JOINT PRESS RELEASE
The EU-Hungary Association Council held its eighth meeting on Tuesday 17 July 2001. Mr Janos MARTONYI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Hungary, was in the chair. Mrs Annemie NEYTS-UYTTEBROECK, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, headed the European Union delegation. Mr Ramon DE MIGUEL, State Secretary for European Affairs of Spain, Mr Javier SOLANA, Secretary General/High Representative for CFSP and Mr Günter VERHEUGEN, Commissioner responsible for Enlargement were also part of the European Union delegation (Troïka format).
The Association Council welcomed the conclusions of the Göteborg European Council, which confirmed that the enlargement process is irreversible. It noted the statement of the European Council that, provided that progress towards meeting the accession criteria continues at an unabated pace, the road map should make it possible to complete accession negotiations by the end of 2002 for those candidate countries that are ready, the objective being that they should participate in the European Parliament elections of 2004 as members.
Against this background, the Association Council provided a valuable opportunity to review Hungary's progress in the framework of the pre-accession strategy and to consider priorities for further work within the framework of the Europe Agreement.
2. The Association Council reviewed the state of Hungary's preparation for accession in the light of the Regular Report, issued by the European Commission in November 2000, the revised Accession Partnership which was adopted in December 1999, and the Hungarian revised National Programme for Adoption of the Acquis, which was adopted in June 2001.
With regard to the Copenhagen political criteria, the Association Council recognised the Hungarian Government's efforts to improve the living conditions of the Roma minority, whilst encouraging Hungary to speed up the implementation of the medium-term action programme. The Association Council looked forward to the results of the review by the Hungarian Ministry of Justice of anti-discrimination provisions in the current legislation and emphasised the need for a strong political commitment in this area.
The Association Council invited Hungary to undertake further efforts to improve the functioning of the judiciary, notably as regards the backlog of cases at the Supreme Court. It welcomed the efforts of the Hungarian Government to improve the situation in the prisons, as well as its adoption of a new strategy on the fight against corruption. The Association Council encouraged Hungary to continue public administration reform and the long-term training programme for civil servants.
With regard to the Copenhagen economic criteria, the Association Council noted with satisfaction the overall consistency of Hungary's macro-economic policy, which has contributed to the acceleration of economic growth. The Association Council also acknowledged continuous and balanced progress in structural reforms, whilst encouraging greater efforts as regards the health care system. It looked forward to a further reduction of inflation. The Association Council underlined the need to abolish all, including existing, anonymous bank accounts.
The Association Council welcomed the significant progress made by Hungary in aligning its legislation to the acquis, in particular the adoption of laws in the fields of environment, transport, EMU, labour law, customs, justice and home affairs and the amendment to the veterinary law. The Association Council encouraged Hungary to make further efforts in the areas of competition (state aids), transport and audiovisual and to continue to respect its internal planning, which foresees the completion of the majority of legislative and institutional work by the beginning of 2002. The Association Council acknowledged improvements in Hungary's administrative capacity in areas such as the environment, taxation and customs and encouraged a further intensification of efforts in other areas in order for Hungary to be able to fully implement and enforce the acquis communautaire by the time of accession.
3. The Association Council noted with satisfaction that the implementation of the Europe Agreement is running smoothly and that trade relations between the EU and Hungary continue to be positive and to intensify further. The EU now accounts for around 70% of total Hungarian exports and imports. In this context the Association Council looked forward to the abolition of the current licensing system on maize exports.
The Association Council welcomed the withdrawal by Hungary of its request for an extension of the grace period for state aid to the steel industry and underlined the importance of preparing companies in the steel sector for the competitive pressures in the internal market.
The Association Council recalled the agreement between the EU and Hungary on reciprocal trade concessions in the field of agricultural products, which has been applied by autonomous measures as from 1 July 2000, and looked forward to the launch of a new round of negotiations for further liberalisation of agricultural trade. It noted the entry into force, retroactively as of 1 January 2001, of the preferential trade aspects of the agreement between the European Community and Hungary on a new Protocol to the Europe Agreement on Wines and Spirits. The Association Council took note of the agreement reached at a technical level on reciprocal tariff concessions in the fisheries sector.
The Association Council welcomed the entry into force of the Protocol to the Europe Agreement on Conformity Assessment (PECA) as of 1 June 2001 and underlined that the implementation of this agreement will further remove trade barriers between Hungary and the EU.
The Association Council welcomed Hungary's participation, according to the provisions of the relevant Association Council decisions, in the following Community programmes: Socrates II, Leonardo da Vinci II, Youth, Fifth Framework Programme for Research, Fifth Framework Programme on the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for Research and Training Activities, Culture 2000, Life III. The Association Council also welcomed the conclusion of negotiations for the participation of Hungary in the European Environment Agency; following ratification and entry into force of the agreement Hungary will become a member of the Agency.
The Association Council acknowledged the substantial increase of pre-accession aid to Hungary and other applicant countries from 2000 and welcomed the indicative allocations made for Hungary under the new programmes providing aid for structural policies (ISPA) and agricultural and rural development (SAPARD), whilst noting that the accreditation of the SAPARD agency is a pre-condition for the actual start of the implementation of the programme. In addition, the Association Council underlined the valuable contribution of the European Investment Bank in supporting priority investments promoted by both public and private entities. As regards the PHARE programme, the Association Council noted that in 2001 Hungary could receive an estimated € 108.8 million, including an allocation for Cross-border Co-operation Programmes with Austria and Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania.
4. The Association Council exchanged views on some international issues of common interest. It emphasised the importance of regional stability and good neighbourly relations and noted with satisfaction the continued orientation of Hungary's foreign and security policy towards the EU. The Association Council welcomed Hungary's policy of regional co-operation, including active participation in the Stability Pact and other international fora, such as the Central European Initiative. In this context, the Association Council encouraged Hungary to intensify consultations with the neighbouring countries concerned regarding the Law on Hungarians Living in Neighbouring Countries, which was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament in June 2001.
5. In conclusion, the Association Council expressed confidence in the development of relations within the Europe Agreement and emphasised the crucial role it is further called on to play until Hungary's accession to the European Union.