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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs has concluded that there is a conflict of interests in relation to László Trócsányi’s position as commissioner and because of state commissions received by the law firm Nagy & Trócsányi. So the candidate was rejected by 11 votes to 9. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. How does the Government assess this turn of events, and what are we going to do?

Good morning to your listeners. Well, first of all, the basic situation hasn’t changed. László Trócsányi is an outstanding person, a legal scholar of international standing, and an experienced diplomat. I’m convinced that he’s the most qualified person for a seat on the European Commission and to become a commissioner. We Hungarians can be proud of László Trócsányi, of his work so far, of the books he has written, and of his academic presentations. He is guilty of one sin. Nobody is perfect, and his sin is that he has helped the Government – and me personally – to defend Hungary from migration; and he has assisted in ensuring that no one may set foot in Hungary illegally and without documentation. Now this is what they’re denouncing him for: after all, the defence of the country requires not only a fence, soldiers and police, but also legislation which provides the basis for action by the authorities. And indeed the Government created this legislation with his assistance. Now of course one can’t say that this is a disqualifying reason, because every country, and the justice minister in every country, must create the legislation which the elected representatives – in this case the Hungarian parliament – have tasked the Government to create. Therefore one cannot be attacked for this reason. So they’re not mounting a frontal attack, but they’re deviously attacking from the side: he wasn’t shot down by the specialist foreign affairs committee, but the whole case was brought before a special legal committee examining conflicts of interest. And there, citing legal conflicts of interest, they voted against him 11 to 9 – but ultimately on party political lines. This is the situation. Yesterday I spoke to Ursula von der Leyen, as there’s a situation which has emerged and which must be dealt with. We shall resolve this – I shall resolve this. Speaking with the President of the Commission I concluded that we shall wait until the opinion of this legal affairs committee has been issued in written form – because it’s one thing to vote about a legal question on political grounds, but it’s a more difficult task to write it down and record the facts. So we’ll wait until the committee states its decision in writing, and then I’ll talk again to the President of the Commission.

But what lobbying activity might be happening here? Last week the Commission closed the issue of candidates, but then they reopened it. Why?

Well, because a fierce battle is raging now – and will continue to rage in the years ahead – between anti-immigration and pro-immigration forces. Using older terminology, we could describe this as being between the forces of the Right and the Left. And the Left is like a midfielder who’s underhand and ruthlessly persistent, and who will chase and challenge for any and every ball. They’ll chase for as long as the opposition is on its feet, and for as long as they can keep finding any half-chances. If they need to, they’ll bring in assistance from beyond the touchline, and try to influence the referee. So they’ll come up with anything. It’s a huge battle, in which one must turn to face the Left. But we aren’t new to this game either, and we’ll succeed.

What can be done when the written decision is issued? Will the Government need to consider new candidates?

Well, since a prime minister has more information than the average person, it’s his task to think ahead. Therefore I’ve got second, third and fourth solutions in my pocket.

Then we’ll see which one you pull out! Last weekend you were in Rome, where you spoke at an event at which the prime minister of the former and present Italian government also spoke. What was interesting was that the Italians jeered their own prime minister, but cheered the Hungarian prime minister. What could be the reason for this?

