It’s eight thirty-three and you are listening to 180 Minutes. Good morning. In the studio with us is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Good morning.
We haven’t spoken since the EU summit, where you were expecting the quota to be removed from the agenda. Before we speak about that, could you tell us what happens behind closed doors at these negotiations, when the reporters and photographers leave the room; does everyone put forward their arguments and pound the table? What’s it like, what’s the mood? You’re discussing controversial topics, after all.
There are twenty-eight prime ministers sitting around the table. Prior to the session a lot of people – hundreds in fact – have worked on preparing the meeting itself. We call the people who prepare the final phase of these summit meetings “the Sherpas”. Months in advance we know the two or three topics that we will be discussing at such prime ministerial meetings, time permitting. At the last summit we discussed three major issues. One was migration, but we also discussed Russia and other issues. And these two or three issues are discussed for months in advance by experts from the twenty-eight Member States. If there are new developments then of course they don’t have months to prepare, but only weeks – and sometimes just days. But they do a huge job. And prior to the meeting a draft final document is prepared, which is referred to as the Conclusions: what the twenty-eight European prime ministers have achieved at the meeting. And during the drawing up of this document we arrive at a compromise, an agreement on a text which all twenty-eight countries can identify with or are willing to accept. This text provides the basis for discussion. So each item on the agenda begins with us looking at the contents of the text, at its main statements, and at what each country thinks. What we in the Visegrád Four – the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – usually do is split up the topics. We always have a spokesperson, because the V4 has a rotating presidency – we will be President next year. If we have a joint standpoint – and on serious issues we usually do – then our leader, the prime minister who happens to be represent us that year, the V4 prime minister, will put it forward. And then we each decide whether or not to provide additional comments. There will be issues on which we make a comment, and ask that the Hungarian standpoint is recorded in the minutes of the meeting, and there will be issues on which there is no need to stand up and add a comment. Now, with regard to the issue of migration, I must always comment, and speak to the point, because I am, after all, the “heretic” who launched a new politics which is at odds with what was – or seemed to be – the consensus position. Because at the beginning of the refugee crisis, or migrant crisis, everyone was just striving to be a good person. Only one aspect was taken into consideration: that there are people in the world who are in trouble and who really need help, and at such times good people will offer assistance. This was the basic situation we set out from. And no one asked the following questions: All right, but who are these people? Do they really need help, and what risks are involved if we let them in? Do we really know them at all, or what they really want? And where will this all end? Hungary was the first to put these questions on the table, and so if the issue of refugees, migrants or immigration is on the agenda, then I always speak with suitable gravity, in accordance with the situation that has arisen – and indeed I must voice my opinion.
Do you feel pressure to come to a decision at these meetings? Can one see the tension between the EU leaders?
I’d instead say that there is the strong feeling that we have different opinions – and that there are not just two opinions, but several opinions. Different countries are in different situations, and have very different starting points. Take Italy and Greece, for instance. These are the two problem countries, because they are incapable of protecting the EU’s external borders. Under the Schengen Agreement it is supposed to be their duty to ensure that no one can cross their state borders to enter the territory of the European Union without permission, without control and without official authorisation. They are currently incapable of performing this duty. So there is one group of countries, these two. And then there are the Croatians, the Slovenians, to some extent the Romanians, and we Hungarians. These countries all border that part of the Balkans from where we see the arrival of migrants: the migrants whom the Greeks could not stop – or did not want to stop. Our countries are in the same boat as each other. Then there are the countries of the Visegrád Group, which are on the eastern periphery of the European Union; currently migrants are not arriving from the area around the Baltic Sea, but who knows what might happen in that area, or what will happen if as peripheral countries they too are suddenly saddled with hundreds of thousands of migrants. In addition to these there are the internal countries, the central countries, who in effect we are protecting, who do not need to bother about protecting the European Union’s external borders, who have no controlled borders and not even any border guards; they are in a totally different situation. And then there are the rich countries, because at the end of the day it has emerged that none of the migrants are coming here for safety, but in the hope of a better life, and this is why they want to go to Germany, Austria or Sweden. These are the three main target countries, and these countries have different interests again. So we have a huge colourful cavalcade of disparate interests, and reaching some kind of compromise is no mean feat.
“If Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia preach morality on the subject of migrants, but don’t help and just want Europe’s money, then they can forget about money from the Italians”: this is what the Italian prime minister has said. He is also prepared to veto the EU budget if the countries of Central Europe do not assist by admitting migrants. I assume that at the summit there was no friendly mutual backslapping with Matteo Renzi.
