Katalin Nagy: One for all, all for one. The Visegrád Four had a meeting yesterday, and this was the first time ever that an Austrian chancellor has also attended such a meeting. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Has this alliance ever been as strong as it is today?
Viktor Orbán: We’ve never been as strong as we are now. The Visegrád cooperation is an alliance of four countries; initially there were only the three of us, because when the alliance was formed there was still a state called Czechoslovakia, which later split into two countries. This alliance was formed in order to help one another gain membership of the European Union and NATO. So we functioned as a lobbying group. When we were admitted to the EU, we thought that our mission had come to an end, and cooperation between the four countries declined. Then we realised that, although we’d gained admission, we still had special interests, a special outlook on life, a special way of thinking and a special approach of our own which we should assert within the European Union. In other words, with our accession to the European Union history had not come to an end: we had to fight for our interests within the EU. That was when this cooperation regained momentum. We realised that we can achieve far more together than we can separately, and since then this cooperation has been continuously gaining in strength. This is its story. Now, its economic background is that these four countries taken together are growing and developing much faster than the rest of Europe, and are finding their feet much more quickly. They are finding their way back to the high Central European economic levels of the interwar period; and so if our region was not included in European growth figures, there would be virtually no growth at all in Europe. So we have a sense of identity, which has strengthened, and it is based on the fact that we are the engine of the European economy.
The West doesn’t like this.
And then came migration, and it emerged that our approach is completely different from that of the Westerners, who have created a “welcoming culture” – or Willkommenskultur in German. They thought that only one consideration is important: we must be good people – and a good person is someone who lets in everyone who knocks on the door. Then it turned out that being a good person is a little more complicated than that: being a good person in a responsible manner – as the Central Europeans try to be – means something else. Being a good person – who is also responsible – means offering others assistance without in the process destroying ourselves, our country, our culture and our public security. So we approached the migrant issue more responsibly than quite a few other countries in Europe. This has again strengthened our cooperation: we have been attacked for this, and every attack strengthens a community’s cohesive force. Time has shown that our approach was not unreasonable – in fact it was perhaps the reasonable one.
This is why you said that rather than looking for things that divide us – issues on which we have differing views – we should instead look for issues that we agree on. And we can also add the Austrians and the Italians to the [Visegrád] 4.
Regarding migration in Europe, there are now three major issues on the agenda. The first is whether or not we will protect our borders. Surprising though it may be, on this there are two opposing views: there are some who believe that borders need not be protected; while others take the view that they must be protected. Some believe that borders are ugly and bad. Meanwhile others say that a border is like an eggshell: an egg without a shell will be fried and eaten. The second question on the agenda is what we should do with those who have already poured into Europe. One side says that we should welcome them, while the other says that we should swiftly take them back home, as it is natural for everyone to be able to live their lives in their own countries. They say that we should help them return home, and enable them to lead a decent life at home, in the countries they have left. In addition to border protection and what we should do with those who are already in Europe, there is a third issue: who we should let into Europe in the future. We say that we won’t let anyone in. Others say that we should continue to operate a system of some kind, and based on some selection process we should let in the refugees – if there are refugees among them. If we want to let them in, the question is where we should separate the genuine refugees from those who only want to come here for welfare reasons. One of these groupings – we Central Europeans – says that they should be screened outside the territory of the EU, while Westerners say that this procedure can also be conducted within the EU. But from the moment they’re in Europe we’re unable to prevent their movement – we’re unable to prevent them from freely moving to the countries they want to reach, regardless of the fact that they landed in Greece or Italy. So these are the big issues. The camps in Europe are these: us, the Visegrád Four, together now with Austria and Italy; in Germany the sea of the world’s sorrows is raging, and also in the northern countries. We pay less attention to the latter, which somehow are less visible on the Hungarian radar; but there are fierce debates in Denmark and in Sweden, where there will be an election in September.
Donald Tusk is arriving in Hungary today – why is he coming?
