Foreign Affairs

Central Europe’s Top Diplomats Meet In Budapest To Urge Brussels To Speed Up Integration Of The Western Balkans

The situation in the western Balkans and policies towards the region were major issues discussed by foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four group of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, joined by the representatives of Austria, Croatia and Slovenia, at their meeting in Budapest on Monday. Unless the European Union accelerates the integration process of countries of the Western Balkans brewing tensions in the region could boil over, the region’s top diplomats agreed at their meeting in the Hungarian capital.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, which was the first such event under Hungary’s current Visegrad Group rotating presidency, the Hungarian Foreign Minister stressed the need of taking every possible effort towards the European integration of the western Balkans. The region’s integration is crucial for ensuring its peace and stability, and for ensuring Europe’s security, Péter Szijjártó said. “We must concede that we are in the twelfth hour as far as the western Balkans is concerned. Whereas every participant in the global and regional political arena has a strategy set towards the region, the European Union, it seems, does not,”, he said. A failure in speeding up the European integration process of the western Balkans would pose grave security challenges to the entire central European region, he said, adding that in lack of a “credible road map” designed for the western Balkans, serious tensions that had developed in that region could become unmanageable.

Ministers participating in the Budapest meeting of the Visegrad Group praised the Hungarian presidency’s programme, designed under the motto “V4 connects”, and urged a cooperation which could be felt in the everyday life of citizens. Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčak called the Hungarian programme “ambitious” and voiced his country’s full support. He advocated pragmatism and proposed that closer railway, energy, and digital links should be created to improve people’s lives. Those projects could greatly contribute to resolving problems at EU level, he said. Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s foreign minister, highlighted the areas of digitalisation and innovative society, and stressed the importance of north-south links and cooperation. Jakub Dürr, deputy foreign minister of the Czech Republic, said that the V4 cooperation should be present in everyday life; both citizens and businesses (of the four countries) need to be connected.

Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and EU Affairs Marija Pejčinović Burić spoke about the fact that the situation in Ukraine is extremely complex, and the country must simultaneously struggle with territorial reintegration and becoming part of a European framework. “Croatia has extremely useful experience in this field, which it is doing its best to share with Ukraine”, she said. With relation to the Western Balkans, Ms. Burić said it was important to the countries of the region to “continue along the European path and not stop”, and that the issue of peace in the region must be kept on the agenda to enable countries in the region to prepare for membership of the European Union.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec told reporters: “There is no reason to be overly optimistic with regard to Ukraine, but it is precisely regional initiatives such as the V4 that can provide assistance in searching for a solution”. He said the V4 and other regional initiatives were also important with regard to helping Western Balkan countries introduce the required reforms, because otherwise internal tensions could destabilise the region. Austrian Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs Michael Linhart highlighted the need to conform to the Minks Agreements with relation to the situation in Ukraine. On the subject of the Western Balkans, Mr. Linhart confirmed the importance of supporting reforms in the interests of the region’s stability, security and economic prosperity.

Hungary took over the year-long V4 rotating presidency from Poland on July 1. During their visit to Budapest, the V4 foreign ministers plus representatives of Austria, Croatia and Slovenia also met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and discussed with them EU expansion. The sides agreed on the integration of the western Balkans as a top priority. By speeding up integration of Western Balkan countries it would be possible to prevent serious security challenges, but for this to happen it would be necessary to change the prevailing politics that can be currently felt in Brussels and certain EU member states, they agreed. Another dominant subject of the meeting was ways to prevent the reopening of the Balkan migrant route, the PM’s spokesman said after the meeting.

via hungarymatters.hu, MTI and kormany.hu; photos: Barbara Baska and Márton Kovács – kormany.hu