First of all, the mood of Mediterranean politics is different. It’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to imagine here in Hungary – although when we’re in the swing of things our emotions can skyrocket. In Italy that sort of thing is routine, so the emotional waves are bigger. People from the South give full-throated expression to what they’re thinking: they’ll whistle, rejoice, clap and sing what they’re thinking. This is very dramatic, and a little unusual for Hungarians. We’ve grown up in a behavioural culture that is a little more disciplined, and perhaps more restricted or restrained. Somehow in Hungary restraint is a positive virtue: if someone feels emotion, we’re taught and brought up to express it in moderation and with restraint. This isn’t the case in Italy. I don’t want to draw sweeping conclusions from this, but over there it’s just a part of everyday life for someone to be jeered or cheered. But the reason I accepted the invitation – and otherwise I wouldn’t have – was because the Italian prime minister was also there. Accepting an invitation to a large political event in another country is always a sensitive issue, because it automatically raises suspicions of “outsiders intervening in our affairs”. The exception to this is attending an event at which the prime minister of the host country is also present – because then one’s presence immediately assumes a different significance. It was a wonderful event: they were Italian patriots, people like us. Italian flags were flying high, voices soared in song, and there was pride and a sense of identity. This is an organisation which has grown out of Christian culture, and so I felt at home; what the event most reminded me of was a “Civic Circle” meeting of the type we had in Hungary around 2004–05. Back then the flags of resistance in Hungary were flying that high. Now over there they are also part of the resistance, because the Government has been transformed without having an election. A huge number of Italians feel that what has happened has been decided over their heads. And also many of them think that someone has been removed from the Government – the Interior Minister Mr. Salvini – who in Italy was the guarantee of security: he was the one who closed the ports to migrants, who cracked down on crime, introduced strict legislation and acted on behalf of the Italian people. Now he is being missed, because we can see the usual story unfolding: when a government of the Left is formed they immediately start to open the ports; migrants immediately start arriving, and they don’t stop them, but ship them in; and in the economy they introduce austerity and tax rises. In essence this is the landscape that’s opening up before the Italian people, and they’re not happy about it.

But Mr. Conte has criticised the Hungarian prime minister for interfering in Italy’s internal affairs. But it seems that Conte has adapted himself to merge in with acceptance of the Left’s position. Does this turn of events mean that Hungary has lost an ally in the fight against migration?

Yes is has, temporarily. Mr. Conte’s criticism of me was provoked by my having to speak more honestly about the Italian situation: he spoke ahead of me, and said that I’m not helping the Italians, and that Hungary isn’t helping the Italians, so the Italians should start to blame me for that. I was confronted with this question, and I clearly told them that this isn’t the case. There are ways in which Hungary can help, and there are ways in which it cannot and does not want to help. So we will not help the Left or anyone to open the ports, transport in migrants and distribute these people around Europe. Because such distribution is like a letter of invitation: a migrant might think, “If it’s possible to get in, and then we’ll be resettled, then why not set out for Europe?” So this is an invitation, and it’s therefore something that we cannot assist in. This is also why we cannot support the migrant distribution quota. I did offer two kinds of assistance, but the offer has been met with silence. I said that we can help in relation to border defence, and that if soldiers or police are needed on the Italian border, then we can send some. If needed, we can take over security duties on any part of the Italian border: we are placing ourselves at their disposal. Migrant distribution quotas are totally out of the question, but I support “shipping out” quotas. So if Europe were finally to state that X number of people – some millions of illegal immigrants and migrants – have entered Europe, that they should be taken home, and that everyone needs to make a commitment to deal with some tens of thousands of them, then Hungary will be happy to play a role in this task: we will be glad to take them home, whether or not such migrants are on Hungary’s territory. I offered this assistance, but clearly it’s not wanted, because their policy is that they want to bring in these people. I don’t want to accuse them of anything, but it’s better if I speak clearly, rather than beating about the bush. The fact is that the Left is opening the ports and is bringing them in because later these migrants will be given citizenship, and with their new Italian and other European passports in their pockets these people will support the Left: they will never support the Right or Christians, since they are immigrants with Muslim backgrounds. This could therefore decide the contest between Europe’s parties of the Left and the Right, those that are based on Christian foundations and those that are not. If they succeed in bringing in enough people, it could be the long-term and historic deciding factor in the contest in Europe between Christian and non-Christian parties, and parties of the Right and the Left. This is what is really at stake in this struggle. Of course this is something that they’re too embarrassed to talk about, and when I talk about it they’re offended. But anyone with eyes to see understands perfectly well what is happening.

