Vital interest in Western Balkans

Institute for World Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Hungary is situated in the direct neighbourhood of the Western Balkans, therefore it is very much interested in the credible progress of all these countries towards prospective EU membership. Croatia and Serbia are regarded as most important partners among the Western Balkan countries for Hungary, due to direct geographic proximity (and in the case of Serbia, due to the presence of a non-negligible Hungarian minority).
 
Unlike in a number of other EU member states, there is no clear opposition in Hungary against the future EU membership of Turkey. The only aspect where serious doubts occur is the EU budget, namely, the potential effect of the inclusion of Turkey into the system of EU transfers. From this point of view, Hungary is interested (without stating it officially) in a later EU-entry of Turkey.
 
Due to differences in size, but also to geographic proximity and economic opportunities, such fears do not occur in the case of the Western Balkan countries. The region is one of the main fields of Hungarian outward foreign direct investment (which, in a number of cases, means investments by multinational enterprises via their companies in Hungary), and a stable development of this region enhances these opportunities (and increased stability can make these markets available for other, smaller Hungarian firms as well).
 
Due to factors already mentioned – geographic proximity, Hungarian minority in Serbia, economic opportunities – the peaceful settlement of the Kosovo issue, and the stable and EU-oriented development of Serbia are vital Hungarian interests. It is no wonder that the Hungarian foreign policy has been very cautious in taking sides. All in all, these cautious political statements or speeches during the autumn of 2007 have followed the same general line, putting at the same time more or less weight on different aspects of the issue – depending on newest events, but also on who the actual negotiating partner was.
 
As it could be expected – because of its vital interests mentioned above –, Hungary was not among the first countries that recognised the independence of Kosovo. However, despite this prudence, Hungary joined the majority of EU member states, and recognised the independence of Kosovo on 19th March 2008. At the same time, Hungary is also very much interested in a politically and economically stable and EU-oriented Serbia, and therefore actively supports the steps recently taken or foreseen in the framework of EU-Serbian relations (namely, preparations for the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, positive changes in the visa regime).