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Hungary Applies to Host EU Border Guard Agency - 2004-05-14


Hungary says it is has formally applied to host the European Union's border guard agency amid growing concern about an influx of illegal immigrants. Hungary believes it is a strong candidate to set up the organization.

Hungary's Interior Minister Monika Lamperth has confirmed that her country asked the European Union for the right to host what is known as the European Border Management Agency, from January 1, next year.

The organization aims to boost the fight against illegal immigration and cross border crime by coordinating the guarding and surveillance of the huge external frontiers of the EU, which became the world's largest single market of 450 million people this month when 10 mainly former Communist states joined.

The Border Management Agency's activities would include research and sharing surveillance techniques with European Union member states, as well as helping nations to train guards for air and seaports.

Under the European Commission's proposals, the agency would employ 30 experts likely from all member countries, with an annual budget of up to $11 million.

Although Hungary is competing with countries like Poland to host the agency, Minister Lamperth says Hungary is in a strong position. "I think we have good chances because we have proved our advantages to the EU," said Monika Lamperth. "Hungary is in a very good geographical position to host the agency."

Minister Lamperth made clear that of all new members Hungary has the longest borders with non-EU neighbors, some 1,100 kilometers, shared with four countries, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia-Montenegro and Croatia.

European officials say that setting up the new agency is a "race against time," as the bloc struggles to cope with about half a million illegal aliens and nearly 400,000 asylum seekers who are estimated to want to enter the bloc each year.

Because of that, the EU reportedly wants to give Hungary nearly $177 million in the next three years to help the nation tighten its borders with everything from mobile heat sensor units to all-terrain vehicles.

Cross border coordination is already paying off for Hungary with officials saying that last year illegal frontier crossings fell by nearly 50 percent compared to 2002 from close to 10,000 to about 5,000. In addition Hungarian and Austrian border police recently busted two human smuggling rings that helped over 10,000 people from southeastern Europe cross illegally into Hungary and then on to Austria over the past six years.

At the same time, Hungary's interior minister says she is disappointed that most of the western EU members are limiting the influx of workers from new member countries, including Hungary, for a period of several years.

"As a member of the Hungarian government I can say that when we as new members accept our obligations, we also want to enjoy the benefits with the old member states," she said. "So I think that this policy amounts to injustice. Also very few Hungarians want to leave Hungary, so this policy is unfounded."

Minister Lamperth suggests however that Hungary's efforts to get control of its borders, and the possibility of putting Europe's new border agency in the country, could help to build trust between the old and new EU members.

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