Speaking at a press briefing held after the meeting of the defence ministers of the Central European Defence Cooperation (CEDC), Minister of Defence István Simicskó emphasized that the security of the Central European region is the guarantee of Europe’s future.

István Simicskó said that the cooperation consisting of Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland in observer status is an exemplary one. He said that he and his counterparts agreed to further develop their defence capabilities in order to be able to more effectively protect European values and the Schengen border.

According to the minister, the CEDC is exemplary also because they have not only formulated goals but, in a unique way, they have also prepared a joint action plan so they can assist each other in times of emergency.

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During their discussions that had already started on Tuesday, the defence ministers of seven countries reviewed the security situation along with threats such as mass illegal migration and terrorism. István Simicskó said that he and his counterparts agreed that we must prepare ourselves for a prolonged migration crisis.

In connection with this, at the meeting István Simicskó offered Hungary as the venue of a border security and international migration crisis management exercise in 2019, which would be similar to the border control exercise hosted by Croatia in 2017.

The Minister of Defence also said that he and his counterparts expressed concern about the security situation of the Western Balkans. They stated that joint action is needed and that NATO and the European Union must use all available means to maintain the stability of the Western Balkans. It is, however, important that the defence and interior ministers as well as leading politicians of the Balkan region must be involved in the management of the situation.

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An important topic of the discussion was the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which, as István Simicskó said, is another dimension in reinforcing Europe’s defence. This would allow for more effective protection of the external borders of the European Union and bigger military presence in the conflict zones, István Simicskó explained.

At the press briefing, Austrian Minister of Defence and Sports Mario Kunasek warned that “the crisis is not over yet”. He said that authorities still regularly apprehend illegal migrants in Austria, too. According to the Austrian minister, all countries must protect their own borders and increase internal security until the EU ensures the protection of its external borders.

Polish Deputy Minister of National Defence Tomasz Szatkowski said that the countries most threatened by mass migration must be provided assistance in managing the situation, but the problem must be addressed “at the root of the troubles”, and so the EU should focus on particular conflict zones.

In explaining the significance of the CEDC, Czech Minister of Defence Karla Slechtová said that “this is how our voices can be heard”. She said that they had discussed the ways the seven countries can work together in international missions and on combating mass illegal migration and terrorism.

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Slovak Defence Minister Peter Gajdos underlined that Hungary has done an excellent job during its presidency, and highlighted its efforts to advance PESCO projects.

Croatian Deputy State Secretary for Defence Policy Petar Mihatov said that currently there are 17 projects on the table in PESCO. With that said, he also emphasized that there is a need for cooperation in defence industries and the related branches of the industry so that they can receive the most possible financing from the European Defence Fund (EDF).

Slovenian Defence Minister Andreja Katic said that the security situation of the region is currently stable, and the cooperation must be continued to preserve this stability. Furthermore, there are global challenges such as mass migration, hybrid warfare and cyber attacks, which could only be addressed effectively through cooperation, the Slovenian minister emphasized.

The Central European Defence Cooperation (CEDC) was launched on Austrian and Hungarian proposal in 2010. The collaboration which consists of Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Poland in observer status has set itself the goals of developing military capabilities, launching joint training projects and cooperating in military operations.

The member states rotate in alphabetical order in holding the presidency of the CEDC. Since January 2018, Hungary has been holding the presidency of the V4 as well as the CEDC. Accordingly, Hungary has also set the goal of promoting the V4–CEDC cooperation.