After the keynote speech of Brigadier General Balázs Szloszjár, the panel discussion entitled “Security Maintained: International Actors and Missions on the Ground” took place with the participation of military and foreign policy officials. The discussion was moderated by Csaba Rada, Head of the Western Balkans Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary.

Brigadier General Federico Bernacca, Deputy Commander of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) explained that the most important event now is the war in Ukraine, which also affects the security of the Western Balkans from an economic, social, and information perspective. B.G. Bernacca underlined the credibility and efficiency of KFOR, which has always been excellent in adapting to constantly evolving security challenges. He explained that KFOR forces are gathering information at various levels and are also cooperating with the Kosovo police and the Serbian army. The Deputy Commander called this system a “complex ecosystem of networks” and made special mention of the preparedness as well as the professional performance of the Hungarian military units during the 2023 crises in northern Kosovo. In his speech, B.G. Bernacca also stressed the strength, determination, and embeddedness of KFOR in NATO and stated that the real “game-changer” remains the Brussels-led normalization process between Belgrade and Pristina that can, through diplomacy and dialogue, resolve the prevailing issues for good.

Major General László Sticz, Commander of the European Union Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR Althea) described the complex system of internal and external actors and the threats they may pose in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Commander explained that EUFOR is ready to meet these challenges and has an excellent and effective mission structure as well as capacity and capabilities. M.G. Sticz noted that the mission is assisting local police forces to build their capacities and become EU compliant and mentioned the importance of demining work too. He praised the multi-level cooperation of the mission, especially underlying that EUFOR is also constantly trying to maintain contact with local communities. The Commander assessed the current military situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina as stable and underscored the main challenge in the political sphere. M.G. Sticz also pointed out that NATO and the EU are both present in the state, the cooperation between international actors and institutions is strong and could be a good example for other cases.

Brigadier General Pamela McGaha, Commander, and Senior Military Representative of the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo first congratulated Hungary on 25 years of NATO membership. The Commander then explained that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO and its members have continued to send strong messages of support and partnership to the state, which is particularly important in the shadow of the war in Ukraine. The Brigadier General also outlined the main stages of cooperation with the defense institutions, including the military. She explained that conditions for cooperation steadily evolved over the past decades, and in 2009, the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina participated in the first peace support operation together with NATO allies. B.G. McGaha added that there is of course plenty of work ahead, but she is positive about the future and agreed with Major General Sticz on the importance of cooperation between EUFOR and NATO in the country.

Zsolt Bunford, Deputy State Secretary for Security Policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary brought the Hungarian political aspects into the discussion. Mr. Bunford said that the main message during the Hungarian EU Presidency will be the enlargement of the Western Balkans. The Deputy Secretary stated that the Western Balkans is highly important to our country as its security is linked to Hungary’s security. He noted that Hungary has established close relations with the countries of the region based on mutual respect and built up a complex relationship with local and international actors. For this reason, Hungary can act as a bridge between parties as well as between the EU and the Western Balkans Finally, looking to the future, Mr. Bunford expressed his hope that developments will move in a direction where the region would become a member of the EU and international peacekeeping troops would no longer be needed.