Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said European Union countries must “stop being hypocritical and deceiving candidate countries” and speed up the bloc’s enlargement.
Minister Szijjártó said at a joint press conference with Montenegrin counterpart Filip Ivanović that Hungary would do everything possible in the interest of speeding up EU enlargement during its presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of the year. The integration of the Western Balkans remains a priority of Hungarian foreign policy and will be given special attention during Hungary’s presidency, he added. Minister Szijjártó said the EU was gradually becoming weaker, falling to third place in the global GDP ranking last year, adding that Brussels appeared to be closing itself off rather than engaging in cooperation. “The European Union needs new momentum, new energy and new ambitions, which is something the Western Balkans can bring to the table,” he said. “These countries have the energy, momentum and ambition that could be of great help to the European Union in becoming stronger again.” He urged honesty on the issue of enlargement, lamenting that several member states were “hypocritical” in the matter. He argued that while all member states publicly supported enlargement, when it came time to make a decision they were “less enthusiastic”. Szijjártó brought up the example of Montenegro as the country with which the EU has opened the most accession chapters. He noted that the country applied for EU membership in 2008 and entered into accession talks in 2012, but the process has yet to be completed in 2024. Szijjártó expressed hope that significant progress could be made in Montenegro’s accession this year, vowing that the Hungarian EU presidency would do everything it could to bring the country closer to EU membership. Hungary has been and will continue to be one of the most staunch supporters [of enlargement],” the minister said, adding that Hungary will continue to support the work of the two Hungarian integration experts working alongside Montenegro’s government. Meanwhile, Minister Szijjártó praised economic ties between Hungary and Montenegro, saying they contributed to the growth of both countries. He said Hungarian businesses were leaders in two key sectors of Montenegro’s economy. Hungary’s OTP Bank is the largest bank in Montenegro and IT company 4iG is the second biggest telecommunications company, Szijjártó said. The minister also said that Hungary offers scholarships to 35 Montenegrin university students each year. Meanwhile, Szijjártó said 2024 was set to be a critical year, with a record number of elections to be held worldwide amid the current crises and wars. He expressed hope that 2024 could bring about political change that would result in peace-making taking the place of war.