Budapest woos Jacques Delors as Vienna changes its tune and Brussels wanders further into its language labyrinth

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The Independent Online
FRESH FROM the drama of concluding European Union membership agreements with Austria, Sweden and Finland, Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, flew to Budapest yesterday to hear Hungary press its case to be next in line to join.

In meetings with Peter Boross, the Prime Minister, and Geza Jeszenszky, the Foreign Minister, Mr Delors was fully briefed on Budapest's plans to make a formal application for EU membership next month - thereby becoming the first former Communist country to do so.

Although Hungary, which currently has an association agreement with the EU, would like to sign up for full membership as soon as possible, its leaders accept that it will be a long and possibly arduous process that will probably not be concluded before the turn of the century.

'With membership for Austria, Sweden and Finland already settled, we now want our future entry put on the agenda,' said Janos Herman, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. 'We are not saying we are ready now, but we have moved a long way towards fulfilling the necessary criteria. We see this as the next step in the process.'

Mr Delors addressed the members of two committees: 'We, the representatives of Western Europe, would be committing a grave mistake if, guided by the feeling of superiority, we (remained) a closed club.' He said that Budapest, Warsaw and Prague belong to Europe just as much as Paris, Brussels or London.

'We can develop . . . only if we start out from the same basis, the basis of pluralist democracy, and if the levels of economic development are not too diverse,' Mr Delors said.

Hungary's application, which will almost certainly be followed by bids from fellow members of the Visegrad group, Poland and the Czech Republic, was given a ringing endorsement by Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, earlier this week after talks with Mr Boross in Bonn. According to Mr Herman, Mr Delors also made encouraging noises and confirmed that the further extension of the Union to incorporate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would be the main topic of discussion at the 1996 inter-governmental EU conference.

Although some member states are wary of further enlargement - particularly the poorer southern ones who might lose status - the larger member states are likely to support it.

In Hungary, as elsewhere in the former Communist bloc, many laws and regulations concerning commercial act ivity have yet to be brought into line with EU norms. But government officials are con fident that progress is being made in these directions.

'In the immediate aftermath of the 1989 revolution many of us rather navely assumed that we would be warmly embraced by the (West) European family from which we felt we had been kidnapped in 1945,' Mr Herman said. 'Since then we have been made to realise that it will all take much longer. But we want a realistic perspective. People can understand goals that may take five or six years to attain. But if they are told 20 or 30 years, they simply lose hope.'