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The Western Balkans must not be viewed as the backyard of Europe but as a key region without which neither transatlantic nor European integration can proceed, Hungary’s foreign minister said at the Warsaw Security Forum.

Péter Szijjártó told a panel discussion focusing on NATO’s next strategic concept that he was not certain that western European countries were fully aware of the significance of the region’s security and stability, the ministry said in a statement. He added that one of the reasons might be that they are not sufficiently familiar with the region because they are geographically far from it. Szijjártó said it was controversial that while the European Union did not make progress with integration, western ministers often complained that external players, such as Russia, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were trying to exert influence in the region. “How can we win the game if we don’t take the field?” he asked. “If the EU cannot integrate the region, others will definitely do it.” Szijjártó praised the fact that NATO had enlisted three countries from the region which he said was a great achievement. “The EU is unfortunately much slower in this regard,” he said. Szijjártó reiterated that Hungary supported the “open door policy” and backed the enlargement of both the EU and NATO.