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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes”

Éva Kocsis: Good morning! Twenty-five minutes to eight. Amendment of the Constitution, migration, forthcoming EU summit, internal affairs, economic issues – these will be the topics of the next half an hour. We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning!

Good morning to our listeners!

Let’s start with the amendment of the Constitution. It caused some confusion yesterday as to whether the President of MSZP will at all sit down to talk to you about the amendment or not. Mr Lázár appeared to think that he would which was then swiftly denied by the President of MSZP, but he added, he sent the message that if you want to talk to him about security policy issues concerning Hungary, the restoration of the rule of law and the freedom of the press, or the future of the European Union, he’s ready to talk. This means that there will be no meeting. Or are you also prepared to consult with him on these issues as well?

Look, my door is open to all the parties with parliamentary groups and their leaders. You can’t engage in good politics without people talking to each other. It’s always better to talk, and to consult than to not consult at all. However, there are priorities. At this point in time, preventing the forced resettlement of migrants is the most important issue on Hungary’s agenda, this requires an amendment to the Constitution, and this is therefore the topical issue at present. Everything else can come later.

It would appear, after all, that it’s enough to convince Jobbik for the amendment. And you don’t even have to convince them that hard.

I wouldn’t try to convince anyone; it’s bad news if – after a referendum where the will of 3 million 3 hundred thousand people pointed in the same direction, and which mass of 3 million 300 hundred thousand represents a larger number than the number of votes any single political party has ever received in any elections in Hungary – the need should emerge for convincing anyone about anything. The situation is clear: 90 something, 98% of those who felt the need to state their opinion pointed out that Hungary cannot yield an inch on its sovereignty, the question of whom we live and should live together with must be decided in Budapest, and we can’t accept an external dictate, a decision from Brussels. The situation is absolutely clear, and this must be laid down in the Constitution.

In other words, the question of the next few days will be as to how the five-party consultations will be implemented, while another question is how flexible you are, and to what extent you’re prepared to accept changes in order for the amendment of the Constitution to be passed.

Look, this is a question, too, but it’s worthwhile to adopt, and to observe events first from, a bird’s eye view in order to appreciate and restore one’s self-esteem as it is the most important after all. We’re talking about an issue that is affecting the whole of Europe, and how Europe will respond to the new situation that masses in the millions are awaiting outside Europe in the hope of a better life, planning to gain access to Europe. This is a population movement, and what each country does in a situation like this is the bird’s eye view. As far as I can see, there was only a single country where the people, including governments, had the will and the courage to ask the people’s opinion on an issue which will determine a given country’s future for many long decades, and this sole country is Hungary. The people were asked here, the people had the opportunity to state their opinion and to declare their will, and now the Government must demonstrate that the will of the people imposes an obligation on it to ensure that this matter will indeed be resolved in the manner the people want. We should be proud of this. The fact that Hungary alone had the courage to ask the people on this issue is a good enough reason to be proud. It also amply demonstrates that the yardstick of democracy is high in Hungary. In other countries they don’t have the courage, can’t and won’t ask the electorate. So I think that the most important thing is that, in my view, we did the right thing; we didn’t just do the practical and reasonable thing, we didn’t simply just create an understanding, but carried out something that no one else before us had. I think that for a country like Hungary which has its traditions from ’56 courage is an important issue. And on this matter we, Hungarians were brave. Now as regards the content issues of the amendment of the Constitution, the Parliament is there to debate and to discuss issues. The text of the amendment of the Constitution is also there to be debated. I attempted to create the most beautiful possible text; I didn’t do this on my own, naturally, many of us worked hard in order to succeed. I should make specific mention of the staff members of the Ministry of Justice. I think that we prepared not only an accurate, but also a worthy text, but there is always scope for improvement, so it’s well worth conducting a debate in Parliament. I will deliver my speech in Parliament on Monday, we’ll consider the proposals of the opposition parties, and if there are any that are worthy of integration, we’ll accept them.

The Centre for Fundamental Rights says that there is one issue that should be considered for tightening the regulations; for instance, also incorporating the concept of first country of asylum on account of the Geneva Convention. Namely that refugees whose lives are in danger must turn to the country that is nearest to their homeland. If they move on, they qualify as mere economic migrants.

