“Everything must be done to ensure the European integration of the Western Balkans in the interests of the region’s peace and stability, and the security of Europe”, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said in Budapest on Monday.

The foreign ministers of the Visegrád Group (V4) countries praised the programme of Hungary’s V4 presidency, which has chosen “The V4 Connects” as its motto, and called for cooperation that can also be felt in the everyday lives of citizens.

The first meeting of foreign ministers during the Hungarian presidency of the V4 also included delegations from Austria, Croatia and Slovenia. At the press conference following the meeting, Mr. Szijjártó emphasised: “Meeting today in Budapest were the representatives of seven countries that are committed supporters of EU enlargement, with relation to which the integration of the Western Balkans is our first priority”.

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We must recognise that “we are in the twenty-fourth hour” with relation to the Western Balkans, and all members of the regional and global political community have strategies with regard to the region, but it would seem that the European Union “does not belong in this category”, he highlighted.

“But if we cannot accelerate the European integration of the Western Balkan region then the whole Central European region will have to face serious security challenges”, the Hungarian Foreign Minister said, adding that “Major tensions have developed in the Western Balkans, and if we cannot provide the countries of the region with a credible integration schedule then these tensions could become uncontrollable”.

“Brussels’ inability to act has already caused major problems with regard to many issues” he noted.

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“Hungary is maintaining its committed support in the interests of the acceleration of the EU enlargement process with relation to the countries of the Western Balkans”, Mr. Szijjártó stressed. “If the ‘stalling politics’ continues on the part of the EU, then the region will be left to its own devices, which represents a major security risk for everyone, but especially for Central Europe”, he said. The Minister also said that if the Western Balkan migration route were to reopen then extreme migration pressure would begin building up at the southern border of Hungary and the Schengen Area.

Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák called the program of the Hungarian V4 presidency, which Bratislava is fully supporting, ambitious. According to Mr. Lajčák, pragmatism is extremely important in Visegrád cooperation, and this is one of the reasons why the Hungarian presidency is concentrating on practical issues that affect people’s everyday lives, such as rail, energy and digital connections. “This Central European Group could contribute significantly to finding solutions to European Union problems”, he said.

Among the topics of discussion at the meeting, the Slovakian Foreign Minister highlighted the situation in Ukraine, as well as the EU integration of the Western Balkans, which the states of Central Europe are united in supporting.

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Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said: “The V4 is a group that want sto be part of the solution, the cooperation between the four countries does not stand in opposition to anyone”. Mr. Waszczykowski also praised Hungary’s V4 program, including the topics of digitalisation and innovative society, also stressing the importance of North-South infrastructure links and cooperation.

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jakub Dürr also said it was a good thing that Hungary had chosen “The V4 Connects” as the motto for its presidency of the V4.  “The four Central European countries must also show their cooperation at an everyday level, and citizens and enterprises must also become connected”, he said.

Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and EU Affairs Marija Pejčinović Burić spoke about the fact that the situation in Ukraine is extremely complex, and the Hungary must simultaneously struggle with territorial reintegration and becoming part of a European framework. “Croatia has extremely useful experience in this field, which it is doing its best to share with Ukraine”, she said. With relation to the Western Balkans, Ms. Burić said it was important to the countries of the region to “continue along the European path and not stop”, and that the issue of peace in the region must be kept on the agenda to enable countries in the region to prepare for membership of the European Union.

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Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec told reporters: “There is no reason to be overly optimistic with regard to Ukraine, but it is precisely regional initiatives such as the V4 that can provide assistance in searching for a solution”. He said the V4 and other regional initiatives were also important with regard to helping Western Balkan countries introduce the required reforms, because otherwise internal tensions could destabilise the region.

Austrian Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs Michael Linhart highlighted the need to conform to the Minks Agreements with relation to the situation in Ukraine. On the subject of the Western Balkans, Mr. Linhart confirmed the importance of supporting reforms in the interests of the region’s stability, security and economic prosperity.

In reply to a question on migration, the Hungarian Foreign Minister said: “We have been saying for the past two and a half years that the EU’S external borders must be protected, and that if the EU does not regain is capability to defend itself then it will be incapable of finding solutions to the problems it is facing”. “A solution to the migration crisis begins with defending the external borders, in addition to which it must be made clear that only those may enter Europe who are allowed to do so by law”, he said.

Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák pointed out: “We are in solidarity with Italy and will be putting forward a proposal for solving the situation there”. Michael Linhart told reporters: “The free movement of persons within Europe can only be maintained if we protect the European Union’s external borders”.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)