From Belgium to Hungary: New opportunities for further enlargement process acceleration

3 July 2024 –  Today in Belgrade, jointly organised by the European Policy Centre (CEP) and the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia, the sixteenth traditional panel discussion regarding the rotation of the Presidency of the Council of the EU was held. The panellists at the event From Belgium to Hungary: New opportunities for further enlargement process accelerationwere H.E. Cathy Buggenhout, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Serbia,  H.E. Jozsef Zoltan Magyar, Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary in Serbia, H.E. Emanuele Giaufret, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of EU to Serbia, Tanja Miščević, the Minister of European Integration, and Chairman of the Governing Board of CEP, Srđan Majstorović. The panel was moderated by Strahinja Subotić, Programme Manager and Senior Researcher at CEP.

In addition to highlighting the key achievements of the Belgian Presidency of the Council, this panel also aimed to clarify Hungary’s strategy for guiding the EU in the next six months. As a country that shares borders with some of the Western Balkan countries and Ukraine and as a former socialist republic, Hungary understands the difficulties faced by both new and old candidate countries on their way to the EU.

The ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium, talking about the successes of the Belgian presidency, said that her country had done everything it had planned, even in the shortened period they had due to the elections. She pointed out that Belgium’s activity in the Green Agenda and the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans is particularly significant.

“The Growth Plan for Western Balkans was one of the documents adopted in this short period. The Growth Plan was mind over matter for all EU Member States”, she emphasised.

“Part of the slogan of our presidency is Prepare for the future because we believe that integration is a very important process. The EU will not be the same as the 36 countries in the table. There will be huge economic differences when new members join, and the money will have to be spread to more countries. Preparing for the future means that the Council has work to do to accommodate new member states, which was acknowledged on 28 June at the Council meeting”, she said.

Jozsef Magyar pointed out that the slogan of the Hungarian presidency, Make Europe Great Again, was chosen because it best reflects the focus of the Hungarian presidency – strengthening of the European economy, which, as the Magyar says, is “stagnant compared to other continents.”

“In 2018, the US and EU economies were the same, and now the US economy is twice the size of the EU. Economic growth in key EU countries is predicted to be 1%, while for the USA it is 3% and for China 5%. Competitiveness was part of the trio program, and Hungary wants to reinforce it with its program. We want to finalise the European competitiveness package and adopt it as a new instrument for member states,” Magyar said.

There were doubts about the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans within the EU. Still, we managed to adopt it, which is a reflection of the strong political will to move forward in enlargement, Giaufret pointed out. “We have had three summits in the past few months where we discussed concrete measures to integrate the WB into the single market, and we will have a set of reforms for each country to accelerate this,” he added.

“With the Growth Plan, the EU is changing its approach in terms of how it distributes funds – The financing of this Growth Plan (facilitation for reform and growth) is something similar to what the Commission has done before for member states – requiring them to establish a set of reforms and allocating funds based on achieved reforms. This proved successful, and the candidate countries are adopting the same approach. He explained that the idea is to reduce the social and economic gap between the EU and the candidates – and the conditions include the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

“We understand the geopolitical shifts and the renewed interest in expansion after the war in Ukraine, and we would like to take advantage of that opportunity, not only through the Reform Agenda but also more broadly,” Minister Miščević said. She also pointed out that Serbia’s goal is not only to open Cluster 3, but also to prepare and open Cluster 2 – Internal Market. “We want to receive IBAR for Chapters 23 and 24 by the end of this year”, she said.

Majstorović reminded that the Strategic Agenda 2024 – 2029 was adopted last week and that it is clear that the European Union is starting preparations for enlargement, as well as that internal reforms of the EU go ‘hand in hand’ with enlargement”.

However, Majstorović also reminded us that 2024 marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of Serbia’s negotiations with the EU and that the results are far from what we expected. He reminded of the importance of reforms, but also that “EU integration never ends” and that it continues in different forms even after you become a member. He also pointed out that the road to the EU is not straight and irreversible. “Reforms that the candidates have to undertake are sometimes reversible, and membership is not a guarantee that everyone will pass without problems, and Serbia must learn that and resolve it in time,” concluded Majstorović.

This event is part of a traditional practice that CEP and the EU Info Centre started eight years ago, intending to start a quality debate on EU priorities from the point of view of the countries presiding over the Council of the EU (outgoing and upcoming presiding countries), concerning current topics in the accession process. Serbia EU. The twice-yearly event gathers representatives of the diplomatic corps, state institutions, and civil society organisations and is widely covered by the media.