May 1, 2004, is an important date in Hungary and nearby, we joined the European Union 15 years ago. Frans Timmermans says, he hopes the disunion is a passing phenomenon, according to Jean-Clause Juncker there is a lot of tension, Péter Balázs thinks that Hungary would not be accepted into the EU today. Hvg.hu remembers, recalls the past and looks into the future on the anniversary.
It is a generation question, how one remembers the EU accession. What personal memories they recall, when they think about May 1, 2004. Frans Timmermans, for example, remembers the military training. The First Vice-President of the European Commission said in a background conversation in Budapest, that when he was young, in the Dutch military, he was trained to interrogate captured Russian soldiers if a war with the Soviet Union was to break out. This is the perspective from which, the now 57-year-old Dutch politician, the European socialists’ top candidate, evaluates the past three decades of the continent. He says:
“if the expansion of the European Union does not succeed in 2004, Vladimir Putin would not be ripping East-Ukraine up, but Polland.”
Jean-Claude Juncker is seven years his senior, and as the Minister President of Luxemburg, serving as the President of the EU in 1997, he was put in a position where he had to make decisions at the beginning of the negotiations. Last week he said to HVG that he had to fight with the reluctant member states, who expressly were against the start of the accession process. The biggest problem was with Slovakia, more specifically with Vladimír Meciar’s government. Juncker went to Bratislava to talk to the Minister President so that they could overcome the obstacles of accession. He won that debate.
According to Juncker, the accession was a unique opportunity, for which the bravery of the Middle-European states against the tyranny gave chance. Timmermans agrees about the importance of the events. However, he sees more hardships in the present. The new member states underestimated the pain caused by the accession, while the old ones miscalculated the extent of the changes caused by the interests of the 10 countries. Timmermans believes this is why both groups reminisce with nostalgia now, 15 years later.
Juncker does not deny the tension between countries either. At the moment this is what worries him the most. The only difference is that the last 30 years have brought many crises, and in the experience of the President of the European Commission, these crises get resolved – but new ones come in their place. In short, he says: his conscience is clear when it comes to the so-called division of western and eastern member states. Timmermans interprets the experience of the previous events, but comes to a similar conclusion: it is clear that every member state has gone crazy within 10-15 years after their accession, it is almost a necessity, it was that way with the British, the Spanish, the Scandinavians.
“The Union brings with itself a deep social transformation which in the short run has losers, and many get discouraged, cannot find their place in the new, now international competition,” says the Dutch politician.
Timmermans hopes that this disunion is only a temporary phenomenon. The identities are reconcilable, as in the Dutch media they say he is Timmermans from Limburg, in the European he reads about himself that he is Dutch, CNN introduces him simply as European. These can coexist, and the younger generation does not even have to be taught that. The politician, knowing his children and based on his experiences from his travels, states that there is a new European generation which has the same dream throughout the continent, whether they speak Hungarian or Dutch.
When hvg.hu asked Péter Balázs, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was the first Commissioner appointed by Hungary in the European Commission, about our country’s first 15 years in the EU, he said it was actually the history of 30 years, because Hungary’s European history began right after the regime change, in 1989. “This is 15 years of preparation and 15 years of membership.”
When asked if he thought Hungary would be accepted today, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs said: “many EU institutions have made many objections in the past years, which indicate that our country would not be accepted into the European Union today.”
However – although he can imagine Orbán wanting to leave the EU – he thinks our place is in the community; most Hungarians are for the EU.
“I predict many more, than just another 15 years. Hungary’s place is in a strong European setting, the EU does not have alternatives.”
If we held a vote on Sunday in Hungary about the Union membership, the result would probably be very similar to the ones at the 2003 referendum. 63% of the asked would vote for membership, 19% would vote against it, while every 10th person asked would rather stay home (another 7% could not or would not answer the question).
translated by Fónai Kata