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Ten years in the European Union

May 5th, 2014

Most commentators agree that Hungary has made relatively little progress since it joined the European Union ten years ago, despite a net financial transfer amounting to about 1.5 per cent of its GDP. Opinions diverge however on the reasons as well as on the direction European integration should follow.In HVG, Miklós Tallián believes there are very few countries who “spend European money more stupidly than we do”. Hungarians, he explains, have “poured European cohesion funds into concrete”, that is, into projects meant to refurbish city centres, “and not just for reasons that have to do with corruption”, but out of “sincere but obsolete convictions”. By development, many Hungarians mean, in fact non-productive decorative projects, which ultimately have resulted in a “terrible use of the opportunities offered by our membership”. At the same time, Tallián continues, more and more students are spending time studying abroad or take jobs in other countries and will, hopefully, return home enriched both intellectually and professionally. All in all, Tallián finds that Hungarians have been a lot smarter than their successive governments in availing themselves of the advantages offered by the EU, and Hungary’s membership has thus been a success, “despite the efforts of our governments to the contrary.”

Magyar Hírlap’s Gyula T. Máté likens Hungary’s EU membership to a marriage that has to be celebrated after the first ten years, even if the romance of the first months is long over. “We have to realise that our love story has evolved into a marriage of interests.” At the outset, he continues, we were certainly chasing the blue bird of happiness within the European Union. “But how many of our dreams have come true since? All for a few, and none for the majority,” he declares, referring obliquely to the slow increase in living standards and the widening welfare gap. Nevertheless, “a glass of beer with no head is better than no beer at all”, he quotes a Belgian saying, and warns against any temptation to spill the beer on the ground. Instead, he suggests Hungarians should be more proactive in shaping the way “that beer is drawn off”.

In Heti Válasz (print edition), Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, the probable successor of Foreign Minister János Martonyi who is about to retire, admits that the past ten years have produced  a series of disappointments. They were not due, however, to the “faulty functioning of European institutions” alone, but also to Hungary’s weaknesses in representing her own interests within the Union. Mr Navracsics who is believed to be the Prime Minister’s candidate for membership in the new European Commission to be sworn in by the new European Parliament and therefore likely to serve as Foreign Minister for a few weeks only, remarks that Hungary must emulate successful member countries in order to become successful herself. He cautions against withdrawing “from European debates” and suggests, on the contrary, that Hungary must learn how to defend her own interests. “Europe can make it without us, he argues; but we cannot make it without Europe”. Hungary’s representatives must contribute to the forging of the future Union, so that it might become “ours, just as anybody else’s.”

In Demokrata, editor András Bencsik acknowledges the great advantages EU membership has brought to Hungarian citizens, in terms of free travel and employment, but calls the EU “a paradise of contradictions”. He thinks EU bureaucracy is hugely oversized and interferes unnecessarily with matters of national competence. He explains why he and his co-organisers held their first “Peace March” in January 2012 under the slogan “We don’t want to be a colony”, because, as he still sees it, “powerful EU circles” thought Hungarians were “not mature enough” to choose the kind of government they want to live under and wanted to “correct that – not by sending in tanks, but by finding witty ways to force the democratically elected government to resign”. Bencsik says that by resisting that alleged attempt “we actually became full members”. He even asserts that since PM Orbán’s controversial policies have by now had a “salutary effect” outside Hungary, one can say that “it is in Hungary that the first steps of a New European era were taken”.

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