Hungary warns EU: ‘We will not wait for Poland’

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Series Details Vol 7, No.18, 3.5.01, p8
Publication Date 03/05/2001
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Date: 03/05/01

By Simon Taylor

Hungary's top diplomat in Brussels has warned that his country will not wait to join the European Union until other countries are ready.

The comments by Budapest's ambassador to the EU, Endre Juhász, are being taken as a warning against delaying the first wave of enlargement until Poland is ready.

Juhász told MEPs last week: "We are adopting a 'no wait' policy, according to which no candidate country, which has fulfilled membership criteria, can be forced to wait for another candidate country which has not yet done so."

Hungary, together with Cyprus, Estonia and Slovenia, is widely expected to be one of the first candidates to be ready to join the EU. But applicant countries are increasingly worried that enlargement will be delayed until Poland is ready because Germany will not agree to expand the Union unless its important eastern neighbour can join.

Getting Poland into the EU is a priority for Berlin because of the country's size - it has the largest population of all the candidate countries - and its economic importance to Germany, both in terms of investment and as a potential source of labour.

Hungary has wrapped up negotiations in 17 of the 31 areas of EU legislation where the candidate states have to bring their national laws into line with Union rules. Budapest is hoping to close discussions on further difficult chapters by the summer. But Poland has only closed negotiations in 15 areas.

A spokesman for the Polish mission to the EU argued against judging candidate countries' simply on the basis of the results of one negotiating session.

"You can't make a strategic decision on the basis of one meeting. Countries which have closed 17 chapters may stand still at the next negotiating session or close one chapter less," said Malgorzata Alterman, press counsellor.

In his speech to the Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Juhász strongly criticised the pace of negotiations, accusing the Union in the past of "a clear reluctance of the EU to respond in a substantive way to our requests".

Pointing out that the Union had only closed negotiations with Hungary in five chapters in 2000, "it would take six years to complete the negotiations", he warned.

Juhász called for a breakthrough in the talks, saying "what we have achieved so far cannot yet be characterised as a breakthrough".

Hungary's ambassador said that Budapest wanted to close discussions on free movement of persons and capital and the environment by the end of the Swedish presidency in June.

But EU diplomats are increasingly sceptical that the issue of free movement of people can be resolved before the end of the year, particularly after France and Spain stressed that the matter could not be settled until the EU had agreed a common approach to other sensitive areas.

Madrid wants guarantees that it will not lose its large slice of the Union's 30-billion euro regional development budget when the new states join while Paris is concerned that its share of farm support could fall after enlargement.

Juhász called on the EU to table serious negotiating positions on agriculture, regional policy and budgetary questions so that Budapest could close all discussions by the end of 2002.

He insisted that the Union did not need a "radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy" before the EU would be in a position to agree its stance. "Reforms and adjustment could be made when some candidates are already members of the European Union," he said.

Hungary's top diplomat in Brussels has warned that his country will not wait to join the European Union until other countries are ready.

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