European Affairs

Candidates Want to Keep Strong Links with U.S.     Print Email
József Tóth

For the past 12 or 13 years Europe has been living through historic times, but it has not finished yet. There are still many other historic changes lying ahead. "Europe whole and free" has been an ambitious agenda for the transformation of Central and Eastern Europe, but it is not only transforming the Eastern half of the continent; it has triggered a serious adaptation process in the Western half, too. The enlargement of both the European Union and NATO should be seen as part of this adaptation process, which is generating fundamental reforms within both organizations.

The Hungarian government believes that by inviting and incorporating new members, both institutions will be better equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century, especially as we are entering a new era with the fight against terrorism. We would like to ensure that these enlargement processes result in much more security, stability and democracy in Europe and beyond.

Political integration runs parallel to an ambitious economic modernization process in the countries aspiring to EU membership. These countries are fundamentally changing and transforming their whole societies.

This modernization process is attracting business from both inside and outside the European Union, and especially from the United States. We should not forget that over the past 12 years the preparation of the aspirant countries for EU membership has presented a great many opportunities for U.S. business as well. We shall have to continue the adaptation process after our entry into the European Union, hopefully in 2004, bringing further business opportunities for third countries.

The NATO and EU enlargement processes are autonomous, although there is a very strong link between the two. They certainly mutually reinforce each other: there are similarities in the criteria for membership in the two organizations, and the preparation processes for membership in both organizations require serious efforts - although adopting all the European Union's rules and regulations is a significantly more complex task than aligning with NATO procedures. I believe that we can rest assured that this historic project, "Europe whole and free," will be completed only when we see the whole of Europe incorporated in both the European Union and NATO.

Although we are now once again witnessing divisive debates, perhaps even conflicts, in the Transatlantic relationship, I believe the relationship still has strong foundations. Hungary definitely believes that NATO and the European Union are adapting to new challenges and should, and will, remain the fundamental pillars of the Transatlantic relationship.

Central and Eastern Europeans have a strong desire to gain entry into the European Union and assert our European identity. But we also have a strong Atlanticist accent in our foreign policy, a strong orientation toward North America. We do not want to be forced to make a false choice between loyalty to the European Union or to the United States.

We feel like a man standing on two pillars, of which one is the European Union and the other is the Transatlantic link. When the two pillars drift apart, we feel increasingly uncomfortable. We would like the two entities to pull together in facing new challenges. So we are fierce advocates of a partnership between the European Union and the United States, not just to achieve a "Europe whole and free," but on a global basis.

We should not forget, however, that there is still unfinished business in Europe. We should not think that the forthcoming rounds of admission of new members to the European Union and NATO will somehow complete the picture. Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the regions around Russia, and eventually Russia itself, should be players in this process. Turkey is also important.

As we complete the stabilization and democratization of Europe, we do not want to see any diminution of America's presence in Europe or of its cooperation in European projects. That is very important to us. We have welcomed the support of the United States during our recent history, and we value the contribution of the United States to the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe.

The fight against terrorism is the first priority of our foreign and security policy. It also provides another good opportunity for Transatlantic cooperation. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of last September 11, we suddenly forgot old disputes between the United States and the European Union. Later, this new enthusiasm for solving our problems somehow disappeared. We should now reconfirm and reassert the fundamental elements of the Transatlantic relationship, and focus on what we can do together.

The forthcoming round of EU enlargement has entered its final phase. We hope that we can complete our accession negotiations by the end of this year and that, following the ratification process, we can participate in the European Parliamentary elections due to be held in the summer of 2004. We have received encouraging signals from the European Union concerning this timetable.

We also have to work hard with the public to maintain support for accession. This goes for public opinion inside the European Union, as well. For the past seven years, the Hungarian government has conducted an ambitious information campaign, working together with non-governmental organizations, local institutions and the business community, to highlight the benefits of EU membership in order to prepare our citizens and secure political support for entry.

The formation of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is part of the adaptation process that Europe is currently undergoing. But we should not forget that it will be effective only if it is based on NATO and the Transatlantic alliance. So ESDP should not and will not replace NATO. It should fit into a global security and foreign policy partnership between the European Union and the United States.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2002.