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

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

Zsolt Törőcsik: This week Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Kiev/Kyiv, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Hungarian prime minister asked the Ukrainian leader to consider a time-bound ceasefire. I’ll be asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the way forward after Tuesday’s meeting. Good morning.

Good morning.

You told the Swiss magazine Weltwoche that Zelenskyy wasn’t very happy about the idea of a ceasefire, but yesterday the Ukrainian president shifted his position considerably, saying in an interview that Russia should participate in the next global peace summit. Having heard this statement, how do you see the significance of Tuesday’s meeting?

We have to be careful when we talk about this. It’s difficult to measure the impact of a meeting like this. First and foremost it’s best to be clear about your own intentions. Hungary has to acknowledge its own place and weight, and so it’s obvious that the big peace negotiations will be handled by the big countries. Today, however, the situation is that there’s no dialogue – and without dialogue it’s very difficult to imagine how we will move towards peace. Contrary to that, every day hundreds of people are dying on the front line, families are being reduced to poverty, and hundreds of thousands of children are being orphaned. In international politics, of course, everything is being discussed – but hardly anything from their point of view. So we need to talk about peace; because if we don’t talk about peace, we don’t talk about the misery caused by war – and our real enemy isn’t one country or another, but the misery caused by war. This is the compass that we must take in our hand. And I think that Europe should be holding the compass of peace and humanity, of humane thinking, of humane foreign policy. And Europe could probably do more to move us towards peace. At the same time, it’s important for us Hungarians to remind ourselves that the Presidency of the European Union – which is called a rotating Presidency in Brussels, because you hold this mandate for six months – doesn’t give one the right to negotiate on behalf of anyone. So we’re not negotiating – even though what I’m doing looks like a negotiating format, because we’re sitting at a table and discussing issues. Therefore I don’t need a mandate for this, because I’m not representing anything. All I’m doing is going to those places where there’s a threat of war or a war that has negative consequences for Europe and for Hungary, and I’m clarifying the facts. So I’m asking questions. For example, I asked President Zelenskyy three or four important questions and what he thinks about these things, so that we can understand his intentions, and where the red line is, the boundary up to which he can go in the interest of peace. If we don’t gauge this, if we don’t know this precisely, if we just sit in Brussels, then we won’t be able to move any closer to peace – because peace won’t come of its own accord. So if we think that events will take their own course and that peace will come out of that, then we misunderstand the nature of war. Peace will come when someone makes it. Steps must be taken towards it. Hungary cannot take responsibility for this: we have neither the mandate nor the international political weight, we don’t have the GDP, the army, and so on. But we can be a good instrument in the hands of God, we can be a good instrument in the hands of people who want peace, to take steps that will set the parties on a long road – because at the moment the positions are very far apart. But it’s a long road that could end with a ceasefire and peace negotiations. On the issue of peace talks or a ceasefire, as you said, President Zelenskyy wasn’t happy. Well, everyone’s afraid that agreeing a ceasefire will result in one’s adversary taking advantage of it. Warring parties usually assume that a ceasefire will be good for the other side, because while the other side isn’t shooting, it will redeploy its troops and redeploy its forces, and one’s own side will be at a disadvantage, so it’s better to maintain tension on the front line. Now this can be overcome if the parties have some kind of prospects and a future ahead of them, and if they know that they’ll be going to a peace negotiation in a few weeks or months, and that it’s therefore worthwhile and possible to reduce the tension on the front line. These considerations – and not negotiating positions – are what should be put on the table now. I repeat: Hungary doesn’t have the mandate – no President of the Council of the EU ever has the mandate – to negotiate on behalf of the European Union. Nothing could be further from my mind! But I can identify the situation, I can identify how far each side can go. And once we’ve done that, then the European leaders – the twenty-seven prime ministers together – can take decisions. And once we’ve taken decisions, then those who are entitled to do so will negotiate. But that’s a long way off. Unfortunately we can only take the first steps on the road to peace.

Well, you’ve known Zelenskyy’s position on this issue since Tuesday. What’s the next step you intend to take?

