Andrea Földi-Kovács: On Sunday more than eight million Hungarian voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard in European affairs. At stake in this year’s elections to the European Parliament are the future fortunes of every political force, so it matters who represents Hungary in Brussels over the coming five years, and how they do so. Here with me in the studio is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Good evening.
Prime Minister, you were interviewed one day before the last elections to the European Parliament five years ago, in this HírTV news studio. Back then you said that the EU couldn’t remain as it was, and that it needed to engage in some deep thinking and renew the community. Now, five years later, the need for change still exists, as the European Union is moving further away from the path that Fidesz and you want to see it on. But in what way, and to what extent, is the current situation different to the situation back then?
In some areas what I said five years ago is still applicable, while in other areas it’s been overtaken by events in the intervening period. Let’s not forget that the last European elections were five years ago, before the European migrant crisis reached a dramatic turning-point. Since then everything has changed, because immigration and migration – as well as the way politicians think about and relate to it – have transformed everything in Europe. There’s a new question on the agenda: now the main question is whether Europe will be led by pro-immigration politicians or anti-immigration politicians; whether Europe will continue to be Europe, and continue to belong to Europeans.
This is very true, and clearly this is also the issue in this election. Today you gave an interview to the German daily Bild, in which you said that “the Hungarians are not right, but they will be right”. But if we assume that history decides which side is right, let’s say that it concludes that EU affairs should have followed the policies of anti-immigration forces and that migrants shouldn’t have been let in or integrated. But let’s also say that the official political mainstream doesn’t follow this policy. In that event, what point will there have been in the wise words of the Hungarians and the anti-immigration forces?
Before the “afterlife of truth”, it’s also worth mentioning that a truth which is told before its time has come must stand the test of time, because those who see the truth before others will often be branded heretics – and sometimes burnt at the stake for it. Now, of course, Hungary hasn’t been burnt at the stake – or even singed – because today more and more people are saying that in 2015 Hungary was right. They’re saying that it was right when it refused to surrender, refused to lay down its arms, and refused to hold up his hands; it was right when instead it said that it would take action, that we’d be able to protect our country, guarantee people’s safety, and put an end to the migrant invasion that had ridden roughshod across Hungary. So I think that the first difficult period that we had to endure was when we were right, but nobody accepted it. We survived that, and now we’re in a second phase. Now it’s clear that a significant proportion of Europeans – and now we’ll see how large a percentage – are increasingly in agreement with Hungarians: Europe must remain European, we must preserve public security, we must not yield to terrorism, and no one must be allowed to enter the territory of our countries without permission. Every European country should remain as its culture has formed it, and no violent, external, powerful invasion should be allowed to alter the framework of our lives. I think that in Europe today such a mood is close to being in the majority. On Sunday we’ll see if it is. I simply ask everyone in Hungary to go and vote, because I can see that the Left is campaigning with enormous energy across Europe, and there’s no doubt that pro-immigrant parties will all be in the frame. That’s why we should also be.
The polling figures are encouraging. Everyone says that it’s a one-horse race. All polling agencies predict a Fidesz victory, with the only differences being in the percentages. In Hungary, say, do you think that the race is already over?
I’d rather advise you not to believe such siren voices. In an election decisions are made by the people, not polls and forecasts. It would be disrespectful to tell anyone that the election is already over. We’ll see what the people decide on Sunday. And meanwhile such talk can also form part of a cunning political ploy, lulling one’s opponent into a false sense of security. Well, just as in the old folk tale, there’s nothing new about trying to get someone to “sing the cheese out of their own mouth”. So let’s not give in to such temptations. An election is never won until the polls have closed, and one’s chances are never automatically realised. We are the ones who must convert our chances into reality. I often quote my favourite political philosopher, a certain Rocky Balboa, who said: “ain’t nothing over till it’s over”. And we have to keep fighting until the end; we all have to keep going, and keep campaigning. That’s what I’m doing today, tomorrow, and even on Sunday.
