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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:101–106.


Kosovo and Hungarian Foreign Policy


The settlement of the Kosovo issue has been in the frontline of international politics during the past years and I think it will be there all the more so in the coming one and a half months.

During the past, almost twenty years enormous changes and transformations have taken place in the Balkans. New states have been founded, and some of them have been successfully integrating into the Euro-Atlantic structures. There is a country, Slovenia, which is already member of NATO as well as of the European Union. Croatia is conducting its accession talks with the European Union. Several countries have become partner countries of NATO, and the accession of some of them is on the threshold in 2008. Since the Thessaloniki Summit all those countries have the European Union perspective. Thus it can be stated that a rearrangement of historical scale has taken place in the region and we have reached its final phase. The Kosovo settlement will close this process in our immediate neighbourhood, in the Western Balkans.

If one studies the role taken up by Hungarian foreign policy in the region, the question arises what the interests of Hungarian foreign policy and of Hungary in general in this region are, with special regard to Kosovo. I assume, and this is what I want to stress first and foremost, that Hungarian interests are mostly European interests as well, and our interests are not separated from the interests of the European Union or of the Euro-Atlantic community in the region. First of all, I wish to emphasize our interest in the stability of the region. It needs no explanation and I think it is evident: the past period has excellently proved that the stability or instability of the region directly affected Hungary. Therefore, we are fundamentally interested in the survival of long-term stability in the Western Balkans. It is particularly the case for Hungary in respect of Serbia. We are of the view that a stable Serbia is the pledge for the stability of the entire West Balkan region. We would like to see that the Kosovo settlement moves in a direction that takes the interests of Serbia into consideration and strengthens Serbia’s stability, which is also reflected in the final solution.

We have often spoken at Hungarian and various European international forums about the changes taking place in the internal conditions in Serbia and the strengthening of Serbian democratic forces as being an all-European, or ‘all-Euro-Atlantic’ interest. In this respect I am of the view that the settlement of the Kosovo issue would also greatly influence the development of Serbia.

The second such interest is the Euro-Atlantic integration of the region. We are convinced that it will ensure a lasting and sustainable stability if all the states of the region become part of the Euro-Atlantic community. This process has begun and is progressing, and Hungary is one of the vanguards championing that process. We stress the outstanding importance of the issue at every forum from the angle of all countries there and of the region as a whole.

In addition to the Euro-Atlantic interest naturally there are specific Hungarian interests also in relation to Kosovo. First of all they are related to the Hungarian minority living in Vojvodina. The fate and changes in the situation of that minority is the constitutional responsibility of the Hungarian government of the day. As the stability of Serbia also affects the situation of minorities, Hungary is perhaps more interested in a stable Serbia than other states.

During the past 10 to 15 years Hungarian foreign policy has contributed to the stability of the South Slav region rather actively and positively, in a manner over-arching governments. I do not wish to give details of every element, but let me mention some highly important issues proving that Hungary is not only geographically present in the region, but also by its policy and way of thinking.

Firstly, I wish to mention the so-called Szeged Process. The Szeged Process, launched in 1999, was and remains to be one of the most successful instruments of Hungarian foreign policy. It has successfully contributed to the democratisation process of the region, and now we hope it will successfully contribute also to its Euro-Atlantic integration. Thus, in the case of the Szeged Process there is continuity, and a naturally changing priority. Naturally, because the original objective, namely democratisation has been essentially completed in the countries of the region. This was one of the well known and highly important Hungarian contributions to the stability and integration of the region.

The other, perhaps less emphasized Hungarian initiative was the launching of the Budapest Forum. The countries of the Regional Partnership (such as the countries of the Visegrad Group plus Austria and Slovenia) decided in 2005 to launch a process under the name ‘Budapest Forum’ which gives specific assistance and support to the countries of the West Balkan region in their process of integration. In this process Hungary has undertaken to prepare the region in the field of justice and home affairs. The programmes of the Budapest Forum are functioning and this is a specific contribution on our side that promotes stability and integration.