The next step is the next step – because I can only inform you and the public about each step once it’s been taken, these being delicate and sensitive issues. One must talk about them only after the next step has already been taken…

Then we’ll wait for the latest developments. But in the meantime it’s come to light…

…and so patience is a virtue. Yes.

In the meantime, a survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations has appeared, and it shows that around half of the fifteen European countries surveyed are now in favour of the EU forcing Ukraine to come to the negotiating table. This is also the majority view in Germany, France and Italy. To what extent are the leaders of the EU countries taking this into account, and what can Hungary – as EU President – do to ensure that the majority position of societies is taken into account as much as possible in decision-making?

Well, you can read all sorts of surveys. And since Europe has decided to get involved in this war on the side of Ukraine, talking about war and conducting surveys about the war is also part of the war. So they’re manipulated – or at least I find it very hard to believe these surveys, because they’re usually subject to some kind of influence. I prefer to believe what I see, and what I hear when I talk to people. As part of preparations for the Hungarian Presidency, I’ve recently been in Berlin, in Rome, in Paris, and now in Kiev/Kyiv. And I’ve also spoken to people – not just politicians and decision-makers – who live the lives of ordinary Italians, French and Germans. I see two things. The first thing is that people are under moral pressure. They feel that – up until now – Europe has been all about peace; and therefore if a war breaks out in its neighbourhood, which shouldn’t have happened, then Europe should somehow do more. They don’t know how, because politics isn’t their profession, but they feel that Europe should do more to ease the tensions in its neighbourhood; and they feel that we’re expecting too much from America, rather than from our continent, and that we should certainly do more than we’re doing now. The second feeling I’ve experienced everywhere in Europe is that there’s concern about the impact of the war on the European economy. You know, there are living difficulties in Western Europe, there’s wartime inflation everywhere in Europe, and people are very simply saying, “If we send money, European money, from Brussels to Ukraine or to the front line, how is that going to bring economic growth here? How are we going to get out of this war, this economic hardship in Europe, if we don’t put this money into the European economy, but send it somewhere else?” Of course things are always more complicated than people perceive, but there is also a truth at the bottom of things. So these two things are increasingly turning European public opinion toward thinking about this and doing more for peace. Peace would be the right direction morally, and also every country feels – and as a Hungarian I feel the same way – that peace will be good for us Hungarians, by making Europe successful. And the Germans, the French and the Italians also think this way.

We’ll talk more about the economy, but almost at the same time as taking over the EU Presidency, the Patriots for Europe party family was announced. You said that soon you want to be the third – and then the second – largest force in the European Parliament, and on Monday you told public television channel M1 that in four or five days’ time a lot of people will be surprised. Four days have already gone by, the fifth hasn’t, but so far the Portuguese Chega party has joined the three founders. Who else is expected to join, and when? How are these negotiations progressing?

On Monday there will be an inaugural meeting of all the parties that have already decided to join, but that haven’t announced it yet. So it won’t happen now, it will happen on Monday. Then we’ll have our list, and then you’ll see that I’m not talking through my hat.

The media is speculating about the names of many parties, some of which are currently sitting in one of the right-wing parliamentary groups. How will this weekend’s second round of French parliamentary elections affect the list and the number of candidates?

