Interviews / Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on M1 public television

Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on M1 public television

Tünde Volf-Nagy: Good afternoon. I welcome our viewers from Brussels, three weeks after the European Parliament elections, after numerous diplomatic and political negotiations, and on the day when Hungary officially takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. I welcome the Prime Minister. Good afternoon.

Good afternoon.

We’re taking over the baton from Belgium. Prime Minister, you’ve just come from the Belgian prime minister’s office, where you’ve taken over this particular Presidency from the acting Prime Minister, who resigned the very evening of 9 June, after he was defeated in the Belgian and European elections. By contrast, after a European Parliament election in Hungary which has strengthened the Government’s position, how much legitimacy, how much confirmation and authority has Hungary been given?

Fortunately I’m not superstitious. Indeed, it’s not a good sign to take over the Presidency of the EU from a man who’s just been voted out while head of the EU Presidency and the national government. And indeed, as his Presidency came to an end he was no longer prime minister, but only acting prime minister. But, regardless of the outcome of the election, I have a high regard for the outgoing Belgian prime minister. His team has done a good job over the last six months. We’re now taking over the Presidency, but our cooperation started earlier, among the three countries serving consecutive presidencies: Spain, Belgium and us. The work and the dossiers have been passed from one to the next. I can say that the Belgian prime minister has done a good job. It’s a pity that he lost in the elections, but that’s the nature of this profession: if people don’t trust their leader, that’s the end of it. My situation – for the moment – is completely different, because we got 45 per cent in the elections, the highest in Europe. We beat the second-placed party by 15 per cent or so. We beat the old opposition and the new opposition at the same time, and so we have every right to feel that confidence in the Government has been strengthened, and that we can start the Presidency with this strength, momentum and sense of security. I’ll give you a few figures, which you wouldn’t ask me about anyway, because they’re technical details. We’ll hold 1,500 working group meetings, there will be 230 Presidency events, 37 high-level meetings, and a summit of the 27 European prime ministers will be held in Budapest. There’s also an organisation called the European Political Community, which comprises 47 European prime ministers and heads of state, and they’ll also be coming to Budapest. We have 260 people in Brussels and 1,000 in Budapest working on the Presidency, and we have 120 legislative dossiers that need to be pushed forward, that need to be taken forward. This is the work that awaits us.

We’ll talk more about the Presidency, but let me start by saying that the last time we met – the day after the elections – you were very optimistic, because you could see that the Right had gained strength in Europe. But this isn’t the picture that’s been painted by the allocation of top positions and the alliances that have been forged in the last few days. What are the consequences of such a discrepancy between the will of the voters and political intention?

I’m even more optimistic now than I was then, because after the election my optimism was based on the fact that people across Europe voted for change. We’re talking about twenty-seven countries, and in twenty of those twenty-seven countries the winning parties were ones that said, “Enough, things in Brussels cannot go on like this, things have got to change.” This is why the Belgian prime minister lost, this is why the French government lost, and why there are tremors in Germany. So the first source of optimism is that people want change. But the bureaucrats in Brussels think otherwise, and they don’t want change. Yet this adds to our optimism, because it makes the need for change even more obvious. And the more obvious the need, the more likely it is that change will happen. This is why we’ve launched a new European political group, which is growing at an incredible pace. Very quickly we’ll be the third largest group here in Brussels, and then the second largest group. The reason for this is quite simply that Brussels has been unable to accept the discontent, it hasn’t adapted to it and hasn’t listened to the people, but has rejected what people have chosen. They’ve entered into a power pact, the sole purpose of which is to dominate the political positions here in Brussels for another five years. But this won’t work, because you cannot govern against the people. It will make those of us who want change even stronger, it will raise us up, it will increase our power. And this is the change that we’ll achieve here – if not in two weeks, then in two months. But it will come about.

Speaking of change, Ursula von der Leyen has again been elected to head the European Commission – or at least nominated, because the European Parliament still has to confirm her. You voted against her. And I clearly remember the times in Berlin when Ursula von der Leyen not only asked for your support and that of the Hungarians, but also received it. What has changed?

