect on the EU's budget, the economy, the environment and so on) and finally unacceptable, which speaks for itself.
In my opinion, this represents a tactical masterstroke on the part of the Commission, as it automatically absolves the college of any blame should everything go horribly wrong and major delays creep into the whole process. The burden of responsibility will be shifted elsewhere, to the Council of Ministers, the member states and the hopefuls themselves, thereby depriving them all of a convenient scapegoat.
Furthermore, the Commission's commitment to enlargement can no longer be doubted: it has shown the way and it is up to everyone else to follow. It also provides a certain degree of reassurance for potential members regarding a timetable, responding to the mounting frustration and impatience amongst government politicians, who, after all, are mere mortals canvassing for votes to remain in power. What it does not do is leave any scope for addressing the irrational.
This is, of course, not directly within the Commission's mandate, although an information campaign tailor made to raise awareness on the strengths of the enlargement countries could do no harm. Fears of an inundation of unskilled workers, a dent in prosperity or welfare, relocation of industry to lower wage regions have been largely brushed aside, but neglecting them could yet backfire on the self-styled visionaries of Europe, independent experts and heads of government alike.
There has been a chronic lack of consultation of the ordinary citizens, whose taxes will fund this bold, historical move. The distasteful arrogance this attitude implies will not endear the project to anyone.
The contents of the Report
Hungary is now considered to be in a position to be able to cope with the competitive pressures and market forces within the Union in the near term as opposed to the medium term, a substantial step forward compared to last year. This assessment is in the conditional, however, since abandoning continued reform would lead to an immediate downgrade. Hungary was already deemed to have fulfilled the political criteria last year. The problems pinpointed are as follows:
Law and justice
...there is still a large backlog of cases at the Supreme Court, whereas the number of pending cases at local and county courts has started to decrease over recent years. This situation at the Supreme Court has reduced the scope for fulfilling its main function, namely the unification of court practice and the provision of judicial guidance to the lower courts.
Police brutality and the Roma
Hungarian and international human rights organisations continued to report on ill-treatment by the police. Roma and foreigners appear to be targeted most by such actions. The number of complaints lodged with the Ombudsman for Human and Citizens' Rights and the number of his investigations are increasing. A recent study by the National Institute for Criminology revealed that only a small proportion of complaints lodged by detainees on the grounds of police mistreatment had resulted in final court rulings. According to data from the Prosecutor's Office, only one third of the complaints resulted in a court proceeding.
Consequently, only a very limited number of policemen were found guilty of mistreatment during a police investigation, and of forced interrogation. However, some 20 per cent of non-Roma detainees and 80 per cent of Roma detainees complained about police mistreatment in the course of investigations.
Some 30 per cent complained about forced interrogation and some 15 per cent reported that they were hindered by the police in contacting their lawyers. The practice of keeping detainees in preliminary custody in police cells, often for indefinite time and, sometimes, under difficult conditions, runs counter to Council of Europe rules and practice in the Union. The new law on criminal proceedings, adopted in 1999 but entering into force in 2003, will limit the duration to 60 days.
Further progress was made in the area of equal opportunities with the new Law on Labour Inspection of January 2000. The Law introduced the reversal of the burden of proof in case of discrimination. This burden of proof now lies with the employer in legal and labour inspection disputes. Related studies found that the proportion of working women had dropped to 30 per cent from 50 per cent over the last ten years. Women at work earn 10 to 40 per cent less than their male counterparts in the same position, and most leading posts are filled by men. According to equal opportunity experts, lay-offs usually affect women first. The unconstitutional practice of questioning women candidates about their desire to have children is also an example of typical problems.
In line with the short-term Accession Partnership priority and with the medium-term Roma action programme adopted in April 1999, the Government has provided specific support for addressing the difficult situation of the Roma minority. In particular, measures were launched in the areas of education (scholarships and support for educational institutions), culture (opening of Roma Community Houses, which play a very important role in strengthening local Communities and preserving Roma culture), employment (public work programmes and public utility work programmes), housing, health and anti-discrimination.
