Croatia and Hungary, two countries in central Europe, could help the European Union become stronger, President Katalin Novák told an international press conference held with Zoran Milanović, her Croatian counterpart, in Budapest on Friday. Their talks earlier in the day focused on the war in Ukraine, the fight against illegal migration, European integration of the Western Balkans, efforts to promote infrastructure and energy cooperation, the demographic crisis, and issues around ethnic minorities, she noted. Novák said Hungary welcomed Croatia’s accession to the Schengen zone and its recent introduction of the euro, and highlighted the importance of bilateral trade ties and tourism. She said in 2022 over 600,000 Hungarian tourists had visited Croatia, adding that bilateral trade were growing fast, with Croatia being Hungary’s third largest foreign trading partner and Hungary being Croatia’s fourth. Novák noted that it was Milanović’s first official visit to Hungary, adding that “the Croatian president’s courageous stance could help a lot to clear the vision of European leaders”.
At their talks, Novák and Milanović condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and voiced support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence, and for endeavours to achieve peace. Novák thanked her guest for Croatia’s support for Hungarians living in the country. Concerning energy cooperation, she said Hungary was relying on Croatia’s key role in diversifying energy supplies to Hungary.
Answering a question on another subject, Novák said curbing the rights of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region was unacceptable “even without the current war”. Ukraine’s law on ethnic minorities in its current form is “not acceptable” for Hungary because “it poses difficulties for Transcarpathia Hungarians”. Novák said she had sent a letter to the Ukrainian president on the subject of the Ukrainian law on minorities.
Milanović said bilateral ties were good and the two countries were in agreement concerning most issues. He noted Hungary and Croatia’s being neighbours for over a thousand years and said “they have never had really serious conflicts”. Concerning the EU, Milanović said each country should have the right to “settle their own issues in their own manner”. He said he supported “the rule of law rather than the rule of power”. The EU should accept the existing differences between its members, he added. Croatia does not support the concept of a united states of Europe, Milanović said. He said Croatia had not joined the EU “to become a small screw in a large machinery”, adding that his country wanted to preserve its openness.
Referring to an earlier remark in which Milanović had suggested that Brussels was “terrorising” Hungary, he said it was “the acutest of problems” when “financial assistance is awarded without clear criteria, using the might is right principle”. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz “has its own policy and no matter how right-wing it is, it is European”, he said. “Punishing a political community or accusing a nation is unacceptable,” he said. Milanović welcomed his country’s joining the Schengen zone and that border controls were lifted at its border with Hungary, adding that those controls would be introduced at Croatia’s southern border.
On another subject, Milanović said that the European sanctions against Russia were “not working and causing a huge problem”. The question, he said, was “how much damage are we doing to ourselves?” Concerning the war in Ukraine, Milanović said that “Washington and Moscow should talk”.