Parliamentary elections affect not only the number or size of political groups, but also the future of Europe as a whole. After all, Europe’s two biggest countries are Germany and France. Both have had European Parliament elections. The German chancellor’s party came third with 14 per cent of the vote. Here I’d stress that the Hungarian governing party got 45 per cent. So there’s no prime minister in Europe today who wouldn’t be happy to trade places with me in the light of the election results; or, even more importantly, trade places with me in order to have such good voters as the Hungarian people, who, in such a situation, don’t turn against their government, but rather – sensing the difficulty of the situation – give their support and reaffirm their confidence. So there’s also a difficult situation in Germany. In France things went so far that, as a result of the European election results, the Parliament had to be dissolved and new elections had to be called. The position of the President is invulnerable, and as long as he doesn’t voluntarily resign he can continue to fulfil his mandate, regardless of any external circumstances. But this isn’t the case with Parliament, which is the trustee of the will of the people; and therefore when the political earthquake happens, it’s in Parliament that change happens. In France there’s no precedent for an election – not a European but a national election – being won by a right-wing party that’s been able to break through a cordon sanitaire, to use a French phrase, which separated it from all the other French parties, declared it as being beyond the pale, and excluded it from the sphere of parties with which cooperation could be accepted. And, as far as I can see, the margin of its victory isn’t narrow but wide, if we’ve correctly interpreted the first-round result. Of course from here in Budapest you can’t follow it, or perhaps even see it, but anyone who’s involved in foreign policy can see that in France there’s an event happening of such significance that the change will have an immediate impact on the whole continent – not only in Brussels, but also in bilateral relations, including Franco-Hungarian relations. There are two possible scenarios, and on Sunday evening we’ll see which one has happened. One scenario is that this great upsurge of right-wing forces – which will in all likelihood win the elections – not only wins, but wins to the extent that it can form a government. They’ve announced in advance that they’ll only do this if they have an absolute majority, and otherwise they won’t. I understand that – I’ve formed governments a few times myself, and it’s better if responsibility is clear. I once led a coalition government, and now I won’t go into the suffering that this entails: when four parties have to agree on common ground before a government decision, even the simplest government decision, how this slows down decision-making, how half of the government programme can’t be implemented, and how people are dissatisfied. So I won’t tell you about all of that; but it’s extremely difficult to put together a multi-party government and act in a targeted manner. So I understand those who don’t want to step into that river. The other possibility is that this right-wing party wins, but doesn’t win enough and doesn’t form a government. Then some kind of confused situation will ensue. And if there’s confusion in France, the impact on European politics will be just as much as if there were a strong right-wing government. The impact will be different, but it will exert an impact, and just as much on Brussels – and therefore also on us. So there will be big changes in France. This will strengthen the French right-wing party. In the entire European Parliament – of more than 570 MEPs – the largest national party today is the French right-wing party, Marine Le Pen’s party. There’s no one bigger than them. Therefore how they decide their own fate matters. So their attitude is to wait until after the election. This is why I say that we need to wait until Monday.

The Patriots for Europe alliance was set up to bring about the change that people voted for in the European elections. It’s one thing to have a Parliament, and one of the elements of EU decision-making is the Parliament, but there’s also the Commission and the Council of heads of state or government. How can patriotic politics be pursued in these other two institutions – which in many ways are more important?

Now the patriots – these people of good conscience, who love their country and who are committed – are in a better position. So they’re better off than they seem to be, because this is where one of the Italian governing parties, for example, belongs – not the biggest, but we’re talking about an Italian governing party. The largest party in the Dutch government which has just been formed also belongs here, to this community. This is where we are. In September there will be elections in Austria. The Freedom Party, with whom we started this Patriots for Europe movement, are leading. Prime Minister Babiš has already been Prime Minister, and now he’s standing on the threshold of victory once again. The question is when there will be elections in the Czech Republic. And there are the Belgians, because the Belgian government has also fallen as a result of parliamentary and European Parliament elections; and there will be a new prime minister there. One of the expected Belgian governing parties is among these. So, in fact, in the Council, where the governments are represented, this patriotic group is already more strongly represented than it seems to be – and it will become stronger and more visible.

One of the important goals of the Hungarian EU Presidency – and indeed of the new alliance – is to increase the competitiveness of the EU and to bring it back up to its previous level. And you mentioned the unfolding trade war as one of the main lurking threats to competitiveness.

That’s right.

How can competitiveness be increased when the Commission is today reportedly planning on imposing temporary punitive tariffs on the largest Chinese car manufacturers?

