The Hungarian season of European integration of the Western Balkans

The Hungarian season of European integration of the Western Balkans

On July 1, Hungary takes over the EU’s rotating presidency. The acceleration of the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top priority of Budapest’s presidency.

“The EU has long been strongly engaged in providing a European perspective for the Western Balkans, as the Community cannot be complete without the accession of this region. The integration of the region benefits the European Union in economic, security and geopolitical terms,” the program of the Hungarian presidency says.

Should the region expect rapid progress on the European path in the next six months?


The countries of the Western Balkans are at different “distances” from the EU “front door”. Montenegro is the closest one to membership in the European Union.

On 26 June, Podgorica confirmed its European integration leader status after a positive Interim Benchmark Assessment Report (IBAR) for Chapters 23 and 24 related to the Rule of Law, confirmed at the Intergovernmental Conference.

This landmark decision marks Montenegro’s final phase of European integration. The last such positive report was received by Croatia, which soon after became a full member of the European Union.

“IBAR is an achievement that announces that you are entering the final phase of the negotiation process. This is a strong political signal for the people of Montenegro that the enlargement process is alive,” emphasized the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Hungarian Olivér Várhelyi. “The final phase of accession negotiations means that accession is inevitable,” he emphasized.

However, the next day, joy and optimism were overshadowed by the adoption by the Montenegrin parliament of a Resolution on the Jasenovac camp. Dachau and Mauthausen camps were added to the list before voting, but it is clear that the essence has not changed – the ruling majority tried to achieve a symbolic balance after the Montenegrin delegation voted for the Resolution on Srebrenica at the UN General Assembly.

This step indicates the foreign policy priorities of the current authorities in Podgorica. Probably, Belgrade supported the Resolution on Jasenovac camp, but not Zagreb.

Now Croatia can significantly complicate the European integration progress of Montenegro due to the presence of problematic bilateral issues at the EU level – the former Morinj detention camp, the border area near the Prevlaka peninsula, Jadran training ship…

Given that the EU does not like unresolved bilateral issues, the final stage of Montenegro’s accession may be delayed.

According to one version, Belgrade deliberately put pressure on Podgorica, demanding the adoption of a Resolution on Jasenovac camp, in order to quarrel between the two neighbors and slow down Montenegrin European integration. However, this is only a version.


If to try to describe the European integration of Serbia briefly, the main thing is Belgrade’s hope that the Hungarian presidency in the EU creates conditions for the opening of new chapters. As you know, this process has stopped, mainly due to Serbia’s reluctance to follow the EU’s requirements for foreign and security policy, or, in other words, because of the refusal of the Serbian authorities to join the European sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Budapest, which is in no hurry to support restrictive measures against Russia, does not consider the current policy of official Belgrade to be an obstacle to European integration. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Péter Szijártó, one or two next negotiating chapters with Serbia can be expected to open before the end of the year.

This will be the maximum that the Orbán-Vučić tandem can achieve during the six months of the Hungarian presidency. Belgrade will not be able to make a record-breaking “rush” ahead of Montenegro. And it is not due to the policy of anti-Russian sanctions, but due to the Kosovo problem, making it impossible to imagine Serbia a member of the European Union


The lack of progress in dialogue with Belgrade is also an obstacle on Priština’s European path. The policy of the current Kosovo government, which does not always fulfill the EU recommendations and sometimes requirements on relations with Serbs, does not contribute to European integration. Not only Belgrade’s indignation, but Brussels’ irritation are caused by the suspension of establishing of Association of Serb Majority Municipalities (ZSO), the ban on the circulation of dinars in cash, the fight against the so-called “parallel” Serbian institutions, and many other Priština‘s steps.

The latest European Union-facilitateddialogue and the comments of European representatives showed that the EU does not understand the desire of the leaders of Kosovo to first get Serbia’s signature under the Basic Ohrid Agreement (that is, to obtain guarantees or, de facto recognition), and then to start talks about the establishment of the ZSO.

As a result, today, the situation with Kosovo’s European integration is much more complicated than a few years ago. The European Union even introduced restrictive measures against Priština, which is the best example of bad relations between Kosovo and the EU. Giving the very good relations between Belgrade and Budapest, Hungary’s presidency in the European Union does promise nothing new for Priština.

North Macedonia

North Macedonia is another country that has recently blighted its European prospects.

The VMRO-DPMNE rice to power, which is not going to make any concessions to Bulgaria immediately, puts Macedonian European integration on pause. In addition, the desire of Skopje’s officials to use the unchanged name of the country in communications(thereby creating tension in relations with Greece) reduces the EU integration lobby for North Macedonia.

However, the current Macedonian government should not be considered as anti-European, and relations between Skopje and Brussels as a dead end.

VMRO-DPMNE government (with coalition partners) is ready to discuss various options for a compromise with the Bulgarian side, and is already offering options. At the recent Dubrovnik Forum, North Macedonia’s officials stated that they were ready to accept current Bulgaria’s demands – to amend the Constitution and include the “Bulgarian minority” in the text. Skopje’s only condition is that the constitutional changes must enter into force on the day North Macedonia joins the European Union.

The appointment of a new government in Sofia (it is hard to say when it will happen) should give an answer about Bulgaria’s readiness to accept the Macedonian proposal.

The only thing is that, given the close ties between VMRO-DPMNE and Orbán, the Hungarian presidency can help North Macedonia convey its vision of relations with Bulgaria to European structures. It is unlikely that the Hungarians will be an open lobbyists for Macedonians’ interests in the EU, but Budapest obviously will not be involved in the promotion of the Bulgarian vision of the Macedonian issue.


Hungary’s presidency is unlikely to help Albania. The conflict with neighboring Greece over Fredi Beleri is unusual for Brussels and Budapest to understand the situation, let alone to resolve it.

On the one hand, the story of the elected mayor of the Albanian city of Himara (accused of bribing voter), which was sent to prison, but was elected as a member of the European Parliament from Greece, affects the rights of minorities (according to Athens, it violates the rights of the Greeks of Albania). On the other hand, it concerns the important issue for the EU – the rule of law (according to Tirana). All this is too complicated for Eurobureaucrats.

However, it is possible that Budapest, which considers the European integration of the Western Balkans as its priority, will try to “reconcile” the Greeks and Albanians, without details, in order to at least prevent Greece from blocking the European integration of Albania.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

There may be a paradoxical, even an absurd situation with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European integration during the presidency of Hungary, when a progress on the country’s path towards the EU would be ensured by the pro-Russian Milorad Dodik, but not the pro-European, pro-Western forces of BiH.

Dodik’s personal friendship with Orbán, the close partnership between the Republic of Srpska (RS) and Hungary will certainly affect relations in the Banja Luka – Brussels – Sarajevo triangle. It is impossible that Budapest will be able to completely rewrite the EU’s policy towards BiH, identifying the RS as a partner and ally. But there is a possibility that Brussels will be more lenient and less critical of Dodik’s secession initiatives during Hungary’s presidency. The next six months will show us whether this is enough for, say, financing the RS’ projects from European funds or starting negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina on joining the EU.