So a “shipping back” quota could be an alternative to the distribution quota. But it seems very clear that in Malta the core states have agreed on a certain distribution quota. So shouldn’t we be worried about returning to where we set out from in 2015–16, when they tried to force this on the smaller states? Will the core states be forcing their will on the periphery?

It’s not a question of returning to that point: we’re there now; we’ve already stepped back. In Austria, where there will be a general election at the weekend, there is currently no strong government of the Right that could raise its voice, despite the fact that it’s affected, because there are a large numbers of migrants currently in Austria. I hope that by Monday there will be an additional ally on the European stage which opposes immigration. In Italy there has been a turn to the Left; and in Spain, although the Left cannot form a government, the next election will be postponed, so for the moment they are in power. So they [the core states] feel that the changes in these two or three countries will be just enough to give them a majority and enable the Left to once again force the distribution quota on the people of Central Europe. This is the reality. It’s easy to imagine a young man and his family sitting in truly difficult conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa or in Asia, and wondering what to do. Help isn’t being made available, because unfortunately the European Union and other affluent countries around the world are giving them much less assistance than they need; the world that could give them hope – and which could in the long term provide them with a homeland they want to live in – is not being built. The least that such a healthy, strong young man will do is to go somewhere where he can earn some money and send some of it home, and then later bring the other members of his family there. But where can he go? The rich Arab countries aren’t letting them in, despite the fact that they’re also Muslims; so of course he can’t go to Saudi Arabia or Qatar. The United States is protecting itself, and has just reduced its quotas. Australia is taking them to remote islands by ship. There’s only one continent on earth that is yielding to suicidal tendencies and not protecting its own identity, and not taking account of the medium-term consequences of the decisions it is making today: Europe. So they’ll say: “Let’s go to Europe. What will happen if we go to Europe? Well, first of all, they’ll let us in; we’ll need to give the people smugglers a few thousand dollars and they’ll take us to sea; there we’ll be collected, taken into port and then they’ll distribute us.” In these regions of Africa and Asia where life is hard there’s only one piece of news coming through: that the European states are willing to distribute migrants who have arrived illegally. So people will get up, set off and find the people smugglers. And in the end the people smugglers will be the ones deciding who can and cannot enter Europe, because the states of Europe are incapable of defending themselves and are not prepared to do so. This is the situation. Central Europe – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia – stand in complete opposition to this: we do not want it. The countries of the West are clearly practicing such a policy for political reasons.

This week Manfred Weber said something interesting: he said that the issue of the migrant quota is closed. So there is the hope that within the European People’s Party, or in another political community alongside it, there are those who will say that it’s not certain that one should put forward a proposal which has already proved unsuccessful – and clearly unsuccessful.

There is a chance of that, and the reason for this is as follows. Look at the counterattack from the Left, which is now under way. Let’s not forget that the Austrian government was shot down before the elections for the European Parliament. The Italian interior minister was separated from the Government, and the Government was separated from the people. There is a pro-immigration majority in the European Parliament. The peculiarities of German domestic politics have meant that the Bavarians, who for a time stood alongside us, have backed down from that position. So as a result of the European Parliament elections, we are in a period in which, if they combine their forces, parties of the Left are in the majority in the European Parliament. So today there’s a pro-immigration majority in the European Parliament, but this is not the case among the prime ministers. It’s easy to be pro-immigration in the European Parliament, but the prime ministers have to go home and face their own peoples, they have to stand in front of them and tell them what the situation is. If they take a pro-immigration stance, in most cases they’ll be removed from office – and rightly so. And I hope that the number of such countries will increase. So I’m not building my hopes on being able to again defeat the distribution quota by relying on the voting arithmetic in the European Parliament. Our chances of success are far higher among the prime ministers. When the new commission is formed – and now let’s not forget that the old commission is still in office – it will comprise members delegated by current prime ministers. There the delegating prime ministers have far more influence than the Parliament. The Parliament wants to shoot down some of the prime ministers’ delegates – such as, for instance, the Hungarians’ candidate Mr. Trócsányi – because if they gain posts on the Commission, then the Commission will start to bear a greater resemblance to the Council of Ministers than to the Parliament. So this is why there is a conflict between pro-immigration parliament and what is perhaps an anti-immigration council of prime ministers. And in the space between the two bodies there is the Commission, the composition of which is the focus of the current battle.