It is an interesting technical issue to what degree it’s worth incorporating international treaties that we signed earlier into the Fundamental Law, but the legislators will discuss this. This is a technical issue because there is content agreement on what you just said. We, too, take the view that international law is clear. Those who run for their lives must be let in. We should remember: at the beginning of the nineties when Yugoslavia disintegrated, it was a neighbouring country, and people were running from there in the direction of Hungary because their lives were in danger. And we let everyone in, we gave everyone an opportunity to lead a life here, and then we helped everyone to return. So I believe that Hungary knows only too well how to proceed in a humane and just manner, in compliance with international law, because it has practical experiences. It is a technical issue how much of this we incorporate into our Constitution.

Now that you mentioned the bird’s eye view, let’s take a step back, or at least let’s go as far as Brussels. The Justice Minister already indicated that he doesn’t rule out that there may be conflicts between EU law and national law. And if we look back upon the practice of recent decades, we may see that the court of the European Union effectively favoured the priority of EU law over the provisions of the national constitutions. What do you expect regarding this matter? On the one hand, at the forthcoming EU summit, and on the other hand, in the court proceedings related to the quotas, as well as on the whole, in connection with the amendment of the Hungarian Constitution.

First of all, in order to answer this question, we have to choose a good starting point. My starting point is that a new unity has come into being in Hungary, let’s call it the new unity for Hungary, where the people clearly stated what they want. It is the duty of governments in this situation – and at present there happens to be a Fidesz-KDNP government in Hungary – to attempt to enforce this. I, too, will do everything I can to enforce the will of the people, and I think that there is a good chance that we’ll succeed. This is a complicated story, as in the relationship between national laws, say the laws adopted by the Hungarian Parliament, and the various legal acts of the European Union. There’s an ongoing debate about this. The Hungarian position is clear in this respect, and also civilised in my view, inasmuch as we declare that there are issues – let’s call them identity issues, the issues of identity and self-identity – which are not subject to the legislation of any external power, including the European Union. These include the sovereignty of the State, the form of government, the territory of the State, and the population of the State. This is particularly important in the context of the issue of population movement and migration. These are the key issues, the tenets, of our national existence. If anyone has the authority to touch these, it means that we’re not in control of our own fate. We can’t tolerate this, can’t accept this. The Hungarian conduct rests on this constitutional principle. Germany operates an even more categorical regime in this department. Only recently, the compatibility of an international agreement with German law created a stir in Germany, the European Union-Canada free trade agreement, and the German Constitutional Court laid down absolutely clear-cut principles as to what Germany should accept and what Germany can’t accept. I merely wished to indicate that this is not a Hungary-Brussels dispute, but an ongoing intellectual, and at times, highly exciting debate which fundamentally concerns the lives of nations and which demands that the government of every country adopt a position on an ongoing basis.

Are you expecting disputes and door slamming at next week’s EU summit? Considering what the Swedish Interior Minister said yesterday – and I have to say, we expected a great deal from this summit of Interior Ministers –; anyway, considering what the Swedish Interior Minister said, that in the long run Swedish taxpayers will have every right to say that if there is a choice between observing and not observing the EU regulations, why can’t we decide not to give funds to the countries which don’t meet their obligations? Anyway, considering this, we may expect disputes.

Let’s separate two distinct questions. First of all, we flatly refuse the claim that the Swedes pay us anything. Our Swedish friends appear to be in some misapprehension here. They don’t pay us a penny. The situation is that, despite the fact that there was communism here for forty years, while there was happy capitalism in Sweden, and freedom, and market economy, and welfare and capital accumulation, despite these enormous differences, we agreed to trade without customs duties and let Swedish capital into Hungary. The Swedes are making huge profits here. We agree to this, and accept it, though we hope that the situation will improve, inasmuch as the Swedish capitalist pays less for everything in Hungary than in Sweden, and therefore makes a higher profit. We accepted this because we have faith that this will change. But for them to say that they give us money is nothing short of audacity. Now, as regards the other aspect of the matter, I, too, was hoping that there would be a clearer situation in the wake of the Thursday, yesterday’s meeting of Interior Ministers. I was hoping that they would remove the issue of the mandatory quotas from the agenda. This didn’t happen. We took the position that the Council of the Prime Ministers decided on two distinct occasions that there may only be voluntary quotas. By contrast, the Commission which is the most visible institution of the European Union prepared a proposal which is about forced resettlement and mandatory quotas. This is contrary to the legal acts of the European Union. We did raise this issue, and filed a complaint with the European Court. We are awaiting a judgement on the matter. And we also sincerely hope that the Commission will admit before the adoption of the court ruling that it created an anti-constitutional, an illegal state of affairs in the European Union by virtue of the fact that, despite the decision of the Prime Ministers, they submitted a rule that is contrary to our decision. This must be removed from the agenda because it causes the disintegration of the European Union. It loosens its screws. Anyone who does something like this destroys European unity. We therefore respectfully request the Commission to back down on this proposal. I was hoping that this would happen already on Thursday, that is, yesterday. Several countries clearly shared this view, but no agreement was forged. As far as I can see, this debate will await us next week in Brussels.