Under the "Roma Policemen Programme" the number of Roma police officers was increased and co-operation with Roma organisations was reinforced. In 2000, specific budgetary resources totalling 19 million euros were made available, representing an important step forward in the implementation of the medium-term action programme which was also recognised by the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Ethnic and Minority Rights.
However, concrete results from the action programme can only be expected in the medium term. In the meantime, the situation of the Roma population continues to be difficult. Due to poor health and living conditions, life expectancy for the Roma is on average ten years shorter than for the rest of the population.
As regards education, less than 46 per cent completed their primary school education, and only 0.24 per cent obtained a university or college degree. Roma have continued to suffer prejudice and widespread discrimination in society. The Ombudsman for Ethnic and Minority Rights noted that discrimination was present in the judiciary, in the police, in employment and education.
According to data from the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities, a majority of discrimination cases were lodged against the practices of local Self-Governments—most of the cases involved "everyday racism," eg the denial of entrance to bars, or in relation to employment. Discrimination in housing and access to public institutions also remained a serious problem.
Hungary did not address the short-term Accession Partnership priorities related to the alignment with the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control Directive, the safety standards for radiation protection and the enforcement of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. However, a wide range of environmental laws are scheduled for the end of 2000.
Further efforts in aligning with the acquis are needed on the following areas: horizontal legislation in order to ensure access to environmental information, implementing legislation for waste management, water quality standards for drinking and bathing water as well as for the aquatic environment and for the treatment of waste water, industrial pollution and prevention control, noise limitations for construction equipment and household appliances. As regards noise, only the sources of noise are registered/measured, and methods/technology on measuring noise impact still need to be introduced.
Other areas where problems were mentioned included corruption, the health care sector and misleading advertising.
The prevailing mood in the press has been one of general satisfaction with the findings of the Report: it has been recognised as better than last year's, confirming Hungary's position as being amongst the best-prepared countries, top of the class, to use the favoured metaphor. This represents an upgrading in itself, with Hungary progressing from being designated as a country ready for enlargement in the medium term to being considered ready in the short term already.
Although no specific date for accession has yet been mentioned, a cautious optimism has been displayed and the new strategic approach welcomed. 2002 has been broached as a target date for the conclusion of negotiations with the candidate countries; one year later than the date preferred by the aspirants themselves.
Rather than lambasting the Commission for pussyfooting around and trotting out the careworn hollow pretexts couched in exquisitely diplomatic terms, the expediency of the road map approach has been widely recognised. For the first time, the Commission has succeeded in convincing sceptics that it is not engaged in a dishonest attempt at fobbing off the doggedly patient would-be members, but is putting enlargement within reach.
There is now a realistic prospect of the first candidates being admitted by the end of 2004, though much hinges on the progress made in terms of internal reform both within the EU itself and amongst the hopefuls. As far as the latter is concerned, the toughest chapters remain to be dealt with. All eyes will be on Nice.
János Martonyi, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, dubbed the Report as the most favourable to date, praising it for the quality of its analysis and its rigorous objectivity. Agreeing with the criticisms it contains, he nevertheless expressed his conviction that the progress had been made compared to last year's report.
He was particularly glad to note that recognition had been given to the efforts undertaken by the Hungarian government to improve the situation of the Roma, agreeing that there is a long way to go yet. He was also careful to acknowledge that overcrowding in prisons would have to be tackled and that the Supreme Court is all but overwhelmed by its huge workload. As regards the economic criteria, he was confident that Hungary would be able to rise to the challenge of competing successfully within the context of a market economy in the immediate future.
Hungary had, as the Minister was swift to point out, received plaudits for adopting the acquis and for its ongoing efforts at institution-building. He did not deem the environment to be a lost cause either, but was fully aware that more had to be done and the pace of legal harmonisation stepped up. He was also optimistic about a likely date for accession, mentioning 2003 in the context of Hungary concluding the accession negotiations by mid-2002.
