Katalin Nagy: The situation in Brussels this week was a high-stakes one – and not only because the British prime minister asked for an extension of Brexit. On Wednesday afternoon the People’s Party held its political assembly, at which the expulsion of Fidesz was on the agenda. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. A few days have passed since then; do you still see the outcome as a sound compromise?
Good morning to your listeners. We have gained time, but things like this are never good. If we consider, however, that thirteen parties initiated the expulsion of Fidesz from the European People’s Party, the final outcome can be seen as acceptable. Everyone has gained time, both the People’s Party and us. After the European elections, in Fidesz we’ll decide what is best for Hungary: whether we should continue within the People’s Party or whether our place is instead in some kind of new party alliance. This is an old debate. We honour the politically engaged members of the public, and obviously as a rule we avoid boring them with such matters. But this tension between the thirteen parties – which are mostly from Scandinavia and Benelux – and us, both Fidesz and parties from the Central European region in general, is a long-standing dispute. This is because these thirteen parties are all, without exception, pro-immigration political forces: they represent the wing of the European People’s Party which doesn’t want to stop migration, but to legalise it. So they are pro-immigration, and the conflict that exists across the entire European Union has also emerged in the People’s Party; and the Left believed the time had come to launch an attack against us. In this situation our task was to repel this attack – and this is what we’ve done.
This assembly raised great expectations. The debate lasted three hours, and many people were interested to hear the result. How many scenarios did you prepare for when you set out for the talks?
One doesn’t usually ask one’s butcher how he makes his sausages, and one isn’t normally taken round to the back of the shop, but instead one looks at the goods when they’re in the finished state that the butcher intended them to be in. Politicians are usually reluctant to talk about this tactical side of politics, and I’m not one of those who sees politics as a peep show. There’s a special way of dealing with things in politics, which isn’t always uplifting: you have to strike deals; sometimes you even need to practise cunning; you need to be poker-faced; and at other times you have to roll your sleeves up. So in such an internal dispute there are many different means that can be employed, and there’s no doubt that this was a complicated situation. We knew for certain that we could be neither expelled nor suspended. After all, this is a country with a history of a thousand years, we are a governing party serving its fourth term – its third consecutive one but its fourth in total – and in the past three European elections this party has been the most successful in Europe. So if we hadn’t been able to find a solution in this dispute, we would have stood up from the table and left the party grouping. The whole time I was at the table, in one hand I had our official declaration of withdrawal, and with my other hand I was doing the calculations on how the balance of power in the room was changing. This has its own methodology, but I don’t want to bore you with that now. In any case, the point is that we knew what to expect, because for years these parties had been attacking us – usually together with the Liberals and Socialists. So this is a pro-immigration platform which extends across party lines, and also has one foot in the European People’s Party. For years these parties have been concertedly attacking Hungary, resulting in the entire European People’s Party continuously shifting towards the left. This pro-immigration wing doesn’t even try to hide the fact that after the elections they want a grand pro-immigration coalition. This is why I say that now we have to wait and make our decision after the European elections, because our options will be determined by the eventual distribution of power, as here we have been attacked by a group that seeks to build a grand pro-immigration coalition. I believe that behind the scenes they’ve effectively signed a deal and shaken hands on a grand pro-immigration coalition with the Greens, Liberals and Socialists. They also know that Fidesz would never support such a grand coalition: just as here at home we won’t enter into any kind of coalition with the former prime minister’s party the Democratic Coalition, we don’t want to find ourselves in such a situation in the European arena. So now we’re on the eve of an extended battle. The question is whether Hungarians will be able and willing to have a say in this whole dispute. I can only tell them to follow the tried-and-tested method that we’ve used in earlier conflicts. We must go to the polls and show Brussels that what happens in Hungary will be what Hungarians want, and what happens in Hungary and in Europe will not be decided in Brussels by all kinds of parties pulling and pushing towards the left, or in the offices of George Soros-style “civil society organisations”. We must stand up and show them.
The result of the vote shows that everyone – or almost everyone – understood that you cannot upset the unity of a party two months before elections. Although he has nothing to do with the European People’s Party, President Macron said that with this compromise a “clan mentality” prevailed over principles.
