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On the Balkan route one cannot rule out a challenge similar to that of last year

In Belgrade on Monday, after talks with Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, the Prime Minister said that “We must prepare for a difficult autumn”.

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Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

At a joint press conference, Mr. Orbán explained that the fragility of the agreement between Turkey and the European Union means that, in his view, one cannot rule out the emergence of a situation similar to that of last year on the Balkan migration route. “We must not be foolish, we cannot rule out the possibility that what happened last year may happen again this year, and that the work we did last year will have to be repeated”, he said. In answer to a question, he said that “the chances are that the situation is likely to deteriorate, and the risks are great. […] We must have plans in hand in case the situation deteriorates”.

He said that Hungary wishes to protect the results achieved in the last few years, and therefore will not accept any kind of illegality – including illegal entry into the territory of the country. “We shall prevent this with all means possible” he said.

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

The Prime Minister offered his Serbian counterpart cooperation because, he said, “we have a vested interest in ensuring that no one can enter the territory of Serbia illegally”. As a result, he said, the security of Hungary will also increase.

He also said that he does not wish to do anything in the interest of the Hungarian people’s security which may disadvantage Serbia. “It is not in our best interest that tens of thousands of migrants are stuck in Serbia while we protect Hungary’s borders”, he said.

The two leaders also agreed on the opening of border crossing stations, however. Mr. Orbán said that while it is necessary to prevent illegal border crossings, new border crossing stations must be opened for those who wish to move between the two countries legitimately.

Answering a question about the migrant quota referendum on 2 October, the Prime Minister said that it is necessary to hold a referendum because he is expecting increasingly serious conflicts between Hungary and Brussels over the issue of migration, as Brussels is seeking to impose rules on the Member States which are contrary to their interests. “If Brussels does not change its mind, and we do not accept Brussels’ position, it can only lead to one thing: an ongoing legal and political dispute. […] The greater the number of people supporting us in the referendum, the better are the chances that we will have success when fighting this battle with Brussels.”

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

Regarding Serbia’s accession to the EU, Mr. Orbán said that he is unable to offer the Serbs an alternative which is better than trying to move as close to the EU as possible. He made it clear that, although there are attempts to block Serbia’s accession to the EU, Hungary does not accept this and that the only thing that matters is performance.

He also said that Hungarians living in Serbia are currently benefiting from fair and generous Serbian policy, and that the Hungarian government is also making every effort to be generous to Serbs living in Hungary.

He also asked for Aleksandar Vučić’s support in the 2024 Budapest Olympic bid, because in his view an Olympic Games held in Central Europe could benefit the entire region.

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić stressed that the two countries have succeeded in preserving outstandingly positive Hungarian-Serbian relations despite the fact that they have not always agreed with each other on everything. He said that there must be preparations for the autumn and winter, as already there are more than five thousand migrants in his country’s territory. Joint task forces are working on preparing Serbia for the period ahead, he said.

The Serbian prime minister said that Budapest is providing assistance in protecting the Macedonian border, and that they will also extend this to the Bulgarian border. He pointed out that Serbia has sought to show solidarity with migrants, but the country is also unable to take in illegal immigrants. He stated that at the beginning of the migrant crisis those coming from the war-stricken regions were exclusively families. Now, however, 81 per cent of migrants are coming from Afghanistan, and are economic migrants. For the first time, he continued, migrants have caused trouble, engaged in fights and committed robberies. In addition to all this, providing food and shelter for migrants is an enormous expenditure. While the European Union is providing help, Serbia is still required to spend a considerable amount of money on the care of migrants.

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

Maintaining good relations with Hungary is imperative for the Serbian government. In the interest of promoting cooperation, a joint task force will be set up to deal with several issues, such as the economy, agriculture and tourism, in order to make the two countries more successful through the exchange of experience.

The two men agreed that further proof of good economic relations is the fact that in the first half of this year trade between the two countries increased by 12.7 per cent – primarily due to Hungarian investment.

A joint Serbian-Hungarian government meeting will be held before the end of this year. This meeting may take place somewhere in Central Serbia rather than in Belgrade, because the Serbian government would like Hungarian investors to invest not only in Vojvodina, but also in the rest of Serbia.

Mr. Vučić thanked Hungary for its support in assisting his country’s European integration aspirations. He highlighted the fact that Belgrade’s goal is for Hungarians living in Serbia to feel that the Serbian government respects and appreciates them just as much as the members of the majority nationality. In this context he pointed out that István Pásztor – the President of the largest Hungarian party in Vojvodina, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians – was also a member of the Serbian delegation.