Interviews / Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for Funke Mediengruppe

Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for Funke Mediengruppe

Michael Backfisch, Christian Kerl and Jörg Quoos

Prime Minister, as you take over the Presidency of the European Council, you and your country will have a major influence on European Union policy. What can Europe expect from you?

Our main points are these: we want to increase the European economy’s competitiveness; we are in favour of ending the war; and the migration problem must be solved. We also want to see progress on the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans.

What do you mean by better competitiveness? Is Europe in economic decline?

The first step is to strengthen the European single market. Business, capital and the economy must be more involved in decision-making. Sometimes decisions are too political. The Green Deal, for example, is an excellent project. But when it goes against the interests of the economy, as it has done over the last five years, it fails. For us it is also important for the European market to remain open to competition. Protectionism would not be good for Germany, Hungary or the EU.

Hungary has repeatedly blocked decisions by the EU and NATO. Do you enjoy your role as a troublemaker?

As for your use of the term “troublemaker”, the question is this: where do the problems come from? In Germany – and especially on the Left – there is a kind of narrow-mindedness, whereby no one likes someone like me, who has had his own opinion on problematic issues for decades. My first conflict with the Left in West Germany related to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the Eastern Bloc. As a young opposition politician in 1989, I spoke out in favour of the withdrawal of the Red Army from Central Europe. I was not interested in reforming socialism. No, I was interested in freedom, national independence, breaking away from the “Russian” empire, a market economy and links with the West. We dismantled the Iron Curtain and I predicted that this would lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall later in 1989. There was fierce criticism of this from the Left in Germany. Oskar Lafontaine said I was crazy. In 2015 I said this on migration: “People, I’ll do what you want, it’s your national decision. But remember that you’re taking a huge risk if you open your borders to illegal migration.” Nine years later, it turns out that I was right to warn people. The same thing is happening with the war. I’m the only one in favour of ending the war immediately. It’s harmful to Europe.

Your slogan for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union is “Make Europe Great Again”. How much Donald Trump is there in Viktor Orbán?

If we want to keep up with the Americans, we Europeans must become great again. Europe is a wonderful continent. We want to get back to the dominant European influence in intellectual, scientific and economic terms. Perhaps also to the political influence that we once had on the world stage, and which we then lost.

What would you say if Donald Trump were President?

As far as Donald Trump’s concerned, I’m 100 per cent – no, 101 per cent – for him. The first reason is that Trump is a man of peace. He hasn’t started a single war – on the contrary, he stabilised the Middle East with the Abraham Accords. Trump’s example also shows that politicians in Europe are being selected by an increasingly narrow stratum. The style and language of politics on the European continent is becoming increasingly grey. We need people who can shake up the system – independents coming from outside.

Migration is a major issue in the debate between other EU Member States and Hungary. You’re the only country taking in almost no asylum seekers: last year a total of thirty asylum applications were lodged in Hungary – in Germany the figure is more than three hundred thousand. How do you explain this to the Germans, who are bearing this heavy migration burden?

We accept asylum seekers if they respect the rules in Hungary. Our rules are unique in the EU. We’ve created so-called external “hotspots”: centres outside Hungary where asylum applications are examined. If migrants want to come to Hungary, they must first go to a Hungarian embassy – for example in the Serbian capital Belgrade. That’s where all the paperwork is checked. Migrants can only enter the country if the Hungarian authorities give them the green light. Otherwise, they can’t.

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz now wants to examine whether asylum applications can be assessed in third countries outside the EU. Is Scholz following in Orbán’s footsteps?

I’m not ashamed to follow in Scholz’s footsteps, but I’m afraid it’s disagreeable for him. All the same, I welcome Scholz’s position that we need to find a way out. Coming back to Hungary, why do we reject illegal migration? Tens of thousands of migrants crossed the Hungarian border in 2015. We could only stop them in the centre of Budapest, at the main railway station. I went there personally to assess the situation for myself. I soon realised that the kind of society I saw reflected in the refugees presented too great a risk for Hungarian citizens. It was obvious that those people wouldn’t support the idea of equal rights for women. In addition, there was widespread homophobia and a tendency towards anti-Semitism. The migrants represented things that I consider dangerous for Hungarians.

