Zsolt Törőcsik: Good morning from the studio of the Public Media Centre in Brussels, where I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Good morning.
As I said in the introduction, here in Brussels we’re into the second day of a two-day summit of the EU heads of state and government. One of yesterday evening’s most important topics was the Commission’s proposal to increase the EU’s common budget by 66 billion euros, and the Commission is asking for the Member States’ contributions to this. Three years of the seven-year budget cycle have passed so far. Why is this increase needed now?
Indeed, we were sparring with one another until late last night, with that as the main topic. In fact, after we’d wheeled the bureaucrats in to give us the figures, it turned out that it wouldn’t be sixty [billion] or so, but a hundred. So we’re talking about the fact that three years have passed, we have a budget in force which we adopted three years ago for a period of seven years a and which we’re not even halfway through, and now the money-grabbers in Brussels come and tell us to give another 100 billion euros, telling the Member States to throw it together. They’re citing two important, large items of expenditure. One is Ukraine: “Let’s give more money to Ukraine and commit ourselves to that for many years in advance.” And then, “Let’s give money to managing migration.” Part of the latter would go towards protecting the external border, which one could talk about further; the other half would go towards instruments for distributing the migrants who have come in, and for creating migrant camps. In general it would be for how – with new, fresh money – we can continue the failed policy, the consequences of which can be seen here in Brussels and in other major European cities week after week: bringing in terror together with migrants, bringing in crime, and bringing in conflicts that originate outside Europe, thousands of kilometres away – as in the case of the latest terrorist attack in Israel. These conflicts, which have arisen thousands of kilometres away, are here today on the streets of Europe’s major cities. The significance of this is perhaps felt less by Hungarians, because we don’t see it here. Thank God we were strong when we needed to be, and we didn’t let the migrants in. But those who let them in are now living with conflicts that don’t belong here, but came here from far away. As we say, they’ve brought troubles here, instead of bringing help over there. It should be the other way round: the help should be brought there and the troubles shouldn’t be brought into Europe. So the budget negotiations were really about two big items: spending on migration and funding the war in Ukraine. And – because bureaucrats in Brussels are like bureaucrats everywhere, including bureaucrats here – they said what bureaucrats tend to say: they also said that it would be nice if we could set aside a small reserve, which they could use at their discretion; they said that it’s been a long time since they’d had a pay rise, inflation’s been high, and so they bundled a small pay rise into their proposal. None of us were enthusiastic about this, of course. We had to judge the proposal as undeveloped and basically unfit for serious discussion, and we threw it back for the Commission to come back with a more serious proposal. But it was a big battle, a very big battle – especially on Ukraine.
Yes, and as we’re talking about aid to Ukraine, this is the largest item in this package. Meanwhile there are ever more voices in the United States calling for aid to be reduced or ended. Will the European Union be able to cope – even financially – if, let’s say, it’s left to support Ukraine on its own?
