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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said Serbia should be allowed to join the European Union as soon as possible, adding that the country’s integration was “the next historic task” which would benefit both Serbs and Hungarians and the community itself. “Serbia’s swift accession is in the interest of all EU members,” he said after a Serbia-Hungary government joint session in Subotica (Szabadka). The Hungarian PM said Europe’s current era would come to an end when “central European countries reach the economic level of the EU’s founders”. “There wouldn’t be any economic growth in Europe if it weren’t for central Europe,” he added. “Enlargement is not only good for new entrants but for countries that are already members.” In connection with the Budapest-Belgrade rail line, Orbán said the current 7-8-hour journey would be reduced to 2-3 hours and plugging gaps in the network would benefit the citizens of both countries. Orbán also said he respected Serbia’s request that Hungary should consider Serbia as a single entity in terms of its national economy and investment support. “Serbia belongs to the Serbs. We’re glad to work together if we know clearly which areas welcome us,” he added. Orbán said he trusted that new border crossings between the two countries and investments in infrastructure would have a positive impact on the economy, adding that Hungary would continue its cross-border investment policy in close cooperation with Serbia’s government.

Orbán said Hungarian and Serbian political stability were of key importance to the development of both countries, and he praised the Serbian leadership for providing stability. He also thanked his counterpart for decision-making that helped the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina maintain its cultural autonomy.

Ana Brnabić, Serbia’s prime minister, thanked Orbán and the Hungarian government for backing her country’s efforts towards European integration and for striking a balanced stance in respect of the situation in Kosovo. She also expressed gratitude for the government’s support for Serbia’s minority in Hungary. Brnabić noted that on Monday eleven deals were signed that would soon have an impact on all aspects of politics, the economy and society. She said the joint government sessions were not for show but were held to find specific solutions and to yield tangible results.

At European parliament campaign event held later in the day, Orbán said only Fidesz had the bona fide weight on the international stage to stand up for the Hungarian people in Brussels. Noting that his first European parliament campaign meeting was being held in the city with a large Hungarian community, Orbán called the event “symbolic” from the point of view of national cohesion.He said all over the Carpathian Basin the feeling was growing that Hungarians may well be spread across 7 or 8 separate countries but they belong together, and this feeling was “rooted in historical fact while presenting a challenge, and indeed a task, for the future”. Few in the past would have thought that Hungary would become a mother country able to stand up, in every forum, for Hungarians living beyond the border, even against the most powerful countries. Hungarian government, he noted, has provided strong financial support for Hungarian communities beyond the borders.

Orbán announced a 7-7.5 billion forint (EUR 21.8-23.4m) Hungarian government scheme to support Vojvodina’s economic development.