BRUSSELS -- Oliver Varhelyi, Hungary's candidate for the post of Commissioner for EU Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, voiced hope on November 14 that a deal between Serbia and Kosovo could be reached by the end of the year and that Albania and North Macedonia would be given a green light to start EU accession negotiations in spring.
Varhelyi, speaking during his confirmation hearing in the European Parliament, also warned that financial aid to Moldova could be cut over the latest developments in the country.
At the end of the hearing, a majority of the members of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee voted against Varhelyi's nomination. The Hungarian now needs to answer written questions by November 18.
Varhelyi said that he saw "a historic opportunity [for Kosovo and Serbia] to come to an agreement hopefully still this year," adding that, if that happens, EU visa liberalization would ensue for Kosovo citizens. Kosovo remains the only country in the Western Balkans that still doesn't enjoy visa-free travel in the bloc.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and although more than 110 countries recognize it, Belgrade does not. European Union-mediated talks, started in 2011, between Pristina and Belgrade to settle their differences have stalled.
Varhelyi said one of his priorities would be for Albania and North Macedonia to open membership talks with the EU ahead of a Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May 2020.
The move was blocked mainly by France at an EU summit in Brussels last month.
Varhelyi also told EU lawmakers that following the collapse of pro-Western Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu's government on November 12, he could freeze the bloc’s macrofinancial aid to the country.
"We have to make sure that, even if there is an internal crisis, reforms continue," Varheliy said. "If they don't, we will have to suspend financial assistance like it has been done in the past. Financial assistance is clearly and unconditionally linked to progress in reforms.”
Varhelyi, who until recently served as Hungary's ambassador to the EU, also answered questions concerning his country's difficult relationship with its neighbor, Ukraine, over minority rights, but he assured that the EU has "a very special responsibility" to Ukraine.
"We need to help them regain their sovereignty over the entire territory of Ukraine," Varhelyi said. "We would have to stand by them and we would have to defend them, including any possible prolongation of the sanctions in relation to Russia as long as we do not see any progress in the Minsk process."
Budapest had initially proposed another candidate, former justice minister Laszslo Trocsanyi, for the EU enlargement portfolio. However, Trocsanyi's candidacy was rejected in September by the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee due to conflicts of interest.
If the European Parliament approves Varhelyi and the commissioners-designate from France and Romania in the coming weeks, the new European Commission could start work on December 1 -- already one month later than intended.
However, Britain's refusal to propose a candidate for a commission portfolio because of the Brexit process despite the country's still being part of the EU could further delay the new EU executive body from coming into being.