Hungary is looking to the east

Croatian and Icelandic accession is expected and strongly supported

In the offi­cial Hun­gar­i­an view, any enlarge­ment of the Euro­pean Union must hap­pen once a coun­try com­plies with mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria and acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions should advance accord­ing to the candidate’s per­for­mance. It seems that, after the recent 10+2 enlarge­ment, the EU will not have “enlarge­ment rounds” with sev­er­al new mem­ber states any­more, but would rather con­tin­ue the widen­ing process by tak­ing up new­com­ers one by one. The next new mem­ber state of the EU will undoubt­ed­ly be Croa­t­ia, whose acces­sion treaty could be signed under the Hun­gar­i­an Pres­i­den­cy enabling the country’s entry in 2012. Croa­t­ian mem­ber­ship will be very much wel­comed by Hun­gary, being a direct neigh­bour. Actu­al­ly, Hun­gary is high­ly inter­est­ed in the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of the whole West­ern Balkan region in the fore­see­able future. Hun­gary is con­vinced that the Croa­t­ian exam­ple of prepa­ra­tions can serve as a mod­el for the oth­er can­di­dates and poten­tial can­di­dates in the West­ern Balkans.

The oth­er coun­try rel­a­tive­ly close to mem­ber­ship is Ice­land. Accord­ing to Hun­gar­i­an high offi­cials of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs,11Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 12 May 2010. Hun­gary expects a faster process giv­en Iceland’s pre­pared­ness and strong ties with the EU. Hun­gary would very much wel­come an Ice­landic acces­sion, as this could become anoth­er suc­cess sto­ry of enlarge­ment. Nev­er­the­less, the out­come of this process will main­ly depends on the com­mit­ment of the Nordic coun­try to become a full mem­ber of the EU.

Turkey on a slow track, the Macedonian deadlock is regrettable

As was point­ed out before, in Hun­gary the future widen­ing of the EU is not real­ly seen in “enlarge­ment rounds”. The per­cep­tion is rather that new entrants will join one by one. In fact, nego­ti­a­tions go on with Turkey in a very slow and “cau­tious” way. Accord­ing to the offi­cial Hun­gar­i­an posi­tion, the nego­ti­a­tions should pro­ceed accord­ing to Turkey’s lev­el of pre­pared­ness, and a clear per­spec­tive on the “final­ité” of the acces­sion talks should be for­mu­lat­ed as soon as possible.

The next coun­try queu­ing up for mem­ber­ship nego­ti­a­tions is (the For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of) Mace­do­nia (FYROM). In the opin­ion of a high offi­cial at the Hun­gar­i­an Min­istry of For­eign Affairs,22Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 12 May 2010. the Mace­don­ian sto­ry is a sad one, where – due to the unset­tled name-dis­pute with Greece – there seems to be a dead­lock. Even though the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion released its pos­i­tive con­clu­sions on the FYROM in Octo­ber 2009,33Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: The For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia, 2009 Progress Report. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Com­mis­sion to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and the Coun­cil, Brus­sels, COM (2009) 533, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2009/mk_rapport_2009_en.pdf (last access: 10 June 2010). nego­ti­a­tions could not be launched. This is very much regret­ted by Hun­gary who is in favour of open­ing nego­ti­a­tions as soon as pos­si­ble. Sad­ly, how­ev­er, at the moment there seems to be no solu­tion for the high­ly sen­si­tive Greek-Mace­don­ian dis­pute, and it is expect­ed that the present finan­cial cri­sis in Greece might turn Athens’ atten­tion away from this issue. In any case, this sit­u­a­tion (sim­i­lar­ly to the Sloven­ian-Croa­t­ian bor­der dis­pute) points to the fact that – pri­or to enlargement/accession – good neigh­bourly rela­tions are as impor­tant as any oth­er pre­con­di­tions and cri­te­ria. In any case, Hun­gary is encour­ag­ing and help­ing Mace­do­nia to con­tin­ue with the prepa­ra­tions for membership.

Regard­less of all these chal­lenges, Hun­gary is very sup­port­ive con­cern­ing fur­ther enlarge­ments of the EU (espe­cial­ly towards the West­ern Balka­ns), and this offi­cial posi­tion is main­tained no mat­ter which polit­i­cal par­ties are rul­ing the coun­try. Fur­ther­more, this atti­tude is strong­ly shared by the pub­lic, as can be detect­ed in pub­lic opin­ion polls.

