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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:79–86.


The Balkan Region and Hungarian Foreign Policy


I. The basic principles of our Balkan Policy

The recently approved Hungarian Strategy for External Relations considers the maintenance of lasting stability, security, democratic and market economic development of and ever deepening cooperation with the Western Balkan region as of primary interest to Hungary. In the long run it can be ensured most effectively by the Euro-Atlantic integration of all the countries of the region. During the course of that process we have to pay attention to making sure that the accession of the well prepared countries for Euro-Atlantic integration does not suffer disadvantages because of the weaker achievements of other countries in the region but should rather mean encouragement to countries lagging behind, proving that efficient preparations would bring about the desirable outcome.


II. Means of exercising our interests

Our EU and NATO membership

One of the basic aims of the European Union as well as of NATO is to integrate all the West Balkan countries into the Euro-Atlantic structure. The European Union made a political commitment about this at the June 2003 Thessaloniki Summit. NATO, in addition to maintaining the ”open door policy” stated in Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, and also stressed in the communiqué of the Riga Summit held in 2006 that it considered the Euro-Atlantic integration of the West Balkan region necessary. Consequently, Hungary has taken every opportunity to help the integration of the region into the two organisations and stands prepared to play this role in the European Union, as well as in NATO.

Hungary's participation in regional cooperation formats targeting integration

The Visegrad Group: One of the particularly important areas of interest to the V4 cooperation is the West Balkan region. The International Visegrad Fund supports the students and researchers of the Western Balkans and their researches through several programmes and scholarship systems. The Visegrad+ programme, established in 2008 with the aim of creating a tool for supporting democracy by the V4 considers Serbia as a particularly important partner country.

Quadrilaterale: it is a loose consultation mechanism of Hungary, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Its original aim was to promote Slovenia‘s Euro-Atlantic integration, now it supports Croatia, and next it will help other West Balkan countries wishing to accede. It is a useful (informal) foreign political tool for the participants to get thoroughly acquainted with and to adjust the positions of participants in respect of the Western Balkans.

Regional partnership: the aim of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Slovenia is to support and assist the European aspirations of the West Balkan region in fulfilling the requirements of membership.

Central European Initiative: this loose grouping of 9 EU members and 9 non-EU members aims at promoting the efforts of the latter countries, thus of the Western Balkans towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Hungary, as one of the founders has been playing an active role in that organisation.

Regional Cooperation Council: set up in February 2008 as a successor to the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, the RCC aims at making the countries of the region capable of smooth cooperation and collective as well as individual assertion of interests, thus preparing them for cooperation as potential EU member states. Hungary is a member of the governing board of the Council.

Our geographic/infrastructural assets, our trustworthiness

According to the statement of the Strategy for External Relations ”the geographical position of Hungary at the intersection of East-West and North-South corridors offers an opportunity for the development of the road, railway and river infrastructure and transit routes and for the diversification of energy supply.” To this statement we can add that Hungary is in a position to promote the integration of the Balkan countries due to its geographical position and infrastructural connections.

One branch of the Pan-European transport corridor No. 10 goes through our country which lies in the Northwest–Southeast axis of transport. Its southern end is at the Aegean Sea where it joins the Pan-European transport region of the Black Sea and the Adriatic-Ionian Seas. That corridor is more or less identical with one of the best known transport routes in history known under the name ”Silk Road”.

MALEV, the Hungarian national airline operates regular flights to all the capitals of the region with the exception of Belgrade. Restarting flights to the Serbian capital depends on Serbia‘s ratification of the European Air Transport Agreement.

The ‘coverage‘ of the countries of the region by Hungarian diplomatic and consular representations is complete: we have embassies in every West Balkan capital city.

Thus it can be stated that the road to the European Union “leads through Hungary” in many respects for the countries of the region. Politically sensitive and unsettled issues do not burden our relations with them. We have not given them any reason to lose their trust in us. All this advances the success of our regional activities and facilitates the appreciation and acceptance of our position by our partners.


Economic relations

It becomes obvious from the above that the Western Balkans is a natural direction for Hungary to build economic contacts. The economic significance of the region is also supported by growing Hungarian investments there, in addition to the continuously expanding trade in goods and services (currently about 3 billion euros per year). During the past years Hungary has become the largest capital exporter country of Central-Eastern Europe and the Balkans has become a prominent area for capital investment for Hungary. Some multinational companies with seats in Hungary are leading capital exporters to the region. OTP Bank has invested in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, MOL in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dunapack and Zalakerámia in Croatia, Matáv in FYROM and Montenegro, Hunguest Hotels in Montenegro, and MAL (Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Ltd.) in Bosnia. The total value of Hungarian capital export to the region has so far exceeded 2 billion euros.