We are talking about the former mayor of Florence. Florence was a successful city, so we are talking about a serious and well-respected man with real achievements under his belt that everyone acknowledges. Italian politics is in any case very difficult terrain: the Italian people are known more for their diversity of opinion than their unanimity, and it is not easy to gauge the will of such a people and to form, bring them together and lead them. There are huge differences between northern and southern Italy, and these internal tensions come to the surface every day. They have a problem with the budget, as Italy is the second most indebted EU country after Greece, so the Italian prime minister has good reason to be upset. And this is something I can understand. And then they are saddled with these huge numbers of migrants, who in fact target Italy because of its proximity to the coast of North Africa. But this deep understanding and compassion does not change the fact – and on top of all this, sadly they have also suffered another earthquake, so we have good reason to look on the Italian people with friendship and solidarity – but this does not change the fact that Italy has an obligation called the Schengen Agreement. You are either within the system of a treaty and fulfil your obligations, or you withdraw from that treaty. Now the situation is that they are party to the treaty, but they are not fulfilling their obligations. Under the Schengen Agreement only people who have been registered, checked and vetted from a security perspective and who arrive in an orderly manner should be allowed into the territory of the European Union through Italy. But this is not the situation today.
All right, but this would be an unfair burden on the Italians – or rather what we are speaking about is an unfair burden – because the Italian coastguard service is working day and night, while in essence Frontex should be performing these duties. So it seems that this reinforcement we have been talking about with regard to Frontex may have begun, but for the moment it is still in its infancy. So the Italian coastguards are working extremely hard, and in this sense alone…
This is what the Italian prime minister has said, using almost exactly the same words. So you could even be the Italian government’s spokesperson, and lo and behold, your opinion also confirms…
But you don’t think he is correct.
There are serious arguments supporting the Italian standpoint. But that is irrelevant, because there exists a treaty, and it must be upheld. Hungary constructed a fence and took on three thousand additional police officers, so what I am saying is that this is not an impossible task. It may not be an easy one, but it is not impossible. You are of course right to ask whether Europe is providing Italy with sufficient assistance. The answer is that we are not giving Italy enough support. Now we are starting to talk about Frontex, which is the European Union’s border protection agency. If we take a close look, 1,500 people work for Frontex. But, compared to this, Hungary has 8,000 officers patrolling its southern border, day and night. So how on earth could Frontex’s 1,500 people get to grips with the problems in Italy and Greece? These people aren’t involved in border protection – they are immigration officials, passport-checkers and fingerprint-takers; the European Union is clearly not sending them to Italy and Greece to stop illegal immigration, but to manage the problem and facilitate the fastest possible legal immigration to the EU. To return to your first question about what we debate, this highlights the fact – the age-old fact – that the common goal of our immigration policy must be to stop illegal immigration. This coincides with the opinion of more than three million Hungarian citizens, as voiced in the referendum. So the community of the new unity for Hungary believes that the purpose and goal of migration policy is to take assistance to where it is needed instead of bringing the trouble here. This means that we should stop the migrants, so that Hungary doesn’t end up with a large migrant community from a culture which is alien to us. This is something that we openly state. This is our goal, and there are several countries which think similarly. And then there are countries which have a different opinion, as does Brussels itself. They want to manage and regulate the whole migration process, and make it acceptable; this means that they don’t want to stop it, like we do, but want to somehow coexist with it and allow these people in. And, since there is no agreement on the goal, there are of course many disputes regarding the means; because if we use the same means to achieve different goals they will achieve different results. The real reason for the lack of agreement, for the discord and argument that has been going on for almost two years now, is that we do not agree on the goals. This is because there are indeed countries – and here the Italian prime minister is to blame, as he belongs to this group – who do not want to stop migration, but who want to somehow coexist with it.
I wouldn’t for the world want to belittle the work that the EU’s heads of state and government have done so far, but nevertheless we have been talking about the same problems for almost two years now; and although there has been some minimal progress – and we’ll talk about Turkey in a moment – the fact is that no one is prepared to bang their first on the table and say, “Guys, this Frontex activity is a joke”.
No one is. In theory I could say this, but I must speak with deference to the fact that our country is not large – Hungary is a country of only ten million. So here everyone is equal, but there are countries which have three hundred thousand citizens, others with two million, and Hungary is a country of ten million. Meanwhile Germany has a population of eighty-three million. So the truth is that, although everyone has a say, our words don’t carry equal weight. So we’re waiting for the big players to finally pluck up the courage; but the problem is precisely that the big players, the players with the most weight, are saying things that we don’t agree with. So I arrive at every prime ministerial summit facing a headwind and that headwind is still blowing when I leave.
