Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said speeding up the EU integration of the Western Balkans, including North Macedonia, will be a key aim of Hungary’s presidency of the European Union Council.
Speaking at a news conference in Skopje on Thursday, held with North Macedonian counterpart Bujar Osmani, Minister Szijjártó said the bloc’s competitiveness had dived due to the war in Ukraine. He said “finally returning to common sense” would serve Europe by recognising that the bloc “needs the Western Balkans” and the fresh energy and rapid development that it would bring with its accession. Real negotiations with North Macedonia must start as soon as possible, he added. Some member states, he said, were “stalling and obstructing” the process, and it was “outrageous” that Bulgaria had for weeks blocked the letter to be sent to Skopje. “This is unacceptable. North Macedonia has been a candidate for membership for eighteen years,” Szijjártó said, adding that longstanding delays had been “disrespectful”. The minister said obstructing the negotiations undermined the EU’s credibility. Meanwhile, addressing the issue of energy security, he said guaranteeing supply was a “national competence and duty” and “no one has any right to imperil the security of another country’s energy supply.” He said Bulgaria’s unilateral decision to raise the transit fee of natural gas to Hungary, Serbia and North Macedonia was a “hostile move”. Minister Szijjártó vowed to respond “with sufficient weight within the framework of the European Union”. Hungary has asked the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Bulgaria and it is ready to take further steps, he said. He said North Macedonia and Hungary would consult and coordinate steps to ensure that Bulgaria does not imperil the energy supply “of any of us” with its decision. Asked about the extradition of former North Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Minister Szijjártó said the matter was not one of foreign policy and Hungary “cannot and doesn’t want to interfere in legal proceedings”, and the matter was not discussed in today’s meeting. Osmani praised bilateral relations, noting that Hungary is North Macedonia’s tenth-biggest trading partner and eighth-largest investor, and he was upbeat about the future development of cooperation. He added that Hungary was steadfast in supporting his country’s EU integration efforts, and Hungary’s EU presidency may also be important in this respect as well.