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Várhelyi Wants to Speed up EU Integration of Western Balkans

MTI-Hungary Today 2019.11.22.

European commissioner-designate Olivér Várhelyi said on Friday that the process of integrating Western Balkan states into the European Union should be accelerated.

At a parliamentary European affairs committee hearing, Várhelyi said that as a commissioner he would work on a proposal to launch accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia before next year’s summit in Zagreb.

Várhelyi, whose nomination as commissioner for the neighbourhood and enlargement portfolio was accepted by the European Parliament earlier this week, said the portfolio was “full of challenges”.

He said it was clear from the European Council debate in October that some member states harboured “serious doubts” concerning the two candidate countries and enlargement policy more generally.

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But Europe, he said, would be worse off without enlargement as associated political and economic opportunities would go untapped and its absence “may even lead to the destabilisation of the immediate neighbourhood”. The commissioner-designate said that whereas such countries are often criticised for being too exposed to external influences, if Europe held back from increasing its presence in these states, the status quo would prevail.

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On the topic of neighborhood policy and Eastern Partnership, Varhelyi said there was a mutual interest in bringing the region “closer to us” economically and politically. When it comes to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, the EU Association Agreement carries many untapped opportunities, he added.

Várhelyi said Ukraine‘s stability and security was in Europe’s fundamental interest and the bloc should stand by that country.

Regarding the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood Policy, he said a new approach was needed. He cited Morocco as an example of how the government was ready to work with the EU in an increasing number of areas, including migration. He said this model could apply to other countries in the region.

Várhelyi said his aim was and always had been to “contribute to Europe and strengthen European cooperation”.

Asked by a Jobbik committee member about the rule of law in Turkey, Várhelyi noted that Turkey is a strategic partner of the EU but accession negotiations had stalled. He said the accession process could not be resumed until changes in respect of the rule of law are made in Turkey, adding that as commissioner, he’d work to improve the rule of law situation there and try to persuade the Turkish authorities to resume the norms they upheld during the country’s accession negotiations.

Asked about Serbia‘s accession process and the issue of minorities, Várhelyi said the protection of minorities is a fundamental European value and as commissioner he would protect this principle.

He said that as a Hungarian official, he had a superior understanding of the historical, ethnic and political contexts that characterise the Western Balkans.

Jobbik’s Tibor Bana said it was an interesting situation that Várhelyi would be obliged to express his opinion on the rule of law in respect of certain candidate countries while Hungary was in the midst of the Article 7 procedure.

Zoltán Tessely, the (Fidesz) deputy chairman of the committee, said it was odd that no member of the opposition’s leftist-liberal wing had attended the hearing.

In the featured photo: Olivér Várhelyi. Photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI