FM: Hungary and Serbia are paying high price for war in Ukraine

“Central Europe must live up to its task of being successful in this very difficult environment, and this can only be achieved through reliable and predictable partnerships,” Minister Szijjártó said.

Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has told a press conference in Belgrade that neither Serbia nor Hungary was responsible for the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, yet both countries were paying a high price for it.

According to MTI, the minister called it “bad news” that the world was heading towards the formation of blocks. “Central Europe must live up to its task of being successful in this very difficult environment, and this can only be achieved through reliable and predictable partnerships,” Minister Szijjártó said, noting that Hungary and Serbia enjoyed such a partnership. “Hungary and Serbia both support peace and the two countries are in agreement that what is most important is to save lives, which is possible only if there is peace,” the minister said. Answering a question, Szijjártó highlighted the importance for the Hungarian government of security cooperation with Serbia in the context of ongoing illegal migration which he said posed a serious challenge to both countries. He noted that Hungary last year had to block 271,000 illegal entry attempts at its southern border. “We want to strengthen cooperation with Serbia in efforts to move the EU’s external line of defence further south,” Szijjártó said, noting the participation of Hungarian police forces in patrolling the Serbia-North Macedonia border together with Serbian police officers and border guards.

Enlargement could swiftly improve the European Union’s competitiveness, and so the block needs Serbia more than Serbia needs the EU, the minister said. Minister Szijjártó told a business forum organized by the Serbian Chamber of Economy that while the “realignment in the world economy” has harmed the EU, it is also severing important trading ties due to political considerations, and “they practically make east-west cooperation impossible”. “Whoever tries a pragmatic approach to the issue and tries to take a rational look at the relationship between East and West is branded pro-Russian, pro-Putin and accused of being a propagandist of the Kremlin,” he said. Economic players are further hobbled by EU measures and the US’s steps to prioritise its own companies, he said. “Meanwhile, Europe is shooting itself in the foot with the sanctions,” he said. Reliable partners and partnerships are key to being successful under such circumstances, he said. Enlarging the block and thereby its economic market would greatly improve competitiveness, Szijjártó added. “That is why we don’t approve of the high-browed and condescending approach towards Serbia,” he said. Hungary is a great supporter of the Open Balkan initiative, Szijjártó said. The government has suggested holding the next summit of the group comprising Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia in Budapest, he added. Close cooperation between the EU and the states in the region is a key element of competitiveness, as is energy security, he said. Hungary and Serbia “can only count on each other” in the latter issue, he said, referring to recent agreements to build a new oil pipeline and to set up a Hungarian-Serbia conglomerate to trade in natural gas. Supply security in Hungary and Serbia has become impossible without each other, he said. Meanwhile, bilateral trade jumped by 59% to nearly 6 billion euros last year, and Hungary’s OTP Bank is one of the largest in Serbia, he said. The government will also carry on with its economic development programme for ethnic Hungarians in Serbia, he added.

The minister also added that Hungarian staffing company Prohuman’s expansion to the Serbian market may strengthen the “labor market dimension” of the cooperation between Hungary and Serbia. Hungary’s recent run of record investments has led to an increased demand for skilled labour, Minister Szijjártó told an event organized by Prohuman in Belgrade, according to a foreign ministry statement. Though the aim is for these positions to be filled by Hungarian workers, it has to be said that certain positions are very hard to fill locally, Szijjártó added. Hungary has therefore decided to allow the employment of guest workers for a definite period under regulated conditions, the minister said. He noted a framework under which qualified recruitment firms can bring in guest workers from 15 countries without a special authorisation procedure. Serbia is one of those 15 countries, Minister Szijjártó said, adding that the skill, discipline and work ethic of Serbian workers made them popular among Hungarian employers. Currently, 5,430 Serbian citizens have Hungarian work permits after 1,353 people were recruited last year, he said. Minister Szijjártó welcomed that Prohuman, Hungary’s biggest staffing company, had entered the Serbian market, saying it would hopefully lead to the addition of a new “labour market dimension” to Hungary and Serbia’s strategic cooperation.

Photo credit: Facebook/Szijjártó Péter