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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: The European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs has voted to approve Olivér Várhelyi’s nomination as commissioner for enlargement and neighbourhood policy. The membership of the new European Commission had now being finalised, and it seems that, after a month’s delay, it can start its work. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio.

Good morning.

Whose success is Olivér Várhelyi’s success?

Many of us; not every Hungarian, regrettably, but many of us. I could say the majority, as all of us – or at least most of the country – would like to see Hungary’s influence in European politics increase. It can increase if we perform well here at home. As a result, Hungary’s influence will increase. It will also do so if we nominate people for positions in Europe who are able to perform well through their abilities, commitment and knowledge – especially when they’re in important positions. In my opinion Hungary has received the most important European portfolio for the coming five years. I believe that the fact they’ve decided this – or that we’ve fought for it or earned the privilege, whichever way you choose to express it – is our greatest diplomatic success of the past ten years. There are ministerial positions which are important from an economic point of view: finance, development and so on. There are other positions which are the most important from a security viewpoint, and one of these is neighbourhood policy and enlargement. The commissioner delegated by Hungary has been given the job that is the most important from the viewpoint of security. I don’t recall Hungary being able to obtain a position in any international organisation at any time in the past ten years which was as influential as the one which we now have in the European Union. This expression – “neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations” – sounds mystical; but this portfolio also concerns migration, because migrants are coming from the South, from the Balkan countries, and these countries are candidates for membership, so the Commissioner will be dealing with them. One of the uncertainties threatening Europe is in Ukraine, due to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The new commissioner will also have to deal with Ukraine. And the threat coming from Africa is also important. However strange it may sound, our commissioner will also have to liaise with the African countries on the other side of the Mediterranean. At the same time this portfolio is also important in terms of energy, because our commissioner will likewise deal with the Caucasus and Azerbaijan. Our ability to bring energy to Hungary and the European Union from that region – from territories outside Russia – is a question of energy security. So for us this [appointment] is a great cause for celebration. Perhaps we should also say a few words about the darker aspects of this matter, because many people have tried to prevent it from happening. Hungary has international rivals: other states and different political tendencies. But there was also a great deal of attempted sabotage within Hungary: the Hungarian opposition united in Brussels in an attempt to derail the Hungarian candidate’s nomination. Indeed, there is factual support for the assertion that George Soros personally tried to contact European leaders at the highest level to personally prevent Olivér Várhelyi’s appointment. This was a fierce battle, but we won.

Now that you mention George Soros, it’s interesting that Olivér Várhelyi was continually asked – both verbally and in writing – if he agrees with what the Hungarian prime minister has said. They wanted him to distance himself from Viktor Orbán. I wonder if Frans Timmermans was asked at the committee hearing whether he would distance himself from George Soros, who he meets on a regular basis. After all, the Hungarian or Slovak prime ministers are a little more relevant to the affairs of the European Union than George Soros.

Yes, this demand to “distance oneself” is an old tactic of the Left, which isn’t worth taking seriously. I will never delegate to high international positions people who aren’t good patriots and who are unable to reconcile their own patriotism with the international assignment they’ve accepted. The two are not mutually exclusive. There are some people, however, who want to occupy international positions while quickly discarding all signs of which nation, which community they belong to. I would never delegate such people to any position. I believe that Olivér Várhelyi, who is both an excellent Hungarian patriot and a good European, will be able to reconcile these two aspects. It’s not always easy, but I’m sure he’ll succeed. We would need an entire series of conferences – not just a radio programme – to reveal the influence exerted over the European Union and the mechanisms used for this by non-state players such as George Soros’s empire, which seek to shape financial, economic and immigration policy. We’d also need the same to reveal who their allies are. In my view these people are all opponents of Europe, as they want to flood Europe with migrants. George Soros even stated this in writing: he published it, and the whole world knows it. He wants to bring in one million immigrants a year. I believe this would kill the continent, or transform it so that it would no longer be ours. They want to turn Europe into an immigrant continent. Behind this there are clearly perceptible economic and financial interests, and it’s no wonder that this political movement is led by a financial speculator. This will be the history of our next five years.

What does the Hungarian government expect from the new European Commission?