At any rate, what did transpire at yesterday’s summit, the summit of Interior Ministers, beyond doubt was that, effectively, EU Interior Ministers don’t seem to have particular faith in the already existing solutions. When they say that they don’t see scope for lifting the border controls on the internal borders even beyond 15 November, they obviously also mean, on the one hand, that this Turkey-EU agreement is rather fragile. Even if it’s there, on paper. On the other hand, everyone protects their own borders.

Yes. What you’re talking about is a decision adopted by the Prime Ministers of EU Member States in perhaps March. We decided at the time that the rules of free internal movement which we enjoyed before the onset of mass migration must be restored by mid-November in the European Union. In consequence of migration, the welcome culture, and the fact that millions of migrants were let in, what’s more, enticed, invited into the territory of the European Union, the situation emerged that the countries which decided to take defensive measures against the population movement and migration reinstated border controls between themselves. Say between Austria and Hungary because the Austrians are scared, too. Or between Germany and Austria, and we have other similar problems. We decided that this situation must be eliminated. By mid-November, the old, happy peace-time state of affairs must be restored when one could move within the territory of the European Union without border controls. A pre-condition is, of course, that we must be able to protect the external borders of the EU as free movement should only be allowed, should only be made possible within the EU if we’re in control of our own territory, and are able to control who may enter and how. By virtue of what you’re saying – that they don’t wish to restore the freedom of internal movement in mid-November – they admit indirectly that we’re unable to protect the external borders. Hungary is a refreshing exception because not even a bird can fly across the border without completing a questionnaire about who they are, where they want to go and for what purpose they’re here. But the situation is not as good as that everywhere. For instance, we hear the news from Italy daily that migrants are let in via the sea without controls. This is why we have this chaotic situation, and indeed, the debate which is about whether or not we should restore the possibility of free movement in the middle of November is alarming in itself because it shows that we have no faith in being able to protect our external borders.

We’ll continue these topics after the EU summit. Let’s talk about now some home economic and political affairs. You already told the programme Vasárnapi újság in a few brief sentences that, in addition to the closure of the current fiscal year, there are fiscal topics before Parliament also today. At the same time, the current financial processes must be analysed as well, for instance, in the light of the fact – let’s begin with this one – that Hungary has been upgraded. You’re saying that this is a new situation. In what respect?

There has always been a debate…, first of all, there’s always a debate about everything in Hungary. And there are particularly heated debates about whether the economy is heading in the right direction or not. Not only the people take part in these debates when they talk to each other amongst themselves, but this is a priority issue for the parliamentary parties as well, given that the Government would like to see the fruit of its efforts, while the opposition would like to denigrate it. As a result, economic debates form an inevitable part of democracy. It’s important for us, too, whether the work that we do is worthwhile, and serves the people’s best interests or not. Now, when external observers rate a country, this opinion is channelled into the internal political debates. For a good many years, the opposition argued that the Hungarian economy is not successful because the various credit rating institutions under-evaluate Hungary, giving it a non-investment grade. This has now changed spectacularly. External observers – let’s say, inasmuch as we can, objective or impartial players, inasmuch as there is impartiality in the modern world, but players under any circumstances that stand outside the realm of Hungarian politics – say about the Hungarian economy that it’s in good shape. What’s more, they suggest to investors that they should once again return to Hungary because the country’s financial stability, the growth rate of its economy, the rate of pay rises, the increase in retail sales, and the reduction of the sovereign debt all give rise to faith and optimism. Well now, this means that Hungary’s economic opportunities have multiplied and improved, and the Finance Minister or Economic Minister must evaluate this, and make recommendations as to how we should proceed. We have a very clear set of targets which I believe Hungarian electors, or most of them, support. This is a work-based economic system; we would not like a benefit-based, but a work-based economic system, an essential, or central element of which is full employment. We say that if there are jobs, there is everything. If there are no jobs, the situation is hopeless. Unemployment is below five per cent in Hungary today which means that shortly we’ll be compelled to struggle with a shortage of labour, rather than with unemployment. So with six years’ hard work, we’ve managed to achieve that people in Hungary are able to live off work. In 2010 I undertook to create one million jobs in Hungary over a period of ten years; at the time, many laughed at me, and perhaps this pledge even provoked smiles in people who otherwise voted for us. I continuously monitor where we stand. As far as I can see, we currently stand at around 660-670 thousand, and six years have elapsed. My chances are not too bad.