So the European Union is in a Catch-22 situation.
I would be satisfied with solving Hungary’s problems, and the Hungarian prime minister has no such European ambitions…
But a Hungarian solution is one thing we don’t have.
Of course we do. That is what we have now.
But Hungary is part of the European Union, so if they distribute the problem they will make the quota a permanent mechanism.
Yes, but this is something I do not want to allow. As a party to the Schengen Agreement, it is in Hungary’s interests to adhere to this agreement to the letter. This is what we are doing; this is why we have a fence, border protection, more police officers, and so on. And we must block efforts to distribute the problem. It is not a good cure for any illness for us to pass it on to our neighbours.
You’ve mentioned Schengen. Let’s talk about that. Austria’s construction of a border security fence was already an indication of that country’s scepticism regarding the agreement with Turkey, but yesterday in essence every Member State of the European Union came to the same conclusion, because they are reinforcing – or have decided to extend – internal border controls. Has the EU prepared for this – is there a roadmap on the table for what happens if the agreement with Turkey falls through?
As far as international politics is concerned, yesterday was not our day, because a decision was made which is unfavourable for Hungary. At the Brussels summit I tried to prevent this, but I found myself facing immense opposition. I proposed that we adhere to the decisions we made in March. Back then we said that by November we would return to the normal Schengen arrangements – meaning that we would be protecting the EU’s external borders. And so we would eliminate the border controls that in the meantime we have established within the Schengen Area – such as the one which has been temporarily re-established along Hungary’s border with Austria. This is what we decided in March. But now the more powerful countries – and primarily the Germans – are saying that, since the external borders aren’t properly protected, we cannot ignore the internal borders. So they have asked the EU to extend the authorisation which was previously issued in this regard. As I see it, this is exactly what happened yesterday. This goes against Hungary’s interests. What would be in Hungary’s interests would be for the Italians and the Greeks to protect the EU’s external borders.
The leaders of Europe’s larger countries may see this as a solution, but the taxpaying citizens of Europe have had more than enough of this. For example, every single day 250,000 people commute between Sweden and Denmark, and they want to take their government to court because the border controls are causing such economic damage. Meanwhile Hungary can cite the problems suffered by freight carriers. Several Hungarian freight companies have had to cancel orders to and from the United Kingdom, because of the huge difficulties en route.
Commuters between Austrian and Hungarian territories…
And of course we haven’t mentioned Austria.
People who work abroad bring a lot of money home and are an important part of the Hungarian economy. Because they work away from home, they shoulder higher than average burdens, and that is difficult. It is difficult to travel there in the morning, do a good job there, and come home late at night. And now, because of the Austrians, they must also face unnecessary obstacles. This affects a lot of people.
Do you have any estimates as yet, do we have any idea of the extent of the economic damage – either at domestic or EU level? Do you have a petition on your desk asking you to normalise the situation as soon as possible?
We are looking into it, but as yet we have no preliminary or final report on the issue.
Let’s talk about other damage, economic damage. Apparently this year Germany will have to spend twenty billion euros on caring for and helping the migrants. This will not ruin the German economy, naturally, but experts generally agree that what is happening in Germany economically will slowly trickle down to affect other countries. Hungary’s economic indices may be good now, but what if it has to face these effects?
We are talking about a challenge which affects every single area of our lives. So it isn’t just a question of security, as more migrants lead to an increase in crime. And it isn’t just about the threat of terrorism, because the more migrants there are the more acts of terrorism there are. And it isn’t just about cultural identity, and the fact that our own culture is endangered in places where the number of communities from foreign cultures increase. But it is also about a true economic burden. It is no accident that in Hungary a year ago we introduced a rule on daily welfare allowances, stating that anyone who arrives here and is here as a migrant – for whatever reason – must be treated in the same way as Hungarians. According to international regulations, we would have to provide migrants staying here with much higher benefits than those which we have to provide to Hungarians who are in extremely difficult – and sometimes hopeless – situations. That would be unfair, so we introduced a new regulation. This led to a huge dispute in Brussels, and on this issue we were also “heretics” for a while, but what I now see is that more and more countries are introducing similar regulations. This is because they are being forced to do so by their citizens, because it is preposterous for the natives of a given community to receive less from their own state than people who come there from abroad.
So at the Brussels summit, did the fact that the situation has serious economic consequences provoke debate – was the subject brought up at all?