There are many recent examples of how volatile and uncertain domestic politics in Europe is, but perhaps the most recent example is Austria. Heinz-Christian Strache had to resign after the release of a video of him in Ibiza, and Austria’s governing coalition has collapsed. The Interior Minister of Austria’s Freedom Party has said that pro-immigration forces had effectively split and overthrown the Austrian governing coalition. At the policy level, do you think that those forces or spheres of influence that want to retain their power will resort to similar methods in the near future?
The facts bear out what you’ve just said. Since the Austrian government was broken up and a technocratic caretaker government was formed, I’ve been following the decisions that are being made. And what do I see? I see that the first thing being done by the new ministers – those replacing the previous anti-immigration ministers from the Freedom Party – is to revoke the previous decision taken by the Freedom Party to significantly reduce the amount of money allocated to migrants and to launch family support policy similar to that in Hungary. The first thing that the ministers of the new caretaker government have done is to raise the amount of money to be given to migrants. This clearly shows that there is pro-immigration pressure on the Chancellor. I know Mr. Kurtz as someone who opposes immigration, but there are many people in Austria and elsewhere who want to herd the Austrian government back into the corral occupied by pro-immigration governments.
Public opinion – or the extent to which EU voters think differently about the future of the EU than they did five years ago – is one thing; but in order to change the direction of EU decision-making you need power, top positions, or even a majority in the European Parliament. What’s the point of having slightly increased in number, if, let’s say, the anti-immigration forces aren’t large enough? So in the future what will be the significance of the relative proportions?
Well, I recommend that you don’t only focus on the European Parliament. Of course, we’ll be electing European representatives, and the Parliament has some significance in European politics – although it has much less in national politics. Not many people in Hungary realise this. But the election is not only about how many members from which fractions will sit in the European Parliament, but also about strengthening or weakening national governments – such as the Hungarian government. Because the most important decision-making body in the European Union is the council of prime ministers, and this council will decide on who will be the future leader of the European Union. This process of negotiation and deal-making – or fighting and battling, if you like – will start on Tuesday evening, when our next meeting will already be taking place. And the relative strength of the arguments made for or against the various candidates will depend on how people vote in each Member State on Sunday – and here in Hungary, for example. If I’m given a strong mandate which lends more weight to my arguments and I’m in a healthy position because the Hungarians have clearly expressed their intention – for example that the leaders of the EU shouldn’t support immigration – then my chances of asserting that intention will be higher if the Hungarian government, Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party receive a high level of support, than if they don’t. Therefore my eyes are not only fixed on the Parliament – and indeed not primarily on the Parliament – but on the ability to influence events in the council of prime ministers. I can harness the power and trust of the people if and when we receive it.
There have also been several attempts before the European Parliament elections to make major decisions within the current political formation. I’m thinking, for example, of accepting or laying down the foundations or draft allocations for the 2021–27 EU budget. In relation to Hungary, the outcomes of what decisions, issues or investigations are very closely linked to the nature of the new European Parliament?
For a moment, let’s remain with the subject of immigration. Because due to our historical experiences, primarily we Hungarians talk and think about immigration – rightly, I think – in the context of mixed populations, the preservation of Christian culture and national identity. These are the most important things. But at the same time everything has an economic aspect. Now data is coming out, and in the last few days I’ve seen the budgets of Western European countries, how much they’ve been spending on migrants as a result of migration, and the costs of managing migration. Well, they’re huge numbers. So immigration and migration not only bring us cultural problems and they not only undermine public security, but they would also crush Hungary financially. So because the budget for the next seven years is an open question, when we talk about the finances for the upcoming period the most important thing is for us to ensure that European taxpayers’ money is not spent on immigration, but, say, on family support and development. And then we arrive at the most important open question: the principles according to which the European Union will manage its resources between 2021 and ’27.
What are the specific questions? Because of course here we can think in general, but perhaps few people understand or feel the importance of how an EU budget affects our lives on a daily basis.