I don’t know whether or not Europe can cope with it, but I’m sure that Hungary neither can nor will; because I see no reason whatsoever why we should send money to Ukraine – money that Hungarian taxpayers have paid into the Hungarian budget. So what happens is that a war breaks out somewhere, a conflict develops, the Russians attack Ukraine – this is what happened here. And then we rush to their aid, let’s say, by providing humanitarian aid. This may involve shared costs. Some are also supplying weapons, while we aren’t supplying weapons. But whatever we do, before we spend our money we need to have a clear strategy on what we want to achieve. And it’s in relation to this that the money needs to be made available. Although this isn’t the way it’s spoken about here, I was forced to say directly and clearly that the biggest problem today is that the strategy signed up to by the Brusseleers – who have also taken us into this war with them – has failed. So the plan was very clear: Russia attacked Ukraine, and Ukraine should respond with arms, not with negotiations, not by isolating the conflict as we did in Crimea some years earlier, but by committing itself to an open war, by launching a war of defence. And we should encourage them to do so, saying this: “You’re fighting, you’re paying in blood, many people have died, there have been huge Ukrainian losses, and we’re providing the money and military equipment for this. And we’re doing this because there’s a realistic chance that you’ll win on the front lines. So there will be a victory.” If you recall, it was announced months ago that the great counter-offensive was about to begin, and that Ukraine would win. Now for as long as this is a realistic scenario, we can talk about giving money to achieve this strategic goal. But today everyone knows – but doesn’t dare to say – that this strategy has failed. So it’s quite obvious that it won’t work. So the Ukrainians won’t win on the front lines. All the military experts are already writing and saying this, but the politicians don’t yet dare to admit that we’ve chosen the wrong strategy. In our defence, in the defence of the Hungarians, let me say that from the very first moment we argued – and here in Brussels I argued in the teeth of huge opposition – that this wasn’t a good strategy in principle. But – as everyone was very clever and explained how we were still going to win – we were unable to prevent the large majority from implementing this strategy. Now it’s embarrassing to say, “Folks, we made the wrong decision, this strategy isn’t working.” Because it’s clear that the Ukrainians aren’t going to win on the front lines, the Russians aren’t going to lose on the front lines, and there’s no question of any Russian military failure that would lead to the kind of chaos in Moscow needed to topple the Russian president. That was the European strategy. “The Ukrainians must win, the Russians must lose, the President must fall”: this is what we said in unison, in chorus with the Americans. But it won’t work. This is when you have to stop and say: “Plan A failed, now let’s devise Plan B. When there’s a Plan B, let’s talk about what it costs. And when we know what it costs, then let’s decide on how we share the burden.” It can’t work the other way round, where we start talking about how much money we’ll give to someone whose war strategy – of which we’re a part – is no longer valid. So what we’re really facing here is a leadership problem. The problem that we’re facing isn’t just a financial problem, but – and this is why I think it’s absolutely necessary to bring about a change in Brussels in next June’s European elections – the fact is that we have leaders who can’t solve this problem. As leaders they’re not good enough. Maybe they’re good leaders in peacetime, when the waters are calm, the wind isn’t blowing and you can go boating. But what’s sure is that we won’t be able to manage with these guides now that there are storms, huge waves and pirate ships around us. We need change in Brussels!
In your speech on 23 October you said that we don’t dance to the tune whistled by Brussels. Were you referring to this change, or does it portend further new government measures?
What I’m mostly thinking about now is that in the European Parliament elections we must find European leaders who can coordinate the work of the prime ministers in this difficult situation; because, after all, the European Union comprises states – Member States – and their governments. So in Brussels the most important thing is for them to coordinate our work, to keep us on a specific, well-defined course, and to guide us in that direction. Now, of course, the question is what needs to change in Brussels – beyond the leaders. This is a difficult question, and on the table there’s a large package of very serious unresolved questions. I’ve already mentioned Ukraine, but the same is true for migration. But it’s also the case with economic policy, on which Brussels sometimes comes up with nonsensical proposals such as abolishing the cuts in household utility bills, not taking part of banks’ revenues through the windfall tax, and abolishing the interest rate freeze protecting families. So there are some absurd economic ideas on the table, and the stakes aren’t insignificant: things have got serious. I think we need to strengthen the Government, the Hungarian government, and the way we usually do that is to create unity between the Hungarian electorate and the country’s political leadership. There are different ways of doing this. What we want now – and what I’ll propose, and what we’ll launch – is another national consultation. The national consultation is a good tool; it’s a tool with which to ask very serious questions, of which there are ten or eleven now, and to give people the opportunity to express their views. They respond in their millions, which creates a lot of support behind the Government, enabling it to negotiate in Brussels with confidence and strength – even if it has to do so in the face of hurricane-force headwinds. And in myself and ourselves I sense that if there’s a great deal of support, then even in hurricane-force headwinds I can navigate Hungary’s ship into the port where the interests of the Hungarian people can be defended.
You’ve mentioned migration as one of the big unresolved issues. And incidentally the EU summit is continuing today with a debate on migration. We’re now in a city that was hit by another terrorist attack, less than two weeks ago. Yesterday, when you arrived at the summit, you said that you hoped Brussels would see the obvious link between terrorist acts and migration. Have the heads of state and government seen this, and do they see a link between terrorism and migration?