I think they’ll do that; so the biggest goal and strongest hope we can have is that it will be temporary. It will be for four months, and then maybe we can forget about it. There is the spectre of a trade war. There are absurd situations. I don’t want to bore you, but I’ll tell you that in preparation for our EU Presidency I’ve had discussions with the heads of big European companies – including in the car industry. This decision by the Commission, which is now imposing punitive tariffs on the Chinese, is supposedly good because it protects the interests of European car manufacturers. But European car manufacturers are protesting truth and nail against this, and they’ve told me that this is bad for them. So they don’t want to be dragged from one side of the street to the other against their will. They have no such plan, thank you very much. And yet the bureaucrats are now making a decision in their interests. What’s this about? Meanwhile obviously the other side – the Easterners – will respond. Maybe more than once. And we’re already in a conflict. Such bad and ill-considered decisions can shift economic life towards a trade war – which is bad for us Hungarians, because we live according to the assumption that what we produce in Hungary we can sell all over the world. In Hungary we produce using the most modern technology, and we have the best workers in Europe. Hungarian workers have undergone fantastic development and training in the last thirty years, so any work process used in any factory anywhere in the world can be carried out – and even managed – by Hungarians. We have superb, internationally accepted, middle and senior managers, and this is why in Hungary we’re able to produce almost anything. We’re at the highest technological level, for example in the automotive industry, but also the military industry; and now, of course, we’re finding our first footholds in the air travel industry. So we’re able to do all these things. But we’re not consuming these products: the world is consuming them. If there’s a trade war, we won’t be able to sell the goods produced in Hungary; and ultimately this could cause a chain reaction, putting jobs at risk. It’s therefore in our interest for there not to be a trade war.

July has begun, which means that the holiday season has also begun, and many people would like to go on holiday – say, by plane. In recent weeks there have been significant disruptions in air traffic, with delays of a few hours, and even extreme cases with reported delays of nineteen hours to a day and a half. What tools are at the Government’s disposal to remedy or partially remedy this situation?

We had a government meeting on Wednesday. Among many other matters, we had to discuss two that we could call outrageous. One was the situation in air transport and the other was the price of petrol. Now, as far as the air transport issue is concerned, what we’re seeing there is in the intolerable category, and one cannot help but be outraged. So it’s not a question of whether air transport is well organised or not, but of the absence of a minimum level of humanity. Because the point of view from which the whole thing should be understood is that most passengers at the airport are people who have worked all year and now want to go on holiday with the money they’ve saved up. They’ve been preparing all year for this, so that now they can finally go away for a week to visit their family somewhere, so that they can afford to fly. Most people put a lot of effort into that. The salaries in Hungary aren’t so good that you can just fly somewhere or go on holiday on a whim. So for most Hungarian families this is an important event in their year. They prepare for it. And it’s not just that this is about bad organisation, but that when people are being dealt with in the airport, in the air travel process, there’s no humanity shown at all. They’re not told what the situation is, and there are huge delays. And I’ve seen that many people are sleeping in their cars, in the car park or on the grass. After all, this is Hungary, and this shouldn’t be happening. Now, we’re taking over the airport. What’s happening now is a consequence of the period before the state took over ownership. I hope that the situation will suddenly improve as soon as the actual physical takeover of the airport happens – not only the financial and technical takeover, but also the physical takeover. But here it’s not only the airport operators who need to improve, because I see that there’s also a problem with air traffic controllers and ground handling. So we expect much more understanding and humanity from those who come into contact with Hungarians or tourists arriving here. There are expectations that the Government has, and I’ve called on the ministers to enforce them.

You’ve also mentioned petrol prices, and in recent weeks we’ve seen that petrol prices have moved back towards the regional average. What can the Government do to fulfil your expectation that Hungarian prices don’t exceed the regional average?

The Prime Minister shouldn’t threaten. I think that’s a good law. The Prime Minister should be understanding, should provide help, should try to create conditions so that people can do their jobs better, so that companies can be more successful, so that they can provide more jobs, and so on. Or, for example, here we’ve just been talking about air travel. I’m looking at the figures, and tourism records in Hungary will probably be broken. Never before have so many Hungarians gone on holiday as will go this year; and this year we can expect more foreigners than ever to come here. So these things need to be addressed, and to do that what’s needed from the Government is help, cooperation and partnership. But there are exceptions. Once we’ve made an agreement with the fuel distributors in Hungary, which says that people in Hungary shouldn’t pay more for fuel than the average price in neighbouring countries, then that has to be complied with. It’s unacceptable to be in that position for a while and then suddenly slip out of that band. This is what’s happening now. And I’ll say again, speaking more in the language of empathy and restraint, but I want to make it clear that now we’re asking with words. But we won’t say it twice: we’ve made an agreement, and it must be complied with. We won’t tolerate people in Hungary paying more for fuel than the average price in neighbouring countries. And if these fine words don’t help, then we’ll take action.