Well, the most important thing is to restore security to the European people. So over the next five years the most important question will continue to be migration and whether we will be able to defend Europe’s borders. Hungary can, other countries can’t. Hungary wants to, other countries don’t even want to. This is an unfinished debate. Everyone wants to bring it to a conclusion; but in a debate the important thing isn’t that it should be concluded, but that it should be concluded well. So just for the sake of concluding the debates we will not surrender our position on the defence of borders, we will not surrender the fence, and we will not surrender our position that Europe belongs to Europeans and Hungary belongs to Hungarians. So this is the first thing. The second thing is perhaps less important historically, but in terms of putting food on the table a more important question is the economy and what will happen to the European economy. In the past five years European leaders have made very grave mistakes in two areas: in security and immigration; and in economic policy. The part of the European economy over which Brussels has the greatest influence is that formed by the states belonging to the eurozone. We don’t belong to that area. The eurozone is in a wretched condition, and there are difficult years ahead. Analyses for 2020 assert that, if it enjoys plenty of luck, the German economy will perhaps achieve a growth rate of 1 per cent. Of course one could say that this is just Germany’s problem; but that’s not true, as for Hungary it’s crucial that the countries of Western Europe do well. In those countries, however, Brussels has been pursuing bad economic policy: it’s been unable to help the nation states in developing good economic policy, and now we’re paying the price for that. In 2020 Hungary’s greatest task will be to protect the results it has achieved so far. We’re now at the end of November, and we’re busy – I’m busy – making plans for 2020. I’m reviewing and prioritising tasks, and I can see that in 2020 the greatest challenge will be protecting the results the Hungarian economy has achieved so far.

We’ll come back to this. The Commission will have to create a budget: the European Union’s upcoming seven-year budget. Hungary’s Justice Minister Judit Varga has said that Hungary cannot accept the allocation of funding being made conditional on rule of law norms.

Of course that idea is nonsense, and it will come to nothing.

Obviously Hungary won’t be the only country vetoing it.

We don’t know that, because it takes courage, solid support, tactical skill and national character. Those of us who share the same position don’t all behave the same way. This is one of the beauties of European politics: we agree with one another, and then we try to realise our intentions in completely different ways – with some adopting guerrilla tactics, others trying to forge broad alliances, and still others leading a hussar charge to dislodge the enemy from its positions. So we’re not the same. One thing is certain: the Hungarian battle tactics are fairly striking and spectacular. But what we’ve learnt throughout history is that it’s better to make our position clear right at the beginning and to gain a foothold, otherwise opposing forces will sweep us away. Therefore I usually lay my cards on the table, and right at the beginning we clearly identify the limits and boundaries of an agreement, and the lines that we won’t be able to cross. This is one of those instances now, and we’re saying that, in their current form, these proposals for linking financial issues to other unrelated issues are definitely unworkable.

Earlier you said that one of the most important issues for the European Union and the European continent is preserving security. Donald Tusk, who in Zagreb on Monday was elected leader of the European People’s Party, said that security is important, but that so are fundamental freedoms, and one must not sacrifice either in order to preserve the other. In light of these thoughts from the European People’s Party’s newly elected leader, what kind of conservative politics can we expect from the People’s Party?

We don’t know the answer to that either, and this is why we’re keeping our membership suspended. We, as the Hungarian governing party, haven’t yet decided whether or not we’ll continue our shared life with the European People’s Party. We expect the People’s Party to clarify its views and plans, and then we’ll make a decision on this.

They’ve said this will be the case at the end of January – or at least that’s what Mr. Tusk has said.

What they say is one thing. Here what we want to know is when they’ll finally start talking clearly. A Hungarian governing party cannot belong to a political community which is pro-immigration, which doesn’t support border defence, which doesn’t support the Hungarian fence, which doesn’t give the Hungarian people the respect they deserve, and which doesn’t recognise the efforts we’ve made in order to defend Europe. We can only belong to a community which recognises all that. There was a time when the European People’s Party was like that, but they’ve started drifting to the left. The question is whether the new president will be able to stop this process. If so, we have a future together. If not, we’ll have to build another political community.

The Hungarian Standing Conference [of Hungarian communities beyond the borders] was held here in the capital last week, and you said that there is indeed a need for ethnic Hungarian parties across the Carpathian Basin. What experiences are your basis for saying this?