In his customary Wednesday morning radio broadcast, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán classified the document as the hitherto best of its kind. Striking a personal note, he harboured reservations about Brussels or any other institution assessing a sovereign country in this way, but if Hungary wished to join, then it had to respect the rules of the game.
Gábor Stier's commentary in Magyar Nemzet (9 November) echoes these sentiments:
As has been the case around November for the last few years now, the candidate countries seeking EU membership have been waiting eagerly for the marks they have been awarded for progress made to be announced, like school pupils. In the meantime, they have been whinging a little—and this is especially true of those heading the field—as to why the young democracies of our region need to be subjected to such stringent and distrustful grading in the first place when at one time the professors of Brussels were much more lenient, for example in relation to Portugal or Greece.
Of course, nobody would dispute or would even be in a position to creditably dispute the fact that a lot of hard work remains to be done before the school-leaving certificate can be awarded, even though we are more than aware that joining is, in reality, a matter of a political decision being taken and indeed each student jealously scrutinises his neighbour's results.
Whilst taking a look at the rating received by the others, even the model pupils are dissatisfied, because it doesn't matter that they have done better than the others, since the ultimate aim is still too far distant from them and they become increasingly impatient as they wait to graduate into the year above.
...In spite of the reservations, Hungary's result may be deemed to be a good one, although it is true that a firm target date for enlargement has not yet been given. In point of fact, there has been an increase in the number of statements made in the West hinting at a further postponement of the enlargement process, ...which actually imply that the EU has palpably failed its exam in terms of the state of play concerning its internal reforms. These statements betray that the EU itself is not (for the moment at least) yet prepared for enlargement either.
Michael Lake, the Commission's representative in Budapest, announced that the Regular Report's positive evaluation of Hungary's level of preparedness was realistic. At the same time, however, he cautioned against the Hungarian government resting on its laurels in the wake of the good impression it has made, as this would only serve to undermine the work already done. The road map was a milestone on the path towards enlargement, along which Hungary's progress was irreversible.
No political or technical obstacles stood in the path of accession negotiations being concluded in 2002. Although the Report acknowledged that substantial progress had been manifested in the realms of fighting corruption and organised crime, this did not mean that the administration could afford to relax its vigilance or abandon the struggle.
Nor should problems in the health care sector, agriculture or frontier checks be ignored. He also stressed the importance of allaying fears amongst the citizens of the existing member states concerning the arrival of waves of immigrants (experience amongst the more recent additions to the EU had shown that there was a far greater likelihood of nationals living abroad returning home to enjoy the benefits of increased prosperity), economic competition, crime and environmental protection. Here only objective analyses would be of assistance.
József Szájer, head of the Fidesz group in the Hungarian Parliament, was particularly pleased that the repeated Hungarian requests for a more flexible approach to the negotiations reflecting individual achievements had finally been heeded. The status of the National Bank and deficits in legal harmonisation in the environmental protection sphere would be addressed and resolved within the coming year.
During a press conference, László Kovács, leader of the Socialist Party, declared on behalf of his party that he was delighted at the overall assessment given. He continued to believe that Hungary stands a good chance of being included amongst the first new members of the EU, lamenting what he described as the government's failure to focus on the criticisms voiced in the Report last time round.
This was why, in his opinion, no progress had been made in a number of areas whereas in others the situation had actually worsened, singling out the lack of any real content within social dialogue and the failure to cut the inflation rate further as examples of the latter.
István Eörsi, deputy head of the parliamentary group of the SZDSZ (Liberals), stated that his party considered that joining the EU as swiftly as possible was the key issue facing Hungarian society today, and that the Report was a pleasure to read as such. The condemnations it contained were worded courteously, yet remained firm. His priorities were continuing the fight against corruption and the government's withdrawal from the economy.
