It is in the European Union’s economic and security interest that Montenegro and Serbia join the bloc before 2025, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó told the Warsaw Security Forum on Wednesday (2 October).
His comments seemed to ignore the slow pace of the two Western Balkan countries’ accession talks so far and instead focused on the benefit of moving the EU’s external borders further southeast. This, he said, would keep “illegal migration” flows, one of Hungary’s main concerns, even further away.
Szijjártó underlined that Montenegro and Serbia are practically ready for accession and that the integration of the Western Balkans is in the political, economic and security interest of the EU.
All member states, including Hungary, would economically benefit from the inclusion of six Western Balkan countries in the European Free Trade Area, as the EU is the main trading partner in each of them, Szijjártó told the audience.
From a security point of view, according to him, the further south the EU’s external border reaches, “the further south the illegal immigration flows can be stopped.”
“We do not share the current position of the European Commission that there will be no enlargement by 2025, it should happen much earlier,” said Szijjártó.
Hungary has been offered the enlargement and neighbourhood portfolio by European Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen but the candidate Budapest proposed, former Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, was rejected by the European Parliament for conflict of interest.
Enlargement is one of Hungary’s priorities, with the Western Balkans, and especially Serbia, being its immediate neighbours. Budapest also wants Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia to join the Schengen area.
The rejection of Trocsanyi has turned into an embarrassment for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been in constant conflict with Brussels over his hardline stance on migration and other policies that Brussels sees as undermining the basic rule of law and democracy.
Budapest has now nominated its EU diplomat Oliver Varhelyi for the Commission job.
Despite von der Leyen’s assurances that neighbourhood policy and EU-Western Balkans relations will have high priority in the next Commission’s term, member states like France or the Netherlands have clearly indicated reluctance to accept any new members in the foreseeable future.
“Nothing will happen there. It doesn’t matter who becomes the enlargement Commissioner,” György Schöpflin, a long-time Hungarian MEP for Fidesz recently told EURACTIV Germany.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]