CEOL - Hungary, EU sign accord on 122-Mln-Euro aid

BUDAPEST, Dec 23, 1999 -- (AFP) Hungary will receive 122 million euros (dollars) in aid from the European Union this year under an accord signed here Wednesday for projects that promote its accession to the organization, officials said.

The support comes under the EU's Phare program, and Hungary does not have to pay it back, EU delegation head in Budapest Michael Lake told a press conference.

Projects supported by these funds must be contracted until October 2001 and must be implemented by October 2002, Lake said.

The support includes 5 million euros for the social integration of Hungary's up to 800,000-strong gypsy population, he added.

"This is the first time that the EU hands out support for minority groups," said Lake.

The support also includes projects to renew a railway line, to set up public health care laboratories and finance to build a bridge between Hungary and its northern neighbor Slovakia.

"By approving the 1999 program, the EU wants to support major projects. The investment part of the funds will also increase," Lake said.

Hungarian Minister Imre Boros, responsible for the use of EU funds in Hungary, said the EU "only supports projects which are directly linked with Hungary's preparations to join it".

Hungary is in the first EU expansion wave along with the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus, and wants to join the EU around 2003.

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