Former Chancellor Merkel had a different opinion: she opened the borders to migrants.

My interpretation of the German concept is that if you mix migrants’ cultural pattern with European communities based on traditional values, then something good will come out of it. I’m not saying that it’s completely impossible. But the risk is too great. This is what I said in 2015: let’s wait and see what German or French society looks like in ten, fifteen or twenty years. If it goes well, then the Hungarians can think about it.

One of the reasons for the conflict within the EU is Hungary’s position on the war in Ukraine: you’re not supplying arms and you’re delaying financial aid. What’s your idea on how to get Vladimir Putin to allow there to be peace?

That’s not my job. It’s clear that Russia’s aggression is totally unacceptable, and is against the basic principles of international relations. But I’m not involved in asserting the interests of Ukraine or Russia; above all I want the war to end and there to be a ceasefire. Europeans are dying on the battlefield every day. We must stop the killing on the front line. Until then peace negotiations are out of the question. We need room for manoeuvre to find a path to peace that’s acceptable to both sides and to Europe. Ultimately we’re talking about a new European security architecture in which we can live peacefully.

To achieve this, would Ukraine have to give up territory, as Putin demands as a condition for peace talks?

We don’t know exactly what the Russian reaction would be if the US leadership said: “Listen, tomorrow morning we’ll stop the killing and we’ll negotiate.”

Do you really believe that the war would then stop?

There would be an opportunity. We don’t know what would happen. We’ve never tried it before. This is another reason that I’m for Donald Trump. The US president is the only man in the universe who can conduct the two decisive phone calls: to the capitals of Ukraine and Russia. But I’m also certain that there wouldn’t be a war right now if Angela Merkel were still Chancellor. She would have done what she did after the Russian invasion of Crimea: isolate the conflict, not internationalise it.

You also had bitter experiences with Moscow in Hungary before 1989. How dangerous can this war become, how dangerous is Russia?

Let’s be under no illusions: Russia is different; its system and society aren’t European. Our system is based on freedom; Russia’s system is based on military power. But Russia can – and must – be part of the European security system. Before that, however, we must decide what Europe’s objective should be with regard to the war in Ukraine. No one is saying this openly. The US president has said that Putin must lose. Is that really all this is about?

It’s about peace and restoring international law…

But we’re not looking at the conflict as an international arbiter. We’re a part of the conflict. This war is about securing Ukraine’s right to NATO membership, which Russia totally rejects and the West totally supports. But do we want a NATO flag flying over Crimea? Nobody has really clarified that yet. Instead, we’re funding the deaths of young Ukrainians in the war. If Ukraine were on its own, a ceasefire would have been agreed long ago.

The EU is about to make important personnel decisions. Why are you trying to prevent Ursula von der Leyen from becoming President of the Commission for a second time?

Because of her poor performance. The green transformation is a total failure, and the migration package doesn’t solve any problems. Europe needs better leadership. There are enough talented politicians who can do it. But I won’t name names.

Doesn’t Von der Leyen’s rejection also have something to do with the debate on violation of the rule of law? Hungary’s under fire for interfering in the independence of the media and the judiciary. The Commission has frozen billions of euros in EU money for Hungary, demanding reform of the judiciary…

And the European Commission has looked closely at the Hungarian judiciary and given it the green light: with this the procedure related to the judiciary is now closed. As for the media, there’s no interference from the Government. There’s more diversity of opinion in the media in Hungary than there is in Germany.

A prominent organisation, Reporters Without Borders, has come to a different conclusion: it believes that under your government press freedom has been restricted.

I know the report, but it’s not based on facts: it’s just a political opinion piece.

You’ve come to Germany partly because of the European Football Championship. What were you thinking when the Hungarian team lost to the Germans?

I was very sad. We have an unresolved problem: 1954…

…when Germany won the World Cup final against Hungary…

[Laughs] It can’t remain like this. We must be given the chance to fight back in a final and win against Germany.


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