Here is the full transcript of the Hungarian national public-service interview with the President:
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Today, after the meeting with Speaker of the Parliament Mr László Kövér, it was said that you would strengthen relations between the two countries, and in that regard you have signed several agreements. What are they about?
First of all, I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude for the overall visit to Hungary, because I have experienced generous hospitality at every step. I think that this is a true example of how the two states can function successfully, and how they can build true partner and friendly relations with mutual respect. It is great when you have intensive contacts at the highest level, and I think that since the end of 2017 all top Hungarian officials visited Montenegro, and there were significant visits by us Montenegrins to Budapest. Mr Kövér and I really have good cooperation and we have proven that by signing today’s agreements - one agreement was signed by the two of us as heads of parliaments, and the second one by heads of parliamentary services of the Montenegrin and Hungarian parliaments. In short, these agreements will provide closer cooperation of parliaments at all levels with the aim of sharing experiences, using Hungarian experience in the EU integration process, sharing their know-how and the practice of negotiating with the European Union, and they will result in the closer contacts and more successful cooperation of friendship groups, because, as you know, friendship groups are formed in the Parliament of Montenegro and in the Parliament of Hungary. I think that we have additionally improved our very good political relations through our parliamentary relations, aimed at our successful economic cooperation.
Montenegro is getting closer to the EU, and it is expected to join the Union by 2025. The EU enlargement commissioner said earlier that this was a realistic but very ambitious deadline. Hungarian Government, however, thinks that this is unreasonably long deadline. Is Montenegro ready to join the EU?
Well, you know, when everything is not in your hands, then you have to do everything possible to meet your obligations in the best possible manner. We really appreciate that Hungary, as our reliable friend and supporter of our NATO integration and EU road, considers that 2025 is too long deadline. In any case, we think that the path itself towards the European standards is very important. It is very important for us to adopt at daily level standards that will make life of our citizens better and which will bring us closer to the most developed European societies. I really think that Montenegro is a regional leader, we are by far the most progressed country regarding EU integrations, we have opened 32 chapters, and we have only one chapter remained to be opened - 8 Competition. We expect to receive soon closing benchmarks for chapters 23 and 24 and then we will approach the more important phase of closing individual chapters. So, I count that we will do properly everything that is up to us. Of course, this is also a political decision passed by the EU bodies, and I hope that they as well will show euro-enthusiasm, and that new composition of the European Parliament and new composition of the European Commission will keep the EU enlargement high on their priority list. Otherwise, it would probably create additional Euroscepticism in some Western Balkans countries, which would be good in no way. I think that Montenegro, which has advanced the most, should be stimulated. Besides, I have always advocated that each of our countries should be individually awarded or sanctioned, depending on their achievements in the European integration process. We believe that we are doing what is necessary, that we are working devotedly on this European integration process, and I think that we will do everything that is up to us, and of course, after that, the decision is in the hands of EU.
How the Hungarian connection can help you in this regard?
Well, I think it has been helping us significantly. It helps us significantly by friendly and benevolent attitude, and I think that a true friend will tell you when something is good but also when something is not good, because you don’t need someone to pander to you. As I said, Hungary was indeed our reliable partner in our previous very important integration process towards NATO; in the time before our membership and at the time when we became a member it served as our NATO contact point; to remind, it was the third country that ratified the agreement between Montenegro and NATO, and I think that it has been helping us significant in the process of joining the European Union. Furthermore, Visgerad Group, where Hungary is a significant member, is also completely without dilemmas regarding Montenegro’s integration process and integration process of all Western Balkans countries.
What would be better in your opinion - for all the Western Balkans countries to join the EU together or to be accepted individually, based on their track record?
Montenegro’s position, voiced a thousand times, is that the regatta principle should be respected. We certainly want for all the Western Balkans countries to be in the EU at some point, but I simply cannot imagine how they could join the EU together, because they are at different levels of the integration process. We have advanced the furthest - we have opened 32 chapters, the first one after us is Serbia which has opened twice as less - 16 chapters, Albania and Macedonia are yet to receive the invitation for the start of negotiations, and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are far even from that. That is why it is almost impossible to wait for all the Western Balkans countries to join the EU together, and I think this is not even a fair political position. It is politically fair and principled that each country be assessed according to their own achievements in the integration process and that is why I think that Montenegro is truly, by all objective considerations, the first next EU member.
The most frequent migration routes run through the Western Balkans countries, including Montenegro. How much of a challenge is this for you?
This is an enormous challenge for every country. Montenegro had an experience in the ‘90s while there were conflicts in the former Yugoslavia region. In that moment, we were basically a safe house for all the people in trouble from all the countries of former Yugoslavia; nearly 20% of our population at the time were refugees. At that time, for our society, which was under sanctions imposed by the international community, it was very difficult to endure, but I believe that we passed a test of humanity, because we hosted all of them. We shared what we had and proven ourselves as someone who helps people in trouble. Of course, what we have now is a specific situation. In our case they were refugees - in a manner of speaking - from the same territorial area, with similar cultural background. The influx of a large number of refugees is an enormous problem for every country and, of course, I think that a joint response needs to be found, and that the best response is to intervene, to invest funds and to help in those regions where the conditions are being created or where there are reasons for the initiation of migratory waves. I think that efforts need to be made to resolve the matter there, and not to miss an opportunity to intervene there, and then to see how this enormous wave of refugees would be distributed in certain countries. At any rate, Montenegro will do everything it can, but this is a challenge even for much richer countries than us and we will seek to follow the joint EU policy here.
Does this mean that your position is close to the Hungarian one?
I know that in this matter Hungary is, in a way, very specific in a rigid position; I only think that it is best to solve problems at their point of origin, because then it is essentially the easiest to solve that problem. If the migratory waves start, then you are always creating problems in the migratory path as well, and we know, for example, that Montenegro is not their desired destination, that it is only in a way a transit territory towards more developed EU countries.
Near the end of May the EP elections are to be held, which will also determine to what kind of EU Montenegro would be able to join. Are you closely following the election? What is your position, what would be more beneficial for Montenegro, in what direction would it be good for the EU to go?
Of course we are interested in the course of the EP elections, because the enlargement position depends on the new composition of the EP, and after that on the new composition of the European Commission. What we expect and hope for is that the new composition of the EP and the EC will keep the enlargement issue high on their agenda, because I know that there are considerations about the need for the consolidation of the EU. I think that the EU consolidation process and the continuation of the enlargement process are in fact not processes that exclude each other, but that they are compatible processes that should happen simultaneously. You see, every new EU member brings its own new small pebble of value into this great mosaic of European values, and I am certain that by joining the EU Montenegro will also contribute to the quality of life, establishing and embodying those European values. That is why I think that this is also good for the Union, as well as for all the countries that join the Union. By no means should the process be closed and no one should say “alright, we will wait with the enlargement for a while”, because this would not be good for the countries expecting to have a perspective on their European path, nor would it be good for the EU which would not be getting the fresh blood in that case.