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Statement by Viktor Orbán at a press conference following the Serbian-Hungarian intergovernmental summit

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our press conference comes after a splendid joint cabinet meeting. First of all, I’d like to say that we like cooperating with Serbia and the Serbs, because there’s an excellent balance between words and action. One of the major problems in modern politics today is that this balance has shifted away from action; but in Serbian-Hungarian relations I can see that the agreements reached in all our previous joint government meetings have been realized. Secondly, we like coming here to you, because we always learn something, and we always see something that we can make use of back home. For example, I’m paying extremely close attention to the progress being made by Serbia in its fight against government debt, and we’re also deeply impressed by its efforts in balancing its central budget. Hungary is also struggling with this problem of high government debt. We’ve cut ours from just over 80 per cent to 70 per cent, and you’ve brought yours down from 70 per cent to around 50 per cent. This is something we’ll have to study closely, because we can learn from it.

There were two dimensions to our discussions: the present and the future. With regard to the present, I can say that in recent years everything we have done has been good for both Serbs and Hungarians. We have agreed on – and even opened – new border crossings, and we shall open new ones. Today it takes between seven and eight hours to cover the distance between Budapest and Belgrade by train: between seven and eight hours! These are two wonderful capitals, both of which have a regional role; so we’re talking about key cities – and still it takes between seven and eight hours to travel from one to the other. Now if we implement our projects, this time will be reduced to between just two and three hours. This will be good for everyone – both Serbs and Hungarians. Similarly, construction of the missing sections of rail line linking Subotica/Szabadka with Szeged and Baja and their modernisation will benefit everyone living in this region. Economic cooperation is also part of the present. I have always respected the Serbian prime minister’s request that Hungary view her country as a unified national economy, and that when we support projects in Serbia we should consider the whole of Serbia. We have welcomed this request, and our first investments have now appeared in southern Serbia. I always like to express myself clearly: Serbia belongs to the Serbian people, and we are happy to invest in it and to cooperate if it is made clear to us which areas we are welcome in. As I see it, agricultural investment is one such area, as is infrastructure development, and also the financial sector. So we Hungarians would like to make some form of complementary contribution to the development of the Serbian economy.

As for the future, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to tell you that an era in the history of Europe will soon come to an end: Central European countries will soon close the gap in economic performance between them and the EU’s founding states. If you look at the map of the European economy, you will see that today there is growth in Central Europe. This will be the case in the future as well. This clearly shows that enlargement of the Union is not only good for those entering the Union, but also for those who are already members; because without Central Europe, the current performance of the European economy would cut an extremely sad figure. This will continue to be the case in the future. Central Europeans will soon match the European average; and the next great historic task will be the realisation of Serbia’s EU membership. I believe that this will be good for the Serbs, and also for us as a neighbouring country. This is also what the European Union needs: unless it gains access to new resources, unless it can look forward to new prospects, unless it embarks on another major mission, then the performance of the European Union will decline. So although there are some in the European Union who raise objections to the accession of Serbia, I think that those objections are based on a misunderstanding. Hungary will continue working to make it clear to everyone that Serbia’s soonest possible accession is in the interest of every EU Member State. In this undertaking I am certain that we will succeed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to mention the issue of political stability. Some people are apprehensive when talking about this, but I shall be forthright. There are different kinds of country in the world: there are those which develop even without political stability; and there are those which develop only if there is political stability. I think that Hungary – and Serbia, as I see it – belongs to this latter group. If in our countries politics is in order and there’s political stability, then we will develop. If there is political confusion, then development comes to a halt. Therefore everyone has an interest in there being political stability – our people have an interest in it. I would also like to express my appreciation to the Prime Minister and your President for the political stability that has been created in Serbia, and modestly add that in recent years we have done much to ensure political stability in Hungary. If there is political stability, then there is growth, and also cooperation. I think it is important for this political stability to continue in both countries for as long as possible, and to use the exceptional opportunity it offers us. With regard to minorities, I’d like to say how pleased I am that this joint government meeting was also attended by representatives of Hungarians in Serbia and Serbs in Hungary. We have signalled our mutual acknowledgment of the efforts made by our two countries. I’m not entitled to speak for Hungarians living in Serbia, but of course I can say that we’re delighted with the decisions taken by the Serbian government: decisions representing cultural autonomy which are almost unparalleled anywhere Europe. If these measures – the minority policy that you’re pursuing – were the norm across Europe, then I think that life across the whole of Europe could be far happier and calmer, and with far fewer tensions. So, Prime Minister, allow me to salute you for this.

Finally, with regard to economic matters, I’d like to mention that, for the purposes of investment in Serbia, we’ve made significant financial resources available to both Hungarians and Serbs – and indeed to Serbian-Hungarian joint ventures. We’ve launched a fund for investment worth billions of forints, and we’ve opened a credit line at Eximbank. The past few years have shown that this is a sensible policy, with trade between the two countries increasing by 30 per cent over the course of two years. We’re continuing our economic development programme, which is worth more than HUF 7 billion this year; and I very much hope that infrastructure projects and the opening up of new border crossings will also have a beneficial effect on the economy. Naturally we welcome the Prime Minister’s proposal for relations between the two countries to be enshrined in a large, comprehensive treaty. I hope that we can take a few steps towards this goal at the next intergovernmental meeting.

Here before you all I would like to reiterate that we will be delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and members of her government in Budapest. We have invited her to Hungary in order to hold the next intergovernmental meeting there. And naturally, outside the context of government meetings, I will be happy to welcome the Prime Minister on an official visit to Hungary for bilateral talks.

Thank you very much for inviting me here.