In terms of honesty we’re further ahead than we were a few years ago. In 2015 – when Hungary said that migration was bad and would lead to crime, terrorism, unmanageable political tensions and huge financial costs in Europe – we were almost crucified. So Hungary’s special situation is that we’re in conflict with the European institutions, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and some big Member States. For some years, for example, I was in an unequal David-and-Goliath battle with Mrs. Merkel, and was forced to fight against pressure from Germany, which wanted to bring migrants into Hungary at all costs. So when in 2015 I first spoke about the consequences of migration, and suggested that we shouldn’t look at the stream of migrants as a tactical task to be solved when they arrive at our borders, but think in the long term and understand the danger we were letting in if we didn’t stop them, then we were black sheep here. Back then supporting the [border] fence was seen in the same light as supporting blood libels: the argument was that civilised people don’t build fences, but let migrants in, receive them at the railway station, take them home, put them here, put them there, and so on. The Hungarian standpoint has always differed from this. As the years went by, it became ever clearer that there were doubts over whether they’d really done the right thing, and whether, in fact, the Hungarians had really done the wrong thing. And we won that battle, because now it’s absolutely clear that what I said in 2015 is now like something you’d find in a children’s book, because now they’re saying much harsher things than that. So today almost all countries are standing up for what Hungary was standing up for in 2015. We’ve won that battle. The question now is this: Now that we’ve come to this realisation, why don’t we act on it? Because not only were the Hungarians right, but we’ve developed a model of how to defend our country, how to defend Hungary. It’s a good model, and it would protect the whole of Europe. It’s based on a very simple recognition: we’re saying that no one can come in unless we’ve given them permission. The West’s problem is that they flood in, they’re on a country’s territory, submit applications to stay there as refugees, migrants or whoever, and when they receive rejections they don’t leave the country. The only way to prevent this is to stop them from coming in until their applications have been assessed and accepted. If they’ve been rejected, you don’t let them in. So they have to stay outside the country until their applications for entry have been ruled on by the authorities of the country in question. We’ve established this. This is a legal border barrier, a military border barrier, and a physical border barrier. Because they have to be stopped and told “You’ll wait outside and we’ll give you an answer.” Now that’s what we should be doing all over Europe. So they’ve got to the point at which they admit the dangers, they admit the mistakes, they admit that they’ve let in terror and crime. Some people are even daring to say what we’re saying: that there’s an obvious, inevitable and close connection between migration, crime and terrorism. But they haven’t yet reached the point at which they see that there’s a successful model that should be adopted: the Hungarian model. Instead they’re extending the old fight and still attacking Hungary: we’re being taken to court by the European Commission – led by Mrs. von der Leyen – in an attempt to force Hungary to dismantle the only successful border defence model. We’re fighting that battle now. These court judgments will be delivered soon. And Hungary won’t be in an easy position, because Brussels – under pressure from the Commission – usually hands down pro-migrant judgments. So we can look forward to some difficult moments; but this is an occupational hazard, and we’ll try to navigate it skilfully.
Yes, and the West sees the solution not in strict border defence, but in speeding up deportations, which they believe would be made possible by the Migration Pact. Could this be an opportunity for them to speed up work on this, and perhaps even adopt it in the coming period?