Hungarian activity at the forums of the European Union in issues relevant to the region can also be mentioned as specific Hungarian contributions. Such an issue is, for instance, visa liberalisation. We have always held the view that the Schengen system, the common visa system should not be a dividing line between the European Union and the countries outside the Union, particularly not in respect of the countries of the Western Balkans, not in a region which has European perspectives. Hopefully, talks on visa liberalisation will be successfully completed and from January 2008 a less complicated visa system may enter into force between the European Union and countries of the region. Surely this will be only one stage of the process. The aim of Hungarian foreign policy is that all the countries of the region should become visa-free states of the Schengen area after fulfilling the conditions set for them.

I wanted to indicate by some specific examples that Hungary takes responsibility for the entire region, and has had a number of successful initiatives since the second half of the 1990s.

Now I wish concentrate exclusively on Kosovo.

First of all we should specify the scope of action that the Hungarian foreign policy has in respect of the Kosovo settlement. It is commonly known that the Kosovo settlement has been in progress in a framework on which Hungary has no direct impact. Countries of the so-called Contact Group have determined the still prevailing basic principles of settlement. Hungary agrees with those principles without reservation.

The principles of the Contact Group are based on three ‘Nays’. The first one is that there is no return to the pre-1999 conditions. The second one is that the partition of Kosovo is not possible. The third one is: no matter what kind of settlement would emerge, it is not possible for Kosovo to join an already existing state formation. I think that those three basic principles and their assertion is extremely important because they reflect that the settlement of the Kosovo issue is an absolutely unique situation which cannot be regarded as precedent to the settlement of any other disputed issue. The basic principles reflect that the Kosovo settlement would emerge under specific historical conditions, with totally unique historical background and antecedents, and now the international community has to find a solution by joint effort. Stressing the fact that the settlement is “without precedent” will play an important role in achieving an international consensus. I wish to emphasize that Hungary, although it is not member of the Contact Group or of the Security Council where the final discussion of the issue is in progress, as member of the European Union, has been able to contribute to the elaboration of some elements of the Kosovo issue. For instance, this was the case when Hungary initiated the elaboration of a Kosovo paper within the framework of the regional partnership, which later on became one of the foundations of the policy of the European Union and some elements of which are reflected in the Ahtisaari report as well. In that document it was stressed, for example, that community minority rights should be provided for in Kosovo, and that it is a key issue to safeguard the collective rights of the Serb community living there. It was also this paper that dealt with the importance of the preservation of religious sites, with ensuring security in Kosovo by NATO and with the elaboration of a robust security guarantee. Thus Hungary succeeded in using European Union membership for introducing certain elements into public political thinking and in positively contributing to it.

Where are we now? In 1999 the international community decided by Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council on the way of development it regarded desirable in Kosovo. It is that Resolution which is still in force to this day. Two years ago the Security Council gave authorisation for opening talks between the representatives of Serbia and the Albanians of Kosovo about the future in general and in particular the future status of Kosovo, and has appointed Martti Ahtisaari as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General. Those talks were not successful. Hungary was not part of those series of negotiations because not a single country of the region was invited to participate. Naturally, as an EU member state we continuously received information about the process. The series of talks were essentially terminated because the conditions of a peaceful separation or peaceful accord had seized to exist. Thus settlement is left to the international community. Obviously everybody hoped for a series of talks that could have led to a peaceful agreement of the parties. The Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ahtisaari presented his proposals and the Hungarian Prime Minister summarised Hungary’s position in a letter addressed to Angela Merkel, to José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and to High Representative Mr Javier Solana. The Hungarian position outlined in the letter has four essential elements.

The first element is that it is expedient to exploit all negotiating possibilities. The letter was written sometime in early February, at a time, when it was not sure if there would be a continuation of talks. This idea met the position of the international community and set a timeframe for talks extended by yet another two weeks. Unfortunately the series of extended talks broke off without result around 10 March, so no essential progress was made. Yet the contents of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s letter reflected that according to Hungary’s opinion Serbia had the right to expound its interests in negotiations and to present its proposals.

The next element of the Hungarian position is extremely important and will, presumably, be a central issue in the future. According to this a decision has to be made at the UN Security Council, in other words a UN SC Resolution is necessary to the emergence of a sustainable long-term settlement in Kosovo. This initiative involves many things. Partly we would like to achieve that no country should be able to veto the settlement in the UN Security Council. Consequently, a solution should be found that is acceptable for all members of the Security Council, in other words, the objections aired by Russia in the Contact Group should be treated properly, a compromise has to be reached and that accord has to be achieved in the Security Council.