It’s a historical fact that the state borders do not coincide with the areas populated by the Hungarian nation – by Hungarians who form part of our community. There are some other countries like this around the world, but in Europe today it’s customary for the borders of states and nations to coincide. This is not the case for us. This is a fact which has serious consequences for politics. We mustn’t shut ourselves within our state borders, and we mustn’t act like hedgehogs: we must build relations, we must strengthen our culture, we must support schools, and we must build nursery schools also in places where there are large Hungarian communities. This is because they are one with us: we are of the same blood, and we belong together. It’s not easy to fulfil this duty – particularly if the economy isn’t working well, as was the case for many decades. Now, when the economy is doing better, we can also allocate a little more money for these purposes. It’s no accident that in recent years the economic aspect of national cohesion has strengthened alongside the spiritual one. In my view it would be better for us all to be able to live within the borders of a single state. This isn’t something that’s been decided in a lottery, however: it’s the burden we bear after being on the losing side in wars. Therefore, instead of moaning, we should try to transform this disadvantage into an advantage. And we can transform this into an advantage if we link together Hungarians living in different parts of the world, if we combine our forces and extend our network. If we do this well, we can turn a disadvantage into an advantage. This is why I tend to say that the Hungarians are in fact a world nation: we can be found in every part of the world. If we connect things together well, the Government in Budapest can gain access to enormous resources. This is already the case today: the Hungarian economy’s best trade figures are in relation to our neighbouring countries. This is not unconnected with the fact that there are Hungarians there, too, who clearly maintain close relations – economic relations – with Hungary. This results in trade surpluses which are among the sources of the Hungarian economy’s growth, or the higher living standards here. The Hungarian economy’s performance is, if you like, the aggregate economic performance of the Hungarian community living in the entire region. This is how it should be viewed. In Hungary there are opposition parties who turn Hungarians beyond the borders and Hungarians within the borders against one another. In my opinion this is a bad approach; the two groups should instead be coordinated. The first free elections were held twenty-nine years ago, and it was at that point that this dilemma emerged. I’ve been a Member of Parliament for those twenty-nine years, and I’ve seen this right from the beginning. Now I’m not talking about the debates conducted during the period of anti-communist resistance. It’s only since the first free parliament that I’ve followed debates seeking an answer to the question of what the right Hungarian policy is in relation the fact that the borders of the nation and the state don’t coincide. With much sweat and difficulty all the Hungarian political parties were able to agree on some points which were shared for a long period. One of these positions was that wherever Hungarians live in sufficient numbers, it’s best if – in addition to their economic, cultural and educational communities – they themselves create communities of interest, representations of their interest and political parties organised on national grounds: for them to also assist one another politically, and to represent Hungarian standpoints. We conducted this debate, and for a long time Hungarian foreign policy, or Hungarian regional policy, was based on this principle, which is also the basis of the Hungarian Standing Conference. The latter embraces the Hungarian parties of the countries in the region. And this principle is also the foundation of the Diaspora Council, which seeks to unite Hungarian communities from all over the world. Recently we’ve seen the emergence of a tendency which calls into question the validity of this position, and therefore a debate has erupted again. With around thirty years of relevant debate and experience, all I can say is that it’s good for Hungarians in neighbouring countries to be strong, to have their own communities, and also to provide their own political representation in their own communities: for Hungarians to trust Hungarians. We cannot hope for the leaders of parties of other nationalities to represent the interests of Hungarians better than Hungarians can.

This week Moody’s credit rating agency announced that there has been strong, continuous economic growth in Hungary since 2014, and that growth will remain robust – this is the word they used – over the next two years: economic growth of 5 per cent, in contrast to Germany’s 0.2 per cent. Will Europe’s economy split into Western European and Central European economies? Can it split in two?

In truth we should also add that we’d happily accept that 0.2 per cent in return for being as rich as the Germans; so we mustn’t look at economic growth in isolation. Going forward, it’s an important indication of the direction of your development – if you’re heading anywhere at all. But it doesn’t show where you’ve started from. The Germans – particularly the West Germans – had a good forty years while we were under Soviet occupation, and they’re rich. So it’s always more difficult to create growth in a richer country than it is in a poorer country, because a poorer country always starts from a lower base, and can make greater strides. So I’d advise everyone to be cautious. The fact that Hungarian growth is several times higher than that in Germany doesn’t mean that over here things are going better than in Germany. This is also an aspect of the true situation. But economic growth data does offer some indication of where things will be heading in a better direction in the future. And here we will have to fight some major battles. I repeat: the greatest challenge of 2020 will be trying to maintain growth in the Hungarian economy, and protecting the achievements of the Hungarian economy while economic turbulence develops in the community of countries using the single European currency, the countries of the eurozone. Everyone knows this, everyone’s taking about this, and you yourself have quoted such figures. For a long time I’ve been saying – because I also see this as an issue of self-respect and self-confidence – that even in such an open international economic system, each country must be able to stand on its own two feet. It’s true that we’re closely linked to other countries, but what gives a country strength and self-respect is its ability to stand on its own two feet and rely on its own strength. This is what we’ll find out in the year ahead. In Hungary there are debates about this, about whether – naturally in addition to tax reductions and intelligent economic policy – Hungary is only doing well because the entire European economy is doing well, or whether in our success there’s something specifically Hungarian which only belongs to us, and which we can deliver even when the others are doing less well. This is a long debate, and obviously people pay less attention to it, but in Hungary over the past few years this has been an important trend in economic policy debate. Everyone has given one answer or another to this question, depending on their economic inclinations or political views. The answer to this will emerge in 2020. There will be a Western European economy struggling with difficulties, barely growing or perhaps stagnating; and there will be Central Europe. Because this isn’t only about Hungary: these debates are being conducted to the same extent in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland – and like us, they have a chance of posting higher growth than the countries of the West. So now we’ll see whether Central Europe has indeed strengthened enough to achieve better economic growth results than the countries of Western Europe, which are richer and more developed than us. This will be revealed in 2020. My answer to this is that it’s possible for us to be able to achieve such results, but it won’t be automatic: it will require an economy protection action plan. At this week’s Cabinet meeting I instructed my ministers to contact economic interest representations, and to prepare an economy protection action plan that preserves or further boosts economic performance. I hope that this will be complete in the first quarter of next year, and then we’ll be able to present it.

