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Celli
01-05-04, 17:54
BUDAPEST, April 27 (Reuters) - Hungary will back its neighbours' efforts to join the European Union as that is in the best interests of Hungarian minorities living abroad, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said on Tuesday.

Medgyessy told Reuters four days before Hungary's accession to the EU this weekend, that Romania and Croatia -- which are not included in the present wave of enlargement -- should also become members of the Western bloc as soon as possible.

"Starting from its entry to NATO, we have been supporting Romania's integration efforts...it gives us greater security and comfort if neighbouring countries are members of the same integration," Medgyessy said.

"In addition, we have another interest: the fate and future of Hungarian minorities beyond the border," he added.

Medgyessy said ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries should be able to thrive and benefit from economic prosperity in their homeland, and this can be helped by a further eastward expansion of the EU.

"We will give every help to share our own experiences with the Romanians, to help them avoid the hurdles we could not avoid and build the institutions and legal background so that they could become member of the EU as soon as possible," he said.

Out of Hungary's seven neighbours, Austria is already in the EU, while Slovakia and Slovenia will join on May 1.

Hungary has pressed for a clause to protect the rights of ethnic minorities to be included in the EU's first Constitution.

This issue is particularly sensitive for Hungary, which has a large Roma, or gypsy population, but which also has some 2.5 million ethnic kin living in neighbouring states -- a legacy of a post-World War One peace treaty which forced Hungary to cede two-thirds of its territory to its neighbours.

There are some 1.6 million ethnic Hungarians living in Romania and around 35,000 in Croatia.

Concerning Hungary's first European Parliament election on June 13, Medgyessy said he was aware the centre-right opposition was ahead of his Socialist Party in the latest polls, but said the polls were too volatile to draw any serious conclusions.

"So, I don't expect any breakthrough either way (at the vote), but a balanced outcome between the opposition and government parties," Medgyessy said.

A poll by Median, conducted early this month, showed opposition Fidesz would win 14 seats at the vote, the Socialists would get 10, and no seat would be left for other parties.

Only a month ago another Median poll gave an equal number of seats to Fidesz and the government coalition, which also includes the liberal Free Democrats.