By mentioning the French president’s name you allude to a problem that is a genuine one, as the French president, for instance, belongs to another party alliance. A sensible Hungarian like myself cannot help asking – politely, of course – this question: “What business is it of yours?” You should focus on sweeping your own doorstep: you have your own party alliance; we are the ones who will decide on this. But this is not the case, and this is not the practice: regrettably the European People’s Party is no longer the party that it was in the time of Helmut Kohl, when it was strong and firm, had both feet on the ground, and the party – we – set the pace in European politics. The People’s Party has been blighted with an unhappy fate, it has lost its sovereignty, and it is following dictates from the Left. And instead of competing with the Left and meeting the challenge, the People’s Party would much rather cooperate with the Left. In consequence, it accepts and tolerates double standards – particularly when they’re applied against Central European countries. So the European People’s Party must regain its sovereignty, and it must not be such a semi-leftist, drifting party. After the European elections, when in Hungary we decide whether or not to continue in the People’s Party, the decisive issues will be: whether or not double standards continue to be applied; whether or not the European People’s Party will stand up for the protection of Christian values; and whether or not it will stand up for our traditional values – meaning whether or not it will be an anti-immigration party – or continue to shift to the left, as it has done so far. If it continues in this way we shall have to do something new. This is not such a difficult task, but of course I wouldn’t call it easy either. But we’ve arrived at a benign moment, as everyone can see that this is a model that’s going out of production and is about to be discontinued. Those who’ve been speaking up recently are the people of the past. A chapter in the history of Europe is coming to an end, and we must start building a new Europe, because if we don’t want Europe to continuously lose ground in technological development, economic growth and foreign policy – as it is doing now – then at the European level in politics we must do something entirely new. We need a new beginning, and we’ll see what will follow from this in terms of the behaviour of the parties. We are about to enter a period which is decidedly exciting intellectually, and when we know the results of the European elections we will need to draw the outlines of a new Europe.
So up until the elections you are optimistic, and afterwards, when we see the results, you will have to think like a realist? I ask you this because a survey by Pew Research shows that 62 per cent of the citizens of the European Union’s Member States think that Brussels doesn’t represent the interests of EU citizens. So this offers some hope that there will indeed be a change after the elections, doesn’t it?
I’d rather focus first of all on Hungary. What do we see in Hungary? In Hungary we see that 75–80 per cent of the population support Hungary’s membership of the European Union. Before we joined, we decided the matter in a referendum. And as I see it, especially since 2010 – since we stopped adopting a subservient, servile attitude towards Brussels, and started shaping our relations on the basis of national pride and self-interest, which naturally results in occasional conflict – people here have increasingly supported our membership of the European Union; and support has grown for the idea that our place is there, as we’re Europeans and want to take part in European decision-making. So our place is not only in Europe, but also in the European Union, and this is supported by a large majority of us. But if you ask people if they think things are going in the right direction or if things in Brussels should be changed, almost the same percentage – 70-something per cent – say that of course we should be a member of the European Union, but should make urgent changes, because things cannot continue as they have been. So people both want to preserve the EU and want profound changes. After the elections, we as the governing party in Hungary will need to represent this concept in Europe; and that is what we shall do. There is no party discipline for which I would renounce the important things that the Hungarian people have decided on, such as the defence of Christian culture and the halting of migration.
The Left says that Fidesz has been suspended. At the same time, the Hungarian opposition claims that Fidesz is now no longer able to represent Hungary’s interests, and that the Democratic Coalition, for one, will have to perform this task in the future. What’s your view on this?
That’s nonsense. Let’s just look at the past week. Naturally, there are party meetings, but that’s not where the important things are decided. The important things are decided in the European Council of prime ministers, and that is also how it was last week: there was this People’s Party meeting on Wednesday afternoon; but the real match, the real contest began on Thursday. Let’s just say that it was a meeting of heavyweights – the twenty-eight prime ministers – on the subjects of Brexit, relations with China, foreign policy and economic prospects. So it was about the truly important things. And in the council of prime ministers there are the prime ministers of all the Member States, representing the interests of their own countries – as I do. Before that I also had talks with the prime ministers of the four Visegrád countries. So we must exercise our influence in the European Union in inter-state relations, and there naturally the Hungarian prime minister of the day represents Hungary and safeguards Hungary’s interests. So this [meeting on Wednesday] has no bearing of any kind on our ability to influence the promotion of our interests.
The issue of migration didn’t feature on the official agenda of the European Union summit. Angel Merkel always addresses the Bundestag before she leaves for such a summit. So it was interesting when on Thursday morning the German Chancellor, standing in front of the members of the house, clenched her fist and used it to beat a rhythm, as if to underline what she was saying: that no Member State can speak out on the issue of migration if it refuses to take in “refugees”. Does this mean that, four years on, Angela Merkel is still no further forward than she was in 2015?
Of course pro-immigration countries and their leaders haven’t renounced their idea of transforming Central Europe as well. They have already transformed themselves, as they have taken in millions of migrants, and they’ve created what we Hungarians call their own mixed-culture societies. They use a more elegant term: they call it a multicultural society. And their goal is to shape every country in the same way. In these debates I stand my ground: Germany may be a country of 84 million and Hungary a country of 10 million, but I’m ready to engage in even the toughest conflicts without batting an eyelid, because I believe that the truth is on our side. Perhaps it’s discourteous to call this moral superiority, but there’s no doubt that on this we Central Europeans occupy the moral high ground – as we have a conception of our own lives, but we don’t want to force it upon Westerners. Westerners also have a conception of their own lives – for example, that they’re pro-immigration, don’t defend Christian culture, want mixed societies, and don’t see terrorism and the deterioration of public security as a particular danger. So they also have a conception – about a mixed, multicultural world. Unlike us, however, they want to impose this on others: on us. In addition to the support of Hungarian voters, this is what gives me strength: the fact that we stand on the side of the truth. Just because a country is bigger, has more people or has been a member of the European Union for longer, it cannot be acceptable for it to believe that it can tell us what kind of country we should become in the decades ahead. That’s preposterous! So whoever shakes their fist, whatever parliamentary assembly or gathering of parliamentary representatives rhythmically applauds as in bygone times, Hungary shall not yield ground on the fundamental right which we have not yielded on for a thousand years. For this we have committed ourselves to freedom fights and conflicts. We shall not yield ground on the right of the Hungarian people to decide what should happen in relation to important issues which determine our lives. Naturally we can reach compromises on issues of lesser significance, but not on the most important ones. Now we are in Lent, when one’s instincts become especially sensitive to the fact that we must deal with the important things; because Lent is also a time for giving important matters priority over urgent matters. So at this time it is also easier for us to concentrate on what really matters in European politics. And what really matters is migration and the future of the European Union. The truth is that those who live in Brussels and engage in Brussels politics are very far from us. I don’t just mean in terms of geographical distance – that Brussels is 1,600 kilometres from here – but that they’re also above us: their feet don’t touch the ground. They’re living in what I call a Brussels bubble. It’s a true bubble, in which they’re always together and which has generated its own language; and speaking that language has itself given rise to peculiar approaches. This is a bureaucratic Brussels elite which has lost touch with reality, with the real political, economic and social life being lived at ground level in the European Union’s Member States. And we must not be fearful at the thought that the Brussels bureaucrats in this bubble think everything through so thoroughly, that they use such elegant and intelligent language, and that they want to force on us – in such a conspicuous, but in fact devious, way – things which they’ve conceived in Brussels above our heads. We must stand with both feet on the ground and take our national interests as our starting point. In doing so we may lack a little sophistication, but all the same we must be steady, calm and level-headed in continuing to stand up for our own national interests – in Hungary for our Hungarian interests. If we allow the Brussels bubble to float us up away from reality and to distance us from the people, then in the end there will be trouble in Europe. After all, the European Union is not in Brussels, but in Prague, in Warsaw or in Madrid – or in Budapest, for that matter. This means that Europe and the European Union are to be found among the Member States. And we must always remind the bureaucrats of this. It is we who employ them, who give them jobs and who pay them – and not the other way round. Therefore they cannot tell us what we should do: we shall tell them what they must do.
Yes, but they have tools. For instance, there’s a parallel investigation into the rule of law in Hungary. This compromise resulted in the plan to set up the “Council of the Wise”: three distinguished People’s Party politicians who will investigate the state of the rule of law in Hungary. And also in progress is the Article Seven procedure, which likewise sets out to assess the rule of law in Hungary. The process is ongoing at two levels. Will it be possible to launch various investigations against Hungary at any other levels?
Your question also shows that the disputes are always about the same thing. Sometimes they employ several means against us, sometimes they take a short break, but neither side gives up its own position. These Brussels bureaucrats sitting in their bubble will never give up, and neither will we Hungarians. Therefore the conflicts are always about the same thing. Now, if we think back over the past ten years, these conflicts can be summed up and described thus: we’re not willing to do what Brussels dictates if it isn’t good for the Hungarian people. This started in 2010, when they demanded austerity measures. We were in a difficult economic situation, comparable to that of Greece and on the brink of collapse. They demanded austerity measures. In response, we sent the IMF packing and reduced taxes. They then wanted to allow banks to force people to repay their foreign currency loans a hundred times over; instead we held banks to account. Next, they wanted the Hungarian people to pay the highest household utility charges in Europe to their companies – which at that time owned the energy infrastructure here. This is what they wanted. Instead we reduced those charges. Then they told us to let in migrants. We built a fence. Now they’ve told us to take back migrants. We are not willing to accept mandatory resettlement quotas. So the logic of the dispute is always the same: Brussels wants something which we think is not good for the Hungarian people; and so we resist. Of course the picture is a little distorted, because public attention always focuses on conflict. In truth there are many things which Brussels wants and which are good for the Hungarian people, and we implement those without any objections. There are also times when we want something that is good for the Hungarian people and Brussels accepts it. But there are some fundamental strategic issues which will determine the future and for which this is not the case. These have seen the eruption of conflict. But this is always the same dispute, and always between the same protagonists.