Just to return to growth, what is the reason for this growth of 5 per cent? Central bank governor György Matolcsy has said that over the past nine or ten years Hungary has been able to create a golden triangle: political stability is one angle, financial balance is the second, and economic growth is the third. He said that this triangle has effectively laid the foundations enabling the achievement of these results.

Hungary is a lucky country, because it has a central bank governor who is also able to view Hungarian economic policy from a historical perspective. This is very fortunate, because intellectual strength is important for the success of the Government’s work, and in that respect we’re doing well in the central bank. But I’d like to step down to one rung lower on the ladder than the central bank governor. While I accept the truth of his claim, I’d say that the most successful economic policy measure has been tax reduction. After all, Hungary – and economic performance is a shared achievement for the country – has managed to achieve a splendid feat: we’ve managed to sell ever more goods produced here to ever more parts of the world by selling them at competitive prices, and at the same time wages in Hungary have increased. When wages increase, the products made by the workers receiving those wages become more expensive. This is the default situation. But what has happened in Hungary is that we’ve produced our goods at competitive prices while wages have been increasing considerably, and without enterprises going out of business. There was only one way to achieve this: the Government consistently pursued its policy of tax reductions. In recent years we’ve reduced taxes on businesses in particular, cutting them by a third. We’ve left almost three thousand billion forints in the accounts of Hungarian businesses, which have paid most of this in wages to their workers. This has generated higher earnings and higher consumption. So I believe that the key to it all has been tax reduction. I don’t know how much more scope we have for tax reductions, but I hope that the economy protection action plan will essentially be based on tax reduction.

The Puskás Stadium was inaugurated last Friday. During the construction phase you had the opportunity to view the structure several times, but I believe the atmosphere was a little different with almost seventy thousand people sitting there in the stadium, waiting for the opening ceremony.

There are those who like Hungarians, and others who don’t. I like to be surrounded by large numbers of Hungarians – and especially to share uplifting moments with them. I think we Hungarians have a sense of the drama of these great moments. We tend to quarrel before our celebrations, but by the time they start somehow everything falls into place. I believe this is also the case in families – or in many families. But this is also true on a grander scale, and this is what happened on this occasion. There were debates, squabbling and arguments about whether or not we needed a Puskás Arena or Puskás Stadium. And in the end, when it was complete, everyone was happy. I know about such Hungarian debates from hundreds of years ago to the present day, because there are written records of them. There were the same debates when the Chain Bridge was built, and also the Parliament Building; they somehow stay with us. So I’m never put off by debates surrounding developments, projects, stadium construction projects, theatre building projects or the development of cultural facilities, because I’ve learnt from Hungarian history that if one has made a decision one must stand by it, and then once it’s realised everyone will applaud it. This is what happened to us a few days ago. I’d like to draw attention to something that we talk about less frequently, namely that the Puskás Stadium is an enormous technical feat achieved exclusively by Hungarians: from the first line on a sheet of paper all the way to completion, all the work was done by Hungarians. By this I mean that we Hungarians are capable of building one of the modern world’s largest-scale projects, of building such enormous buildings and stadiums, on our own, relying entirely on our own resources. I remember when I was prime minister for the first time, at the end of the nineties, the Budapest Sportcsarnok burnt down. We then rebuilt it as the Papp László Arena. We looked for companies with adequate references, with the experience needed to construct the facility, and there wasn’t a single Hungarian company we could have awarded the contract to in the certainty that it could be completed by them. Twenty years have passed since then, and today Hungary has several internationally recognised construction companies, the skilled workers, the highly qualified technicians and the engineers to complete such an enormous undertaking on their own, without needing to bring in foreign skills. Therefore I believe that regardless of whether or not one likes the stadium, whether or not one accepts that it will also host cultural events and concerts, whether or not one will ever go anywhere near it in the future, everyone can be proud of it, because it is the embodiment of superb engineering and construction.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.