Budapest for EU Accession
The days between the eighth and the eleventh of December 2000 marked a historical period for Hungary. A long-awaited decision was at last made in Nice. The heads of states and prime ministers accepted a schedule at the European Union Summit concerning the accession of new member states, announcing that from the end of 2002 the Union would be ready to admit the new members. In the adopted document, the member states express their hope that the new members would be able to take part in the elections of the European Parliament scheduled for June 2004. In an optimal case this means that if the accession negotiations are also completed by late 2002, the accession convention would be ratified by year-end 2003, and thus Hungary could effectively become a member of the EU on 1 January 2004. At the same time, the Summit invited the applicants to accelerate their preparatory actions. Accordingly, we still have to meet very serious obligations.
The annual country report made by the EU qualified Hungary as a state “fully fledged for membership in the short term”, ranked in the very first place in this group. According to the document on expansion strategies, accession negotiations are likely to be completed with the most developed countries by the end of 2002. However, if this were to become reality, we have to take the criticism made in the country report seriously, and take proper action in the critical areas. This will understandably fall under the duties and responsibilities of the current government. However, the gradually expanding legal system of the Union has an augmenting effect on the regions and communities as well. Now, for the time being, approximately 80 directives and decrees are expressly and directly related to the operation of the local and regional governments. Consequently we, the Hungarian local governments, will have to prepare ourselves for integration to at least the same extent as the government sector. Budapest put a lot of effort and in many ways to foster our accession to the EU over the past decade.
The local governments of the communities incorporated in the previous expansion, which ended in 1995 (Austria, Finland, and Sweden), began fulfilling their key obligations as early as six years prior to their accession, in order to assess and influence the conditions and consequences of their potential membership. Budapest is also following this example. For we have carried out active preparatory activities six years ahead of the expected time of our accession, or to be more precise since the autumn of 1998. We are represented at key meetings of the European Union concerning the towns, the community and region-based local governments, moreover we continually organize and support cooperation between the Hungarian local governments. Additionally, we plan to act as the forerunners of Central and Eastern European cities and towns that have so far made less progress in their accession to the Union.
It is of utmost importance for the local governments and particularly the capital to obtain the adequate information and to adjust their own legal harmonization policy accordingly. A European Academy was established at City Hall for this purpose, providing us first-hand information about essential integration-related issues all through last year. This initiative was intended to establish the frames of a relationship whereby dialogue could be held on the progress of the accession and our joint duties and obligations. The lecturers of the Academy were outstanding representatives of the Hungarian integration policy who informed the senior officials and public servants of City Hall about the current conditions of the accession negotiations and the issues of integration concerning the local governments and the regions.
Budapest has taken part in the work of the East-West Committee of Eurocities for several years now, and is also a member of the steering committee which supports the Chairman of the Committee. This Committee increasingly involved in preparations to assist the cities and towns of the applicant countries.
Budapest has also established a close relationship with several capital cities of the European Union. Mary Freehill, Lord Mayor of Dublin, confirmed at her visit to Budapest that the Irish capital is willing to share the experience it gained in the course of the town rehabilitation projects completed with Budapest with funding from the European Union. We held discussions with the city of Madrid concerning the protection of values in the settlements, whereas in the frame of cooperation between Budapest and Berlin we studied the European example of public bidding and acquisition procedures.
The European Integration Commission of the Vienna Assembly held a seminar in the Lord Mayor’s Office and in turn our colleagues were provided a chance to study the Austrian practice of local taxation in Vienna. In my quality as Lord Mayor I also invited Mrs. Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, Foreign Minister of the Brussels-Capital region, to Budapest. In the course of this meeting this year’s work schedule attached to the general agreement between the two capitals and neighboring regions was signed. Under the aegis of this cooperation, Budapest will gain experience that concern the regions in many ways and are adjunct to membership in the European Union, regarding duties, and the parties will additionally exchange ideas concerning the subsidization of small-to-medium-sized enterprises, the regional investment incentive policy, and environmental protection.
Our relationship with every capital of the neighboring countries that expect accession is characterized by a mutual exchange of experience. This year we have learnt about the strategy that Prague is adopting in its accession preparations and have also received information about the regional break-up in Bohemia.
The local governments of Budapest and Warsaw made a public notice to press on and hasten the Eastern expansion policy of the European Union, in particular calling upon the European Union to set the exact date of accession for Hungary and Poland by the end of 2003. I myself submitted the petition to the Minister of Foreign Trade occupying the current presidential post of the Union, Francois Houvart, representing France in Paris and at the Nice Summit.
Bratislava, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Kiev, and Budapest made joint efforts to restore the chime of the bells of Saint Martin Cathedral in Bratislava, destroyed in World War I, which is another excellent example of cooperation between Central European towns and regions. Budapest hosted several conferences related to EU preparations. In April we held a two-day Central and Eastern European traffic forum, organized by the Traffic and Energy Board of the European Union. An international conference entitled “Relationship between Sports and Local Governments in the EU and Hungary” was also held in Budapest. It aimed at supporting the work of the local governments and the sports experts through examples from various European countries.
Budapest was the first place outside the European Union where an official information center of the EU was opened. It was two years ago in the building of the Lord Mayor’s Office that we signed a statement of intent with Michael Lake, the manager of the Hungarian representation office of the European Commission, on the establishment of the Information Center aimed to supply information to Hungarian citizens about the European Union, integration, and the progress of Hungary’s accession.
Preparations were also made to adopt the legal documentation of the Union, and also intend to obtain a certificate of quality also accepted by the EU within 12 months.
The social significance of our accession by the European Union is as important in Hungary’s life as the change of the political regime was ten years ago. So, common, consensus-based actions, fundamental initiatives, and the increasingly emphatic articulation of interests and values were all determinative features of the successful political change. Just as the change of the political system was not merely a political and economic process, our accession by the Union likewise requires extensive changes and adaptations not only in a legal and economic sense but humanly, morally and psychologically as well.
The aim of Budapest is that the capital should continue and contribute to the country’s preparations for its accession to the European Union in an adaptive manner, always following the changes and it should thus support the country in implementing its long-term strategic objectives.
Lord Mayor of Budapest