Yes, but it’s perhaps precisely for this reason that they want to send the Malta agreement, which they say is just a draft proposal, to the council of interior ministers, and attempt to have everyone agree to the proposal there.

Yes, but this is how they usually do things. Yesterday I had a long discussion with our Interior Minister. We were preparing for the upcoming European summit of interior ministers. We reviewed the situation and, looking at the facts, we concluded that the countries that are now the loudest in demanding the new quotas in Malta have not even fulfilled their previous commitments. I asked the Interior Minister to state this in the Council. So for instance Germany… I don’t want to name names, but there are countries that were represented in Malta and that are the strongest proponents of the distribution quota which have only fulfilled a quarter or a third of the quota they had undertaken to comply with. Let’s state this clearly before the interior ministers seek to come to any decision on new quotas.

If Sándor Pintér [Interior Minister of Hungary] states this at the summit, how will the interior ministers decide? Because previously we’ve seen the interior ministers adopting something, and then people in the European Commission behaving as if this were a higher-level decision – like a decision made in the European Council, for instance.

There have indeed been instances of us prime ministers being tricked, conned, double-crossed and swindled at ministerial level; but it’s never too late to learn, and we’ve also learned from this. I don’t think there’s any chance of the EU’s prime ministers once again being hoodwinked by a low trick like the one that was successfully played a few years ago. We are more alert, and I hope that at interior minister level we’ll be able to prevent introduction of the quota; but if not, then we’ll use the legal opportunity to take the matter to the council of prime ministers, and then we’ll do the work there.

The Fidesz congress will be held at the weekend. After nine years in government and with a history of thirty-one years behind him, what will the Prime Minister be talking about at the Congress?

It’s only Friday morning now, and I will need to speak on Sunday afternoon, so I still have time. I always fret anyway, so please don’t increase my anxiety any further. I’ll say something, but the important thing is that it is indeed a special responsibility to be the President of Fidesz – primarily because for the past nine years the President of Fidesz has also been the Prime Minister. This is a difficult job, but also a marvellous one, so I’m not complaining for a minute; it’s perhaps the most marvellous of jobs. But it’s also difficult, and I don’t have to bear the weight of it alone, because it’s also difficult to be a governing party. This is not only true for me, but also for the members, because we’re living in extremely difficult times: there’s this immigration battle; and then there was the 2008–09 financial crisis, with a shattered Hungary that needed to be put back on its feet. And then Hungary has vision for its own life which is different from that envisaged for us by very many people in the West. And then of course we have to stand up and fight: debates in Hungarian domestic politics are extremely brutal, and it’s been a very long time since they were as vulgar and crude as they are today. But we’ve been living in this environment for years now. So it’s not only difficult to be the Prime Minister, but also a party member, an ordinary member of Fidesz, of the governing party. It’s no wonder that some have buckled under the strain. So, looking back to the fall of communism – and I’ve been a Member of Parliament for thirty years and in politics since the mid-eighties – I remember everyone: individually and the organisations too. And they’ve all fallen away and disappeared from the road alongside us: this work is difficult, it wears people down, it’s a huge burden to bear, it demands endurance, and many people have simply collapsed. Where are the old parties like the MDF [Hungarian Democratic Forum], the SZDSZ [Alliance of Free Democrats] or the Smallholders’ Party? So the members, the Fidesz parliamentary group, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister must all acknowledge that the fact that we are still standing is a great feat and a great achievement. We should thank God, and thank the people who have helped us in our work and who have stood by us throughout. Obviously I will also be talking about the future, but I’m not yet sure how to grab the future by the collar and drag it to the podium. But I will also have this sorted out by Sunday afternoon.

