Hungary vigorously supports the speedy integration of Serbia into the European Union, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers and EU-Serbia intergovernmental talks in Brussels on Tuesday.
“If it were up to us, Serbia would have already joined the European Union yesterday,” the minister said at a news conference.
The EU has opened four new chapters in Serbia’s accession procedure, Szijjártó noted.
At a time when the EU faces “historic challenges”, enlargement is “very good news; potentially a success story,” the Foreign Minister of Hungary said.
The EU has opened 22 of the 35 chapters of the accession procedure with Serbia, he noted.
“We think at least twice as many should have been opened [at the talks] because we think Serbia is ready, and we are sorry that a consensus was impossible on the issue in Brussels,” Szijjártó said, adding that Hungary was working to ensure that as many negotiating chapters as possible were opened in the future.
Because of Hungary’s proximity to the Western Balkans, the country is especially sensitive to the political situation in the region and is well aware of how important peace, progress, and stability are in that area, the minister said.
“We can’t expect western European countries that are farther away geographically to have a similar sensitivity, but we’d like them to understand that the absence of peace and security in the Western Balkans poses very serious security, economic and geopolitical risks,” he said.
Szijjártó argued that during a period of growing migration waves, illegal migration can only be stopped by the Western Balkan states if they are strong, integrated, and capable of protecting their borders.
“If we fail to integrate a region, then someone else will,” he said. Szijjártó criticized the EU for its “severe hypocrisy” in the matter, saying that while all member states supported the bloc’s enlargement publicly, western Europe’s resistance to it “behind closed doors” was slowing down the process.
“If this goes on like this, we’ll be left to lament our loss of influence, even though the countries of the region want to join the bloc, and support for EU membership in these states is high,” he said.
Szijjártó urged the EU to open all negotiating chapters with Serbia, start closing the chapters it has already negotiated with Montenegro, and open talks with Albania and North Macedonia, while setting specific target dates.
He said it had appeared during Tuesday’s debate that the EU had “grown tired” of enlargement and that those publicly supporting it were trying to block it behind closed doors.
We really don’t want the European Union’s Western Balkans policy to consist of lecturing, criticism, and sanctions; it should be about enlargement.”
In response to a question, Szijjártó congratulated the Slovenian EU presidency on the progress it had made on the policy of enlargement over the past six months. Slovenia has by far been the most successful when it comes to enlargement and the Slovenian prime minister is firmly committed to it, he added.
Szijjártó said enlargement would not be as high on the agenda of the French EU presidency starting on Jan. 1, arguing that France had a different view on it than the central European countries. He emphasised, at the same time, that Hungary and France were in agreement on the need to protect the bloc’s external borders.
Featured photo illustration by Tibor Rosta/MTI