This is what the Germans argued. The arguments put forward by the Italian prime minister also lead us back to this same point: they see the whole migration crisis as an economic burden, it is costing them money, and they would like others to also shoulder their share of this economic burden. And what they are saying is that those who do not shoulder their share of the economic burden should not expect to receive money from the EU budget. This is where they want to establish a link between the two, which isn’t fair, because in the meantime we are spending huge amounts of money on border protection – proportionately more than the Germans, probably. The Germans don’t have an external Schengen border. We do. And accordingly we must ensure protection of the external border, according to the Schengen regulations. Hungary has already spent somewhere in the region of 150 billion forints [EUR 700 million] – perhaps more if I look at our spending – on protecting the border. Germany has no costs of this kind, although of course they do have expenses related to caring for the migrants whom they have allowed into their country. This is why at the last summit I said that we will no longer tolerate Hungary being labelled as a country which shows no solidarity. This opinion is unfair and discriminatory. Hungary is showing solidarity, because with our border protection expenditure we are also protecting the security of the countries which are behind us. This 150 billion forints isn’t just being spent on the security of the Hungarians, but also that of the Austrians and the Germans. So in providing border protection, we are shouldering a burden which would challenge larger countries than ours. That is nothing if it is not solidarity.
János Lázár has said that going forward there will be no need for the residency bond. Does this mean that, by satisfying Jobbik’s request, the way is open for a “yes” vote on the constitutional amendment on migration? Is this the scenario?
The constitutional amendment and the new unity for Hungary is a political will which has taken the opinions of over 3 million people and shaped them into a constitutional amendment, and it cannot be linked to any other issue. It is an issue of national interest and cannot be linked to any party political debate or economic issue. Accordingly we cannot accept this request from Jobbik. However, the Government is working on a response to the fact that the country’s financial situation has changed, as two of the world’s largest credit rating agencies have upgraded Hungary’s credit rating, and the third will hopefully follow suit in the near future. So Hungary’s financial situation has changed and, compared to where we were in 2012, we have improved the situation. In 2012 Hungary did not have access to markets, and in fact at the time the groups ranged against us managed to make it extremely difficult for Hungary to access financial resources. This is why we devised this solution, the residency bond construction; this was a very successful solution, and our current success also confirms the fact that we survived this difficult period. The question which arises is that if the country’s financial status has changed, then how should we finance Hungary’s financial needs? And the Minister for National Economy has received a request and instruction to perform this evaluation, and by the end of the year he will submit his proposal to the Cabinet. This proposal will include residency bonds, amongst many other elements.
So, if I understand you correctly, you are expecting a scenario in which the constitutional amendment is adopted with the support of Jobbik?
That is not what I’m expecting. Jobbik has stated that if we do not do something which they would like, then there will be no constitutional amendment. But it must be acknowledged that 3.3 million people cannot be ordered around; this many people will not skip to the sound of Jobbik’s whistle.
So what is the scenario, if there is no possibility of this?
We will put it before Parliament and it is up to everyone’s individual conscience how they decide.
Assuming the Bill is passed on 8 November and is included in the Constitution, what then will be the political and legal consequences?
Then we will have a battle with the European Union. There is a good scenario and a bad scenario. The good scenario is that a deadlock developed at the last summit, because the EU wants to implement the mandatory relocation quota and force us to accept it. But the V4, with the participation of Hungary, have not made this possible: we have blocked it. This is a success. And we put forward our request that if there is clearly no consensus on the issue – and there isn’t likely to be – then the mandatory quota should be removed from the agenda. But this was something they weren’t prepared to do. So there’s a proposal on the agenda, but we continually veto it and block it. We have recently decided that we want to resolve this deadlock by having Slovakia, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, put forward a proposal at the next prime ministerial summit in December. Perhaps they’ll succeed. I don’t envy them – it’s an extremely difficult intellectual task, but perhaps they will succeed, and then we’ll see. If it’s a good proposal, and we manage to agree on a solution that is also in Hungary’s national interests – meaning that there is no mandatory quota – then that will be a good scenario. But equally this might not happen, and then the current deadlock will continue. The large states will abuse their dominant position, as they did last time: they will seek to push the mandatory relocation quota down our throats, and then we will resist. This resistance will be based on the Constitution; we will not implement the quota and we will take the Commission to court and begin legal proceedings. There will be a major debate on whether a foreign population can be forced onto a Member State of the European Union against that state’s resolute will. The debate will be about who has the right to decide who the peoples of Europe should live with in their own countries: nation states, Member States, or can Brussels strip them of this right? This will be a major battle, and this is why we need the Constitution.
You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.