Let’s look at the situation of Hungarian villages and agriculture, for example. There’s been the suggestion that Europe should take a significant amount of the funding allocated to agricultural subsidies and redirect it towards migration. This is against the interests of Hungarian farmers, Hungarian villages and Hungarian agriculture in general. But similarly, will we have access to and see a proportionate distribution of funding for the development of disadvantaged regions, or for scientific research? These are all major issues for debate which we’re confronted with, and the way that people in Hungary vote on Sunday will influence the decisions made on them.
A few months ago in Kolozsvár/Cluj, a political declaration was signed by Fidesz, the KDNP and the Hungarian political parties in territories that were annexed [in 1920]. The essence of this declaration was to continue to act and think on a joint Hungarian platform within the European Parliament. Well, now that I’ve spoken so much about the most recent polls, they’re also relevant here. They show that, as things stand, neither Hungarians in Slovakia nor in Transylvania will be represented in the European Parliament. What do you say to those Hungarians living beyond the borders who are still thinking about whether it’s worth voting and about who to vote for in the European Parliament elections?
Whether or not they’ll be represented depends on us alone. Well, let’s go and vote for those representatives. Hungarians in Transylvania should go and vote for the RMDSZ list. Those in Felvidék should vote for the list of the Hungarian party there: not that of the mixed party, “Híd”, but the list of the Hungarian party, the MKP. So whether or not Hungarians in those parts of the nation outside our borders have a political voice and representation in the EU is solely dependent on us Hungarians. Furthermore, I’d also encourage the people living there to always talk about how good it would be if at last there was a place where the Hungarian community had a representative, and we could represent a unified Hungarian national position and interest. Well, the Brussels Parliament is such a place. So this is the only place today where the Hungarian communities in the territories of old Hungary could have both community and representation. For this, of course, there had to be a decision from Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party, because on our own list there are representatives from territories outside the European Union: one from Vojvodina, and one from Transcarpathia. So if there’s a good turnout among Hungarians in Transylvania and Felvidék, then there can be a full pan-national Hungarian representation in Brussels.
You’ve said that it’s important how much support you have when you attend the European Council. What domestic political implication or impact is there to a European Parliament election?
The importance of every election is derived from people expressing their opinions, and those opinions always tell us what they think of conditions and the political actors in Hungary. I don’t want to speak about that here – there will be other opportunities to do that. But what I can say is that over the course of several consecutive elections the general mood has really been for a change of opposition. In those elections the far more interesting question has not been who will be in government or what its majority will be, but who will lead the opposition. I think that in Hungary we have a lot of work to do, but Hungary is doing better and better, and it’s hard to deny that every year we’re able to take a step forward, and that people want to succeed in their lives. So I feel that there’s support for the government, and the far more interesting question is whether Hungarians will change the opposition – and if so, to what other kind.
The opposition is also mobilising – both at home and abroad. As you’ve said, everyone is urging their own supporters to vote in the election. But who, and with what slogans? The anti-immigration forces are talking about stopping migration, but there are those who, for example, have made climate protection their rallying cry, with which they’ve brought a lot of young people out on to the streets across Europe. Today, Friday, for example, there will be demonstrations across Hungary. The organisation coordinating these is called “FridaysForFuture Hungary”. Does anyone know who’s behind them? Meanwhile on their homepage we can see they’re linked to the Open Society Foundations, and that they’re also in contact with Avaaz. Now, within a short period of time in the final stage of the campaign for the European Parliament elections, Avaaz has been complicit in the banning of seventy-seven national, conservative and anti-immigration platforms and Facebook pages. If you were an OSCE observer, wouldn’t you worry about the fairness of the elections?
Well, I always laugh heartily at Western comments on Russian intervention. Of course we have to be vigilant, because no country is an angel. But the truth is that in Hungary that isn’t what we’re being subjected to; we’re being subjected to Soros-style interference. To the extent that they’re American, we could also put it like that. But I’d rather say that what Hungary’s being subjected to is interference from this liberal world mafia. This seems to be indefensible, as outside actors are mobilising large amounts of money in Hungary, trying to influence the results of Hungarian elections with quasi-campaign tactics. The same is true for press freedom. Hungary is criticised for its record on freedom of the press, but when I look at the reality in Western Europe, I see that over there the liberal press accounts for 85 per cent of the market, with conservative Christians accounting for a mere 15 per cent. In Hungary I think the ratio could be around 50-50. But such balance is a precondition for press freedom. So we can confidently say that in Hungary there is freedom of the press: full freedom. In the West that freedom is only limited.
