Newsletter 11/2011 - From Brussels angle
INTERVIEW with Janos Martonyi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hungary
Western Balkan needs to see tangible European perspective, else the credibility of the EU could be weakened
Minister Martonyi, what are the priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency, especially in relation to South East Europe and the enlargement countries?
Hungary has always been a steadfast supporter of the Western Balkans’ European perspective. We believe that the European integration process is a strong pillar of stability in the region.
One of the priorities of the Hungarian Presidency is to bring these countries closer to EU standards and values in order to reinforce democracy and the rule of law, promote respect for fundamental and minority rights, encourage a comprehensive reform of the judiciary and fight against organised crime and corruption, as well as to build a functioning state administration and a prosperous market economy. Regional cooperation is a tool which should be utilized by the countries of the region to achieve their goals. The enlargement process is a unique opportunity for necessary changes and it requires hard work, determination and great political courage.
Therefore, the prospect of EU membership provides a clear incentive for these countries to undertake reforms that can turn this prospect into reality. But the people of the Western Balkans also need to see a concrete and tangible European perspective, otherwise the credibility of the EU could be weakened. In this sense, visa liberalisation is a significant development and a clear demonstration of what sustained efforts can achieve.
The efforts should be acknowledged in the case of Croatia as well. It is our Presidency’s objective to conclude the accession negotiations with Croatia, provided that every condition will be met by the end of the Hungarian Presidency’s term.
It is our historic duty to ensure that the enlargement process goes ahead and Hungary is determined to make every effort to facilitate a steady progress of the countries of the Western Balkans on their path for European integration. This issue is one of the major items on the agenda of the Hungarian Presidency.
Which concrete results you hope to achieve until the end of the Presidency in June 2011, when it comes to the Western Balkans?
When aiming to achieve concrete results for these countries, Hungary will do its utmost to help Croatia close the accession negotiation process under our Presidency. It is equally important to move forward with Turkey as well, and to start negotiations on substance with Iceland.
We welcome the reiteration by the European Commission of the recommendation for opening negotiations with [The Former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia. A recent decision to grant candidate status to Montenegro provides the right encouragement not only for Podgorica, but for the whole region as well. We strongly support Serbia’s integration efforts and we are pleased to see Belgrade’s membership application recently accepted.
For Albania, the main goal for 2011 should be to achieve candidate status. We hope that the Albanian authorities will engage in a constructive political dialogue in order to settle the long-standing political stalemate. When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we expect a speedy formation of a new government, whose program and actions should focus on the issues of European integration.
We will also work for keeping up the European perspective for Kosovo. The Pristina-Belgrade dialogue is important for the stability of the whole region and should be launched as soon as possible.
How could the priorities of the Hungarian EU Presidency be translated into development opportunities for the region?
Building and connecting transport and energy infrastructures are crucial requirements to address the growing needs of both the private sector and that of citizens and to eventually increase badly needed foreign direct investments in the region. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to take into account the growing and fast changing needs of the larger politico-economic environment at both regional and global level. A thriving regional cooperation network can be a magnet for long term investments, thus opening up new development opportunities in the region.
European Investment Bank lending to the Western Balkans has reached €2.8 billion for 2008-2010 with a special emphasis on infrastructure. Taking into account the still large gap between existing infrastructure and available financial resources, one of our priorities is to promote sound financing schemes for infrastructure projects.
In accordance with relevant EU policies, the Trans-European Transport Network’s (TEN-T) connections with the South East European network, as well as key energy-infrastructure interconnections are key strategic goals for us, which may provide efficient and functional links between the EU and the Western Balkans.
Do you see a possibility to implement related aspects of Europe 2020 in the Western Balkans, and how?
The Europe 2020 Strategy is one of the greatest and most ambitious challenges of the European Union, aiming at sustainable growth and employment, enhanced competitiveness and greening of the economy. Some of its concrete actions in the areas of employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate may be applied in the Western Balkans countries, too. Taking into account their strategic goal to become EU members as soon as possible, it would be wise for candidate and potential candidate countries to harmonize their national development strategies with the flagship initiatives and headline targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy.
The countries of the Western Balkans should adopt a long term view for their development strategies, avoid the many pitfalls of short term political thinking, and invest in the future of next generations. Their aim should be sustainable growth, import of high-technology through foreign investments, greening of the economy and a special focus on employment and job creation. The EU stands ready to support these efforts. This long term view would be beneficial for the political environment as well, through providing higher living standards and better lives for citizens.
Achieving the key strategic goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy implies, among others, the implementation of necessary institutional reforms, large investments in infrastructure but also special attention to social inclusion, poverty reduction, promotion of human capital and investments in knowledge and technology.
In light of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)’s Strategy and Work Programme 2011-2013, what do you think is the key to a successful practical cooperation in South East Europe? And how do you view the role of the RCC?
South East Europe is a patchwork of multi-ethnic states, just like our region, Central-Eastern Europe. For all the wide ranging similarities, Hungary has a deep understanding of the difficulties emerging from so many states working together. However, regional cooperation continues to be an essential stabilizing factor in SEE. In this respect, the general mandate of the RCC defined in the recent Strategy and Work Programme provides a solid support to the region-wide stabilization process with a final Euro-Atlantic integration goal.
RCC’s project-oriented approach to implement this general mandate in itself does not provide a key to successful cooperation among the countries of the SEE region. Maybe the most important ingredient is the political will of leading elites to find peaceful solutions to the plethora of bilateral or multilateral problems, which hamper good neighbourly relations. Regional ownership of cooperation processes is also of crucial importance. The EU in its 2009 European Council Conclusions strongly encouraged all concerned parties in the region to adopt a pragmatic and constructive attitude in order to ensure the inclusive character of regional cooperation.
RCC activities should not be supported by the countries involved because it is some sort of ”political dictate” of the European Union, but rather because its coordinative role is a real added value for the stabilization and development process of the region through mutually beneficial regional projects.
Janos Martonyi assumed duties of Foreign Minister of Hungary in May 2010. He also served as the country’s Foreign Minister from 1998 to 2002, as well as State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and State Secretary in the Ministry of International Economic Relations. Martonyi has extensive experience in lecturing as full-time and visiting professor at Universities in Budapest, Szeged, Bruges (Belgium) and Warsaw (Poland). He is the author of numerous articles and essays in the field of international trade law, competition policy and competition law, European integration and community (European) law, global regulations, cooperation in Central Europe and international politics.