III. What have we done so far
and what are we planning to do?

The External Relations Strategy states that ”Hungary supports and assists the countries of the region in their Euro-Atlantic rapprochement and integration. Together with its EU and NATO partners it participates in the stabilisation of the region, in crisis management operations, in establishing arms control and non-proliferation regimes, in building democratic institutions and in strengthening the rule of law. It takes on an active role in assessing and averting risks in the field of justice and home affairs in the region, in helping the EU-conformity of institutions of countries aiming at European integration, thereby assisting the EU in its endeavours as well.”

The various fields of our activity:

1. Hungary‘s role in the stabilisation of the West Balkan region – peacekeeping

Currently we participate with a contingent of 1073 persons in international crisis management and peace support operations, 615 persons of which are deployed in the Western Balkans. Initially we took up this role in the period prior to our NATO membership: already in 1995 we played a complex role in the first NATO operation outside its territory, in setting up and operating the IFOR mission in Bosnia. NATO‘s IFOR operation was followed by SFOR, which – after a successful mission – was in turn succeeded by the European Union‘s EUFOR/ALTHEA mission in 2004. Currently 157 Hungarian soldiers and 5 Hungarian police officers serve in the mission.

We have been participating from the beginning in the operations of NATO aiming at the stabilisation of Kosovo. It is worth mentioning in particular that the defence and protection of KFOR headquarters in Pristina has been provided by the Protection and Security Battalion in 18 tours of duty with a total number of about 280 troops for almost nine years. From 1 September 2008 we have taken over the lead nation role of the multinational NATO battalion stationed in Western Kosovo, Task Force Nimrod with headquarters at Pec where 425 troops are Hungarians out of a total of 700. Another important aspect of our role taken up in Kosovo is our participation in the EU rule of law mission, EULEX to which we may send maximum 50 experts on the basis of a government resolution. We have participated in shorter but all the more important stabilisation operations of NATO in Albania and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We also participate in the work of the military command of NATO at Sarajevo with staff officers and liaison officers as well as in the work of its liaison office in Belgrade.


2. The Szeged Process

The Szeged Process started by the conference held on 7–8 October, 1999 in Szeged at the margin of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe upon the initiative of the Hungarian government. From 2001 the sphere of activity, beyond supporting the democratisation process of Serbia, was further enlarged both thematically and geographically, and has been extended to all the states of the region. In the wake of changes that have taken place in the international environment and particularly in the situation of the countries of the region the Hungarian government reconsidered the set of targets of the Szeged Process in 2004. The promotion of European integration, assistance in implementing the integration perspective, as well as the promotion of European democratic values were put into the focus of activities. The knowledge and experiences of Hungary in the integration process can render significant assistance to the democratic governments, parliaments and local governments, to educational institutions, civil organisations and representatives of the media of the region. Because of our relationship as neighbours we continue to lay emphasis on supporting the integration efforts of Serbia by the activities of the Szeged Process. To this date we have supported the region by about 1.2 billion forints within the framework of the Szeged Process through the Chance for Stability Public Foundation, the Szeged Centre of Security Policy and through Hungarian international development assistance.


3. Regional partnership

On 10–11 October 2005 six countries of the Regional Partnership and the West Balkan states, i.e. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYROM, Serbia and Montenegro agreed within the framework of a conference of foreign ministers held in Budapest that they would develop cooperation in six important fields with the aim of promoting the European integration of the region. According to the distribution of tasks laid down in the approved Joint Communiqué Hungary coordinates the cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs. In the framework of the „Budapest Forum” Hungary organised seminars of experts in several areas from early 2006 on (border management, fight against corruption, visa policy). In April 2007 Hungary, as representative of the states of Regional Partnership, and the interior ministers of the West Balkan states laid down the specific areas and forms of cooperation in a Statement of Agreement with special regard to guarding borders and to the fight against illegal migration and organised crime. Further on, the project with Hungarian participation, supporting the fight against illegal migration has been implemented in the entire West Balkan region. The organisation of a seminar dealing with twinning cooperation as well as issues of visa administration is among our plans within the framework of the Budapest Forum.


4. Our actual support given to the countries

Hungary‘s role in the development of relations between NATO and the countries of the region

An outstanding aspect of our continuous efforts towards the lasting Euro-Atlantic integration of the West Balkan region is the consistent political and practical support of the objectives of the countries of the region to become NATO members and to participate in the Partnership for Peace programme. Both in bilateral frameworks and with regard to the Membership Action Plan established in 1999 by NATO with the aim of promoting the preparation of countries aspiring for membership, we have supported the participation of the three countries, Albania, Croatia and FYROM in the programme. In our bilateral programmes of consultations and cooperation we devote particular attention to transferring our experiences of integration. We have consistently stood for issuing an invitation to the opening of talks on NATO accession without unjustified delay to countries that were prepared for it. At the Bucharest Summit of NATO in April 2008 we pressed for the invitation of the three West Balkan aspirants and welcomed the favourable decision made in the case of Albania and Croatia. We stressed that in the interest of lasting stability in the Western Balkans it was important to invite Skopje, too. We have joined a letter initiated by Italy pressing for an early invitation which was also signed by the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Norway, Turkey, Romania and the United Kingdom. It is our consistently represented stand that the accession of Albania and Croatia has to take place without disruption so that they may participate as full members in the April 2009 jubilee Summit of the Alliance. In order to promote this, Hungarian foreign policy urges the completion of the ratification process by early 2009. As a support of that policy Hungary was the first to confirm the accession minutes of Albania and Croatia by an unanimous parliamentary vote on 15 September 2008.