Yes, I’m expecting him, and then he will tell us why he’s come. As far as I can see there is some confusion in terms of powers. The European Union is a complex system of institutions that is difficult for Hungarian citizens to follow; that’s one thing, but it’s even difficult for the Hungarian prime minister to follow. It has a parliament; it has a council – the body of heads of state and government; and there is a commission, to which every Member State delegates members, and which has decision-making powers. There is a balance between these bodies, and the duty of each is clearly defined. But if any one of the participants flouts this distinction between duties, the result is confusion. What has now happened is that the Commission has suddenly reinterpreted its own role. Until recently the duty of the Commission – a body comprising commissioners delegated by the Member States – was to oversee every EU Member State’s compliance with EU regulations. In other words, it was a neutral body acting as the guardian of the Treaties and laws. But a few years ago they hit upon the idea of making it a political body, a political commission. And since then they have been pestering, pressuring and attacking Poland, and they have been attacking Hungary. They claim powers for themselves which they do not possess. Although Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has the exclusive right to convene meetings for prime ministers, now the Commission has contrived to suddenly convene a mini-summit for this Sunday. After this Donald Tusk contacted us. So there is some confusion within the European Union’s system of institutions, and its constitutional order has been weakened. I think that today we will talk about how to restore this order.
So the V4 won’t attend this mini-summit?
Unless it’s a private meeting – in which case it’s a private affair – we believe that no one has the right to call such a meeting; the Commission has no right to officially convene a meeting with minutes and adopted documents. Therefore we do not wish to take part in such an affront to legality, in such a violation of the rules.
At the end of next week there will be a real European Union summit. That summit will be different from the one, say, a year ago: Chancellor Kern has been replaced by Chancellor Kurz; Matteo Renzi has been replaced by Prime Minister Conte. So the composition of the group is different. What do you think the priority issue will be? Will this EU summit be about the migrant quotas, or more about the so-called “hotspots”? Or will it focus on the camps which now even the EU commissioner for migration says should indeed, perhaps, be set up outside Europe?
If you’ll allow me, here I’d also like to make a personal comment. As I remember, I first attended an EU summit as prime minister of a candidate country in 1998 or 1999. Back then Jacques Chirac, Helmut Kohl and Tony Blair were sitting around the table. That was a different kind of gathering. And I represented Hungary again in 2010, when we were once more elected to govern Hungary. Ever since then I’ve seen continuously growing confusion. We had to endure some serious shocks. We had the financial crisis, which we were unable to adequately respond to. Then we pursued flawed policy related to the British, who replied: “Fine, manage things on your own”, and they quit the EU. Next we were unable to defend the continent from the migrant influx. And there is also a third factor: the EU has upset the balance between East and West, with the Commission – having transformed itself into a political body – becoming a tool of the large countries, adopting a number of decisions which are harmful to the smaller Central European countries – such as on the issues of the free movement of workers and some tax issues. Now, as regards next week’s summit, as far as I can see we cannot avoid migration taking centre stage, because – until recently – on this issue there was a Visegrád position and there was a Western European position. Two countries have moved over from the Western European position to stand by that of Central Europe: Austria and Italy. Germany is wracked by bitter internal dispute, and whatever happens in Germany greatly influences events across the whole of the European Union. Therefore this will be the key issue. I would like to see emphasis on those points on which there is agreement: that migrants seeking to enter Europe should be screened outside the continent, somewhere in Africa – somewhere on the African side of the Mediterranean; and I would like us to come to an agreement on border defence. There are also major disputes on that issue. I don’t want to bore you with that, but, for instance, they want to increase expenditure on border defence, but they don’t want to spend money on, say, the Hungarian police or the Hungarian army or Hungarian border protection personnel. Instead, they want to spend money on Frontex: an extremely weak pan-European border guard agency, which, instead of truly defending borders with physical force, in essence represents the approach of NGOs, seeking to help migrants safely enter Europe. So when the EU seeks to spend money on migration, it wants to spend it on facilitating immigration, rather than on strengthening nation states financially, enabling them to more effectively defend their borders. So several debates stretch out ahead of us, as long as sea serpents.
Only yesterday we heard on the news that the Bosnians are unable to adequately defend their borders, because they haven’t got enough people and money. So there would be plenty of good uses for that money intended for Frontex.
In terms of its own interests, Hungary should ask what border defence solution would be better. Is it good if the EU’s physically defensible border is between Serbia and Hungary? This is the situation today: that is where the fence is; that is where our soldiers are; that is where the army and the police are; that is where we are able to physically stop those who want to enter Europe illegally. Or is it in Hungary’s interest for this border to be pushed as far south as possible? History is our teacher, and we only need to heed it: Hunyadi always moved the border southwards. He said that we must come to agreements with the countries south of us, and together we must defend territories north of that border – including Hungary – against the threat from the South. I believe that from a Hungarian viewpoint this is a good approach. It is in our interest for Europe’s external border to be not between Serbia and Hungary, but on Serbia’s southern border – or even further south, on Macedonia’s southern border, or Albania’s for that matter. It is also from this viewpoint that we should observe events in Bosnia. We must help the Bosnians to defend their southern borders, because the farther from Hungary the defence of the borders is carried out, the greater the security it provides Hungary.
