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The European Union’s enlargement process “must be given momentum” after the upcoming European parliamentary elections, Zsolt Németh, head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, urging the EU to start accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.

Speaking after talks with his Albanian counterpart Mimi Kodheli, Németh said the EU has become “introverted” in recent years and “abandoned” countries in the Western Balkans in their efforts to build stability. The next European Commission and the new European Parliament “will have to make enlargement policy a priority”, he said. Németh added that the Hungarian government disagrees with French President Emmanuel Macron’s position that gives priority to reforms with further enlargement to follow. Enlargement must be part and parcel of those reforms, he insisted.

The European Council should start accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia as early as in June, Németh said, adding that foreign ministers of the Visegrad countries are planning to adopt a joint statement in support of the two countries’ accession late in May. Németh called it “unacceptable” that the Dutch parliament had decided to suspend Albania’s visa-free status and interpreted it as “halting integration processes under way”.

Németh spoke highly of relations between Hungary and Albania, mentioning Hungarian retail bank OTP’s acquisition of one of the largest Albanian banks and a direct flight between the two countries as examples of recent developments. He voiced hope that business cooperation will be extended in food production and water management. Albania will host a Hungarian cultural festival in the last quarter of 2019, as part of which a monument will be erected to Albania’s Queen Geraldine, born a Hungarian countess, in Tirana, while Budapest will pay a similar tribute to Albania’s King George Castriot.