Obviously there will also be mention of how the Government will be battling on the international stage to realise the ideas that the party has jointly decided on. What is the support for this?

We must speak about this, and also about the fact that we’re on the threshold of local government elections. We have a huge number of mayoral candidates – we’ve never had this many. Like a palm tree, we grow under strain; palms trees grow under strain, as the saying goes, and we are getting bigger and stronger. So I’m preparing for an optimistic and cheerful congress for our party, which is facing yet another major test in the local government elections – but a test that I hope will result in further growth. Budapest is particularly important, and I can see the campaign events here. I need not comment on them, because that’s not the job of a prime minister, but of the competing mayoral candidates in Budapest. But of course the Left’s candidate for Mayor of Budapest is Mr. Karácsony, who was also their candidate for Prime Minister in the last general election, and therefore my challenger. And now I see that there’s this audio recording of him, and I see him stumbling about. So soon I’ll start feeling sorry for him, because he’s really sliding into impossible positions. But I very much hope that people will elect competent candidates – not just in Budapest, but also everywhere else. It’s for precisely this reason that Fidesz must hold its congress with a sense of its responsibility for the future. This responsibility also means that we mustn’t bury our heads in the sand and mustn’t chase rainbows: we must assess our situation well, accurately and realistically. We must recognise that Europe, our wider home, is also going through major, painful transformations, accompanied by battles and struggles. We will also be part of this – whether or not we want to be. I would also like international politics to be calm and boring, but the years to come hold no better prospects for this than the ones we’ve just experienced. If we want Hungary to remain a safe and successful country, then we must stand up for our own interests and we must stand up for Hungary. So Fidesz is facing difficult years – years that will often be unfairly difficult.

Yes, but luckily the economy is in a good state. Just today in our morning show, we reported that the President of the Jász Manager Club said that the withdrawal – or partial withdrawal – of Electrolux could see eight hundred people losing their jobs, but, thank God, the development of recent years will enable these people to find other employment. Ten years ago no head of a professional organisation would have been able to say such a thing.

Yes, and there is also a different kind of government. When this news broke, I sent two ministers to Jászberény the very next day, telling them to sit down with everyone and hold discussions with everyone; because, if necessary, the Government will provide assistance to ensure that nobody is left without a job. This wasn’t the case before, and there was a totally different approach under the socialists, but now we’re living in a world in which everyone wants to work and in which everyone can indeed work – and in which the Government is helping people to find employment. In the period before the Fidesz government it was extremely difficult to make a living from an honest day’s work; and so everyone tried to beat the system, live off benefits and state subsidies, and exploit all kinds of loopholes. I’m not saying it was impossible, and let’s not take anything away from those who managed to do it; it was certainly possible, but it was extremely difficult. But now it is the norm to support one’s family through honest hard work. The streets are not paved with gold, and we’re not yet living in a land of milk and honey; that will come, but we still need to wait some time for that. There’s still a lot of work to do before that, but the situation in Hungary now is totally different from how it was before – and the difference is clearly visible. It’s not only visible in an improved sense of better conditions and orderliness in the country as a whole, in our cities and villages, but also among people and in their behaviour. We’re still far from seeing a generous and polite country, but that too will come, and I think we’re moving in that direction. So there’s a sense of consolidation and self-confidence. There will never be a time when there are no problems at all, but if we’re able to solve our own problems – and we must learn to get to grips with them – there is no reason to be afraid: we can hold our heads high and search for partners to help solve the problems, and in the end we will succeed together. We can also overcome difficulties separately and individually. This mood, which generates self-respect and self-confidence, is much more prevalent today than it was ten years ago, before the Fidesz administration began. And we can safely say that this is partly thanks to Fidesz – not exclusively, but partly thanks to Fidesz.

Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.