The Visegrad Group (V4) , an alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, on Tuesday strongly advocated the EU's fastest possible enlargement to Western Balkan countries, noting that enlargement was invaluable for the region's security, stability and progress.
The annual meeting of the V4 foreign ministers was also attended by the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, six heads of state of Western Balkan countries aspiring to join the EU and six EU neighbouring members, including Croatia, which was represented by Foreign and European Affairs Minister Davor Ivo Stier.
The enlargement process is an invaluable instrument in achieving the security, stability and progress of the Western Balkans, reads a joint declaration adopted at the meeting.
The security and stability of the Western Balkans are inseparable from the EU's security, reads the document and notes that the V4 countries want to support the six Western Balkan aspirants in the fight against organised crime and corruption, in preventing radicalisation and keeping migration trends under control.
Attending the meeting, held in Warsaw, were also representatives of six neighbouring EU members - Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Romania and Slovenia, and the six EU aspirants Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.
The joint declaration from the conference welcomes the annual Progress Reports on the aspirants released by the European Commission on November 9 as a balanced analysis, and V4 proposes introducing more frequent reports on the countries' progress in meeting EU membership criteria.
Mogherini, who called the Visegrad Group an important group in the EU, told a news conference that the progress of membership talks was extraordinary.
The EU will help the aspirants meet all the criteria so that they can join the EU as soon as possible, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, whose country currently chairs the EU, told reporters.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto expressed concern about the enlargement pause over the next five years.
We need enlargement right now, he told reporters, adding that there was no more time to lose either on the economic front or on the security front.
If the enlargement process continues to be as slow as it has been so far, that will cause major security problems, said Szijjarto, mentioning in that context primarily Serbia.
He also said that negotiations with Albania must not be postponed either nor can Greece's veto regarding the country name obstruct Macedonia's integration with the EU.
Mogherini said that each aspiring country was making progress on a daily basis, and that the enlargement process was already being stepped up.
Our support is crucial, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said, adding that if EU countries did not provide support, others might, which could lead Western Balkan countries onto a different path.
The joint declaration notes that a project to establish a Western Balkan Fund is progressing well, based on the model of the International Visegrad Fund, and that the V4 countries will provide the Western Balkans with all the necessary technical help so that the fund could start operating.
Since the start of the migrant crisis in 2015, the Visegrad Group has been voicing concern and seeking increased protection of the EU's external borders. The V4 countries are against binding migrant quotas defined by the European Commission and believe that member-states should decide on their own how many migrants they want to take in.
The Visegrad Group countries also do not accept the EC's corrective mechanism proposal under which member-countries that do not want to participate in the relocation of refugees would have to pay a solidarity contribution in the amount of 250,000 euros per asylum seeker to the country that receives the migrant in question. They also believe that the money should be used to increase the protection of the EU's external borders.
The Visegrad Group was formed in 1991 as V3 to encourage the European integration of its members and their cooperation in the fields of economy, energy and defence. With the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 it became a four-member group. In 2014 the then Hungarian Foreign Minister Tibor Navracsics said that the group should consider admitting Croatia and Slovenia.