Eszter Baraczka: Prime Minister, when they arrived here today several leaders of the EU and of Member States said that this is a very sad day, and you yourself have posted a similar message. We don’t really have cause for celebration, as the United Kingdom – one of the European Union’s strongest, richest and most influential countries – is leaving the community. What was the atmosphere like during the meeting?
Indeed we’re talking about a nuclear power, and a country that is key to European security. But it is truly no exaggeration to repeat what my colleagues said: that this is a sad Sunday. If there is “Black Friday”, then this must a black Sunday. We organised this well, we have well crafted, sophisticated documents at our disposal, and in an intellectual sense we’ve done everything that could be done. But no matter how well it’s arranged, a divorce is still a divorce. This left its mark on the atmosphere. It’s perhaps important to note that we’ve made our attempts – we Hungarians have tried everything we could. We were perhaps the only ones who intervened to some extent in the British referendum campaign, seeking to convince them to stay. But our attempts failed. Now we have no choice but to accept the decision that was made. The loss is great. Britain is a rich country, and they’re taking a lot of money with them: their departure means that they’re taking their money. This means that there will be less left in the EU, and so less will be left to us Hungarians also. So the loss that we’ve suffered can be measured in monetary terms, as well as in terms of politics and security. The agreement we have now reached legally concludes Britain’s withdrawal. They still have work to do on it back home in the British parliament – which, as far as I know, will not be quite as easy as those of us used to Hungarian parliamentary traditions might think. But for our part, we Member States of the European Union have achieved closure, and have concluded our negotiations. If they want it, it’s theirs to have; but we won’t renegotiate the deal, and now we’ve all confirmed that.
Leaders of the European Union came here claiming that this is the best possible agreement for the EU 27, while the British have described it as a terrible deal. From a Hungarian point of view it seems that we have achieved the most important goals.
Let us repeat that a rich country is leaving; and if a rich country leaves, that means a financial loss. Let me point out again that, with this decision now, Hungary has also suffered a monetary loss – in addition to a loss of a historical, military policy and civilisational nature. If the British had remained, over the next few years there would have been more money – including for Hungary – available from the European Union budget. Let us not interfere in the affairs of the British: we can put this to one side, as they will make the decision and determine whether or not this is good for them from a British point of view. The second important consideration was to safeguard as much as possible the interests of Hungarians who are working in Britain. We have achieved that goal. We can say that we have been successful – if one can speak of success at all on a black Sunday – in ensuring that the families and the Hungarians who are working in Britain are secure, and that their situation has not deteriorated.
I know you don’t like talking about other countries’ internal affairs, and you’ve just said that Britain’s affairs are Britain’s affairs, but earlier there had been some kind of debate about the possibility of a “disorderly Brexit”. How much of a threat is their withdrawal without a negotiated deal?
At this point we’re assuming an optimistic outcome. The British government came to us, we negotiated with them over an extended period, and we reached an agreement. We’re now assuming an optimistic scenario in which the British are able to keep their word, and that back home they’ll be able to finalise what we agreed here – as Prime Minister Theresa May was also here. We won’t venture any further than that.
I can quote several leaders – Donald Tusk, President of the Council, for instance – who’ve said that during the negotiations no one sought to defeat the other; and then there emerged the message that “friends will remain friends”. But over the past seventeen months or longer, it has been quite clear – at least at the level of political statements – that there are leaders among the EU27 who have seemed to want to punish the United Kingdom for leaving. But we also know that this was intended less for Britain than for those countries still in the EU which may perhaps consider similar ideas. As this was quite clear during the negotiations, can the unity that exists at present be preserved?
Of course saying that no one wants to defeat anyone else sounds good, but then why do we negotiate? We negotiate because everyone wants to advance their own interests as much as possible. There’s no point in expressing this in the context of victory or defeat. But in every negotiation there is undoubtedly a battle being fought, as everyone has their own interests and would like to see those interests realised as much as possible in the final compromise. There were major negotiations, and we had to agree on very important issues: trade rights, investments and the future of financial services. Every day there were negotiations about matters involving billions of euros. The issue here is not one of a victory or defeat, but who will be better off and who will be worse off, and whether there are solutions which can benefit us both. In situations like this, there is not much room for the latter: here everyone has had to make major concessions. Will the British be better off? I’m not worried about Britain: we’re talking about a nuclear power, the EU’s second largest economy and the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy, and an island which is easier to defend militarily than any continental country. Britain has great democratic traditions going back hundreds of years. With these basic characteristics they will find their place under the sun – even under a European sun. My job is not to worry about the British, but about the Hungarians: I must represent the interests of the Hungarian people, and in this – I repeat – I have succeeded in terms of employment status. As regards money, Britain’s withdrawal was bound to be a loss for us, and we haven’t been able to reduce that.
A last question: how much of a topic do you think Brexit will be in the campaign for elections to the European Parliament?
It will be a topic inasmuch as we’re talking about one of the most important issues of the five-year mandate about to come to an end, and the issue of the responsibility of European leaders will emerge. Who is responsible for Brexit? Are the current leaders of the European Union blameless? In my view the answer to that question is “no”. The leaders of the European Union are responsible for Brexit. Several mistakes were made. One of the gravest of these– which I believe the Hungarians also recognised – was that the British were distanced ever further from the European Union by the latter electing a president of the Commission who was not wanted by the British, but with whom they had to work. The current leaders have the excuse that at that time a referendum was not a live issue. But it was no accident that we stood alongside Britain throughout in opposing the current president. We said that you may have a positive or negative opinion about this current president – that is not crucial – but you cannot do this to Europe’s second largest economy: they openly rejected someone for a certain position, and then we forced that person into the position anyway. This is what happened. The first mistake. The second mistake was migration. Things should have happened the other way round: what is happening today is that we have let migrants in, but we’ve been unable to keep the British in. It should have been the other way round: we should have kept the British in, and shouldn’t have let migrants in. And, in my view, if Western European countries hadn’t let in migrants, the British would have been willing to stay in the EU. This is in the past tense now, however, and speculative. We should instead direct our gaze towards the future.
Thank you very much.