The issue of illegal migration is being overshadowed by the ongoing war, President Katalin Novák said in Skopje on Monday.
Good relations with North Macedonia are crucial to Hungary, Novák told a joint press conference with Stevo Pendarovski, her North Macedonian counterpart. She added that the integration of the Western Balkans was in the interest of all of Europe.
Novák said the most important topic she and Pendarovski had discussed was the ongoing war in Ukraine. She said they both condemned Russian aggression and stood by Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
She added that an urgent ceasefire in Ukraine and a start to peace talks was in Hungary’s and North Macedonia’s shared interest.
Novák also noted that Hungary was punching above its weight in humanitarian assistance, having welcomed over a million refugees from Ukraine since the start of the war.
Another important topic, Novák said, was North Macedonia’s European Union integration, arguing that stability in the Western Balkans was key to Europe’s security and the fight against illegal migration.
She said it was unfair to make North Macedonia wait too long to be granted EU membership, warning that this could undermine the population’s enthusiasm for joining the bloc.
Concerning their talks on the issue of illegal migration, Novák noted that last year more than twice as many migrants had arrived at the EU’s borders via the Western Balkan migrant route as in 2021.
Novák said she and Pendarovski were in agreement that the root causes of migration needed to be addressed in the migrants’ countries of origin and that illegal migration needed to be stopped outside of Europe’s external borders.
She noted that there were 30 Hungarian police officers helping to patrol the North Macedonian-Greek border.
Novák said she had briefed Pendarovski on Hungary’s demographic policy and family support system, adding that they had also reviewed the results of their two countries’ cooperation.
In response to a question about North Macedonia’s EU accession, Novák said it was right to set strict criteria for membership in the bloc. Alluding to the corruption scandal unfolding in Brussels, she added that the EU should set an example when it came to combatting corruption. The president said that if an absence of corruption was a requirement, it should also be required of EU institutions.
In response to another question, Novák said the case of former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski was ultimately the decision of Hungary’s independent judiciary, adding that nothing overshadowed the two countries’ good relations.
Concerning disputes between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Novák noted that she had become familiar with the Bulgarian position during her recent visit to Sofia. Hungary is taking no position on the matter, and supports an agreement between the two sides, she added.
Pendarovski praised the “excellent relations” between North Macedonia and Hungary. He expressed thanks for Hungary’s continued support of his country’s aim to join the EU, as well as its support for North Macedonia’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
He said North Macedonia’s EU accession was also in Hungary’s strategic interest, adding that his country was aiming to learn from the experiences of the Visegrad Group.
Pendarovski hailed the development of bilateral economic ties, noting that Hungary was among North Macedonia’s top ten trading partners. He also expressed thanks for Hungary granting scholarships to 20 North Macedonian university students each year as part of the Stipendium Hungaricum programme.
Both heads of state expressed their sympathies to those affected by the earthquake that hit southeast Turkiye and northern Syria early on Monday.