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Szijjarto: Enlargement policy impaired by slow Western Balkans integration process

The credibility of European Union enlargement policy has been eroded by foot-dragging over the integration process of the Western Balkans, Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister, said on Friday, adding that it was in the interest of the EU to integrate countries of the region quickly.
12. April 2024 12:23

At a joint press conference with the Montenegrin European affairs minister, Maida Gorcevic, Szijjarto said that the European Parliament election opened up an avenue for a “right-wing, pro-peace, sovereigntist” change in political direction characterised by “common sense” in European political debates, while the EU could address long-term challenges and halt its decline by integrating “ambitious and fast-developing” countries of the Western Balkans.

Today, he added, the EU needed the Western Balkans more than vice versa.

Referring to Montenegro, which submitted its application for membership in 2008, he said the situation was similar in respect of other countries in the region.

He noted that NATO has already admitted three Western Balkan countries. “If the Western Balkan countries can meet the expectation of trust required to enter NATO, then their readiness and loyalty when it comes to European Union membership must not be questioned,” the minister said.

Whereas many EU member states publicly supported enlargement, he said, it was a different matter behind closed doors, adding that Hungary, during its stint as president of the European Council in the second half of the year, would redirect “this hypocritical policy back to the ground of honesty”.

Szijjjarto said Montenegro was ready for EU membership and “deserves respect” for the progress it made during its European and Euro-Atlantic integration endeavours.

An important goal would be for Montenegro to close as many accession chapters as possible during the period of Hungary’s presidency, he said, adding that ten such chapters could be realistically concluded.

Two Hungarian integration experts are helping the Montenegrin government, he noted.

Restoring the credibility of enlargement policy would entail assessing each state based on its own performance rather than comparing one individual state to another, he said, insisting there should be “no fast track” to membership of the bloc.

Involvement in a war provided “no reason to speed up” a country’s EU integration, he said.

Meanwhile, Szijjarto noted that Hungarian companies like OTP and 4iG played “an important role” in Montenegro’s economy as well as smoothing the country’s advancements towards EU membership.

He said it was Hungary’s economic interest for Montenegro to join the EU as quickly as possible.

Asked about a possible visit by the Chinese president to Budapest, the minister noted that high-level visits would be justified by the fact that Hungary and China this year are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, and once the official itinerary was finalised, an announcement would be made in coordination with China. “I cannot make such an announcement yet,” he added.

Szijjarto said talks on “new large Chinese investments” were under way, though other countries were also competing for them.

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