We’ve heard some voices calling for Fidesz to be expelled from the People’s Party. And now we hear that the People’s Party greatly needs Fidesz. At the same time, we’ve also heard that Chancellor Merkel has sent you an invitation. What would she like to talk to you about?
There is ferment everywhere, and the migration debate has also caused tensions within the People’s Party. A Swedish Christian democrat with a basically liberal stance will approach this whole problem in a way which is completely different from that of an essentially conservative Hungarian Christian democrat. These debates are natural. The question is whether within the European People’s Party we will have enough wisdom to stay together, despite the differences which are natural in a party alliance, and to find more goals that we share than problems that divide us. That remains to be seen. Several times Hungary has pointed out – as have I personally – that we have an interest in a strong European People’s Party. We acknowledge that in this alliance we are on the right, meaning that within it there are members who are more liberal than us. We stand up for our values; we are happy to negotiate, but we don’t want to renounce our values, and we have an interest in keeping the People’s Party together. Let’s say that this is the position of the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union on the issue of the People’s Party. As regards invitations, the general diplomatic practice is that such statements are made by the person issuing the invitation. So when the Germans issue a statement on this, I’ll be happy to follow suit; but this order cannot be reversed. The same applies to the Hungarian prime minister’s visit to Israel in the near future
On Wednesday Parliament passed the amendment to the Constitution, and also the “Stop Soros” legislative package. Then we heard that this will be retrospectively added to the Sargentini Report, as a further item on the list of indictments. And we’ve also read in the press that the European Commission has said that it will scrutinise this legislation and, if necessary, take legal action – meaning that they will once more launch infringement proceedings against Hungary. Did you expect these laws and amendments to result in such fierce attacks?
Our reply to this is: “Go for it, we wish you success!” The legislation that the Hungarian parliament has now adopted – the amendment to the Constitution and the Penal Code – are decisions which we committed ourselves to in the election campaign: the people wanted this, and the people voted for this. Parliament also voted for them, with a majority of 80–90 per cent. It will be very difficult for anyone to find fault with a parliamentary decision which has received a majority in a national parliament of 80–90 per cent. On what grounds could they do so? Who would dare to criticise or condemn the 80- or 90-per cent decision of a country’s legislature? If we’re talking about specific legislative amendments, I can say that this was a fine job. This was a fine, sophisticated legal undertaking which gave the right answers – even to questions of highly complex philosophical depth. It declares the inviolability of Hungary’s national sovereignty, and it defines the country’s national and constitutional identity, which may not be violated by any external force. In this area we learnt a great deal from the practice of the Constitutional Court of Germany, where the situation is the same. And we also accomplished a fine legal undertaking in the case of the Penal Code, in which we made it absolutely clear that illegal migration and its promotion constitute criminal offences. Consequently, this logic must be used when adopting the decisions which will deter organisations aiming to assist illegal migration from committing criminal offences. I was once a lawyer – or at least I qualified as a lawyer – and I can say that this is a very sophisticated, fine undertaking.
This also means that, once these laws enter into force, NGOs – organisations which claim to be part of civil society – won’t be able to exert political pressure, or only with great difficulty. This is very painful for them.
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. In my view, there is nothing wrong with any civil society organisation seeking to exert political influence in Hungary. Why wouldn’t they want to? If that’s what they want, if they have an opinion, if they find like-minded people with whom they can join forces, then they can state their opinion together. There’s even nothing wrong with wanting to influence the Government – or if not the Government, then a local government: in other words, the decision-makers of the day. We believed that we needed two-way regulation. First of all we said: “Fine, Dear NGOs, there’s nothing wrong with your playing a political role. There’s one thing we ask from you: let’s ensure transparency.” So if you receive money from abroad, declare it; because we want to know who you are, who finances you, and who is behind you. It’s not the decision-makers who want to know this, but Hungarian citizens. So if you receive money from abroad, declare it. This is a transparency law. We created this earlier: everyone who receives funding from abroad and works for such non-governmental organisations is required to state this when they present themselves to the public, so that you and I can see who is a financial backer of this or that organisation. The other rule relates to their involvement in migration. This is another matter entirely, as in our view migration is a national security issue, and a national security risk. Regarding this we can’t accept them trying to influence decision-makers, because Hungarians have elected leaders and decision-makers who can decide on issues of national security and take responsibility for their decisions. These leaders include Members of Parliament, the Prime Minister and members of the Government. On this we don’t want to allow any exertion of influence, because it is not a free, democratic debate, but an issue of national security with clearly defined areas of responsibility. I am accountable – as are members of the Hungarian parliament – to Hungarian voters for the decisions we adopt on issues of national security, and for our reasons for adopting those decisions. We do not want to be influenced on this.