Well, it’s not my job to discourage my colleagues with bad news; and if they want to believe that they can deport illegal migrants, then let them believe it. But one quiet afternoon they might ask themselves how this is going to happen. Well, we see these migrants on the streets, living in phalanxes. They cover for one another, they help one another. They don’t want one or another of them to be deported. Will the police go in there? Let’s say the German police go in to grab a person who’s there illegally. Will they arrest them – men, women and children – when there are thousands of migrants standing there? Let’s say they do it; where will they put them? Put them on a train and take them out of the country? And where will they take them to? So I think we’re living in fantasy land if we tell ourselves that we can squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. So I don’t want to dissuade the Westerners from trying such repatriations, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope of success. So they’ll have to think of something else. But this isn’t our problem, it’s not Hungary’s problem. Our interest lies in not having this problem. So I don’t want to share in the West’s problem. They’ve mismanaged things, that’s the problem, and they need to fix it. But why should I take a share in this problem? Because now their idea is to send a few thousand to Hungary. And they’re obliging Hungary to build migrant camps, which they’ll fill with the migrants they’ve let in. We have practical experience. They’re letting in migrants who have been attacking the police on Hungary’s southern border – and even shooting at them. Are we going to let them into our country after that? These are absurdities! So simple country folk like ourselves, who have both feet on the ground, still have a hard fight ahead in order to make people here in Brussels understand how life really works. They’re sitting here in a bubble! They think they can write something down on a piece of paper, and this will make it happen. But every decision carries the scent of humanity: wherever there’s conflict, there are human factors. They’re not simply allowing in migrants, but migrants together with the cultural backgrounds from which they come. They thought that migrants have such malleable, flexible, pliant personalities that they might even work, that they might even be useful. But every human being has a past, a culture, a language and relationships; and when they go somewhere they take these with them. So you can’t look at people as if you’re going to do some social experiment with them and mould them like plasticine. This is because human beings aren’t just made of flesh and blood, but also of culture, relatives, pasts and beliefs. And now they’re all here on the street. And they’re completely alien to the worldview which people who live here have grown up in and embrace. So we’re talking about people from a different civilisation. One can engage in debate with that other civilisation. I personally, for example, consider Islam to be a very great cultural achievement. So lifting mankind out of barbarism is a great achievement, a great cultural achievement spanning hundreds of years. There’s no argument about that. If one goes to lands where the Islamic world is indigenous, one can see the products, the results and the manifestations of this. The only question is what place it has here. Why bring it here, when we’re a world that’s grown up in a completely different culture? And who will guarantee that the end product of this kind of mass coexistence of these two worlds will be good things, and not conflict? So far all I can see is that there’s a risk – in terms of crime, terrorism and cultural conflicts – that I’d advise Hungarians not to take. So let’s not condemn anyone. Let’s not pass judgement on the migration policy of the West. But one thing we should fight for is that we should be able to say who can enter Hungary, and we should be able to decide what risks we want to take in terms of living with others. This shouldn’t be imposed on us in such a schoolmasterly manner, with such a lecturing style, with such a show of moral superiority, by some kind of bureaucratic squadron from Brussels. This is unacceptable! Who resides in Hungary, and what kind of public security conflict, potential or threat we’re taking on should be decisions solely for Hungarians. And for as long as we have a national government, Hungarians can be sure that we shall not risk the security of Hungary and the Hungarian people.
Let’s talk about a trip you made last week. You were in China for several days for the “One Belt, One Road” summit, and you said that the Hungarian government’s goal is for Hungary to be the meeting point between the Eastern and Western economies. Meanwhile there seems to be a growing push from the West to break economic ties with China. Can these two goals be reconciled?
