Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a special edition of Zalaegerszeg Television’s political magazine “Egerszeg Evenings”
20 May 2019, Zalaegerszeg

Márta Frauenhoffer: Welcome to our viewers. Good evening. You’re watching a special edition of Zalaegerszeg Television’s political magazine on the day that Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, formally opened the first phase of the automotive industry test track here in Zalaegerszeg. I welcome Viktor Orbán to the studio. Thank you for accepting our invitation. Good evening. Thank you for the invitation. Good evening.

Perhaps we can now say that every two years the people of Zalaegerszeg have the opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister in their city. You were here in 2015, when you signed agreements forming part of the Modern Cities Programme; and then on 19 May 2017 – two years ago almost to the day – you were here again when the foundation stone of the test track was laid. Now, two years on, we had the inauguration ceremony today. Do you like visiting Zalaegerszeg? We always say this…

I like coming here. I spent two periods here – a total of a year and a half of my life – serving my country in the Hungarian army. So going back to my youth I know this city quite well, and it has given me some pleasant memories. Memories are also attached to people: outside in the hall I just met my friend Bandi Gyimesi, whom I remember from when he was a director of archives, and allowed the local branch of Fidesz to establish themselves in his office. Memories of Panni Szalai also tie me to this place. The locals may remember what a fine warrior for the civic forces she was, and what a superb role she played in the transformation of the entire new media system. It was she who presented me with the first major development plans for Zalaegerszeg. Then there is the Mayor, who is a young man. We must also think about the future, because we won’t live forever and we’ve been in this line of business for quite a long time. We’re actively seeking talented young people who are able to prove their worth and who will form the next generation, who will be the core fighters and leaders of this civic, national and Christian camp after we’ve gone. So there are many reasons for me to come here. I’ve also borrowed a minister from Zala County, because Minister László Palkovics is from here, from your county, and he leads one of our most important ministries. His efforts are bearing fruit, because – let’s not beat about the bush – without him this Zalaegerszeg test track wouldn’t have come into being: his heart drew him to his native region. The location for this project benefits the country, but for it to be built here also required his personal commitment. So there are a great many things that draw one to Zalaegerszeg – even as a prime minister.

Two years ago, when the foundation stone was laid, you also said that here in Zalaegerszeg the future has started. This is also what you said now. This project is at around the half-time stage, as its first phase has been completed. You were also shown around the test track. Are you satisfied with the work that’s been done here?

My position or work is strange, because I talk about things that I’m usually seeing for the first time. So when in 2017 we laid the foundation stone, everyone looked at me inquiringly, asking what kind of future had started – as all we could see was an empty tract of land designated for a project. But it’s also the duty of a prime minister to know about what will happen. Not only must we adopt decisions: we must also see the future consequences of our decisions. So I can confidently make lofty statements – like “the future has begun” – because I know what will happen next. And now that I’m back here again after two years, we’ve opened the first phase, and what has sprung up out of the ground here is what we were speaking about back then. What’s happening today is exactly what we hoped for back then: major companies have appeared, and Zalaegerszeg is on the map of the European automotive industry. People talk about Zalaegerszeg as one of the coming decade’s most important development and research locations for the automotive industry. We’re biased, as we love our country and our own city, but we’re not the only ones saying this: we’ve also welcomed here executives from major European companies which are already operating here, and which will continue to do so in the future. We’re not the only ones who see the future that has begun: it’s also seen by executives from international corporations and by investors, researchers and experts working in the field of innovation. In my opinion, if the people of Zalaegerszeg go out to the facility we’ve opened today, they’ll see for themselves a remarkable industrial complex which is significant even in international terms.

As you’ve said, this complex is not only significant for Zalaegerszeg and Hungary, but also at an international level.

Western European countries are fortunate because they’re rich. When barbed wire was drawn across the middle of Europe, they found themselves on the fortunate side – while we found ourselves on the communist side. As a result, they are rich and have large industrial corporations – and in general economic development is driven by the decisions of large industrial corporations. We, however, were on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain; therefore we’re poorer, and our companies are also much smaller. So if we wait for companies alone to develop the country, Hungary will make slow progress. If it were only down to companies to decide on the initiation of one development or another, this test track would never have been built. This is when the state comes along to see if there’s an active Member of Parliament, a good mayor and a good minister from the area – all of whom you have; then the Government can say that we’re ready to intervene in the economy in terms of development and create something which we know will be needed and will have a business future. But without us – without a government decision – things like this wouldn’t come into being. Therefore we allocated 45 billion forints for the implementation of this industrial development here in Zalaegerszeg. This will boost the industry, and eventually the whole of Zalaegerszeg will benefit.

I know that as prime minister you’re reluctant to go to locations where something has been started but not yet fully completed. Here in Zalaegerszeg, however, it’s perhaps a good decision to open the first phase and allow operations to begin while construction work continues. Construction of the test track will perhaps be fully complete by 2020.

At first I was in two minds when they said that we should open the first phase. I said we should open it when it’s finished. But then Minister Palkovics convinced me that it would be possible – with some industrial finesse and intelligence, of course – to continue construction work on one part of the test track while simultaneously conducting research work on another part. This is possible. I believe it’s very important that we won’t have to wait another two years before starting research work; instead research and development can start right now, and then we’ll move on to the second phase. While we talk about phases one and two, in fact this phase is a project in its own right – and the second will be too. And today we’ve already spoken about the next phase: the third. It’s still early days, but I clearly envisage a third phase of this large project being implemented.

And in Zalaegerszeg the future has begun in other respects as well. If we look back over the past few years, we see that more than 4,000 jobs have been created in the city. Furthermore, the city leadership can also take pride in the fact that unemployment has fallen to 2.5 per cent. Perhaps you had some time to look around a little. Have you personally seen the development that this city has experienced?

