Five years: a story without (happy) ending

Article published on April 30, 2009
Article published on April 30, 2009
Five years ago, on 1st May 2004 ten countries – included Hungary – celebrated the day of joining the European Union. Most of the people had big expectations and many of them were sceptics already but they had something in common: lot of questions related to our European future, to our place in European Union and to our European life.
No doubt, “Europe is our playground” – but how did Hungary play? Outside broadcast.

Tangible results: 1/2

People need results what they can feel or touch, what are visible for them. The most visible result was entering the Schengen zone. Not showing ID or passport, just cross the borders, visit other member states without any stop means freedom and real Euro-feeling. It is a huge step for people from former socialist countries: after 50 years of difficulties in travelling, 15 years of relief, travelling is what it should be. For Hungarians Schengen is more important: after almost 90 years Hungarians who live beyond the country can see or visit each other without stopping at the borders. Cancelling borders for them doesn’t mean only a simpler way of travelling; Hungarian minorities living in Slovenia, Slovakia and Austria (Romania will be part of Schengen as well, Croatia is also near to joining the EU) doesn’t feel that their isolation is too big. On the other hand people feel disappointed: Hungary made no progress connecting to entering the euro-zone; actually there is no opportunity to launch the common currency in the near future neither. Economic pointers are dismal thanks to the bad orientation of Hungarian political life.

Handling the crisis: Hungary-EU: 0-1

Bad decisions, spending too much, wrong orientation: these are the most obvious traits of Hungarian political and economic life. In 2004, when Hungary joined the EU, the country was one of the most promising one. Nobody thought that a country what is one of the most developed one in the region, will be the weakest one in five years. Global economic crisis has hit Hungary beyond measure. Experts say that without EU Hungary would be the next Iceland in Europe that would be a total disaster. (Iceland will survive this hard period but Hungary is much weaker than the island. Plus, for Iceland entering the EU is still a good chance, but since we are still in, it’s quite difficult to find such possibility again that – there is no point in embellishing – we had simply forfeited in the past five years.) With a significant financial support, European Union helped to avoid the total breakdown of the country. The EU gave 6.5 billion euro, IMF 12.5 billion euros and the World Bank 1 billion euro support to Hungary.

Roma question: yellow card

In 2004 the Hungarian nongovernmental organizations had lot of expectations and outlooks. NGOs are very important part of society all around Europe – the hopes of the Hungarian NGOs were obvious. It would be unfair to say that they had no important role during the last five years. They are visible and loud in some measure but it’s also sure that it is not enough. The Roma question has deteriorated: it is not “only simple racism” anymore, there are almost in every month crimes against gypsies. Only solution can be the action, words are not enough anymore.

Did we win?

Of course we did, here are some easy-to-understand examples: From 2004 Hungary is part of decision making as well, moreover we can find some examples when Hungary’s opinion was crucial too. In the case of rights of minorities Hungarian word was important as well. Therefore the phrase about minority protection is already part of the Lisbon Treaty. It was also an important act when Hungarian politicians lifted up their voice because of the Slovak language law. According to their announcements, the new law harms the right of Hungarian (and other) minorities. (Despite their efforts the law came into force.)

Less fans, more sceptics

In 2004 57% of answerers said, they think it is a good thing to join the EU (this number was 71% in 2001) and according the latest surveys only 31% of people believe in the message of the European Union. It is interesting to see that there are more and more people who think that the EU-membership is definitely a bad thing. It is a quite talkative data that 46% of Hungarians are unsatisfied with their life. Pessimist are usually declare themselves as being rather rightist, while leftist are said to be more satisfied and among them there are more people who still believe in EU. The situation is worse if we have a look at the other side of the coin either. Just check the statistics, surveys and news from those countries that joined the EU in the same year as Hungary: It is clear that all of them outdo Hungary: between 2004-2005 Slovakia’s GDP grew by 35.8 %, Poland’s 23%, and Czech Republic’s 25.6% meanwhile in Hungary the GDP growing was only 9.9% in this period. (Tough it is also a fact that each countries where entering the EU with a different stage of development, so that it is unrealistic to expect the same growth in case of Hungary and Slovakia. But still, the difference is very talkative.)

Critical times – critical people

More and more people are disappointed: well, to be frank, Hungary is not the land of plenty nowadays. Many projects paid by EU are only half ready, the country has enormous loans, and crisis is still at the door. Question is, if a new prime minister with his new program can be the basic of recovery. It is useless to talk about EU and its effects to citizens and to the country until the people are so pessimistic and do not believe in change. It is rather difficult to change this attitude till the politicians do not want a change. Especially because at the moment the two political sides seem to share only one vision about the countries’ future: to keep up division. And this has nothing to do with building a modern country. No, nobody has to like European Union. But do not forget that sometimes (mostly?) a bad match is not because of the mean judge, it’s because of the bad players. And the play is not over yet.

Photo: Flickr/yenep