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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after a meeting of the European Council

Eszter Baraczka (Magyar Televízió): Prime Minister, at the beginning of the week, before you left for Brussels and this marathon series of highly complex summits, you said that there were very dangerous proposals on the NATO and European Union agendas. We know – or I think we know – that you were talking about three things: the question of whether NATO would somehow intervene in the war in Ukraine; a ban on the supply of [Russian] oil; and a similar ban on the supply of gas. It seems that for the time being these threats have been successfully averted.

Indeed, we must always ask ourselves the fundamental question about the nature of the situation that we find ourselves in. There are countries which say that this is a war which they themselves are in some way party to. And then we Hungarians say that there’s a Russia-Ukraine war taking place right next door to us, and so we cannot be indifferent to that. People are suffering, with millions in great distress. At the same time there are Hungarian interests which could be endangered by a war taking place right next door. So we’re in a dangerous situation. But we are on the side of Hungary, and we look at this situation with a Hungarian mentality, and from a Hungarian point of view. We’re helping those in distress, but we want to assert and protect our own national interests. There are countries which would like NATO or the European Union to become involved in this conflict to some extent – or even to a significant extent. And there are countries, including Hungary, which want to stay out of this war. At times this debate takes place in the open, and at other times less openly. This is why big summits such as these are important, enabling these two positions to compete and to reveal who stands where and how many there are taking each position. I can tell you now that at the NATO summit it became clear that most countries take the Hungarian position. Therefore NATO openly declared that it’s not a participant in this war, it doesn’t want to become involved in it, and it wants to stay out of it: it won’t send weapons or soldiers, and it won’t impose a no-fly zone. This is NATO’s position. Naturally, if there are member countries that want to go beyond this, that want to take responsibility for further action, NATO will not stop them; but the position adopted by NATO itself is one of restraint, which fully coincides with the position of Hungary. That was the NATO aspect. Then there’s the European Union, for which the question is more about economic sanctions. Here again, there’s the understandable proposition that if we want to help the Ukrainians and want peace as soon as possible, we should make it clear to the Russians that pursuing this war is not in their interest. This initiative is good, because I think that today the most important factor is peace: only with peace can every problem be remedied and all the pain be relieved. So we stand on the side of peace. But you cannot achieve peace by adopting sanctions that will hurt us more than the Russians. If we extend the sanctions to energy, the Hungarian economy will be subjected to unbearable pressure, while the Russians will probably feel no negative effects whatsoever. Therefore Hungary has made it clear that extending the sanctions to the energy system is not suited to moving towards peace. We must do that in different ways – in essence, through diplomatic negotiations.

That has now been removed from the agenda: the European Union won’t impose sanctions in relation to energy. But they say that it could return to the agenda if, say, President Putin crosses a red line that the European Union cannot tolerate. Did you discuss what such a red line could be?

I don’t think that’s the most likely scenario; instead we should expect these two positions to be revisited again and again whenever the prime ministers meet. In Versailles two weeks ago we confirmed that we wouldn’t be sending soldiers, we wouldn’t be sending weapons, and that we don’t want the EU or NATO to be involved in this war. We also confirmed that we don’t want an aerial war, so we won’t be imposing a no-fly zone. Two weeks went by, and these proposals were on the agenda again. So as the positions are different, I have to say that these proposals will surface at each and every international meeting. And on each and every occasion, time and again Hungary will have to stand up for its own national interests. This is why the government that Hungary has is not simply a matter of academic interest: the question is whether it has a government which stands up for Hungary’s national interests, or a government which wants to be subordinate and follow the large countries and others that radiate authority. We’re a government which stands up for Hungary’s national interests, and this is also what we want to do in the period ahead. This will bring results, because today the most significant change is that the two countries here that have been most frequently criticised – Poland and Hungary – are now receiving the highest praise. Everyone can see the enormous burden being shouldered by the Poles and the Hungarians. Although it’s a country of 40 million, Poland is perhaps carrying an even heavier burden than we are, having received 2.5 million refugees; but we, too, have received more than half a million. This represents around 5 per cent of the entire Hungarian population. In this respect, in relative terms we’re bearing the heaviest burden, and – as everyone here can see – Hungary is doing fantastically well. The reports all bear this out, and it can be seen by people who come to observe the work at the border. We have a huge number of volunteers, and the activists, civil society organisations and churches are doing a tremendous job. Hungarians are open-hearted, they’re not selfish at all, and they’re putting their heart and soul into helping the Ukrainians. The disputes we’ve had with the Ukrainians in the past – for example, about the Hungarian minority in Ukraine – don’t matter now; because the Ukrainians are in trouble, and we’re helping them. The Hungarian state is also doing a good job, because it’s organised the protection and reception of refugees. This has been greatly appreciated here, but they know that it’s also a burden. This is why, for example, I’ve urged for the financial resources due to Hungary to be released as soon as possible. We’ve already received a response from the Commission on that: the first 300 million euros – more than 100 billion forints – has been made available to Hungary in a flexible way, much more freely and rapidly than was the case for previous goals. This is all thanks to our volunteers, and the country itself has earned this recognition.

