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Hungary: Regions Open Representative Office in Brussels

Hungary's regions have opened their own representative office in Brussels in a move designed to help them prepare for the country's membership of the European Union. Correspondent Breffni O'Rourke reports.

Prague, 8 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Hungary's seven regions have taken the initiative in forging direct links with the European Union in the run-up to the country's EU membership.

They have opened their own representative office in Brussels, and plan to use the next few years familiarizing themselves with the EU's complicated inner workings.

The stakes are high, in that the EU has a total of about $175 billion available for regional development to be spread among present member states up to 2006.

Of course, Hungary is not likely to become an EU member until about 2005, and thus would not gain a share in most of that money. But, if all goes well, Hungary and other early joiners, like Estonia and the Czech Republic, should have access to a similar type of structural funding next time round. That's from 2007 to 2013.

Nobody knows for sure what the exact position will be with regional funding then, because of the vast new financial demands that eastwards expansion will impose upon the union. But the available funds may well be of the same order, even if the share-out between the newcomers and the poorer regions of the old members will be a difficult subject.

That's all the more reason for Hungary's regions to be ready quickly, according to the deputy director of the new regional office, Maria Baranyi. She says:

"Hungary is shooting at a moving target. The European Union is changing all the time, so the Hungarian regions should be informed also about the changes, about the projects, about the plans of the Union."

Baranyi notes that under EU practice, the regions receiving the development funding will largely have to draw up their own plans and priorities, which makes familiarity with Brussels' work methods invaluable.

The Hungarian office is the second regional office to be established from a candidate state, and can serve as a model for other prospective member countries. The other such office already operating represents three Polish regions.

The Hungarian move was welcomed by Laurence Auer, a spokeswoman for the EU commissioner for regional development, Michel Barnier.

Auer said there's one aspect of regional funding which is available to some of the candidates even before they join. Called "interreg," it is a program designed to benefit regions on both sides of the EU's external borders. A typical project might involve the development of tourist facilities along the divide between Hungary and Austria, and between Poland and Germany. Interreg's budget for the present seven-year period is about $4.4 billion.