The strengthening of the NATO connections of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia is an important issue. We have been pressing for an early invitation of all three countries to the Partnership for Peace programme of NATO right from the outset. We regard it as our own foreign political success that this endeavour was materialised at the Riga Summit of November 2006. We resolutely stood for filling the Partnership for Peace cooperation with meaningful content as early as possible. We are pleased to see that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro have achieved significant progress in this area, and therefore we have urged their invitation at the Bucharest Summit to start the Individual Intensified Dialogue on enlargement, which meant raising the relations to a qualitatively higher level. The Alliance keeps this perspective open to Serbia too, as soon as Belgrade is ready for it. The respective positive decision of the Bucharest Summit was also assessed as a step strengthening the stability of the Western Balkans. After the favourable change in the domestic policy of Serbia we consider it important to make the cooperation between NATO and Serbia more meaningful and substantial. For this purpose we have formulated a joint package of proposals, a ‘non-paper‘ together with Norway and Italy and had it circulated among our allies.

As a token of Hungary‘s commitment to the integration efforts of the West Balkan we have, for several years, filled the post of NATO Contact Point Embassy in the region. We have been performing this task in Croatia since 2005, initially for a two-year period, which was extended by NATO up to the accession of Croatia. Next we have applied for the liaison role in Montenegro for 2009–2010. In case of a favourable decision we plan to enlarge the staff of our representation there.


Hungary‘s role in the development of relations between the European Union and the West Balkan region

Recent developments in the region have proven that the prospect for EU

membership is an important but not sufficient instrument to extend stability and advance reforms in the region. Therefore Hungary strives for an early conclusion of the ratification process of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements signed between the EU and the countries of the region, and aims to achieve that those countries, in line with the pace of individual achievements, may become candidates and subsequently EU members in the coming years. Hungarian diplomacy lays a special emphasis on supporting the dialogue on visa liberalisation launched with countries of the region. Each country was given a tailored road map with the definition of tasks to be accomplished in different fields. The road maps link the achievement of visa liberalisation to comprehensive reforms in the field of justice and home affairs. We treat the advancement of relations between the EU and Serbia with particular attention. We consider it an important event of 2008 that, partly as a result of efforts by Hungarian diplomacy, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement was signed prior to the May elections, which contributed to the victory of the pro-Europe forces. Our aim is that the Interim Agreement should enter into force as soon as possible, and that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement should be ratified early on by the Member States. In order to reach this goal Serbia’s good cooperation with the ICTY would be necessary. Serbia’s approximation to the European Union cannot be totally separated from the issue of Kosovo either, and particularly from the situation of the EULEX mission and Belgrade’s stand related to the deployment of the mission. It is one of the achievements of Hungarian foreign policy that the Serbian-Hungarian relations have not substantially deteriorated despite our recognition of Kosovo, the timing of which (co-ordinated with Bulgaria and Croatia) also served the minimisation of the possible disadvantages. The visit of Kinga Göncz to Belgrade on 2 September and the talks of Ferenc Gyurcsány on 21 November in Serbia resulted in some positive feedback to our efforts. In September the Hungarian Foreign Minister handed over a draft protocol on cooperation between the two Foreign Ministries with a specific list of projects and programmes to strengthen bilateral relations and promote the integration efforts of Serbia.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina our most important task is to keep the EU integration process on the political agenda, and to maintain the commitment of society to integration, in the interest of which we try to bring the Union perspective into tangible proximity. A more active and vigorous presence of the Union is needed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hungary considers it as a task of particular importance to pass on our experience on integration, and plans to increase its activity in this respect in the future, by continuing to pursue cooperation with the other V4 countries, or any other possible formations.

We hope that the two-thirds parliamentary majority of the government in FYROM will ensure a proper basis for the elimination of still existing shortcomings in the process of integration and for the practical implementation of reforms. It is our aim to promote the solution of political debates that hinder the Euro-Atlantic integration of the country for the time being (such as the name dispute), by constructive dialogue. Hungary is also ready to support the preparations of the country and the adoption of the acquis within the framework of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).


5. The EU presidency period of 2009–2011

In the period of 2009-2011 at least four of the countries to hold the rotating EU presidency will treat the region‘s integration as a priority. Among them the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary are members of the Visegrad Group, which offers an opportunity for the consistent representation of the issue at different European fora. From the summer of 2009 Hungary will assume the presidency of the Visegrad Group for one year, which makes it possible for the country to keep the issue of the West Balkan region on the agenda.


* Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Political Director