On the other hand, the unity of the European Union can only be based on the Security Council Resolution. All of the 27 Member States of the European Union are committed to the settlement of the issue, but each Member State has its own, well understood interests. According to the Hungarian position a Security Council Resolution may help in finding a joint stand. Thirdly, we are of the view that it is in the interest of Serbia as well as of Kosovo that their common future should be based on a SC Resolution. Finally, the SC Resolution is also supported by the fact that the European Union and the NATO have to take up significant tasks in Kosovo in the post-settlement situation, and the authorisation for that is ideally provided by a Security Council Resolution.

In this issue we have reached the point at which all the Member States of the European Union accepted this proposal at the March meeting of Foreign Ministers of the EU, and this expectation was also formulated in the Foreign Ministers’ Conclusion. The Council of Foreign Ministers did not speak about the nature and quality of settlement. But it did say that it should be approved by a SC Resolution. We regard it as a significant achievement. We have also emphasized that a SC Resolution not unambiguously stipulating the status of Kosovo should be avoided. In fact after a hazily worded Security Council Resolution it may happen that independence is unilaterally declared causing further complications in Kosovo as well as in Serbia and in the international community. Therefore the position of Hungary, as it was stated by the Hungarian Prime Minister, is that the UN Security Council should specify the future status of Kosovo.

I consider the third element of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s letter as a matter of outstanding significance. Accordingly Hungary considers the part of the Ahtisaari report referring to community rights as of special importance pointing forward. Community rights spelt out there that can be regarded as collective rights may offer guarantees for ensuring the legal position of minorities living in Kosovo. Without assessing it as a precedent we are of the view that these safeguards could be exemplary in other regions as well. If these collective community rights are not realised in Kosovo, a major Serb exodus can be envisaged which would also affect Vojvodina negatively among others. It should be avoided by all means, and the right to secure living conditions must be ensured for all nationalities living in Kosovo.

I would like to lay special emphasis on the fourth element of the Hungarian position, and that is the Euro-Atlantic integration of Serbia. In his letter Prime Minister Mr Ferenc Gyurcsány clearly stated that parallel to the settlement of Kosovo the Member States of the European Union have to strengthen the European perspective for Serbia. This would not necessarily mean an immediate candidate status but surely the European Union perspective. It is well-known that Hungary is among the countries that would like to see that the talks on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are started or re-launched as soon as possible after the Serbian government is formed. We are of the view, and we are not alone with it in the European Union, that it is the indispensable duty of the Serbian government to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, nevertheless, it should not be a precondition to the reopening of the SAA talks. In our view full cooperation should be investigated after the closure of the talks but before the Agreement enters into force. Let us not waste the time unnecessarily but progress with talks. In addition, Hungarian diplomacy also urges the European Union to word a clear message about the future of Serbia. It cannot be permitted that Serbia and the Serb society should feel isolated due to any type of settlement. We wish to contribute with a positive perspective to the dynamic progress of Serbia along the way of Euro-Atlantic integration. For this purpose we continuously hold consultations with our partners in the European Union, as well as with the Presidency.

We also consider it as an outstanding aim that Serbs should approximate NATO besides the European Union. I am of the view that Hungarian diplomacy, in close cooperation with the United States and other countries, has accomplished a significant result in this respect, for Serbia received invitation to NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme at the NATO Summit in Riga in 2006. This is an extremely important step forward. In the recent past we have sent a delegation of security policy experts to Serbia and offered to the Serb leadership that Hungary would grant all support to meeting the conditions of Partnership for Peace. In addition we have offered to the future Serb government to participate (even if only by symbolic presence) in the Hungarian mission to Afghanistan. Let us jointly demonstrate that Hungary and Serbia are ready and capable of participating in such an extremely important NATO mission.

Those are the four elements of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s letter summarising the Hungarian position. Discussion has started in the Security Council, but it is not expected to continue this month (April 2007). According to the available information the Security Council will decide in the coming days on sending out a group of observers to Pristina and Belgrade upon Russia’s request and would continue the discussion on the basis of its report. As far as the timeframe is concerned it would be irresponsible to forecast anything, but I think that the dynamism of the discussion in the Security Council will speed up in May, and hopefully a reassuring solution may be born in June, which would be acceptable to all the parties involved besides the international community.


* Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs