Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes”
20 May 2016

– Good morning. Twenty-five minutes to eight. We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.

Viktor Orbán: Good morning.

– “The European Union will die if EU issues are decided through referenda. Viktor Orbán is going to hold a referendum in Hungary, and he says that not a single migrant can come to Hungary. If a country holds a referendum, other Member States may also do so, and we can throw the European Convention on Human Rights in the bin.” These are the words of Luxembourg’s foreign minister. Similar critical comments have been made by others, both in Europe and in Hungary. And many claim that this referendum is symbolic of a move away from the EU.

– To our mind, this is more about the kind of European Union we would like to have. We want a democratic European Union with internal relations, day-to-day rules, an ethnic composition and culture which are determined by the people living in the countries of Europe, rather than by a Brussels elite. Furthermore, this bureaucratic Brussels elite is quite clearly acting against the will of the European peoples. This is the kind of European Union we do not want. But we would like a democratic and free European Union which respects its Member States.

– So the referendum stands as a symbol of distancing ourselves from the current European Union.

– Well, it is difficult to distance ourselves from the EU, because we are in it. The question is whether we shall have enough strength to transform it. There is indeed a contradiction here, as in most countries of the European Union the people are opposed to immigration – in Central Europe obviously, but in other countries as well. The people reject a policy which, for ideological reasons, flings open our doors and transports here millions of unknown people, in an uncontrolled manner, with complete disregard for security considerations of any kind. For us this is not a human rights issue, and for the European people, also, this is not primarily a human rights issue, but a security issue. No one wants to give the keys of their home to complete strangers, or to take their doors and the windows off their hinges. So the people need security, and they expect their elected leaders to guarantee safety and security in their lives. But accepting a flood of migrants makes a safe and secure life impossible. Hungary is firmly standing its ground on this because we – and because I personally – proclaim the principle that the security of the people comes first. All other theoretical and ideological issues can only come second.

– What will you do if, even though an overwhelming majority in the referendum rejects it quota plan, Brussels shrugs its shoulders and says that the result is not binding on it in any way?

– I would be surprised.

– Surprised? There are signs which indicate this could happen.

– The referendum is the only thing which cannot be ignored – even in Brussels. The Brussels elite still has room for manoeuvre until the people clearly state their legally sound, incontrovertible opinion. When this happens, however, politicians will back down, as the European Union is a fundamentally democratic community – even in its present state. Brussels will back down.

– Last September Hungary decided to turn to the European Court. If the Court rules in favour of the Hungarian government – and also the Slovak government, which is party to the suit – this will mean that the referendum will lose some of its meaning, as obviously no decision contrary to the ruling will be adopted in the future.

– This is only partly true, because the challenge we have filed with the Court relates to the past. In the past a decision was adopted. We believe that this decision is contrary to European law and the treaties, and that it contains procedural errors. This is why we are contesting it. It would make the settlement of migrants in Hungary compulsory, up to a certain number. We reject this. This is the past. The future, however, is much more dangerous than this. The future is not about one specific decision, with which they want to force a certain number of people on us whom they want us to live together with, against our will: it is about setting up a permanent distribution mechanism. This means that if they let in or bring in migrants to Europe on a permanent and ongoing basis – mostly from the Muslim world – they will use a mechanism to distribute them among the Member States. So this is not about a one-off case, but about our future. Here I do not want to throw statistics about: I suggest that, if they are able to, people should visit some cities in Western Europe, they should walk down a major street and take a look at life over there. If they have memories of those cities from the past, they will see that in the past ten or twenty years life there has changed substantially. And if we allow this, in ten or twenty years we will not recognise Budapest, and we will not recognise our cities. And parents should imagine their children asking them fifteen years from now why this was allowed to happen to our country. Therefore I believe we must be firm in preserving the country’s culture, we must preserve its security, and we must also preserve its cultural homogeneity. This is an enormous advantage. The fact that we are the way we are is based on the traditions of a thousand years, on principles and day-to-day customs which we continue to uphold and do not question, because for us they are natural. They provide an enormous competitive advantage, and create a sense of cultural homeland which is no longer present in many European cities.

– Let us briefly return to the European Court. In order to understand this, I would like some clarification. I presume – and this is why I asked you the last question – that when the European Court makes a ruling, even if it relates to a specific case, the decision-makers in Brussels will not make a decision which conflicts with it. This is why I said that, in this regard, the referendum will lose its meaning if a ruling favourable to Hungary is made. But if I am not mistaken, you do not really expect a favourable ruling.

– We do not know. One can carry on fighting even without hope, but we are hopeful – though we learnt from Ferenc Deák that we can fight without hope. We are hopeful because the arguments which we presented to the European Court are logical and are, in my view, well-founded. We shall see how the Court decides. But I would like to repeat that the two things – the earlier individual decision and the decision about to be adopted now on a permanent distribution mechanism – have nothing to do with each other. The referendum, too, points towards the future, and is against a regulation to be adopted in the future, rather than against a decision adopted in the past. For the latter the referendum is no longer of any help: only a court decision can be of assistance.

– You briefly referred to the Europe of the future. You said that if the processes which have been unfolding over the past ten years continue, a core Europe will come into being, and the countries which do not want to travel at the same speed will be compelled to resort to some other option in the process of decision-making. The French are talking about this, but the Germans, too, made mention of it earlier. So you have agreed that a core Europe is coming into being. Are you in fact preparing for this era by seeking allies or reinforcing alliances in Central Europe?

– Naturally we cannot be sure what the future will hold, but there are trends which help us understand what may come. And this “core Europe” term is also slowly becoming a thing of the past: where is Europe’s core today? Earlier we thought that the core of Europe was the German-French axis. But if you look at the economic trends of the past five years – or rather eight years – and extrapolate current economic trends into the future, you will see that Europe’s economic engine is in Central Europe. If Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic – and, I should also add, Romania – were not performing as they are, the European Union’s average economic performance would not only not be rising year on year, but it would be declining. So the location of the core of this European culture, or this European Union, is an intriguing question. It may well be in the West today, but as far as I can see, its centre of gravity – in order to avoid using the term “core” – is continuously shifting towards Central Europe. Slowly but surely Central Europe and Germany together are becoming what we could describe as the EU’s core.

– But this core Europe in your interpretation – the Central European part – is the target of a lot of criticisms and attacks. We are familiar with the criticisms of Hungary, but the Poles, for instance, have been given until Monday to explain in Brussels whether or not the criticisms about the rule of law in their country are well-founded.

– First of all, I believe that the Poles are being treated unfairly in Brussels. Brussels is not taking a fair position. I think that at times Brussels insults the Polish people, and the Polish people should be paid more respect. Theirs is a great nation. It is a people and a country four times – at least four times – the size of Hungary. So it has some weight. It has a monumental history. We are talking about a freedom-fighting people who have probably shed more blood, lost more lives and made more sacrifices for their freedom than many other European nations, and who now hold their fate in their own hands. Therefore I believe that the action being taken against them is unfair. At the same time, they are a strong country. Hungary is a country of ten million. We account for 0.2 per cent of the world’s population. The situation with the Poles is different, with a large emigrant community in the US, and a strong economy. I would not pick a fight with the Poles; in Brussels they may see themselves as big boys, but they will never win this battle against the Poles.

– It is not only Brussels politicians who see themselves as big boys, but also those in the United States. In the words of Bill Clinton, husband of the current presidential candidate, Poland and Hungary “have now decided that this democracy is too much trouble, and they want Putin-like leadership”, and that they want to have authoritarian dictatorships, and to “keep the foreigners out”. What he said is obviously understandable in the context of the campaign over there, but it is especially intriguing, as Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she intends to give her husband an important position in her new administration. Does this mean that we can more or less gauge the new US leadership’s policy on Hungary and Poland?

– I think that we have been cited in this affair in the way that Pontius Pilate is mentioned in the Christian creed. The best way to understand what was said and why is to look at the US election campaign. Despite this, a lack of respect is still a lack of respect, and an insult is still an insult. This is not the custom in Europe, where countries and their leaders do not insult each other. So both the Hungarians and the Poles deserve more respect from the former and current leaders of the United States. I like what the President of the Polish governing party has said. It may sound rude, but mentioning the need for medical treatment has lifted many Hungarian hearts. If we were bigger than we are, perhaps we would also be saying things like this. But what is permissible for Jove is not permissible for an ox, so I shall not repeat the remark of the President of the governing Polish party. Instead I’ll draw your attention to another aspect. Outside the context of the American campaign, the comments made about Hungary and Poland – and Central Europe in general – have a political content. These are not mere slips of the tongue, and these comments and statements have multiplied since the migrant crisis. We all know that behind the leaders of the Democratic Party we need to recognise the figure of George Soros. George Soros has published a comprehensive six-point plan promoting the movement of migrants into Europe, in which he has declared that at least one million Muslims should be let into Europe every year. According to this they must be given safe passage, and Europe should be pleased to receive such an opportunity, rather than try to resist it. He also said that this will cost a lot of money, and he will provide the credit needed. So here, in Central Europe, there is a background power which can be linked to the name of George Soros. He is one of the most important sponsors of the Democratic Party in the United States, and therefore I must say that, in this instance, the mouth belongs to Clinton, but the voice belongs to George Soros. And as Hungary is where it is geographically, and as it wants to protect its national sovereignty and its security, we constitute an obstacle to this Soros-inspired American plan. It will not be implemented here as long as Hungary has a government of national interest. So behind these American “slips of the tongue”, we must also see some more serious correlations.

– But if there is this correlation in the background, this will result in a weaker Europe. Why would this be in the interest of the United States?

– I would not go into conspiracy theories – I will only state the facts. The strength of the Hungarian opposition cannot match the influence of the Hungarian organisations financed by George Soros. This is a background power. No one elected them, yet they continuously seek political influence. And, within the natural rules of a democracy, they exert pressure on political decision-making. But the money is channelled to these organisations – into these public forums – mostly through George Soros’s network of background power. This not only happens in Hungary, but is a recognised phenomenon in other Central European countries as well. We do not usually talk about it, and on this occasion, too, it was brought up by President Clinton and not by us. Therefore I believe that this is a good opportunity to finally talk about this issue, the issue of whom Americans finance in Hungary and why, and what influence they are trying to exert here. I think that the clue lies in the fact that there are Americans – I would not say the United States, because it is a big country with many power groupings – who think that it would be good for Europe if millions or tens of millions of Muslims came to the continent. George Soros supports this view with arguments based on human rights considerations. Hungary is opposed to this. And, I repeat, Hungary is not a significant country in terms of size. But its location means that once every thirty years it finds itself at the centre of world political attention. This was the case in 1956. The Russians withdrew from Vienna, from Austria, in ’55, and there was a revolution here in ’56, because we were on the periphery of the Soviet empire. In ’89, around the time of German reunification, we once again became a key country because of the German refugees. And now we have once more become a key country, as we have stopped the flow of migrants. We did not volunteer for these roles – not once. Our geographical location pushed us into this position on the stage of world politics. This is the situation now, we must stand our ground here, and therefore we are now receiving more attention. But this should not frighten us. We should not be afraid of the limelight and hostile voices in the audience, because – and I repeat – if we yield to the pressure, in fifteen to twenty years from now we will not recognise our own country. Resisting this involves responsibility.

– This now ties in with family policy in Hungary. The CIA recently released its customary report on how some countries around the world are becoming depopulated. In a sense Europe is at the top of this list – and within Europe, Hungary itself is at the forefront. In other words, family policy measures will take root – as we can already see in next year’s budget – if they are accompanied by a rise in the country’s fertility rate.

– Let us hammer down a couple of datum pegs. Let us select a starting point. It is beyond doubt that in several parts of the world population is growing dramatically. I regularly speak to internationally- recognised demographic experts, I see the figures and the analyses. There is even a small task force supplying me with the latest conclusions. And I can see the trend you are talking about. But we must ask ourselves whether Europe wants to take part in a demographic race. Why should our population grow at the same rate as other countries in the world? I do not at all believe that Europe would not be liveable, viable and sustainable with its current level of population – or even with a slightly lower population. So there is no point in entering a race which we will never win. We need not take part in a demographic race. It is undoubtedly true that a country’s viability and performance are related to the age structure of that country’s population, the physical strength and intellectual qualifications of its people, and the composition of the various age-groups. And it would be better if we had more young people, because as society ages, the younger, stronger, working-age cohort in society which is better equipped to understand and adapt to the future declines within the Hungarian population as well. It would be better if this cohort were larger. We can only achieve this through effective family policy. This is not politics – even if we call it that – but life itself, and one cannot interfere in people’s lives. If you want to help families – as I do, and as we have done since we have been in government – we must use every means possible to try to help families raising children. The effect of this will not be felt from one year to the next, but will need a period of five, ten or fifteen years. And I would not dare to claim that we shall be able to stop the demographic decline with our family policy. No one can guarantee that. But we have a chance; this is a reasonable policy, one that could succeed, and we must persevere, we must carry on. People must be shown that life in a family is a beautiful thing, and that having children is not a financial and existential disadvantage, and is not the equivalent of poverty or a hardship, but a source of joy. What’s more, it has financial advantages, rather than disadvantages. This must be proved, but I cannot prove it in the space of two years. This will take five, ten or fifteen years. People will experience this. Hungarians are a family-loving people. Our entire world, the Hungarian world, is based on a family system. It is worth looking at the relevant documents. In Hungary this cohesion of families is an old thing, an ancient thing. This is an uplifting force, and as it is within us, the Hungarians love children. You only need to look at the news, in which every item related to children, whatever the details, is immediately received with highly positive emotions. So I believe that emotionally and historically matters in this area are as they should be. If we find the economic means which show families that they can flourish even with two, three, four or five children, they will, I think, set out on this path. But let me repeat: you should not judge me or us on this after just a few years. We will need another term or two in office to achieve this.

– Now that you mention opportunities for families, here in this studio a number of economists – including those critical of the Government – have made it clear that the family policy measures included in next year’s budget proposals are outstanding, even by international standards. Critics claim, however, that it is precisely the poorest who are left out of this system. They are the ones who will not benefit at all from these measures.

– Let us take a look at the facts. First of all, we are going to reduce VAT on basic food items. This is the greatest help for low-income people, because they spend the largest percentage of their incomes on basic food items. So the reduction of VAT on milk, poultry and eggs is always beneficial for pensioners, poorer people and large families. Therefore I think this is an important element of our economic policy seeking to support the lower middle class. The same goes for housing support. What do you need to decide to have children? First of all, you must see that as a couple your combined income will be enough to cover your expenses. We must therefore reduce housing utility bills, and the prices of the basic commodities that are essential for life. We are taking steps in this direction. One needs somewhere to live, so we must support access to housing, access to shelter, access to homes. This is what next year’s budget does for low-income people, as well as for the middle classes. Thirdly, you have to put your child somewhere while you work, and in today’s modern world women work just as much as men do. Consequently, we need crèches and kindergartens, and if possible the state must subsidise meals provided for children in crèches, kindergartens and schools. We must try to provide textbooks free of charge, and meanwhile the standard of education should be high enough to ensure that our children – even if they spend less time with us and more time in kindergarten and in school – make progress and are given skills which will make them successful. People want to have children not only for the sake of having them or because it is what their instincts dictate, but because they believe that their children will become more clever, stronger and luckier than they are. So children also need prospects. If all these factors are in place, there will be families, and there will be children.

– Let us talk briefly about the budget. Experts say that the early passage of the budget is extremely important, because it increases predictability. But education is undergoing profound and comprehensive reform. The people involved have done their sums. What will happen if it turns out that the items allocated in the budget for this purpose are insufficient? Will you amend next year’s education budget in the light of this?

– At this point in time, I believe that the 2016 budget allocation will be amended, so are we now talking about the 2017 one?

– That’s right.

– But we are changing the budget for 2016, for this year, because we must do so based on the agreement reached with teachers. As the economy has performed well – although the last quarter raised some concerns – amendment of the 2016 budget can be undertaken responsibly; as a result of this, we will be able to increase spending on education. This is what is happening now. So the funds necessary for a predictable and reliable education system which provides advanced skills are available in the Hungarian economy.

– Last week Kossuth Rádió listeners had the opportunity to hear an extraordinary live broadcast from the final of Bocuse d’Or held here in Hungary, in which Tamás Széll and his team scored a resounding victory. At times like this, one is obviously very pleased. And although it was by no means a critical comment, in the spirit of seeking improvement Tamás Széll himself pointed out that, while this achievement is very significant, this sector should receive more attention, as it is highly important for the national economy. He welcomed, for instance, the reduction of VAT on restaurant services.

– Yes. Now we need to talk straight. Let’s not talk about elite gastronomy, but about catering in Hungary. If you do your sums and talk to serious and reliable people who run restaurants, you can clearly see that it has hardly been possible to legally make enough profit to pay the current high taxes in catering. One reason for this is high VAT, and another is low demand. Demand is now beginning to rise because the minimum wage is increased every year, and wages are moving upwards. Looking at sales in shops and restaurants, you can see that demand is increasing year on year. Taxes, however, are high. I would have liked to reduce VAT on catering to five per cent at a stroke, but the Minister for National Economy is right: doing this in a single step would be tempting providence. And I accept his position that we should now reduce it to eighteen per cent, and should then see whether we can further reduce it to five per cent by 2018. We would like to achieve this, but we are not yet sure if it is possible. But I do know that tourism and catering account for 10–11 per cent of Hungarian GDP. So this is also important in terms of the national economy – not only for those who are in the business and make a living from it, but for all of us, because we are talking about a sector which significantly affects the Hungarian economy’s performance. As regards the elite: I have been elected – and this is how I see my job – to provide chances and opportunities with our decisions for the largest possible number of people. And I am therefore happy about every outstanding achievement. Naturally, the glory of success goes to those who achieved it, but they achieved it in this country, in Hungary, and they achieved results which have not been achieved before. So the chances of success are increasing – at least, I hope so – year after year, and our own efforts also contribute to this. As a result, I welcome every outstanding achievement with great satisfaction. This is feedback which tells us that our efforts have been worthwhile. Here we have people who work in the elite of gastronomy. It takes half a lifetime – sometimes a whole lifetime – to reach such heights. In the past 20–25 years they had to work in adverse circumstances. There was no demand, people did not have money, regulations were unacceptable, and modern technologies were not ready available, because they were too expensive. I could go on listing the problems. When one meets people in the business, one can hear such stories from them first hand. But there were people who struggled through the difficulties by sacrificing half a life, or their whole lives. And now we have arrived here, opportunities have opened up and multiplied, and we have found success. I think the success of our ice hockey players stems from the same root. When we talk here on a Friday, we talk about troubles, immigration, the budget – but meanwhile real life goes on, and there are Hungarian success stories. The latest achievement of our ice hockey team – that after 77 years we were able to win a match at the world’s highest international level – is an achievement that is nothing short of superhuman. And this is down to cohesion, community and team spirit – these are great things. Every morning I begin my day by reading Hungary’s leading sports newspaper in the early hours. Today I opened my paper, and I saw Hungary’s four gold medals at the European Aquatics Championships. So what I am saying is that while we talk about thorny, difficult issues here, it seems that there are talented, diligent and persevering Hungarians who are increasingly able to take advantage of broadening opportunities. This is positive feedback for all of us. This is not politics, and this is not about the government. This is about what Hungary is capable of, and what Hungary is capable of is something beyond everyday politics. This is what all of us – opposition and government parties equally – must serve with our work.

– You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.