Miklós Csapody on behalf of the MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) felt that it was only natural for this year's Report to represent an improvement on the last because a great deal of progress had been made in the adoption and the implementation of laws alike. There was more to the environment than pumping in money to improve Hungary's record, since the state of the environment influenced the way the West perceived Hungary's readiness for accession emotionally.
In his editorial, "A Decent Offer," in Népszabadság on 10 November, Oszkár Füzes presents a careful and measured analysis of the state of play:
Up until now it has seemed as if those on the outside of the door have been pushing it in vain because their counterparts inside have been holding fast on to the handle. Sometimes they have been smiling out from the peephole saying don't worry, you'll be allowed to come in soon, other times they have shouted out to us that we should stop banging on the door.
That was how it looked, but that was not how it was: for a decade the European Union has been lending political and considerable financial support to a process in which the eastern half of Europe has been increasingly westernised. It has dawned on them that it would be bad if they were to remain 15 in number over too long a span of time. Since then, it has been decided that sooner or later around 30 countries will be part of the EU and that it is only a question of time and money before they do.
What has not yet been decided is how much time and money will be needed to achieve this. The head of the Bavarian government has picked up on this latter issue in the last couple of days. He is perfectly justified in so doing. If we have undertaken a commitment to enlargement, then why should we not calculate how much of a bill will eventually have to be footed by the current member states. They also have to know where this not dramatically huge amount is going to be paid from.
Edmund Stoiber's statement is but a more recent indication of the fact that enlargement as a commitment of the EU is now being taken seriously. If this is really the case, then it is fairly self-evident that the fundamental principle at stake cannot be let it cost whatever it may. Instead, a genuine calculation has to be carried out of the political, material and everyday costs, which will be incurred and what the short, medium and long term advantages will be in exchange. This is not, however, a matter of simple arithmetic.
Obviously, the Germans and the Portuguese do the counting in different ways, as do the remaining 13. The already complicated equation is rendered even worse by the fact that the maintenance and running of a 30-member Union cannot proceed in the same manner as has been the case thus far. Once again, 15 separate concepts of what and how much should be changed exist and there are 15 sets of differing interests at stake. Or perhaps even more.
The new Union has to be such as to get on with Russia, the Ukraine, Asia and America, not to mention the Balkans, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region and Africa. In the meantime, a set of uniform regulations for the market, social standards affecting hundreds of millions of people and a legal system comprising several tens of thousands of pages' have to be created. For the present day EU to take on the task of enlargement in this first place, iron political will and a massive amount of work is required.
The EU has taken on the task, though. It has not yet mentioned the names of countries and specific dates, as it is still not yet in a position to do so. We are not ready yet for enlargement yet and they are not yet ready to receive us into their midst. For the first time, however, a plan of action including a timeframe has been devised: if X, Y and Z are ready by such and such a juncture, then enlargement may take place. For the first time, they have promised themselves that they will be ready by the end of 2002. If so, then Hungary and certain others of the best-prepared candidates will be allowed in as of 2004.
There is just one point to note in all of this: the promise was made by the Commission and this body is predestined to desire an ever larger and ever deeper Union as a consequence of its vocation and its raison d'être. Amongst the ranks of the 15 may be found certain member states, which would prefer a larger and looser Union and some, which would prefer a more compact and stronger one. There are yet others, which do not know precisely what kind of a Union they want.
What is at stake with enlargement is not "just" pan-European, but also represents an ever bigger challenge within individual countries. It is fairly plain that in Berlin, London and all the other capitals it is a question of power. Viewed against this backdrop, the new strategy paper on enlargement is a valuable and remarkable document. Alongside it, Hungary also received a respectably positive evaluation. We award the real set of marks ourselves though by making progress. We have been given the opportunity to move ahead, in short it is a decent offer.
In László Szále's article in Magyar Hírlap, a cautionary tale about differences in perspective unfolds:
Let us feel silent joy in reading through the passages in the Annual Report, which are favourable to us and let us admit that from the outside our image is better than the reality, because seen from the inside, the picture is an uglier one. The text itself is written in the discreet language of diplomacy.