Now that we talk about competitiveness and work force, the thousand-dollar question is, according to experts, that we’re simultaneously talking about a shortage of work force because there are areas where there would be a need for qualified work force and there isn’t. In the previous hour, we already launched into the issue of how competitiveness could be improved with an economist from Századvég. We touched upon education, and we also spoke about the area, in the context of which you said you have a summary on your table, namely, the reform of vocational training. The economist of Századvég cited a Finnish example where 101% of students acquire qualifications of some kind. So we’re rather behind in comparison. The direction is good, but the situation is that young people and families must be convinced somehow that it’s worth setting out in this direction and opting for this form of education.

Here, too, let me adopt some useful angle. So the first question is how to create a sound economic policy. We’re not talking about its content which is an interesting issue in itself, but how to create a sound economic policy. How can we improve a country’s competitiveness? Now then, given that there is no state economy, but private economy in Hungary, it follows that the Government can’t create a sound economic policy and can’t improve competitiveness on its own. This should be done by coming to an agreement with the players of the private economy. That is, those who provide jobs, who operate businesses, and who have first-hand experience about whether Hungarian work force is qualified or not, and is adequate or not. This is why the Government set out – and I tasked my Ministers with this endeavour – to come to an agreement with the players of the economy on competitiveness, in which we should agree on the direction of vocational training, wage policy, taxation, and I could go on listing the most important elements. You’re right that the future of young people, education, and within it, the cause of vocational training are key in this. We’ll reach an agreement with the players of the economy. They’re in possession of valuable knowledge, a great deal of which can be incorporated into our laws in such a way as not just to set targets, but to also reach those targets. So the same way as there is a new majority for Hungary against the prevailing immigration policy or on the issue of mass migration, it is important to have a new majority for Hungary also regarding economic policy, and we must therefore engage in talks.

But at this point in time, you have tasked the ministers concerned with engaging in consultations with the private sector?

This is an ongoing process, we’re continuously observing the reform of vocational training. We’ve already embarked on the reform of the system of vocational training. We did so by having engaged in ongoing consultations with the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Economy for years, but quite definitely for more than a year. I personally, too, exchanged views about what should be done with the President of the Chamber, about how he thought the system should be changed, and we managed to incorporate quite a few of his proposals. But we’re as yet far from saying that the Hungarian vocational training system is complete, and is good as it is, given that a new system was launched in September, and it’s only October now. So we must talk about this issue with sufficient modesty, moderation, and restrained optimism. As far as I can see, the Government and the players of the Hungarian economy perceive the problems. This is important, we’re able to identify well what the real challenges will be as regards the future, and we’re jointly seeking the right answers. And the Government, as a good and useful tool of the players of the Hungarian economy, implements these jointly conceived ideas in our laws.

Finally, let’s talk about ’56, you already mentioned at the beginning of the interview that the whole country is preparing for this. We’ll remember next week. We’ll also have here the Polish President at the series of commemorations. Aren’t you concerned that the ideological spirituality of commemoration will be forced into the context which it has been recently placed into on a number of occasions, the context of migration?

Quite evidently, this context can’t be ignored as ’56 is about freedom. Freedom is threatened by a variety of things. There are, of course, happy peace times when nothing threatens it, but a great many things can pose a danger to freedom. For instance, if the Soviets occupy Hungary, that is a danger as we saw in ’56. But it’s equally a danger to freedom if strangers appear in the territory of a country without controls of any kind whose customs and ideas about life are vastly different from ours, and who transform our free society, whether overnight or gradually, but against our will. So therefore it’s hard to talk about ’56 and freedom by detaching them from the context of the world today, and life today. The visit of the Polish President is a great honour for us, and we’re duly grateful for it to Poland as we all know that without Poland there wouldn’t have been a Hungarian ’56 either. So there was some mysterious, deep connection already in ’56 between the Hungarian and the Polish people’s desire for freedom, and though we did this in ’56, this was a Hungarian freedom fight, the Poles had and continue to have a great deal to do with it. The Hungarians haven’t forgotten this, and the Hungarians are therefore grateful to the Polish people, and so it’s appropriate and fair that the Polish President of the Republic should speak at Kossuth tér commemorating ’56 on 23 October this year.

You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.