 Because it was in the news, I can’t help but ask about the fact that, despite all this, the Ukrainian president wasn’t happy with NATO: he said that NATO has failed Ukraine; he said that the European Union has acted, but has been late in imposing sanctions; and he also personally addressed and criticised you, saying that Hungary isn’t helping Ukraine enough. How can one remain calm in such a situation and give an appropriate response to such statements? After all, Ukraine’s under attack, it’s under fire, and obviously the President’s opinion and mood are affected by this.

Ukraine’s in a difficult situation. After all, it’s been attacked and there’s a war on its territory, it’s already lost part of that territory, and millions of people are being forced to leave Ukraine as refugees. The feeling must be heart-breaking, and very difficult. So in a situation like this, the first thing to understand about the Ukrainian president is that he wants the whole world not only to share his pain and not only to help the refugees, but also to fully adopt the Ukrainian position and intervene immediately. He’s asking NATO to go in, to commit itself to conflict in the air, and to send weapons. I understand this, because for the Ukrainians it’s a perfectly understandable point of view. But we are not Ukrainians and we are not Russians: we are Hungarians. And if I were the Ukrainian president, I wouldn’t forget that – in addition to helping all Ukrainians in distress – we’re helping hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, giving them food and water, making kindergartens, crèches and schools available to them, giving them accommodation, enabling them to stay with us and get jobs. So we’re helping. But we do not want to get involved in this war, because it is against Hungarian national interests. The answer to the question of where Hungary stands is this: Hungary stands on the side of Hungary.

Youve just sat through two long meetings behind closed doors: one in NATO and one here. For us outsiders who are worried, and want to know how worried we should be, what can you say about how you see the situation?

Our starting point should be that Hungary is a member of NATO. NATO is united and strong – very strong indeed, and much stronger than Russia. So we can be confident that collectively all the NATO member countries – Hungary, Poland, the Germans behind us, and the French and the Americans – represent an enormous force. We have an army, and if we Hungarians ourselves do what needs to be done, if we deploy it on the border, if it’s seen that we’re ready to defend ourselves, then the other countries in the alliance will also help us. And together we’re stronger than anyone else in the world today. There’s no greater security guarantee today. So by human reasoning, by all human reasoning, there’s no safer place and no safer country on Earth today than in the member countries of NATO – including Hungary. But at the same time this is a war, and it’s in one of our immediate neighbours. We must stay alert. So the decisive factors here are strategic calm, composure, consistency, the accurate identification of Hungarian interests and action in accordance with them. But I feel that so far Hungary has displayed these virtues.

But I think it’s inevitable that we’ll be indirectly affected by the war. Today there’s been a very long discussion on energy, on astronomically high energy prices – together with the serious situation represented by a war in our neighbourhood, with one of the belligerents being the largest supplier of energy in Europe; that belligerent being Russia. For greater security of supply, the European Union would like to become independent of Russian energy. Let me give you an example. Here in Belgium, this week we’ve received a letter from our electricity supplier, informing us that from June we’ll be paying 230 euros a month, instead of the 80 euros a month we’ve been paying – and that’s just for electricity. What reassuring answers can you give – not only to me, but to the very many Europeans who are in a similar situation?

We spent hours discussing this issue. Independently of the war, in recent months energy prices had been rising, and the war has simply exacerbated the situation. Faced with this, we cannot just sit back and do nothing. In Hungary we’ve opted for the path of decisive action and have capped the price of fuel and certain basic foods ; we’ve implemented a policy of reductions in household energy bills, and we’re defending that policy. So every country is responding to this situation in some way. But the truth is that these nationally based answers won’t be enough, and we’ll also need to give a joint European answer. At the end of the day, one of the reasons for the rise in energy prices is the policy being pursued here in Brussels; this intentionally and continually increases energy prices, because its basic assumption is that if energy prices are higher, then people will consume less, and we’re thus helping the climate, or saving it. There’s no desire to halt the process directed by Brussels which increases energy prices. We couldn’t come to an agreement today, but there will be further debates about this; because I’m personally convinced that this Brussels policy based on raising energy prices must simply be suspended for the duration of the war. We mustn’t penalise energy derived either from coal, oil or gas. This is because today the question is not what will happen to the climate: the question today is what will happen to our families. So there are difficult situations related to when it’s wise to temporarily suspend one policy or another. But we’re still far from that point, because different countries and prime ministers have very different views on the matter. In my opinion, however, if things continue like this, then sooner or later we’ll make for any port in a storm: people here in Brussels, too, will realise that Brussels must abandon its policy based on deliberately increasing prices – or at least suspend it until the war ends and things return to normal. But this isn’t a task for this evening: this will be an issue for the battles in the weeks ahead.

Thank you.

I thank you too.