The foreign affairs committees of the Parliaments of the Visegrád Four (V4 – Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia) are holding a two-day meeting in Budapest. Zsolt Németh, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (Fidesz), who opened the event on Wednesday, said: the cooperation of the Visegrád countries is the most successful within the European Union.

He highlighted that Hungary is holding the Presidency for the fifth time now. The current motto is: “the V4 connect us together”.

The programme of the Presidency is based on four pillars: European, regional, digital and global Visegrád. The first one indicates the goal of joint European action. Regional and digital cooperation is – among others – about the mobilisation of internal resources and the interconnection of cultures. As regards global Visegrád, it is a major achievement that the region has been noticed in the world in recent years, and a China – Central and Eastern Europe summit was held in Budapest not long ago.

Mr Németh took the view that the region’s significance is on the rise, and Parliament has therefore decided that six of its committees should have consultations with their Visegrád counterparts. The current meeting is the second one in the series, he said.

At the same time, the Hungarian politician invited the attendees to the next formal meeting of the Visegrád Speakers of the House which will be held on the first two days of March, probably at Lake Balaton.

He especially welcomed the representatives of Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia who came in order to review the Western Balkans situation. Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were unable to accept the invitation on this occasion, he indicated.

According to Mr Németh, enlargement policy has been one of the EU’s success areas in recent years. The Western Balkans integration process is not only an economic interest, but also an important security policy interest both for the countries wishing to join and for the whole of Europe, he stated.

He said that as Members of Parliament they are somewhere half way between governments and society, and are able to exert influence in both directions.

Central Europe supports the Western Balkans enlargement process, but the situation is not quite so clear in Western Europe, Mr Németh pointed out.

He said that next year will be important in enlargement policy: they expect to see both Montenegro and Serbia take a step forward, and hope that the other Western Balkans countries will also be able to make progress.

In his speech, Szabolcs Takács, Minister of State for EU Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office said: Hungary is “a natural ally” of the Western Balkans region which is a part of Europe not only geographically, but also culturally.

He stressed the importance of optimism as the enlargement process must be given a new impetus during a period that is riddled with challenges. He pointed out that the process of integration had been successful in the past: Europe became increasingly competitive and safe. In the past two decades, however, economic prosperity and safety that was once taken for granted, and in fact, the very system of dogmas that the EU was built on from the fifties onwards have all been called into question regrettably, Mr Takács highlighted.

The community has found itself faced with unprecedented challenges; challenges which were not brought on by the European people, but which the European people had to bear the brunt of nonetheless, he observed, mentioning the economic crisis, the flow of migration and the exit of Britain (Brexit).

These processes have caused an unprecedented division in Europe, and the environment that has evolved does not favour the continuation of enlargement, the Minister of State said.

In Mr Takács’s view we must conduct a pragmatic and dispassionate debate. The future of the Western Balkans region is our own future as well, he stated. He said: we must be ambitious, but must remain realistic.

Maciej Popowski, Deputy Director-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission highlighted that the EU is committed to the integration of the Western Balkans. However, the enlargement process can only be successful if it is supported not only by the community of Member States, but also by their populations. They are keeping up their intensive efforts and are expecting specific results from the Western Balkans, he stressed.

He said he was pleased that the meeting focused on the European perspective and stability.

Mr Popowski highlighted that the countries of the Western Balkans region have come a long way since the wars of the nineties.

He pointed out at the same time: it is up to the individual Member States when their accession may turn into reality.

The EU will not make compromises, however. The rule of law, for instance, is mandatory, Mr Popowski pointed out.

Levente Benkő, Deputy State Secretary for Security Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that the Visegrád Four look upon the Western Balkans as a southern extension of Central Europe which is completely surrounded by the EU.

He mentioned that two years ago more than a million migrants passed through the Western Balkans which again highlighted the importance of cooperation.

Hungary’s security greatly depends on the region. The fact that more than five hundred Hungarian soldiers are serving in peacekeeping missions in the Western Balkans also testifies to this, he said.

He stated: they sincerely believe that the enlargement process will make Europe a safer place.

Mr Benkő said: they are expecting the European Commission to deal with all Western Balkans states in its strategic publication to be released in February.

The foreign affairs committees of the Parliaments of Western Balkans countries were also invited to the first part of the two-day meeting.

The Wednesday meeting bears the title Stability of the Western Balkans – Perspectives of European Integration, while the title of the Thursday meeting is Future of a Common Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.