Five years ago Manfred Weber was nominated by the European People’s Party to lead the Commission, and this would have been a disaster for Hungary. Now, Hungarian history books won’t record Ursula von der Leyen’s “pretensidency” as a glorious period; but what would have been done by the notoriously anti-Hungarian and clearly Hungarophobic Manfred Weber would have been much worse. So we had to prevent him from becoming President of the Commission at all costs. He uttered one memorable sentence that gave us a reason for this: he said that he didn’t want to become the President of the Commission with the help of the vote of the Hungarians. He didn’t say the Hungarian government’s vote, not my vote, but the vote of Hungarian people; and so he was attacking the whole country. No way! You can insult a prime minister or your counterpart in negotiations; those things aren’t nice, but they’re possible. But you cannot insult a country, you cannot show it contempt, because a country will stand up for itself. And I stood up for Hungary, and President Weber’s request was heeded: he didn’t become President of the Commission. This is how Ursula von der Leyen came in, who we saw as being better than Manfred Weber. This is still what I think, regardless of the fact that the performance of the President over the last five years has been rather modest, particularly on three issues: on the war, migration, and perhaps on the green transition – or the “Green Deal”, according to the jargon. This is why we’d like to find a better qualified, more capable leader to head the Commission, and this is why I haven’t been able to support her. This is in addition to the fact that at times she’s made unfair decisions against Hungary, that the Commission has launched political attacks on Hungary disguised as being about the rule of law. This, of course, cannot be ignored. All of this comes with consequences, and we cannot support her remaining as President of the Commission.

Her nomination is controversial. But the election of the Portuguese socialist António Costa as President of the European Council and the Estonian liberal prime minister Kaja Kallas as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is also very controversial, as they were nominated for their positions by a very narrow group of six people. Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega Nord, has said that this is a European coup d’état.

We have to separate the procedure in which the decision was taken from the decisions, from the people themselves. If we look at the procedure, if I were Italian I too would say what President Salvini has said. Because sometimes Hungarians are left out of a decision, and that’s not nice, but the size of our country and its role in the European Union don’t make that a scandal. But to leave Italy out? One of the six founding states! More than sixty million people, a fantastic culture, a strong economy: to leave it out of the negotiations for positions doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. This is how Brexit started. If we go back to prehistoric times, not the last election, but the one before that in 2014, when President Juncker wasn’t supported by the British but was still voted in, the end result was Brexit. So the big founding Member States must be treated fairly. You cannot treat Member States with disrespect, because sooner or later everyone here will reap the whirlwind. And the Italians are rightly outraged. This is why the procedure was wrong. Mr. Salvini and Prime Minister Meloni are right. The other aspect is about the people chosen, the substantive decisions. I supported the former Portuguese socialist prime minister because he was a counterpart of mine for many years and he was always decent towards Hungary. He was fair, decent and just. I see him as being fit for this job. And I abstained on the Estonian candidate for the foreign affairs post because I’m not convinced that she can do it. I wouldn’t dare to say that she can’t, but it’s a very big task. Estonia is a strongly pro-war country, and they’re specifically calling for Russia to be defeated in a war. In our view, there’s no solution to this war on the battlefield, and she will also have to represent our position. Whether she’ll be able to do so is something that the future will decide, and in that regard I didn’t want to register a vote of no confidence, but only to signal that we have our doubts.

You’ve just mentioned that in Vienna yesterday a new political cooperation was established with the Chairman of the Austrian Freedom Party and former Czech prime minister Babiš. Moreover, the news today is that the Portuguese party Chega has also joined this alliance, the name of which is “Patriots for Europe”. Isn’t being a patriot in contradiction with being committed to an international alliance?

Let’s talk a little about this word, and the feeling that “patriotism” and “patriot” imply. The starting point is that we love our country, we love our country passionately. This is called patriotic feeling. It’s also called nationalism. There are two kinds: the good and the bad. Those who love their country while trampling others underfoot and who love their own country against others are usually considered chauvinists and bad nationalists. But there are those who love their country for its own sake: not against others, but for its culture, language, achievements, land, geography, family, history, our cemeteries, our churches, our children, and our future; this is what we love. This isn’t aimed against anyone. And we don’t want a Europe that takes away, diminishes, erases everything that is important to us as patriots. Well, these people, people with this kind of thinking, have gathered – or are beginning to gather – under the banner that was actually raised in Vienna on Sunday by three of us: the leaders of the largest Austrian party, the largest Czech party and the largest Hungarian party. And they’re gathering under this flag. We’ll become a large parliamentary group faster than anyone thinks now. Four or five more days, and many people will be surprised.

