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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press statement after his talks with Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, Esteemed Prime Minister,

Thank you for the opportunity of being here. You’re aware that this year Hungary is coordinating the V4. You will have elections here, and though we don’t want to interfere in any country’s elections – because the Czech people will decide about the fate of the Czech people – I didn’t mind at all having the opportunity to visit you now and to have talks with your Prime Minister now. I’m grateful, Andrej, especially for the fact that this meeting is taking place in Ústí nad Labem. You evidently don’t know this, but there is a generation in Hungary for which this place is a legendary place. I’m a member of that generation, and this is owing to the fact that you have a fantastic writer: Vladimír Páral. When I was in the early years of my university studies, a book that is called ‘Milenci a vrazi’ in Czech was a hot favourite in my country. Almost every university student or graduating secondary school student of my age heard about or read this book, so I’m very happy that this meeting took place in a city that evokes my youth.

I already told the Prime Minister, and I’m telling you now that since 1988 not only have I been in politics, but have equally been involved in Czech-Hungarian relations. I’ve been following what’s happening in your country, in the Czech Republic since 1988. And I still remember that in 1989 when you had a great moment in Wenceslas Square, our political party, Fidesz was also represented. In fact, two leaders of our party were even arrested – since then one of them has become a Member of the European Parliament, while the other one was a Member of the Hungarian Parliament for a long time and also served as a member of my government – whom we only managed to liberate from the Czech prisons back in 1989 as a result of much international pressure. I still remember Charta ’77 whose Czech leaders we always highly respected. I still vividly remember President Havel with whom I had a close and friendly relationship as two anti-communists and freedom fighters. I still remember when your Prime Minister was Klaus who surprised the world with his economic innovations. And your incumbent President of the Republic Mr Zeman, too, was once my counterpart as prime minister, sometime at the very beginning of the 2000s. I’ve been observing Czech politics for a very long time, and we have always envied you. You have always been a step or two ahead of us, and this is no different today either.

I’m happy to have had Mr Andrej Babiš as my colleague in the past few years; he’s another one in the line of great Czech politicians I listed. With him I’m engaged in a special kind of race, and I have to tell you that I’m not winning yet, but we’ll see what the future holds. We’re in a race that is about who is able to achieve the lowest unemployment, you’re somewhere around 3 per cent, we only just brought that figure down to below 4 per cent; you’re a step ahead of us. We’d like to catch up with you as regards the level of sovereign debt, and while the truth is that you inherited a smaller debt from the communists than we did, for all that you’re still ahead of us. We positively envy you for the added value of your industry because with its performance Czech industry still adds a greater value to the products it makes than we Hungarians do. And I never understood how it is that your prime minister is able to spend twice as much from the budget on innovation as we are as those who spend more on innovation have a good chance of maintaining their advantage. And finally, it is especially attractive for the Hungarian people that you’re very close to the European Union’s average level of development, you’re almost there with your ninety-something per cent, while regrettably, we’re still only at seventy-something per cent, meaning that we have plenty to make up for also in this department. Anyway, I’m always happy to come to the Czech Republic to learn, to understand why it is that regarding a number of important economic indicators you’re still ahead of us.

The truth is that I didn’t come here to list all these economic facts to you because I’m sure you know them, too. I came here to reinforce the Czech-Hungarian wing of the V4 cooperation. If the Czech Republic is not committed to the V4, then the V4 will not work. If Prime Minister Babiš’s commitment to Central Europe and the V4 is non-existent, then the entire V4, without the Czech Republic, is nothing but a lame duck. We need the Czech Republic, the strength of the Czechs and the political influence of the Czechs in the V4. This is especially true now because I’m convinced – and this is what we primarily talked about here today – that in the coming decade we will have fantastic opportunities.

Naturally, there are threats such as migration. I hardly believe that we could avoid the next big wave of migration. Europe must prepare for the fact that people in their millions will be leaving Afghanistan, and some of these people will want to reach Europe via the Balkans through Hungary. I’d like to remind the Czech people that at its southern border, at the Serbian-Hungarian border Hungary is protecting not only Hungary, but also the Czech Republic, the whole of Europe with the Czech Republic in it, and therefore I wasn’t shy to ask the Prime Minister to lend us some soldiers or police officers, minimum fifty, to equip them, and to send them to us so that we can strengthen our border protection now that we’re also protecting the Czech Republic. Then there is the pandemic as well, we’ll see how that will end. So there are threats, but Central Europe is facing a decade offering fantastic opportunities.

Our growth is twice that of Western Europe, and if you take a look, tables are slowly turning. Earlier we thought that Central Europe can’t find advancement without Western Europe as they were richer, they had more capital, their economy worked better. This has now reversed. Today the truth is that Western European economies are unable to function without Central Europe. There is no successful German economy without the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. So the coming decade will be a very intensive period of awakening for Central Europe when we finally realise, we finally comprehend that Central Europe is indeed the engine of the EU’s economy. Therefore, both our political influence and our economic influence will increase. This is only right as there is genuine performance behind it, this is only fair, but we can only convert this if Czech-Hungarian cooperation, Central European cooperation within the V4 is maintained.

I’d like to say a few words myself about what the Prime Minister said regarding the ETS system. You see, this is an extremely complex system, it is quite a challenge even just to understand it. Regarding this I myself often turn to your Prime Minister who understands finances better than I do. Anyway, to cut a long story short, they want to force on us a system, the essence of which is that all of you here, everyone, all Czech people will have to pay just because you have homes and just because you have cars. They will achieve this in a complex manner, they will raise prices, and you – and we Hungarians, too – will have to pay more, so we must prevent this under any circumstances. I entered into – how shall I put it – a brotherhood in arms with Prime Minister Babiš to change the ETS system which they now want to force on us under any circumstances because otherwise this will cost you an arm and a leg, and not only you in the Czech Republic, but also us Hungarians in Hungary. We’re not prepared to pay an extra tax just because we have cars, or just because we have homes to live in, houses to live in. So this must be prevented at any cost. This may well fit into the luxury of the Western Europeans, but not into our lives, and we agreed to take joint action at the first available opportunity, at the next summit of the European Union.

Regarding Czech-Hungarian cooperation, I’d like to tell you that it’s an honour for us that you welcome Hungarian businesses in the Czech economy. Thank you for the opportunity of being here. Thank you for allowing us to invest, and thank you for the fact that during the term of Prime Minister Babiš, Czech-Hungarian economic cooperation has hit a high never seen before. This year the volume of bilateral Czech-Hungarian trade has increased by 26 per cent so far, and 330 Czech companies operate in Hungary. 330 Czech companies operate in Hungary, providing jobs and a living for many thousands of people. So Esteemed Prime Minister, thank you for the possibility of cooperation. We want to expand this, right now we’re making good progress in telecommunications, we’re making good progress in agriculture, we’re making good progress in the energy sector, and we’d like to extend our cooperation to the defence industry as well – there are some promising signs in this department – and we propose joint economic action for Czech and Hungarian businesses in ever further areas. I’d like to reassure you that everything is ready, as far as Hungary is concerned, to implement close, friendly and sober cooperation resting on the foundations of mutual respect with Mr Andrej Babiš’s government in the future, and Hungary is committed to this.

Thank you for the opportunity of being in Ústí nad Labem today with the Prime Minister.