Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - Photo: PMO

Orbán: EU enlargement ‘must happen’

The enlargement of the European Union must happen, but the move's positive image in the EU must be fought for, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told the 11th conference of the speakers of south-eastern European countries in Parliament on Friday.
17. November 2023 17:52

The accession of those countries “must take place” and it does not require an institutional reform of the community, he said, adding that new members “have brought dynamics, growth, energy and strength” to the bloc.

“Europe is contemplating the Western Balkans at a difficult time,” Orbán said. “The EU itself cannot decide what it should think of the south-east of Europe; whether it’s an unpleasant task, difficulty, a problem or an opportunity,” he added.

“We who joined later have always seen enlargement as an opportunity and resource of energy and strength,” he said.

Unless the region becomes a part of the EU, the “geopolitical hole between Hungary and Greece” will attract other powers, he said.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian-Serbian border has become “the meeting point of the China’s free trade zone and the EU’s common market”, he said. Although Serbia’s free trade agreement with China “would not be compatible with EU membership, but “Serbia does well to keep several irons in the fire, if for no other reason than to galvanise Europe into action”, Orbán added.

The war in Ukraine had “created chaos and uncertainty in the EU”, so far aimed at an “all-European security architecture” as well as linking cheap Russian energy and cutting-edge western technology, he said. That security structure has collapsed but while the sanctions against Russia made that model impossible, there is no clear picture of a system of agreements that would guarantee European security, he said.

Referring to the “narrative of several western European countries that the EU needs thorough internal reforms before further enlargement”, Orbán said that position was problematic, because such reforms “mean no enlargement”, adding that that reforms require changing basic treaties and holding national referendums in some countries.

Europe’s decision makes “should be convinced that internal reforms are not needed to integrate at least the most prepared countries,” Orbán said.

Concerning the EU’s future, Orbán said some countries such as Hungary “are seeking to regain some portions of its sovereignty which they think they were deprived of surreptitiously, bypassing the EU treaty in the past decade.” These countries would want to take competencies back from Brussels, and eliminate such mechanisms as the rule of law conditionality procedure, which the bureaucracy in Brussels uses in the interest of centralisation, the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, another group of countries would increase centralisation and strip member states of further competencies, he said, adding that the “sharpest” example was a German proposal to eliminate unanimous decision making and introduce a majority vote.

Centralisation of the European Union “is forging ahead at an unprecedented speed”, Orbán said, adding that “what we saw under communism is now repeated in Brussels: law is becoming a servant to politics.”

“There is no rule of law in Brussels . it is just a requirement for member states . they don’t observe (those principles) and will transgress their own rules,” Orbán said.

He said one complaint against Hungary was that “one of the judicial bodies now has fewer square metres of office space than stipulated . even the blind will see that it is not a legal but simply a political question.”

The prime minister supported “real integration” to ensure EU candidate members the community’s benefits as soon as possible, even before they are granted full membership. Those countries could be provided access to the European market, enjoy the benefit of the free movement of goods, services and labour, as well as the benefits of the eurozone and an integrated energy market, he said.

Orbán also proposed that the EU should distribute two billion euros in grants and four billion euros in preferential loans to those countries between 2024 and 2027 to stimulate their economic growth. He said Hungary was prepared to pay extra to the EU budget “for the integration of the Western Balkans but not for that of Ukraine.”

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