I’m not going to ask who’s involved in the serious negotiations, because obviously there’s no answer to that.

Yes, all I can say is that there are a lot of people.

But is it realistic that a group of this size could actually be formed within a matter of days?

The inaugural meeting is on 8 July.

Where does this position the party, say, on the political spectrum? Not the party, but the alliance.

What we’ve just created? Let’s look at what’s broken here in Europe, because we’re the ones who want to fix Europe. Our name is “Patriots for Europe”. So we’re patriots who are passionate about our countries and who care about Europe. So we want strong European cooperation not against Europe, but for the benefit of our own country. We don’t want a European empire, we don’t want a United States of Europe, we don’t want a grey blob which is controlled from Brussels, we don’t want a command system: we want national sovereignty and independence under our own national flags. What has gone wrong? What do Europeans want? They want peace – things have gone wrong because we couldn’t prevent the Russo-Ukrainian war, and when it broke out we couldn’t contain it. So instead of peace, the people of Europe are now getting war. Then we want order and security. Instead of this, the people of Europe are getting migration and the resulting threats of terrorism and crime. We in Hungary are less aware of this, at most through your news reports, because there are no migrants in Hungary, because we don’t let them in. But those who are allowing them in and have allowed them in are suffering, and have a thousand problems in this new situation in which they have to live with millions of migrants from alien cultures. Those who are now rallying to our flag don’t want that. And the people of Europe also want progress, economic growth, higher wages, better jobs, a better and more secure life, a more promising life in existential terms. Instead of this, today they have stagnation. There was an analysis – an economic analysis – published today, which I read on the plane as I was on my way here to Brussels, which says that in 2008 the economies of the United States and the European Union were roughly the same size; today, the United States is twice the size of the European Union. Average incomes in Europe are 27 per cent lower than in the United States, and in Europe average salaries are 37 per cent lower than in the United States. And the same is true for the value of firms: here barely growing, or rather stagnating and often falling; and rising in the United States. So the prospects are over there, rather than here. This shows that the European economy has stalled. There are many reasons for this, including the poor decisions of the Commission and its President. Therefore if you ask me where we should place this new alliance, I’d have to say that I’d place it on the side of change, in the zone of peace, order and development. If you ask me ideologically, since we’re patriots this means on the Right in European culture. To be patriotic is to be on the Right. Leftists are internationalists. If you ask regionally, whether any region of Europe will be overrepresented or dominant in the alliance, the answer is no; because although there’s a slight taste of monarchy, because we were founded in Vienna, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary…

There’s also a slight feeling of the V4…

…but now the Portuguese are in, the Italians are about to join, and I know who will be arriving in the next few days. It’s going to be a pan-European party, which started in Central Europe, but then it also gathered around itself parties from Western Europe. So we’re talking about a pan-European political organisation.

In fact since the creation of the Patriots for Europe alliance the following question is no longer valid, but the last time we spoke – the day after the elections – you said that Fidesz’s chance of an agreement depended on an alliance with Le Pen and Meloni. We now know that the answer was “no”. I wonder why.

I spent a lot of the past two weeks in those countries, talking to everyone. The goal is unchanged: what we all want is to have a large European group, a large European political group in the European Parliament that can represent patriots and people on the Right. This remains the goal. Everyone agreed on that. I couldn’t get the ladies to agree on how and in what stages this should be done. Some wanted to go faster and some wanted to go slower. And in the negotiations I couldn’t create a consensus on the timetable. So we didn’t join the Italians, but continued to negotiate with other parties, with other countries. And in the end this tripartite initiative emerged. And from the list of those who have joined you’ll see that we’ve already reached an agreement with those who have promised to join, and that we’ll create a pan-European group – which will soon be the third largest, and then the second largest in Europe. After that we’ll attempt an assault on the summit – but that won’t be this year.

Hungary has probably also been held back by the fact that the Romanian nationalist party is also in that party alliance.