Eastern Partnership: a high priority for Hungary

From the begin­ning of the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy (ENP) Hun­gary was more inter­est­ed in the east­ern dimen­sion of it than in its south­ern dimen­sion, due to geo­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal rea­sons. Accord­ing­ly, Hun­gary has always been in favour of a sep­a­rate treat­ment of the two dimen­sions, argu­ing that east­ern neigh­bours include Euro­pean coun­tries with a poten­tial mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive while the group of south­ern neigh­bours has nei­ther this option nor this kind of ambi­tion. Based on this approach, the launch of the East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) one year ago was wel­comed in Hun­gary. In this frame­work the EU is assist­ing six coun­tries to adapt to the EU acquis and to its fun­da­men­tal val­ues. Budapest is extreme­ly inter­est­ed in the devel­op­ment of EU-Ukrain­ian rela­tions and is rather active in form­ing EU-Mol­da­vian rela­tions, too, rep­re­sent­ing two part­ner coun­tries from among the six with­in the EaP ini­tia­tive. Besides, Hun­gary is inter­est­ed in the fur­ther strength­en­ing of rela­tions between the EU and the trans-Cau­casian coun­tries that are either poten­tial ener­gy sources (Azer­bai­jan) or future impor­tant ener­gy tran­sit coun­tries (Geor­gia, Azerbaijan).

It is impor­tant to empha­sise that the Hun­gar­i­an assess­ment of the EaP is pos­i­tive in gen­er­al, so there is no divid­ing line on that issue between major par­ties or between the depart­ing and incom­ing gov­ern­ments. Con­crete proof of this atti­tude lies in the fact that the EaP was includ­ed in the pri­or­i­ties of the Hun­gar­i­an 2011 pres­i­den­cy pro­gramme pre­pared by the out­go­ing social­ist gov­ern­ment (in pow­er until the end of May 2010) and can equal­ly be found among the major region­al pri­or­i­ties of the con­ser­v­a­tive coali­tion par­ties (the Hun­gar­i­an Civic Union and the Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic People’s Par­ty – FIDESZ-KDNP) enter­ing office at the very end of May 2010. One impor­tant aim of Hun­gary, hold­ing the Visegrad‑4 pres­i­den­cy in 2010, has been to look for real con­tent in the EaP frame­work.44Based on a com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Hun­gar­i­an Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, 12 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.kulugyminiszterium.hu/kum/hu/bal/Aktualis/Szovivoi_nyilatkozatok/FJ_MInszk_20100212.htm (last access: 17 May 2010). Regard­ing the most impor­tant EaP part­ner coun­try for Hun­gary, Ukraine, there is a broad con­sen­sus on the neces­si­ty of main­tain­ing the option of a future EU mem­ber­ship. Also, visa-facil­i­ta­tion with the poten­tial final aim of total lib­er­al­i­sa­tion is a com­mon goal with­in the Hun­gar­i­an polit­i­cal elite,55See: Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of the Repub­lic of Hun­gary: Direc­tions and tasks of the Europe-pol­i­cy strat­e­gy of the gov­ern­ment, 2007, avail­able at: http://www.kulugyminiszterium.hu/kum/hu/bal/eu/kormany_eupolitikai_strategiaja/ (last access: 17 May 2010). imply­ing that Hun­gary is among those EU mem­ber states that may find the recent promis­es and sub­stance of the EaP insufficient.

How­ev­er, there might be some small­er dif­fer­ences between the two gov­ern­ments’ (and/or par­ty) emphases and approach­es regard­ing the EaP. The new gov­ern­ment being formed by the cen­tre-right FIDESZ-KDNP alliance will prob­a­bly be more focused on devel­op­ing ties with the ener­gy-abun­dant Azer­bai­jan, and, even more impor­tant­ly, may be less regard­ful towards Russia’s reser­va­tions vis-à-vis the EaP ini­tia­tive. The new government’s pol­i­cy might include more deter­mined sup­port for Geor­gia, which it sees rather as a vic­tim than an irre­spon­si­ble ini­tia­tor of the 2008 Geor­gian-Russ­ian con­flict. Beyond the dif­fer­ent eval­u­a­tion of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, the gen­er­al approach of the old and new gov­ern­ments to Rus­sia is also rather dif­fer­ent, although the Rus­sia-pol­i­cy of FIDESZ seems to have been “soft­ened” dur­ing the past years mov­ing from “val­ue-ori­en­ta­tion” towards prag­ma­tism.66See the inter­view in the Hun­gar­i­an news­pa­per “Mag­yar Nemzet” with János Martonyi, appoint­ed for­eign min­is­ter of FIDESZ, 8 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mno.hu/portal/printable?contentID=705754&sourceType=MN (last access: 17 May 2010). The third impor­tant polit­i­cal force in the new par­lia­ment, the rad­i­cal right-wing Move­ment for a Bet­ter Hun­gary, com­mon­ly known as Job­bik, calls for devel­op­ing stronger ties with Rus­sia, seen as a major Euro­pean power.

