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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 10:01 GMT
Postcard from Budapest

To get an idea of Hungary as it prepares to join the European Union, just mix the following.

One - historically the country has been like a ferry boat, yearning for Europe's west shore, but always ending up on the east.


There are only 10 million Hungarians and as some here will tell you: 'That's nothing, it's not even a big city'

Two - when a Hungarian follows you through a revolving door, they will come out in front of you.

So, by heading into the EU, Hungary reaches the west shore and using their cleverness they strike a very good deal for themselves as well.

And if their top negotiator, Peter Balas, is anyone to go by, Hungarians do strike a stern-faced bargain.

Generous tax breaks to attract international companies have sent the economy upwards, the problem is they are really against the letter of EU competition rules.

"But," says Mr Balas, without a hint of emotion, "For us Brussels has left the tax breaks in place."

The Balas catchphrase is: "Your words not mine." He put me in mind of the former Soviet politician, Andrei Gromyko.

Q: "Did you enjoy your breakfast, sir?"
A: "Possibly..."

You have to pick a theme to look at a story as huge as EU enlargement - 500 million people in one group. You can focus on immigration or agriculture.

In Hungary, here's my theme - mineral water. Oh yes. It was love at first taste. Theodora from Lake Balaton is the best water I've ever tried.

But hands up outside Hungary if you've heard of it? And that's the point.

Insular nation

Hungary considers itself a friendly country whose goulash soup typifies its warm welcome.

But a nation has to put much more in its CV in these days of globalisation than a plate of stew. Especially a small country.

Factory in Budapest
Foreign investment has increased in Hungary

There are only 10 million Hungarians and as some here will tell you: "That's nothing, it's not even a big city in world terms."

For its big EU day, I suggest an image makeover. I put my theory to one of the country's top young advertising executives, Adam Bolsch:

"I think you're right," he said.

"We've got to go beyond the idea of a wholesome meal and some old-fashioned clothes".

Then he reached proudly for his latest product design, to be launched soon.

And - I kid you not - it was a stylish bottle of mineral water.

"It's contemporary. Every young European carries a bottle. It suggests mobility and vitality."

I tried his brand new product in its brand new bottle shape. I can't yet reveal the name. It wasn't a patch on Theodora.

You know, sometimes the old ways are the best.

The BBC World Service has a team providing special reports from around the continent on how the enlargement of the European Union is going to affect Europe's citizens. You can hear them on the World Today at 0600 GMT and on Europe Today at 1700 GMT.


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See also:

06 Dec 02 | Europe
06 Dec 02 | Europe
15 Nov 02 | Europe
25 Oct 02 | Europe
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