That has excluded us. When it became clear that it wasn’t possible for there to be an agreement between the ladies leading or presiding over the two large European political groups, we had to negotiate separately with both groups. It would also have been possible to join the group led by the Italian Prime Minister, but in that there’s a Romanian party that’s notoriously anti-Hungarian and cannot get along with the RMDSZ [Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania], that cannot see eye to eye with them. We cannot be in the same group as such a party without being morally compromised. So here a national moral consideration has closed the door on us partnering with the European Conservatives. Then we started to come up with various combinations and initiatives on how to launch a new political movement, and the end result was this meeting in Vienna. But soon we’ll have grown larger than everyone else. This is our plan, and we have a pretty detailed action plan for it.

Let’s talk then about the Presidency. The tagline of the Presidency is “Make Europe Great Again”. If you’ll allow me to be blunt, this reference to Trump is an open provocation in Brussels. How have the European leaders you’ve visited in the last week or two received this tagline?

They swallowed it, of course, because they couldn’t do anything else. But when it’s been mentioned, I’ve always said that I didn’t know that President Trump wants to make Europe great, so let’s treat that separately. And if the United States is trying to make itself great and Europe is talking about us wanting to remain a player in world politics and even stop the current decline – the decline in our strength – and become strong again, then we too must become great. How can we compete with an America that’s making itself great, if we don’t become great ourselves? So this is the right response, this is the right European response to the American endeavour. I won’t say that the penny dropped immediately, but I was able to make it understood that this is what we’re talking about. Of course, when we think about the future of Europe the Americans can’t be left out, but that’s not because of President Trump’s agenda, but because of the war; because, after all, today Europe’s biggest problem is the Ukraine-Russia war. And in the US presidential debate, the conservative or Republican presidential candidate – President Trump – has made it clear that he’ll end this war within twenty-four hours. So if he wins there will be a ceasefire at the very least. Whether that will lead to a lasting peace is a matter for the future, but it’s sure that the situation won’t be what we have now. Europe must therefore rapidly prepare itself for a situation in which the Americans and the Russians are, sooner or later, in negotiations with each other. Where will Europe fit into this deal? Will we be part of it? Who will represent our interests? What exactly are our interests? These are the most important questions in the coming period. Hungary cannot answer these questions, because our way of working as President will not be to lead Europe or take decisions here instead of Germany, France and Italy. That would be out of the question. What we can do is what it is always the job of the Presidency to do: to put proposals on the table. So we won’t be deciding, but we’ll help the twenty-seven prime ministers to decide. We’ll be there in all the places that are important for Europe, we’ll explore all the situations, I’ll prepare reports on all the situations for the European leaders, which the European Council can discuss – and the big European leaders can take the decisions. I can facilitate the process of arriving at decisions on these issues – at least in getting these issues on the table in a form that enables the politicians to deal with them. This leadership isn’t bureaucratic – of course there are these dossiers and deliberations, but there also needs to be a political form of energy: an initiative which isn’t a decision, but which puts a clear description of the situation on the table, the possible solutions, and then calls on the European leaders to take the necessary decisions. This is how we’ll proceed. If in the coming days you or your viewers hear surprising news from surprising places, this is the way of working that’s behind it.

You’ve used the word “facilitate”, and this is a very important keyword, because the most important position of the Presidency is to create space for compromise, to mediate, and – as Minister Martonyi used to say – to be a “good shepherd”. But this doesn’t quite match the image of Hungary in the EU, for example. In view of its Presidency, in what areas will Hungary continue to defend its interests, even if this results in conflict, and in what ones will Hungary be perhaps more willing to compromise?

Well, we weren’t born yesterday, and we won’t go into this like a bull at a gate; so we know something about international diplomacy. But in this culture of international diplomacy, what we represent and how we represent it is public, open and direct. I think that this is a virtue. It sometimes involves conflict, but it’s a virtue. So what we can add as a Hungarian character trait to the European debates is that we’ll call a spade a spade, because we’ve learned that we live in a corner of the world where if we don’t call a spade a spade and take decisions in a timely manner, our country will be ruined – just as the whole of Europe could be ruined by sweeping problems under the carpet instead of confronting them honestly. So the Hungarian Presidency will be good for Europe, because we’ll be very open about even the most difficult issues, without trying to influence decision-makers, and we’ll give our views on one situation or another in the form of open, straightforward analyses. So what won’t happen is something that’s such a common problem here in Brussels: issues may arrive on the agenda – or not even reach the agenda at all – through the Brussels bubble’s distinctive bureaucratic approach, involving a huge amount of wasted time and barely comprehensible jargon. So I think that we can give a boost to this whole European Union while retaining a realistic sense of our relative size. So it’s important that everyone knows their place in the world. We Hungarians also have our place, we have our virtues, we have our faults, we have our influence, we have our strengths and our weaknesses. So we know roughly where we stand in the world, what can be expected of us, and over the next six months we’ll do our best to add to the value of Europe. This is what we can expect from the Hungarian Presidency. There will be surprises.

