In cooperation with the Hungarian Embassy in Montenegro, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade organized its 4th conference within the framework of the Hungarian Cultural Season 2018-2019 in Podgorica on 10th September 2019. The event that took place in the EU Info Center under the title ‘State of the EU and the Future of EU Enlargement Policy’ aimed to analyse the current state of affairs in the European Union, including Brexit and how current developments might change the prospects of the EU enlargement process towards the Western Balkan region.
Firstly József Négyesi, Ambassador of Hungary to Montenegro and Márton Ugrósdy, Director of the Institute welcomed the participants of the conference. Both of them underlined that Hungary strongly supports EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans and makes huge efforts to keep it high on the agenda.
István Balogh, Deputy State Secretary for Security Policy and Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary touched upon various challenges the EU faces recently, including Brexit, security concerns as well as the enlargement process from a Hungarian perspective. He noted that Brexit would be the first instance that the number of Member States decreases. He believed that the enlargement would strengthen the community in both economic and security terms. Therefore, the EU cannot afford any negative statement like couple of years ago and it should shift toward a more active and promotive approach. Serbia and Montenegro could be easily integrated even before 2025. Mr. Balogh pointed out that the net economic effects of enlargement would be positive for the Western European countries while accession would also have a positive impact on the new members through the reforms and adapting acquis. Furthermore, hybrid challenges could also be best tackled with strategic communication and through enlargement. He emphasized that Hungary would push for opening the last two chapters with Montenegro and encourage the EU to send a positive message to North Macedonia and Albania by starting accession talks. He also noted that fair approach should be applied towards Kosovo as well and warned that illegal migration and decreasing EU leverage in Bosnia and Herzegovina could destabilize the country. He underlined that international politics is a competition and the EU should make increased efforts to remain in contest with others in the Western Balkans.
In the first panel Szabolcs Takács, Ministerial Commissioner for BREXIT of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade highlighted the complex legal and institutional challenges that accompany the prolonging Brexit. The new European Commission is supposed to start its mandate in November 2019 but it might need a reshuffle if the United Kingdom could leave only in 2020 and should nominate a Commissioner. The Brexit will remain an excuse for those who are less willing to support enlargement. Hungary – along with some other Member States from Central and Eastern Europe, and Croatia – supports the accession of the Western Balkans and would welcome the announcement of the enlargement portfolio. The organization of the V4+WB6 meeting also aims to demonstrate the Visegrad countries engagement. Mr. Takács honestly hoped that there would be enlargement during the next European Commission.
Aleksandar Drljević, Chief Negotiator with the EU for Montenegro expressed positive expectations regarding the future of the EU-Western Balkans relations. He believed that the EU will be able to overcome difficulties so the Western Balkan countries should continue their path towards the community to make accession happen. Meanwhile, they can share experience about the process and support each other. Regional cooperation and strengthening connectivity should be the core of the process as citizens can directly benefit from the development of infrastructure and transport. European integration should be channelled into the daily communication and activities. The standpoint of Ursula von der Leyen, President-elect of the European Commission is promising so it can be hoped that the new European Commission would be more active in the region.
The second panel started right after the announcement of the list of portfolios of the new European Commission. The nomination of László Trócsányi from Hungary for the Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy portfolio was mainly considered as a sign of greater EU engagement. Károly Grúber, Head of Department for Common Foreign and Security Policy and Neighbourhood Policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary welcomed the brave proposal of the President-elect but warned that the European Parliament will also have to agree to the composition of the Commission. Momčilo Radulović, President of the European Movement in Montenegro reminded that it is high time to change the current discourse between the Western Balkan countries and the EU and make sure that both sides act in accordance with its main political interests and deliver results. The EU should take advantage from the commitment of those experts and decision-makers who have been involved from the very beginning. Milica Kovačević, President of the Center for Democratic Transition in Montenegro underlined the need to improve the implementation of reforms, including the judiciary. She also added that the EU should criticize if there is no progress as well as acknowledge and reward in case of good achievements. The participants agreed that postponing the decision on the start of accession talks with North Macedonia shows the lack of understanding in some Member States of the weight of the decision that the Greek and the North Macedonian states made. This might not only deteriorate the situation in these countries but send a discouraging message to other actors in the region. Anna Orosz, Research Fellow of IFAT expressed her hope that the new Commission will be more ambitious as she was afraid that the price of nonaction might be higher than bringing closer the region to the EU even though under non-ideal circumstances. The panellists also touched the question of communication and encouraged measures that could enhance visibility of the EU in the region.
The 4th conference of the Hungarian Cultural Season 2018-2019 provided an excellent opportunity for the EU–Western Balkans, and especially for the progresses and challenges concerning Montenegro, to be reviewed. The event ended with the hope that the EU as well as the new Commission would play a more active role in the region and as a result, the enlargement process would gain a fresh impetus.