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New road links to open between Hungary and Austria

New road links are to open in the coming years between Hungary and Austria and railway developments are underway.

Cross-border cooperation between Austria and Hungary dates back a long time. In 1922, an agreement was signed between Austria and Hungary concerning the facilitation of border traffic. Conditions have changed since then but cross-border relations were important even when the two countries had different political and economic systems and they contributed to the special relations that existed between the Communist Hungary and its capitalist western neighbor.

As an example, in 1973, the Federal Minister of Finance of the Republic of Austria and the Ministry of Finance of the People's Republic of Hungary signed an agreement on the taxation of cross-border freight traffic on road.

A few years after the lifting of the Iron Curtain and the change of the political system in Hungary, relations were placed on an even more friendly footing. The first agreements between the Republic of Austria and the Republic of Hungary included the ones on border clearance in rail, road and waterway transport in 1992.

Six years later, the two countries signed an agreement on employment in the border areas and, in 2004, one on cooperation in preventing and combating cross-border crime. This latter one, just like the bilateral agreement on border crossing on trans-boundary tourist routes on the common state border, was in preparation for Hungary joining – in 2007 – the Schengen Area of border-free travel that Austria had been part of since 1997.

On October 17, 2014, the Governor of Burgenland province, Hans Niessl and the Minister of State for Economic Diplomacy at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Levente Magyar signed a Declaration of Intent in Budapest on cross-border transport development projects between Hungary and Burgenland.

The Declaration determines the new road links to be established, but only draft studies will be prepared on the development of rail links. The projects are also important as considerable funding opportunities are available for cross-border infrastructure development during the EU financing period leading up to 2020, Hans Niessl said at the signing ceremony.

Among the programs completed already, the province chief highlighted the water supply cooperation between the Hungarian town of Sopron and Northern-Burgenland and that Hungarian fire-fighters are receiving training on the other side of the border. Cross-border infrastructure development facilitates the development of the local economy and within that, the development of tourism, Governor Niessl added, also outlining possible rail links.

According to this proposal, the electrification of the Sopron-Szombathely-Szentgotthárd line would be continued in Burgenland. The Governor of Burgenland also considered the improvement of the water regulation of Lake Fertõ via the renewal of Canal 1, as well as the further development of cycle paths in the region important. Levente Magyar briefed the press on the concrete road development projects in question, adding that these were cheaper than the establishment of new rail connections.

The number of road connections will increase from 29 to 40, meaning there will be a border crossing point every ten kilometers along the Hungarian-Austrian border. Three new motorway links will also be established on the border: the M8, M85 and M87 motorways will be connected to ones on the Austrian side of the border.

As a further development, the governments of Hungary and Austria unveiled plans in March this year to launch two cross-border rail modernization projects worth a total of EUR 173 million and EUR 43 million. The planned investments are expected to create as many as 2,200 new jobs, and significantly contribute to the economic development of bordering Hungarian and Austrian regions. Within less than four months, the European Commission agreed to provide EUR 78 million through its Interreg funds for the joint preservation of the natural environment and improving transport links. Corina Cretu, commissioner for regional policies, said that the Austrian-Hungarian border is invested in symbolic significance. “Hungary made history when in May 1989 it started dismantling” the border fence. “Now, 25 years later we are trying to dismantle existing obstacles.”

Sándor Laczkó

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