As you’ve mentioned openness here, and, of course, a spade should be called a spade, then what immediately comes to mind as one of the Presidency’s most important objectives is illegal migration; because this is why most of the conflicts between the EU and Hungary have broken out. It’s no coincidence that the German press – Die Welt and Deutschlandfunk – have also highlighted this as an objective of the Hungarian Presidency. Can concrete action be taken to truly curb illegal migration?

We can make proposals, but it’s not for us to decide, it’s for the European leaders to decide – especially the Council. Now we have a migration pact, which was announced with great fanfare, and adopted with pomp and circumstance. And it doesn’t work. Now the first thing that must be done is to ensure that those who have embraced it and presented it as a heroic deed aren’t made to feel ashamed when faced with the fact that it’s inadequate. This is why the pact mustn’t be disparaged – it is what it is. But we must move on. And to everyone here in Brussels I suggest that the fact that Hungary has a migration policy that doesn’t allow migrants in – that prevents them coming to us illegally and makes it a criminal offence for them to enter – isn’t something that should be punished, but instead adopted. So they shouldn’t be trying to get Hungary to change our rules, because we’ve been protecting ourselves from migration, while they haven’t. Instead they should adopt the Hungarian rules here in Brussels and in the other capitals, and then suddenly everything would become simpler. So we’ll have an open discussion on this. I don’t want to disparage the work that’s been done before us, but I don’t think it’s enough: we need to move forward, and we’ll have proposals on moving forward.

It’s not an easy time for Hungary to take over the Presidency. There are issues on which not much progress can be made in six months: on demographic issues, for example, six months is really just a drop in the ocean. But on the issue of war and peace, for example, every day counts – and six months counts even more. How can a Hungarian Presidency move peace forward not only at the level of slogans or messages, but also in reality?

If you look at the newspapers tomorrow you’ll see the first steps we’re taking in that direction.

One very important objective of the Presidency is to strengthen European competitiveness. Obviously there may be no dispute about the objective, but can we find common ground in terms of the means for achieving it?

Difficult, but not impossible. We want to conclude a major competitiveness agreement. I think it was a mistake to introduce big international taxes, as taxes are bad. If you want to boost your economy, you shouldn’t impose taxes, but you should support the players in the economy. Measures are being introduced – or there are measures on the agenda – that we’d like to revise. These are supposed to be about protecting certain industries from the East – particularly the car industry. But in the run-up to the Presidency I’ve had discussions with the heads of the big car manufacturers, and they’ve said that they don’t want this at all, because when the East strikes back, they’ll lose a lot more than if we hadn’t started this in the first place. So the European Union is now on the brink of getting into a trade war with the East, in which we can only lose. So what we need isn’t isolationism, but far rather a strengthening of our relations, and more vigorous trade. And then there’s this problem of the green transition, where in recent years a policy’s been implemented which has resulted in us using more coal today than we did before the whole green transition – even though the aim of the green transition was to eliminate everything that pollutes the air and is harmful and damaging to the climate. The rules, the bad rules, that have been made here – particularly by the Commission and its president – have led to the fact that in Europe today we’re using more coal than we did before the great green transition, and energy prices have doubled or tripled. The reason we cannot compete with the Chinese and the Americans is that everywhere in those countries energy prices are much lower than they are here. The public here are suffering as a result. We can somehow protect Hungarians with regulated household energy prices, but everywhere in all the countries of Europe people are paying more and are suffering as a result; and companies are suffering too, so the whole green energy policy needs to be radically rethought and reformed.

We started with the topic of Hungary taking over the Presidency from Belgium, and in six months’ time it will be handing it over to Poland. What do you see as the greatest opportunity for Hungary in this six-month Presidency?

For us to bring our continent closer to peace.

Thank you very much.


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