Austria's and Hungary's Foreign Ministers in Talks: "Western Balkan Enlargement is the Best Geopolitical Tool We Have"

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: July 15, 2022; 10:55 ♦ (Vindobona)

During a recent visit to Vienna, the Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó met with the Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. Apart from bilateral issues, the meeting focused on the Russian aggression in Ukraine and its effects on Central European neighbors and Western Balkans. The two foreign ministers also discussed European energy security.

Austria's Foreign Minister Schallenberg and Hungary's Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. / Picture: © BMEIA Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres / Gruber / Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

In politically uncertain times, it is important to have close contact with one's neighbouring countries. This is why the Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó visited the Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in Vienna.

In addition to bilateral issues, the main topics of the meeting were the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and its impact on the Central European neighbourhood and the Western Balkans.

Moreover the two foreign ministers discussed European energy security, whereby Schallenberg made it clear that the construction of a new reactor like the one in Hungary was not an alternative for Austria to generate electricity, as nuclear power was not an acceptable source of energy for Austria.

As is often the case, one of the central topics of discussion was the war in Ukraine. Especially its effects on the common neighbourhood and the consequences of the energy crisis, as well as the supply of the many Ukrainian displaced persons were discussed. Hungary's Foreign Minister Szjjiártó thanked Austria for its commitment to the provision of basic needs for Ukrainian displaced persons.

With regard to energy supply, Szijjártó reiterated that the countries of the region are dependent on Russian gas and that Hungary has already made it clear on several occasions that it is neither willing nor able to support the EU sanctions against gas supplies, including measures against Gazprom.

Asked whether Hungary was ready to share the gas stored on its territory with other EU Member States, Szijjártó said that there were no concrete plans to do so, but that securing Hungary's energy supply was the government's top priority.

In addition, the two foreign ministers also discussed the geopolitical consequences of the Russian incursion for the Western Balkan states. In this context, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned that an anti-Western model of life could prevail in the Western Balkans and Russia could have a destabilising effect there if there was no progress in rapprochement with the EU at last.

"Austria and Hungary agree that there must be no geostrategic tunnel vision with regard to the Western Balkans. Enlargement is the best geopolitical tool we have, it is either our way of life or another," said Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

Addressing the issue of illegal migration, the Hungarian Foreign Minister sharply criticised the European Union, saying that "Brussels' policy is pro-migration" and encourages migration.

He also reiterated his misunderstanding of the EU's plan to introduce mandatory resettlement quotas. Hungary, however, appreciated that Austria shared a common position with Hungary in the fight against illegal immigration.

Bilateral issues were also on the agenda of the meeting. Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg emphasised in particular the strong economic relations with neighbouring Hungary. More than 1,400 Austrian companies are active in Hungary, creating more than 70,000 jobs.

They contribute to Austria being one of the largest investors in Hungary and the third most important trading partner. Conversely, Hungary is Austria's seventh largest export partner. After a decline during the COVID 19 pandemic, the trade relationship strengthened again last year.

"Trade relations between Austria and Hungary took off again last year. Our exports to Hungary increased by 24% and imports from Hungary by 22%. These are clear signs of a strong economic relationship," said Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

Prior to their working meeting, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and Foreign Minister Péter Szjjiártó attended the official presentation of the new Ring Tower mural. The work, entitled "Together", was designed by Hungarian artist Dóra Maurer and is a highly visible sign of the bond between the two countries in the heart of Vienna.

BMEIA Federal Ministry for Europe Integration and Foreign Affairs