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03/12/2016

Hungary urges EU to speed up Balkan accession talks

Enlargement

Hungary urges EU to speed up Balkan accession talks

Péter Szijjártó

[European Council]

Hungary called on the European Union to speed up accession talks with the Western Balkans yesterday (29 November), so as to “protect” the bloc from a future influx of migrants.

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó warned of unspecified security risks if Brussels allows negotiations with the Balkan nations to drag on too long.

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Hungary has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the EU’s programme of redistributing migrants across the EU to share the burden of Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War II.

Budapest filed a legal challenge with the European Court of Justice late last year against the mandatory resettlement quotas, while authorities also erected a fence and brought in tough new laws punishing illegal entry.

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Hungary will ask the European Commission to call off its decision on the distribution of refugees. The motion may have little support in the EU, but it is a clear statement of Budapest’s determination. EurActiv France reports

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“The countries of the western Balkans should be strong enough to protect the EU against another wave of migration,” Szijjártó told reporters after a Warsaw meeting with his central European counterparts and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Before it was shut down in March, the so-called Balkan route was taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa on their way to western Europe.

Balkan Route ‘closed’ after cascade of border shutdowns

Slovenia and Serbia said on Tuesday (8 March) they would place new restrictions on the entry of migrants, putting extra obstacles in the way of those trying to reach the European Union via the Balkans.

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“The quickest route to strengthening these countries is to offer them accession to the EU,” Szijjártó added.

He said the Visegrád Four group of countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – will work to accelerate the negotiations.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned yesterday (14 February) against plans for a “reserve border system” devised by the Visegrad Four, the group of countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

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The six Balkan nations wishing to join the EU are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, FYRO Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

However, the bloc has ruled out any further enlargement before 2019, and even that date looks unrealistic.

Serbia grudgingly accepts Juncker’s enlargement pause

Belgrade believes that the pause in the admission of new EU states during the next mandate of the European Commission, though not encouraging, does not reduce the membership prospects of the Western Balkan countries, which will be able to join the Union after they fulfill all the necessary conditions. EurActiv Serbia reports.

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“We should be enlarging in the upcoming five years. What’s more, we should be enlarging the EU immediately,” protested Szijjártó.

“If the enlargement process is still going to be so slow as it was up until now, this may lead to serious risks both in the security and in the economic dimension.”

Mogherini for her part told reporters that the EU and the Western Balkans had already made “impressive progress”.

Many in the Western Balkans – a region of widespread poverty and turbulence that is home to around 20 million people – see the 28-nation bloc as a beacon of stability and prosperity.

Membership negotiations have already started with Serbia and Montenegro, but are yet to get underway for Albania and Macedonia. Bosnia and Kosovo have been promised the prospect of membership when they are ready.

Balkan candidates hope to reinvigorate EU bids with new strategy

Enlargement has fallen off the EU’s list of priorities and the Union is more than likely to shrink before it grows again. But the Western Balkans are still aspiring EU members and a new strategy has been developed that hopes to put them back on Brussels’ immediate agenda.

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