Balázs Beregi: – Prime Minister, after the first day, the Secretary General of NATO has summed up the situation by saying that there are differences of opinion and there are disputes at the NATO summit, but important decisions have been made. And indeed an extraordinary amount of information has leaked out, suggesting that there were fiery debates. To what extent has it been possible at the NATO summit to overcome what one could almost call divisions?
– I can see the glass as being half empty or, if I want, as being half full. I was also here at the NATO summit one year ago. That was more of an impromptu summit, not a well prepared two-day meeting like the present one. That was the first time that the new American president had come to visit us and was among us. The atmosphere at that summit was tough – I might even call it crude. Compared to how we were one year ago, the gathering now – the gathering of NATO heads of state and government, the club of leaders – has shown signs of us rubbing along together. So I sensed that, compared with one year ago, this time the conflicts were smaller: the differences had diminished and agreement had grown. So I see the current summit as an important step in the direction of NATO unity, and the leaders of the countries that form the two pillars of NATO – the North Americans on one side and us Europeans on the other – are more accommodating. We’ve taken important decisions, and these indeed demonstrate unity. And differences of opinion remain: these primarily centre on the fact that the Americans are using thoroughly considered arguments to robustly assert that everyone should increase expenditure on the military, spend more on armaments, armed forces and security. This is a legitimate demand, as in today’s world the most important thing is security, and the greatest danger is the loss of security. Hungary is one of the world’s safest countries, and for this reason we must be particularly careful not to lose what we have finally created for ourselves. Therefore we support the American president’s assertion that European countries must channel more reasonable levels of funding – in other words, higher levels of funding – towards armed forces and security than they have done to date. Not every European country agrees with this. In such a situation what does an American do? He says “Alright, don’t spend 2 per cent, but 4 per cent! So now we’re at the stage at which we haven’t even reached the level of 2 per cent – not everyone is spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence – and the American is already talking about 4 per cent. There were conflicts of this nature, but there was no disagreement about the direction, the intent, and the strategy.
– NATO discussed two strategic directions from which potential threats can arrive: one direction is eastern and the other is southern. Previously NATO has already dealt with the eastern country, Russia. How satisfied is Hungary with the measures and decisions related to the southern direction? This is a question of the infiltration of terrorism, or migration, from the Middle East and North Africa…
– We’re talking about eastern and southern dangers, but we must be aware that these dangers are very different in nature. The eastern one we call Russia, while the southern one we call terrorism. These are two different types of threat, two different types of risk, two different dangers to our security. As regards the southern threat, Turkey is a key country, and without a stable Turkey we’re unable to protect the continent against terrorism, refugees and migrants coming from the South. To do so we need a strong Turkey, and Hungary therefore welcomes the fact that Turkey has implemented constitutional reform which could make it more stable than ever. This is good news. On the other hand, another important task is to resolve armed conflicts – which are not the sole cause of the migrant crisis, but nonetheless important factors – and to stabilise and rebuild affected areas. This is because peace is not only jeopardised by the emergence of war, but also by the disappearance of the conditions for peaceful life: when human life becomes unliveable. This is when migrants set out to seek other countries for themselves: when they want to settle in our country, for example. We must prevent this – partly by defending our borders, and partly by cooperating in order to create decent living conditions for such people in their own countries. We will not step in to create those conditions instead of them, because whatever is given for free is seen as worthless, but we shall stabilise these regions together with them, and so reduce the causes triggering migration.
– There is a country east of NATO with which Hungary happens to have disputes, and today there will be a meeting in which NATO’s heads of state and government will discuss the security situation of Ukraine and Georgia in the presence of the leaders of those two countries. Will this meeting give Hungary another opportunity to describe to a wider audience its problems in relation to Ukraine?
– We do not have any problem with Georgia’s NATO aspirations: we fully agree with them, just as we have always advocated the commencement of talks with the Macedonians. The Prime Minister of Macedonia was here yesterday. There is a dispute with Ukraine: this is not a dispute between Hungary and Ukraine; that is only the form the dispute has taken, but it’s not its essence – although other Hungarians are what is most important for us Hungarians. From NATO’s viewpoint the essence of the dispute is that if someone has signed an agreement – as the Ukrainians have done – in which they have promised not to downgrade existing legislative levels of protection for minorities, so that the situation of minorities will not deteriorate, then that agreement must be honoured. This is not a Hungarian issue: this is an issue of NATO’s trustworthiness, its credibility, its internal integrity. That we are on the receiving end of this doesn’t surprise us, because we live in a part of the world where things like this can happen. In this instance protection of NATO’s integrity coincides with protection of the interests of Hungarian minorities, and so today I will have to speak out and speak robustly.
– Within NATO, or rather within the European Union, there are aspirations to set up a joint European army at some time in the distant future. Doesn’t this bother NATO, doesn’t it weaken NATO, doesn’t it cause tensions – for instance, in the transatlantic cooperation?
– Hungary supports the idea of setting up a joint European army – and not in the distant future, but as soon as possible. Naturally, this involves complex technical issues of military leadership, and we must find an answer to how we can jointly lead an organisation which traditionally operates better the more centrally it is directed – that is the nature of armies. So the task is not easy, and the problem of leading a joint army is a major challenge for the professionals. This is nothing new for us, because we were part of a joint army in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and back then also there was a mechanism for how to direct, how to lead a joint army. So we have some experience which we can offer as a contribution. We support the establishment of a joint European army, because if one is not in control of one’s own security, if one is unable to create security by relying on one’s own resources, one can also find oneself defenceless in other areas of life. Therefore it is in the best interest of Europe – a truly independent Europe – to have its own army. This is why it’s important that all European states – including the Germans – should start spending as much money as possible on setting up a joint army. Whether or not this sets us on a collision course with NATO is simply a question of intent and intelligence, as we are allies of the North Americans. If there is enough intelligence, if they don’t see this as a measure directed against them – and if I were them I wouldn’t, because we think that if a common European army comes into being, it will not diminish the strategic importance of cooperation with the Americans – it will be possible to operate a security system based on two pillars.
– Finally, one other completely unrelated matter. After “Brexit” in the World Cup, what result are you expecting in Sunday’s final?
– Well, Hungary has always been part of the Danube region’s footballing culture, and so while credit for Croatia’s success is due to the Croatians, we believe that we are also slightly involved, as this is also an honour for the region as well – even though now we must fly the Croatian flag high. I’m supporting them wholeheartedly: not only because the Croats are friends and neighbours to the Hungarians, but also because they represent the footballing culture which we are part of, even if we fall short of – indeed, far short of – the level that the Croatians are capable of. But at the end of the day, we are birds of a feather.
– Thank you very much.