They do not state baldly that the country is up to its neck in corruption, but instead that greater efforts are needed on the part of the government to put the brakes on corruption. They do not write that, once again due to their inherited passivity, the inherited prejudiced nature of their surroundings and the eternal powerlessness of the various offices, which they have dealings with the situation of the Roma has not improved by any considerable margin, but that a need exists to accelerate implementation of the medium-term Roma programme.
Let us feel silent joy that the country is at peace, that even if there are inconsistencies and an uneven distribution of the benefits, the signs of development and improvement are unequivocal. That it seems as if something will become of us. Let us take a look at our neighbours and beyond, let us take a look at the successor states of the Soviet Union and let us be glad that we did not divide our country up along ethnic or political lines, that we did not start killing each other and let us be glad that we did not sink down into perpetual stagnation. Even if society somehow has to get the frustrations of the changeover off its chest, then let's not condemn it to a tasteless civil war of words.
And let us not condemn József Krasznai's experiment in Strasbourg too harshly either. I am not fond of the stentorian-voiced Roma leader's half-truths, nor do I share his predilection for the term political persecution as the most accurate way of describing what is happening to them. Nonetheless, I am beginning in retrospect to concede that he is right to maintain that he went as far as he could without having to resort to violence.
We ought not to be surprised if the Roma were to revolt en masse at their undeserved fate. We are more than familiar with the extreme forms, which the expression of political interests can assume, ranging from bombings through terrorism involving the murder of innocent citizens to civil war. It is beyond doubt that Krasznai is employing a peculiar manifestation of extortion. If nothing else, what he has achieved is to send ripples through a stagnant pond and to keep the problems of the Roma on the agenda. If business can't continue as usual, then the whole thing was "worth it."
Even if the peaceful changeover to democracy won't be ingrained in the consciousness of our descendants in the same way as 15 March [the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution in 1848] or 23 October [the outbreak of the Revolution in 1956], it may yet one day attain the status of a Deák Compromise. It has been a compromise too. Not a full-scale revolution, waving flags and all, but a plain, old-fashioned compromise, an attempt at reaching a mutually acceptable accommodation in terms of power and the economy.
Yes, the old privileged apparatchiks managed to pull through and salvage their positions; yes, political power was converted into economic power; yes, the compensation handed out and privatisation were riddled with injustice; yes, the earnings differentials for women are an affront to dignity; yes there are a lot of losers, a lot of unemployed and job security has diminished. Right enough, this is all completely unfair. But did fairness ever exist? Will it ever do so for that matter?
The motives of whoever talks about the new dispensation of justice and the complete transition to democracy are plainly in view: getting a share in the redistribution of wealth and power, getting the cosy seats by the fireside. After so many past disappointments, I only believe in slow, organic progress, during which the legal system, institutions, the economy, culture, including personal relationships, thought processes and habits develop together, clinging to each other.
We know that there is no such thing as a perfect society. A good society is hallmarked by one trait: it can be improved. Democracy is the instrument of change and it does not primarily entail ceaseless chatter, but accountability, the constant monitoring of the powers that be...
The Annual Report does not talk about how many opportunities have been permitted to slip by unexploited, how much petty-mindedness there has been, how much superfluous snarling at each other, how much adversity and how much villainy in turning it to one's advantage, how much talent is being left to lie fallow, how much strident talentlessness exists, how many candidates for ministerial, civil service and party posts have been selected on their lack of qualification for the task at hand in a manner verging on the criminal!
Europe is waiting and weighing up. Let's pay attention to it, but let us not forget that things look prettier from the outside...
Gusztáv Kosztolányi, 13 November 2000
Also of interest:
- The 2000 Progress Reports in full
- CER update on accession candidates, May 2000
- CER commentary on the 1999 Progress Reports
- The 1999 Progress Reports in full
- Archived CER articles on EU affairs
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Hungary through CER
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