You’ve mentioned that tourism could have a record year. We know that, just as in the past, in the coming period this could be one of the main drivers of the Hungarian economy. But if we talk about the situation of the Hungarian economy as a whole, recent data shows that real wage growth is around 10 per cent, and employment has risen to 4.75 million. Based on this, what’s the outlook for the rest of the year? Because earlier this year the goal was to kick-start growth.

There are encouraging signs. They shouldn’t be overestimated, but neither should they be underestimated. So there are encouraging signs. Somehow things are always linked to the war, because the picture will become completely clear after the war is over. And what everyone feels, but doesn’t yet see, is that the world we’ll be living in after the war will be different from the one we lived in before the war. That’s a long way off. But I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that in the last few days the world’s largest non-Western countries have gathered in two places. They had a big summit called Shanghai: a big group where most of the world’s population was present, or their leaders, and they decided on serious economic cooperation. The way they’re cooperating is much more flexible than the way we Westerners do here: it’s much less bureaucratic and much more efficient than the way we do it. And also taking shape is this BRICS grouping, in which non-Western countries are increasingly involved. There’s still a fog of war hanging over the landscape, but we need to see that this will clear and then we’ll find ourselves in a different world, in a different time from the one we’re living in now. And we’ll have to prepare for that and adapt to it. And the important thing is that there are good signs that we won’t be starting from scratch, but that there are already some positive developments that can be taken forward. Now tourism is important because it’s the best money in the sense that someone comes here, brings their money here, leaves it here, spends it here, and it stays here – it enters the Hungarian economy. And hundreds of thousands of people make a living out of it. Not to mention the tax revenue. In other areas we have to produce a product, which is a headache, and then we have to place it somewhere on the world market, sell it, get paid – or not – and then we can bring the money home. But a tourist brings his or her money here and spends it here. It’s therefore very important that those working in tourism are aware that they’re operating one of the Hungarian national economy’s most important sectors. According to current figures, tourism already accounts for around 11 per cent of total Hungarian economic output and total product. And this will increase, especially if, after the purchase of the airport, we succeed in transforming the current Ferenc Liszt Airport into a major international air travel centre.

You’ve mentioned that the outlook for the economy is encouraging.

I don’t think I said that, but that there are encouraging signs.

That there are encouraging signs, yes.

I’m one of those who are cautiously bullish, yes.

How does this play out at the level of ordinary people? Or when will it be felt by the average person?

Well, we’re making efforts on the housing front. We’ve launched a home renovation programme, calling for applications for modernising heating systems, insulation and installing modern windows and doors. I put the number of families who can participate in this at between twenty and thirty thousand. With the previous housing programmes for new housing or renovation we reached 250,000 families. This number can be multiplied by four, four people in a family, which gives one million people out of ten million. That’s huge. Now a few tens of thousands more can join them. We also have to fight against wartime inflation. I mentioned the petrol issue just now, but the other direction for the fight is to try to reach agreements with employers that will result in good wages, an increased minimum wage, and so on. Because the other most important way of fighting inflation is that if prices are already high, then at least I’ll have more money. So we’re burning the candle at both ends, if I may put it that way, in order to reduce living costs. And coming back to tourism, you can see that 60 per cent of the accommodation bookings are being made by Hungarians, and 40 per cent by foreigners. This means that here at home Hungarians can now afford something. So connecting these signs to the employment figures you mentioned, there are still job opportunities for everyone who wants to work. We feared that the construction industry would fall back. There are a lot of people working there, people doing manual work, a lot of people from the Roma or gypsy community working there; and it’s very important that they stay in the labour market, and that they continue to believe that it makes sense to work. So these are all signs that give us cause for optimism. And then we’ll see – in September, October, then the US presidential election and the outcome of the war – whether it will all finally come together in a vision, a picture, from which we can hope for a general improvement in the situation within a reasonable timeframe: not only encouraging signs, but also a general improvement in the situation. But for that we still have a lot of work to do.I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the steps taken towards peace, the new European party alliance an


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