If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I’d have seen it from the sums of money transferred every month, as the Modern Cities Programme is making progress, step by step, in line with the agreement we concluded with your mayor. But luckily I know this city: as I’ve said, I lived here for a while, and I know the people as well. This is a good place. In my opinion Zalaegerszeg is well situated, and – I’ll try to put this politely – the local people are “good sorts”. The people I got to know here in Zalaegerszeg all wanted to do something. Of course, no one is ever satisfied with everything, and in that respect this city is no exception – we are Hungarians after all, so we can’t expect that. But people in this part of Hungary have a positive attitude, and they’re hardworking: they’re prepared to work, they want to get on, and they want to do something with their lives. With unemployment, the problem was not only that there wasn’t any work, but that this situation clearly caused people pain. People who cannot find jobs – but who see themselves as fully able to work and have the will to work – not only suffer financial loss: they suffer the pain of feeling that their energies are being wasted. So it is no surprise that Zalaegerszeg created so many jobs as soon as it had the opportunity. It seized the opportunity, and over the course of a few years more than 4,000 jobs have come into being. Indeed our information and records show that unemployment is around 2.5 per cent, and it will fall even further: this is inevitable as ever more phases of development are realised. And of course, as I’ve said, no Hungarian is ever satisfied – and neither is your mayor. We started our work this morning by reviewing the status of projects. This was quite spectacular. Zalaegerszeg owes a great deal to its mayor, because he’s been able to launch very significant developments. Naturally the councillors must also be doing a good job, because a mayor obviously needs them behind him as well; and relations with the Government – which are essential for such developments – are also good. But these in themselves are not enough. So the Mayor has persuaded me that the sports hall – which is indeed in a sad state of repair – must be demolished, and that a new one must be built in its place. I understand this. And today we even agreed on the amounts needed for design work, so design of the new sports hall will begin, and we will build it.

Meanwhile the construction of a swimming complex has begun, the building of the M76 dual carriageway is in progress, and projects within the Modern Cities Programme are being launched on a continuous basis.

When I lived here I used to hear the locals quietly speaking among themselves, saying that they’re always being teased about their city being “manufactured”. But now that is a thing of the past. Maybe there was a time when Zalaegerszeg was a “manufactured” city, but now it’s undergoing an organic process of development. This is now a city with deep roots. It has a theatre, which we’re currently refurbishing; it has swimming complexes; and its surrounding environment is fantastic. The natural environment surrounding this city is absolutely superb. It has a very extensive network of cultural facilities. You have a legendary historical figure in Cardinal Mindszenty. Now there are modern industrial projects. So this will be a major regional centre. And the implementation of this project here – within reach of Croatia, Slovenia and Austria – means that Zalaegerszeg also has a future as a regional centre.

I know that football is very close to your heart, Prime Minister. We can now boast that Zalaegerszeg, too, has a first division football team. It has a first division team again.

New success always brings with it new problems. It won’t be easy. Naturally I congratulate the team. I saw Bozsik’s championship-winning team. I even saw the triumphal progress – or perhaps we could more accurately describe it as resolute performance – in the Champions’ League some years back, with Koplárovic. So I know even these things from the old days. Indeed I saw many good footballers from the old Zalaegerszeg team, and I always respected them. I loved the fierce rivalry at every sporting event contested between Szombathely and Zalaegerszeg. So I’m happy that such an illustrious, historic club is back in the top division. I know the top division quite well from the inside: it’s not what it was a few years ago, and it won’t be easy for anyone to stay the course. I wish the manager and the players every success. I know the manager, because Barna used to be a coach at the Puskás Academy, which I established – and back then he was already excellent in that role. So when you signed him I knew that he was a good catch for you. From what I see, you have the professional background here, but as a newcomer it will be very difficult – we’ve been relegated from the first division, so I know what it’s like; and it will be a major test for supporters and for the city to remain behind the team and stand by them even in hard times. At any rate, I wish them much joy, success and patience.

The country also has a trial ahead of it, however. The elections to the European Parliament are on 26 May. The latest polls show that the turnout in Hungary for the vote on Sunday will be the highest ever. Prime Minister, how are you doing? What are your hopes for the election on Sunday?

I never believe opinion polls – especially not a few days before an election. Whether or not they should, in such European elections Hungarians are prone to changing their minds about turning out to vote. I’ve been campaigning in Hungary for almost six weeks, trying to convince people that they shouldn’t see this election as something remote, happening far away in Europe, but as their own election: this is about Hungary, and this is their voice. Now it is their message that must be sent to Brussels. I urge people to vote, but I’m not as optimistic as the polls: the weather is fine, things in Hungary aren’t going badly, and at times like this people are less inclined to take an interest in politics. But I’d like to convince them that this will be a very important election. It matters whether Europe will be led by pro-immigration leaders or anti-immigration leaders. It matters how much influence the Hungarian government will have in Brussels. Over here everyone only ever talks about the European Parliament – and of course we’re now electing members of that parliament – but the election will also strengthen or weaken governments. The election result and the number of people who stand by the Government also matters to me – or to the Hungarian government. Because the decision of voters in one country or another will carry weight and have consequences in the European Council: not in the Parliament, but in the council of prime ministers. This election could weaken or strengthen the positions of prime ministers – or entire countries. And it’s in our interest that we gain in strength in Brussels. For this we need the people, we need their support and their votes. I ask them to turn out and vote in the election.

Thank you very much. And when can we expect your next visit to Zalaegerszeg?

In two years’ time, at the latest.

Then let’s uphold this tradition. I thank Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for having accepted our invitation.

Thank you very much.