János Bóka, the minister for European Union affairs, on Tuesday met Karoline Edtstadler, the Austrian Federal Minister for the EU and Constitution, in Vienna for bilateral talks on EU enlargement, strengthening competitiveness and the situation in the Middle East. EU competitiveness will be the central focal point of the Hungarian presidency in the second half of 2024, Bóka told a press conference after the talks. All other priorities will be derived from that, and see Austria as a reliable partner in that aim, he said.
Regarding the bloc’s enlargement, Hungary’s stance had always been unequivocal, he said. “If the EU used its resourcefulness to advance the enlargement process rather than to hinder it, the countries of the Western Balkans would have become members long ago.” On the matter of Ukraine’s accession, the member states must conduct an “open and honest” strategic debate before making the decision, he said. Bóka said the debate would have to decide whether “accession talks with a country at war with a neighbouring nuclear power” would strengthen or weaken the EU. The member states will also have to determine the aim of the talks, “whether we want to spread peace or import war into the EU”.
The European solution to illegal migration should also be based on a consensus, possibly one rooted in an aim that “we, rather than people smugglers, should decide who we want to allow into the country”. The EU’s migration pact has failed to deliver results, he said. Bóka said that member states had started to look for opportunities outside of the pact. The agreement between Austria, Hungary and Romania “has already yielded results”, he said.
In the Middle East, Hungary has an interest in freeing the hostages, including the Hungarian citizens, and in preventing escalation and enabling Israel in “exercising self-defence effectively”, he said. Regarding the Hungarian presidency, Bóka said the government would strive to cooperate with all member states as an “honest and impartial mediator”.
Edtstadler said the talks were “open and honest”. She noted that Austria is Hungary’s third largest trading partner and one of its largest investors. Some 1,400 Austrian companies employ around 1,400 people in the country, she said. While Austria and Hungary hold different views on a number of issues, “the EU is a democracy and the exchange of opinions is important”, she said. Hungary and Austria are on the same side on illegal migration, she added.