Hungary sees the European integration of the Western Balkans as its strategic interest, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said after talks with Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, Kosovo’s minister of foreign affairs and diaspora, in Budapest on Thursday.
Having peace and progress in the Western Balkans is in Hungary’s interest, Szijjártó told a press conference he held jointly with Haradinaj-Stublla. “If the opposite is the case, that’s bad for Hungary,” the minister said. “Whatever happens in the region, it will have an immediate effect on Hungary.”
Hungary does more than just talk about the importance of supporting the Western Balkans, Szijjártó said, adding that the country also does its part in aiding the region. Often Hungary even punches above its weight when it comes to advancing peace and stability, he said.
Hungary provides the third largest contingent for NATO’s KFOR mission in Kosovo, Szijjártó said, adding that the mission will have a Hungarian commander from November next year.
Concerning the coronavirus pandemic, the minister said Hungary was in a position where it could care for its own citizens and send protective equipment to other countries as well. Hungary is providing Kosovo with 50,000 face masks and 5,000 protective suits, he said.
As regards economic ties, Szijjártó said Hungary has agreed with Kosovo to launch a 62 million euro tied aid programme. Under the programme, Hungarian companies are building two water treatment plants and undertaking infrastructure projects in Kosovo, he said. The country is also using cooling technologies developed in Hungary in the construction of its power plants, he added. Hungary will now also offer university scholarships to 75 Kosovan students.
He said the European Union had at least as much to gain from integrating the Western Balkans countries into the bloc as the region itself. Hungary has an interest in speeding up EU enlargement, Szijjártó said, adding that since Kosovo had fulfilled all the criteria for receiving visa-free status, Brussels and the western European member states should not establish any more.
On another subject, Szijjártó said the situation was deteriorating in the regions being fled by migrants, adding that this posed the threat of new migration waves emerging. Due to Brussels’s “botched migration policy” the Western Balkan migration route is becoming more and more crowded, leading to critical situations in the region. Unless the EU makes changes to its migration policies, the Western Balkan countries will be in danger of an influx of migrants, “putting the lives of peaceful people in disarray”.
Haradinaj-Stublla expressed Kosovo’s appreciation for the continuous support Hungary has given to Kosovo and the Western Balkans region.
She thanked Hungary for the help received in fighting the epidemic and welcomed an increase in the number of scholarships offered by Hungary to Kosovar students.
She said increasing economic cooperation had been one of the main topics discussed at the talks and added that Hungarian investments were welcome in Kosovo.
The minister also highlighted the importance of Euro-Atlantic integration for the region.
In response to a question, Haradinaj-Stublla said getting visa-free status would be very important for her nation. Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans that has not received such a status yet despite the fact that it fulfilled all the necessary conditions eight years ago, as officially recognised by the EU two years ago. She expressed hope that the situation would change during Germany’s EU presidency.
Meanwhile, Szijjártó, in response to a question about Ukraine banning the entry of two Hungarian officials, said Ukraine had not considered Hungary’s delivery of 50 ventilators an interference in its domestic affairs. The minister called the entry ban “unfriendly, nonsensical and in some ways, pathetic”. “Hungary being the only country allowing Ukrainian citizens transit towards western Europe was not seen as interference either and neither was the Hungarian central budget financing the revitalisation of the most polluted river in Transcarpathia,” he said.
Hungary has made it clear on multiple occasions that it is prepared to advance its bilateral relations with Ukraine, Szijjártó said. Hungary’s interests lie in building friendly ties with Ukraine on the basis of mutual respect, respect for international law and compliance with bilateral obligations, the minister said, adding that this required the cooperation of both governments.
Before the press conference, Szijjártó and Haradinaj-Stublla signed an agreement on investment promotion and protection, scholarships and cooperation in academic research and higher education.
Featured photo by Lajos Soós/MTI