In cooperation with the Otto von Habsburg Foundation, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) hosted a conference covering discussions on the historical experience and the reunification of Europe on 3 December 2019.
On behalf of IFAT, Director Márton Ugrósdy welcomed the guests and emphasised the importance of the Western Balkans for Hungary and the region’s Euroatlantic integration. He also spoke out his condolences to the recent tragic events in Albania, and his gratefulness for cooperating with the Otto von Habsburg Foundation. Ambassador Gergely Prőhle, Director of the Otto von Habsburg Foundation touched again on the importance of neighbourhood policy. He also praised the visionary persona of Otto von Habsburg and his ideas about an integrated European continent.
Speaking from a historian’s point of view, Gergely Romsics, Senior Research Fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences held an introductory lecture on the reunification of Europe. He elaborated that history is not always inspirational as Europe was never truly united in the past. Mr. Romsics also called for a broader European memorisation of history which takes Central Europe’s perspective equally into account. He nevertheless argued that the European Union makes recognisable progress in that regard.
The first panel focused on three Western European member states’ views on EU enlargement, moderated by Péter Dobrowiecki, Head of the EU-V4 Office of the Antall József Knowledge Centre. Gergely Fejérdy, Senior Research Fellow of IFAT highlighted the current French policy towards the Western Balkans. As he explained, Paris expects more progressive development and calls for a new and reversible enlargement strategy. Tamás Levente Molnár, Research Fellow of IFAT introduced the audience to the German standpoint. He elaborated on Berlin’s so-called ‘Yes, but’ approach: although Germany supports further enlargement, the country expects more improvements in the fields of rule-of-law and anti-corruption. Jarosław Wiśniewski, former Visiting Fellow of London School of Economics explained London’s approach towards the region. Having the game-changing nature of Brexit in mind, the country will most probably remain interested in the Western Balkans.
The second panel dealt with the enlargement experience through three Central European countries, moderated by IFAT Research Fellow Anna Orosz. Mateusz Gniazdowski, Deputy Director of the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) emphasized Poland’s active role in the Berlin process with the clear aim of supporting the region’s EU accession. Christina Griessler, Research Fellow of the Network for Political Communication at the Andrássy University pointed out that Austria is the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) to the Western Balkans. Thus, regional stability is both a security and an economic concern for Vienna. Lastly, András Klein, Head of Department for the Western Balkans, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary emphasized that the EU needs to provide a real accession perspective for the Western Balkans in order to prevent losing influence in the region. All three panellists welcomed the more positive stance of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the topic of enlargement.
The third panel featured speakers from three Western Balkans’ countries. Moderated by Ferenc Németh, Research Fellow of IFAT, the impacts of the French veto in the European Council were analysed. Dušan Janjić, President of the Forum for Ethnic Relations talked about the rising Euroscepticism both within and outside the of EU. He warned of the dangers of rising external influence in the region. Adea Pirdeni, Senior Expert of the Cooperation and Development Institute emphasized that the EU needs to show appreciation of the progress made in order to keep the enthusiasm of pre-accession countries for further work. Concluding the panel, Dragan Tilev, State counsellor for EU Affairs of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia believes that it is crucial to continue the enlargement process. The lack of credible enlargement perspective has only negative impacts not just for Skopje but for the entire region too.
The three-panel conference provided a great opportunity to compare some EU member states’ views on the Western Balkans and to see how these countries are coping with recent events concerning the current state and the possible future of enlargement.