“All European Union member states are facing similar challenges with relation to the pandemic caused by the new strain of the coronavirus, and we must prepare for long-term protective measures”, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó declared at a press conference on Monday in Budapest following the first ever meeting of EU foreign ministers held in video conference form.

The Minister said national measures with which EU member states are restricting entry are totally legitimate, but there is agreement concerning the fact that freight traffic must be maintained, because that is what guarantees the security of supply. He pointed out that despite this understanding, tailbacks are being experienced at several borders with relation to freight traffic. “We must make a joint effort to resolve this issue”, Mr. Szijjártó emphasised.

The Minister also noted that despite counting on EU coordination with relation to bringing home Hungarian citizens stranded abroad, to date this problem has been solved via measures on the part of member states or thanks to bilateral agreements. The Minister also told the press that since 5 p.m. on Sunday, a further 726 Hungarian citizens stranded abroad have succeeded in leaving the country in which they were trapped as a result of restrictions introduced to combat the coronavirus epidemic. “In some instances, other countries have helped to enable Hungarian citizens to come home, and such assistance is expected to occur again in future, and Hungary is also expected to continue to help citizens from other countries”, Mr. Szijjártó stated.

“Hundreds and thousands of EU citizens have become stranded abroad, and in many places, restrictions are also making it difficult to get to the airport”, he highlighted. “The working group set up to help the return home of Hungarian citizens is working continuously”, Mr. Szijjártó emphasised.

The Minister also reported on the fact that the two greatest challenges facing the EU are migration and the coronavirus epidemic. “Unfortunately, it seems that both phenomena will be remaining with us in the long term. We will have to protect against both challenges in the long term in the upcoming period”, the Minister said.

Mr. Szijjártó said the EU had previously wanted to launch another operation on the Mediterranean aimed at curbing the Libyan arms trade, with which Hungary agrees in principle, but only if it does not turn into a rescue operation aimed at bringing illegal migrants to Europe from North Africa. The Minister said that in the interests of assuring this, the activities of the operation will be reviewed regularly every four months to make sure it has not become a tool for bringing in migrants, and the operation will only be able to continue with the unanimous agreement of all EU member states, meaning Hungary will also have the right to veto. “If we see that, similarly to previous European missions, the result of this Mediterranean mission is also the arrival of more migrants in Europe, then we will put a stop to it immediately”, the Minister underlined.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade told reporters that the situation that has developed along the Greek-Turkish border was also discussed. He pointed out that the earlier agreement between the EU and Turkey must be brought up to date, or a new agreement must be concluded to ensure that Turkey does not keep its doors open in the direction of the European Union. “If the price of this is a new agreement, then let’s sign it”, declared Mr. Szijjártó, who also pointed out that the EU had previously promised Turkey 6 billion euros to handle the refugee situation. “According to Ankara, the EU has paid 2.7 billion euros, but Brussels claims to have paid Turkey 4.2 billion euros”, explained the Minister, according to whom it makes no difference, as “neither is 6 billion”, adding that accordingly he has asked the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs to clarify the situation. “It is cheaper to pay 6 billion euros now, than to have to pay the costs of the ‘dam bursting’ on the Greek-Turkish border, he highlighted. “The wave of illegal immigration now not only poses a security or cultural risk, but also a very serious health risk”, the Minister said with relation to the coronavirus epidemic.

(Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade/MTI)