Back on the European stage

Article published on Dec. 22, 2002
From the magazine
Article published on Dec. 22, 2002
Numerous notable people with Hungarian roots have made their mark on the Western world. The speculator George Soros, who pushed the British pound out of the European currency system in 1992, and the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who played an important role in the 1968 movement, are just two famous examples.
After decades behind the Iron Curtain, Hungary is finally making its way back on to the European stage. Membership of the European Union (EU) will probably be granted in May 2004. The population is more pro-European than in most other Central and Eastern European countries. But some internal problems have yet to be solved.

About ten million Hungarians live within the borders of the country. In addition, five million Hungarians are thought to be dispersed throughout the neighbouring countries. Hungary has a very multi-ethnic composition with as many as thirteen minorities. For the European Union, Hungary’s treatment of its minorities remains one of the most sensitive issues. Furthermore, there are still some economic problems on the agenda. Hungary’s secretary of state for integration into Europe, Pétr Balázs, highlighted three main problems during a speech at the Institut d´Etudes Politiques (IEP) in Strasbourg. First, a solution must be found to transform the current tax reliefs for foreign companies into regional aid according to the system used by the EU. Secondly, Balázs criticises the decision to prevent agricultural direct payments from reaching 100% before 2013. They will start out at only 25% of the current EU level. This could lead to a paradoxical situation in which Hungary will become a net contributor to the EU at the beginning of its membership, while still a less-developed country itself. Finally, in addition to the initial seven years of limited capital movement, Hungary would prefer another three year period of limitation.

At a public meeting of the „Jeunes Européens“ (Young Europeans) at the IEP, Krisztina Deli, a student from Hungary, explained how early privatisation had a positive effect on economic prosperity in Hungary. Nevertheless, poverty and unemployement remain serious problems. She hopes that EU membership will help to tackle them. Péter Norváth, another Hungarian student, said that money from structural funds should play an important role in completing the transformation process to a market economy and to stabilise the Hungarian economy overall. Furthermore, EU membership will strengthen the country’s European identity.

Balázs showed in his speech that Hungary has bigger ambitions than just simply being a recipient of finanicial aid. He outlined his vision for a better Europe. First, the efficiency of the EU should be increased by simplification and concentration of the existing treaties. Secondly, Balázs considers a strong president of the European Commission crucial. In addition, the decision-making of the European Council should be made more transparent, including greater involvement of national parliaments. Finally, Balázs emphasised the need for stronger outside action of the EU such as representation in foreign countries, speaking with one voice regarding the International Monetary Fund, and finding a common strategy concerning Russia.

The chances are good that the future of Europe will be shaped by not just a few Hungarian pundits, but Hungary as a whole, as it takes its place as an integral part of the European Union.