Due to the great interest, a survey has been conducted: Google Trends has an analytics program which is able to determine how many people were interested in specific leading news items at any given time. For instance, on 20 March – last Wednesday – there were two major topics, two leading news items: Brexit and the dispute between the People’s Party and Fidesz. The result was that twice as many people followed the outcome of the dispute between Fidesz and the People’s Party than Theresa May’s proposal. And this was not only the case in Hungary, but also in Italy, Austria and Belgium. This perhaps not only indicates the curiosity of those with an opposing interest who wanted to keep up with developments, but that the issues which interest people may indeed be changing: that after all the European Union has another side, where thinking is a little closer to reality. Is that right?
In order for a person to represent Hungary’s interests in international affairs in a well-founded and considered way, they must have knowledge of the thinking of other countries. So for the promotion of Hungarian interests it is relevant what the Belgians, the Italians or the Poles think. Therefore we’ve commissioned outside agencies using reliable methods to conduct regular surveys in all twenty-eight countries of the European Union. So I’m working from a database which tells me what the general atmosphere is in any given country, what the most important topics are and what the people are thinking. And, as we’re all in the same line of business, I know how these things influence politicians. Most recently one such very extensive survey was conducted in all twenty-eight countries – perhaps the authors of the survey will make some parts of it public – and from that I can clearly see that the most important issue is migration. This extends across state borders: it’s important in every country – as much in Belgium and the Netherlands as in Hungary. This tells me who is a strong opponent and who is weak. For instance, here we have a bubble-dweller called Timmermans, who is the Socialists’ candidate for one of the most important positions in the European Commission. I follow public opinion in the Netherlands, and this week there was an election there that has reshaped the Dutch upper house. In this election, for instance, this man’s party – this Timmermans’ party – went down like a lead balloon, if I may put it so bluntly. They’ve lost the people’s trust, but meanwhile he comes to Budapest and travels around Europe’s capitals in order to lecture us on democracy. And now back home the people have just sent his party packing. People everywhere are dissatisfied with the current practice, and this explains the increased interest. If the EU continues to use important EU decision-making positions as a hospice, as a political hospice, sending to Europe people who’ve failed in their own countries and aren’t trusted by the people there, this won’t increase people’s trust in the European Union, but will dramatically reduce it. So these Timmermans-type people who are sent packing by voters in their home countries shouldn’t be given positions in Brussels, because by doing so we’re weakening the entire EU cooperation. This is irresponsible. So this is why a debate about the governing party of a country of ten million like Hungary is being followed everywhere in Europe. Because this is not just about Hungary, but also about their problems. It’s about how the government and the prime minister of a country of ten million are fighting for the rights of nations against people who were long ago sent packing in their home countries, and who – from their lives in the rarefied environment of Brussels – are now trying to force their will on people who have already voted them out. So this is the European situation which has intensified interest in this dispute.
There are two months until the election. What’s the task now for Fidesz and the governing parties?
Well, in Brussels they’re a little angry at us, because in Hungary on the eve of the European election campaign we’ve run an information campaign in which, essentially, we’ve revealed what Brussels is planning to do: “You also have the right to know what Brussels is planning”. In an information campaign the Hungarian government has told the public what plans are on the table at the European Commission on the most important issue: migration. And after we exposed them they were furious – as is customary on such occasions. But we must remind people that, for instance, a couple of weeks ago the European Parliament adopted a decision – backed by the votes of Hungarian left-wing MEPs – to triple the budget of the migration fund in the next seven-year financial framework. So our task now is to keep people informed about what Brussels is planning. We must not back down, and we must not be fearful just because our opponent is offended and attacks us with the fury typical of those who have been unmasked. We must be aware of what Brussels is planning. The election day is coming: 26 May. I ask Hungarians who love their country and who want to stand up for the interests of their homeland to accept that they must turn out and vote in the election. Let’s show Brussels, let’s stand up for Hungary, let’s give it enough power; and then after the elections let there be better times, with Hungary taking part in building a new Europe.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.