The EaP itself is not wide­ly known with­in the Hun­gar­i­an pub­lic and there is no impor­tant pres­sure group, nei­ther in favour, nor against Hun­gar­i­an par­tic­i­pa­tion in it. The pub­lic media is rather neu­tral on the sub­ject; how­ev­er, it some­times high­lights the East­ern Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive as an EU project “against” Rus­sia or more explic­it­ly as a con­crete ele­ment of com­pe­ti­tion between the Euro­pean Union and Rus­sia over their “com­mon post-Sovi­et neigh­bour­hood”. The brand new EaP is a pop­u­lar theme in aca­d­e­m­ic cir­cles; sev­er­al con­fer­ences, work­shops and research projects have already been ded­i­cat­ed to it since its birth in 2008 and offi­cial launch in May 2009.

The ulti­mate aim of Hun­gary is to con­clude a new gen­er­a­tion of asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments with all EaP mem­bers. Budapest is already prepar­ing for the first EaP sum­mit, which will take place in May 2011, under the Hun­gar­i­an Coun­cil Presidency.

Union for the Mediterranean: Hungary is rather a policy-taker

The Mediter­ranean region has nev­er been a pri­or­i­ty in Hun­gar­i­an for­eign pol­i­cy over the past decades, and was espe­cial­ly side­lined pri­or to Hungary’s EU mem­ber­ship. Thus, the Hun­gar­i­an nation­al atti­tude towards the Euro-Mediter­ranean Part­ner­ship (EMP), the Union for the Mediter­ranean (UfM) and the Mediter­ranean as a whole has evolved in the con­text of the country’s EU inte­gra­tion process.

As far as the Span­ish-Bel­gian-Hun­gar­i­an trio pres­i­den­cy is con­cerned, it was log­i­cal that due to geo­graph­i­cal rea­sons from among the three coun­tries, Spain put Mediter­ranean issues high­est on the agen­da. This does not mean that Hun­gary could not for­mu­late Mediter­ranean-relat­ed issues of its own inter­est, but Budapest is more like­ly to join the already ongo­ing Mediter­ranean projects than ini­ti­ate such.

Accord­ing to Hun­gar­i­an inter­ests and posi­tion, the EU should strike an even bal­ance in rep­re­sent­ing and pro­mot­ing the east­ern and the south­ern dimen­sions of its Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy.77Erzsé­bet N. Rózsa: From Barcelona to the Union for Mediter­ranean. North­ern and South­ern Shore Dimen­sions of the Part­ner­ship, HIIA Papers, April 2010. Fur­ther­more, this should also be reflect­ed in a rebal­anc­ing of the finan­cial enve­lope lead­ing to a 50–50 per­cent share instead of the cur­rent one third and two thirds divi­sion. Hun­gary par­tic­i­pates active­ly in all the rel­e­vant struc­tures and activ­i­ties of the EMP, but its capa­bil­i­ties are rather lim­it­ed not only because of its loca­tion but also for eco­nom­ic rea­sons. Pub­lic aware­ness of the EMP or the UfM is still very lim­it­ed in Hun­gary, and out­side the offi­cial cir­cles it is debat­ed only in a rel­a­tive­ly restrict­ed aca­d­e­m­ic context.

    Footnotes

  • 1Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 12 May 2010.
  • 2Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 12 May 2010.
  • 3Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: The For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia, 2009 Progress Report. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Com­mis­sion to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and the Coun­cil, Brus­sels, COM (2009) 533, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2009/mk_rapport_2009_en.pdf (last access: 10 June 2010).
  • 4Based on a com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Hun­gar­i­an Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, 12 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.kulugyminiszterium.hu/kum/hu/bal/Aktualis/Szovivoi_nyilatkozatok/FJ_MInszk_20100212.htm (last access: 17 May 2010).
  • 5See: Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of the Repub­lic of Hun­gary: Direc­tions and tasks of the Europe-pol­i­cy strat­e­gy of the gov­ern­ment, 2007, avail­able at: http://www.kulugyminiszterium.hu/kum/hu/bal/eu/kormany_eupolitikai_strategiaja/ (last access: 17 May 2010).
  • 6See the inter­view in the Hun­gar­i­an news­pa­per “Mag­yar Nemzet” with János Martonyi, appoint­ed for­eign min­is­ter of FIDESZ, 8 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mno.hu/portal/printable?contentID=705754&sourceType=MN (last access: 17 May 2010).
  • 7Erzsé­bet N. Rózsa: From Barcelona to the Union for Mediter­ranean. North­ern and South­ern Shore Dimen­sions of the Part­ner­ship, HIIA Papers, April 2010.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.