A special 25 per cent tax will be imposed on organisations supporting migration. Earlier this was in the Stop Soros legislative package. Why was this transferred to tax legislation?
We came to the simple conclusion that tax issues must be regulated in tax legislation, that’s why.
That’s all there is to it. After these developments, do you think that now we have a complete package of legislative and physical defence to protect the country’s sovereignty?
I believe we are now fully equipped. So the Hungarian government – myself included – and Parliament cannot say that the Hungarian people haven’t given us all the means needed to defend the country. Now this really depends on our abilities, courage and determination. So I can say that we have all the necessary means at our disposal for responding to the current level of threat. Of course the situation is changing, new technological achievements are always emerging, and it’s a cat-and-mouse game: as the mouse is clever and always coming up with new tricks, the cat must also adapt. This is also true for defence of the borders. So in the future we may have to create further detailed regulations, but at this point in time I don’t see the need for them. Today I can tell you – being fully aware of my responsibility – that in the area of migration the Government and Parliament have all the means needed to defend the country. We are not yet in that position on the issue of the military: if Hungary were to face a military threat, our army would only have a limited capacity to repel attack. God preserve us from the need for such a capability, but we can’t put our faith in blind luck, so we need a well-equipped army. This is on the agenda, regardless of migrants: development, equipment procurement, the reform of training and the reorganisation of the army are under way. So we want the Hungarian people’s security to not only be based on police and border guard forces, but also on military forces. And we want everyone to realise that they belong to a community – the community of Hungarians – which is able to defend itself against threats of every kind.
The budget is before Parliament. It is interesting that some experts say that the budget should be redesigned, because inflation will probably be higher than the rate calculated for by the Government. And I remember that when we spoke here two or three weeks ago you mentioned three threats that Hungary should prepare for: “cheap money” is in short supply, meaning that interest rates are rising; there are high levels of government debt in the eurozone; and a trade war is also unfolding. It’s also interesting that the European response to US tariffs came into effect today. So do you think it’s worth considering the idea of redesigning the budget, or do you think it unnecessary?
I suggest that here we separate out two questions. The first question is whether it’s worth redesigning the budget due to inflation figures. My answer to this is a definite “no”, given that one of the strongest factors influencing inflation in Hungary – not the only one, but among the strongest – is the international oil price. The oil price fluctuates: over the past few years it’s sometimes been higher, and sometimes lower. You can’t plan a budget on the basis of such unstable calculations, and we can’t link the Hungarian budget to fluctuations in the international oil price. So in a situation like this we have to take a mean value for the expected rate of inflation. This is not the lowest or the highest that could emerge, but a mean value – an average; the budget must be tied to this, and this will then provide stability. Wherever inflation could negatively affect people – primarily pensioners – we have a supplementary rule: if inflation proves to be higher, then pension rises will also be higher, as a result of a supplementary pension increase. So everyone can feel safe. The other question is about how to plan a budget when signs of a crisis are visible in the sky. And you mentioned a few phenomena that have indeed appeared on the horizon. In the world of international finance interest rates are rising, there is a trade war unfolding between the US and Europe, and in quite a few European countries government debt levels are higher than they were at the time of the last financial crisis. These are alarming signs. In my view, at times like this you have to plan a budget which includes a higher figure as a reserve for protection of the country: contingency funds that may be necessary to deal with unanticipated events. Therefore we have increased the usual budget reserve by some 50 per cent, so that in the event of unfavourable international developments the Government can respond immediately, already having the parliamentary mandate to do so, as there is a fund to finance the required measures.
We have half a minute left. Did you watch the Croatia-Argentina match last night?
I watch every match: if I don’t see a match live, I watch the recording the same night. So I follow them all.
Did the result surprise you?
Well, first of all – while this is an aside – I can tell you that I’m a Peru supporter, so my heart was bleeding yesterday because we were knocked out. Everyone has their own customs carried over from childhood, and mine is that I support the heirs of Cubillas. But this is not perhaps the point of your question. Croatia might even hope to become world champions. This would be a great achievement. I love Central European countries, and anyway the Croatians are close to Hungarian hearts. So I congratulate them, and I hope that at this World Cup they reach the very top. Go for it Croatians!
You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Thank you.