Let’s first look at this question from a Hungarian perspective. I come from an anti-communist student rebel movement. So it’s hard for me to say that there was anything good about the communism I lived under for twenty-six years. But sometimes one finds this or that. For example, there’s this matter of relations with China. I don’t know how it happened or why, and only those who know the party history can tell you about it, but somehow after 1949, when communism took root in Hungary, relations between the Chinese and Hungarian communists turned out to be excellent. So when Hungary achieved freedom in 1990, when we got rid of Moscow and the Soviet Union and were again free to pursue our own foreign policy, we inherited outstandingly good Chinese-Hungarian relations. For example, I’d note that Péter Medgyessy – to whom I lost the election in 2002 – pursued perfectly reasonable and very successful policy in relation to China. So there’s also a tradition of good Chinese-Hungarian relations on the left. Today this is a huge advantage, because over here systems change quickly; but I can report that in China they don’t. So over there we see the same people and the same system. So we have a huge advantage. We have excellent relations – inherited from the old days – with this power, with a China that’s become the second strongest economic power in the world; and every mathematician says that it’s only a matter of a few years before it becomes the strongest economic power in the world, because the processes are predictable. One shouldn’t squander this. This is a huge opportunity, if we can translate it into the language of economic relations. And this is where something’s happening now, whereby we’re particularly benefiting from this relationship. Because at the moment the main issue in the modern economy and in modern technology is green energy: how, faced with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, which are harmful to people’s health, we can progressively marginalise conventional, fossil-based – i.e. hydrocarbon-based – energy sources, and bring in green energy. Now in fact green energy is something that involves two things, two economic activities. First, it has to be produced – from wind, from the sun, and so on. The Chinese are very good at this. Most of the solar panels come from there, and in terms of developing this technology they’re ahead of the rest of the world. So it has to be produced; and then stored – because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. So today the biggest question facing the whole world economy is who will have the ability to store the green energy that’s produced and to use it when it’s needed. This may colloquially be called a battery, but a battery is child’s play compared to what we’re talking about. So if you go to China, say, you see huge structures that are capable of storing large amounts of green energy. There’s competition in the world today on how long this storage capacity can be maintained: who can store energy for how many hours. And today China’s leading the way. So if we want green energy, and if we want Hungary to take advantage of the benefits of green energy to be independent of others, for example, then we must cooperate with Chinese companies and Chinese technology. And – I repeat – a small part of this is electromobility: vehicles switching from petrol to batteries and electricity. We’re talking about a much bigger issue: about the whole future of green energy. And of course countries like us, who were left out of the world’s development because of communism, always have to look for ways in which, within a given unit of time, we can make more progress than others – or converge, as they call it. And one of the answers to this is that if you get involved in a new technology early enough, at the right time, ahead of others, you can eliminate a lot of your developmental disadvantage in a relatively short time. I think Hungary is at the gateway of such an opportunity. So in economic terms the guiding thread of cooperation with the Chinese is green energy.
We have a short amount of time left, but let’s talk about one more topic. On Wednesday the Government announced “CSOK Plus”. This is a preferential loan, repayments on the principal of which will be reduced by ten million forints on the birth of every new child. What does the Government expect from the reformed CSOK [Family Home Creation Allowance]? What’s the logic behind it?
At the core of our reasoning is a very simple relationship: if there are children, there is a future, if there are no children, there is no future. So we can do whatever we want, but if we don’t have children to take our place, in the end have we actually done anything? Now, there are governments that see this connection as important, while others see it as a matter outside politics: not their concern, the concern of individuals, a private matter, and so on. And of course every child is undoubtedly a private matter for each individual. But, as sociologists say, it’s also a public good; because if there are no children, the whole country will be in trouble. So we believe that the Government’s most important task is to help people have children. It’s not our job to convince them or persuade them. I wouldn’t like to see what I’d call that kind of Commie propaganda, because it’s not our job to convince people to have more children, but to say that if you want to have children, we can help you avoid encountering obstacles that are holding you back. So you long for, you want your child, but you run into difficulties – like not having somewhere to live or not having a job. The Government can help you to get a job. It can help you to get a place to live – which isn’t easy, because an apartment, a house, costs a lot of money. And we’re looking at ways of how we can help with that. We’ve started two things: what we call a Village CSOK and an Urban CSOK. The Village CSOK has gone well, and is still going well. We’ve increased the amount of the subsidy, we’ve now made the loan more attractive, and so on. But interest in the Urban CSOK has dropped off. So it hasn’t been dropped by the Government, but let’s say that the people announced that it didn’t interest them. They said, “Well, unfortunately, it’s no longer attractive to us.” And we had to devise something new instead. We’ve been working on this for a year, so that from 1 January the old Urban CSOK will be phased out and a new “CSOK PLUS” will be introduced, which is quite attractive and is adapted to the changed financial circumstances. Our experts have been working on this, the Government has discussed it in several rounds, and we also approved the proposal at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. There will be this form of support, and Hungarians should calculate how much it will be worth having one, two or three children, giving them access to serious assistance in creating an independent home. This is the new CSOK Plus.
In the past half an hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the EU summit, migration and the CSOK Plus scheme, which was announced this week.