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Saturday, 5 January, 2002, 17:09 GMT
Jobs threat row in Hungary
The parliament building in Budapest
Budapest believes the law will bolster national identity
By the BBC's Nick Thorpe in Budapest

A dispute about the right of Romanian citizens to work in Hungary has emerged as the first practical issue of this year's Hungarian general election campaign.

A new law came into force on 1 January giving special privileges to Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries, including Romania, to work in Hungary.

To make this more acceptable to the Romanian Government, the Hungarians offered the right to all Romanian citizens in a deal signed just before Christmas, known as the Memorandum of Understanding.

Now Hungarian trade unions, opposition parties and seasonal workers are up in arms.

'No droves'

Romania is a much poorer country than Hungary and some people fear that their neighbours will come across in droves during the summer and autumn months, especially for the grape and apple harvests, and put Hungarians out of work.

A Romanian woodcutter
There have been fears of an influx of Romanians seeking higher-paid work
But the Hungarian Government has defended its move, saying that the right is above all one of principle.

It says that in practice the lack of knowledge of the very different Hungarian language, the cost of travel and the 250 euros each Romanian must possess in order to be allowed to leave their own country will prevent any mass invasion.

The Romanian Government has offered soothing words too, with one official pointing out that, since 1 January, Romanians have had the right to enter European Union countries without a visa and there has been no exodus there either.

In Hungarian domestic politics, the dispute underlines an important divergence of views between the ruling party and the opposition.

The Conservatives, with a desire to bolster national identity, believe the controversial law will help their ethnic kin across the border, while the Liberals and Socialists assert that only the growth of democracy inside Romania and other countries will help the minorities.

There are three million ethnic Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries - a result of the country losing vast swathes of its territory in the Treaty of Trianon after World War I.

See also:

19 Jun 01 | Media reports
Hungary 'Status Law' irks neighbours
06 Apr 01 | Europe
Ethnic tension a pan-European ill
01 Jan 00 | Europe
Hungary hails national symbol
10 Sep 99 | Europe
Hungary's role remembered
04 Jun 01 | Media reports
Hungary revives painful past, former glory
15 Jan 01 | Europe
Timeline: Hungary
19 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Hungary
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