So let’s talk a little more about the Western media. I’ll quote from your interview with Bild. You said that you’d do everything possible for the success of the European People’s Party, and that in the European Parliament elections you want the People’s Party to perform as well as possible. You continue to speak in a diplomatic manner about a party family with which you’ve been involved in an intensifying conflict recently; and in that interview you also spoke very diplomatically about Angela Merkel. One gets the feeling that you don’t want to renounce politicians and political groups that have renounced you and Fidesz. Why? What’s your plan?
First of all, I think that the Hungarian people expect Hungarian politicians to be gentlemen – especially in relation to ladies. So I’ll always accord Angela Merkel even more respect than is demanded by the rules of common courtesy – regardless of the fact that we disagree on several large and important issues. But respect should be given where it’s due: partly because the Germans elected her; partly because she’s a lady; and partly because she’s a politician who is a strong leader and who has achieved a great deal. All this demands respect, and I will always give it. I cannot say whether or not the European People’s Party and Fidesz will go their separate ways, because first there are two things which must be decided in succession. First we must see how the European People’s Party performs in the election. I want it to perform as well as it can. Then there will be a painful debate about what to do with this success: in what direction to take the European People’s Party. From what I see, today there is still a majority in the party who want to tie the fate of the European People’s Party – the fate of the European people, those with Christian and national feelings – to the fate of the European Left. The latter wants to put Christianity behind it and put Christian culture behind it: it wants a mixed Europe, it wants immigration, and in general it wants to abandon the tradition of European politics that we love – a tradition that we continually adjust, but the essence of which we want to preserve. Now the People’s Party wants to tie its fate to such a Left. For our community this is tragic, and it is the path to oblivion. Even now I can’t see a difference in essence between the two lead candidates – one of whom is from the People’s Party, while the other is a socialist. I can see a difference in form, but no difference in content. These two men say the same things, in the same Brussels blah-blah language, like representatives of a community living in such a bubble: I can’t tell what it is that links one to the conservative right, and the other to socialism. This is a blow for us members of the People’s Party. So I think that we must find our way back to the people. After the election I would like to see a change in the European People’s Party which doesn’t take it to the left but to the right – or at least which keeps us on the path of representing the people. So after the election, if the European People’s Party is successful, there will be a major internal debate. If we lose that debate and the People’s Party turns in a direction which runs counter to the culture, feelings and goals of the Hungarian people, then we will not follow it in jumping down the well: we will pursue another path – one that runs according to the interest of the Hungarian people.
I’d like to ask one last question. For a long time, while it was still true, here in Hungary you used to say that you’d spent more time in opposition than in government. You were proud of this time in opposition. If you’re unable to reach an agreement with the People’s Party, or if, say, the EPP implodes and disintegrates into smaller groups, are you prepared to be in opposition in the European Parliament?
In European politics the terms “governing party” and “opposition” are meaningless, because cooperation between different groups is always focused on the attainment of one post or another. So these are questions of power, or a specific decision. These alliances are constantly disintegrating and then reappearing. So rather than being a member of a particular grouping, I think it’s more important to always look at each issue separately, determine what the Hungarian interest related to it is, and reach agreements accordingly with whoever we can. So I’m not expecting a stable structure in European politics after the elections: there will be restlessness and rearrangement; and it will be more important to agree cooperation on a case-by-case basis, moving from one important topic to another, than to forge major comprehensive agreements. At least this is my feeling. But then the Hungarian and European voters will decide, and we’ll be wiser on Monday morning.
Thank you for being here with us, Prime Minister.
Thank you for inviting me.