May’s elections to the European parliament could be fatefully decisive
11. 01. 2019.
At a press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stressed that so far the only country in which people have had a chance to state their opinions on the issue of immigration is Hungary, while people in other European countries have not had the opportunity to do so. Therefore, he pointed out, the elections to the European Parliament in May will be a great opportunity for Europeans to voice their opinions.

He said that Hungary’s goal is for anti-immigration forces to form a majority in every institution within the EU’s institutional system: first in the European Parliament (EP); later in the European Commission; and later still – after national parliamentary elections – in the European Council.

The Prime Minister described another goal as being that after the EP elections his Fidesz-KDNP alliance will become the most successful parliamentary party, both within the European People’s Party (EPP) and in Europe as a whole.

In his view migration will not simply be the main issue in the EP elections, but an issue which will transform the whole of European politics from its foundations upward. The conventional division of parties into those of the Right and of the Left will be replaced with a division between those which are pro-immigration and those which are anti-immigration, he said, and the debate on migration is also reshaping our approach to Christianity and elevating the protection of Christian culture almost to the level of a political obligation.

According to Mr. Orbán, the debate on immigration is likewise reshaping the debate on sovereignty, as the supporters of immigration do not respect the decisions of those who do not want to take in migrants.

He said that migration will be the greatest and most fatefully decisive issue of the next fifteen to twenty years in Europe, as the population growth in Africa and Asia is outpacing the capacity of those continents to sustain such populations.

Photo: Károly Árvai

The Prime Minister stressed that Hungary can pride itself on having been the first country to prove that migration on land can be stopped, and for a long time not a single maritime country had tried to do the same. Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini was the first to claim that this is possible, said the Prime Minister, who therefore sees Mr. Salvini as a hero, for whom he wishes much success.

Mr. Orbán described the “Polish-Italian axis” as one of the most magnificent developments, and one for which he has high hopes; this, he noted, signifies that anti-immigration forces which can form governments and which are to the right of the EPP are seeking modes of cooperation. He described this as good news to contrast with the EPP’s search for allies in the pro-immigration sphere.

Loyal to the European party family

Mr. Orbán said that Fidesz is a member of the EPP, in Hungary loyalty is a thing of value in political life, and as long as Fidesz is there – which will hopefully be for a long time – “we will always be loyal to our party family”. At the same time, he said, the issue of migration has no regard for party boundaries, and it demands cooperation between governments. Therefore he made it clear that he will meet Matteo Salvini as long as the latter is responsible for Italy’s migration-related affairs, and whenever the migration situation justifies it.

The Prime Minister said that migration has already profoundly changed the future of Europe, and that now there are countries where a mixed civilisation is already an inevitability, with the issue of co-existence being the only one that can be discussed.

In Western Europe migration is already an issue of co-existence, he explained; but that is not yet the case in Central Europe, where the debate is about how to prevent the development of a situation like the one now seen in Western Europe.

Mr. Orbán stressed that the two regions have completely different concerns, and that migration has driven them far apart from each other. Now, he said, the question is how, having chosen such different futures, they can remain united.

He predicted that today’s unitary European civilisation will be replaced with two different civilisations: a mixed civilisation building its future on the co-existence of Islam and Christianity; and the Central European people, “who continue to envisage Europe as a Christian civilisation”.

Photo: Károly Árvai

He said that migration is dismantling the structure of the European Union, as the debate on immigration also lies behind Brexit.

In the Prime Minister’s view, every liberal democrat is also a supporter of immigration.

Regarding the EP elections, he said that his party is implementing a Hungarian version of the Spitzenkadidat system, as the Fidesz-KDNP list is headed by the person who will also be nominated as Hungary’s member of the European Commission (Justice Minister László Trócsányi). Therefore, he noted, the Hungarian commissioner will have the democratic legitimacy of the backing of the Hungarian people.

He said that the question of the Justice Minister’s successor will not be a live issue until at least September or October, which is the earliest opportunity for members of the European Commission to assume their posts.

He recalled that Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party group in the EP and the EPP’s lead candidate, said that he had voted for the “Sargentini Report” on account of the Soros University. However the Prime Minister said that on that institution’s website he had read that it is a Hungarian university, which is not engaged in educational activities in other countries – the opposite of what the Hungarian regulations require. This, he explained, means that Manfred Weber “was duped”, and there was no justification for his vote.

The opposition will be digging its own grave

Reacting to suggestions that the Hungarian opposition parties may appear on a single list for the EP elections, the Prime Minister noted that if they set out on this path, “the opposition will be digging its own grave”, and he is not obliged to prevent them from doing so.

In answer to a question about the latest demonstration organised by the opposition in Brussels with the attendance of Dutch Green Party MEP Judith Sargentini, Mr. Orbán said that the EP election campaign has begun, and this is further proof that the main issue in the elections will be immigration. He added that Ms. Sargentini is a pro-immigration politician, so there is nothing unexpected in her demonstrating against the Hungarian government together with pro-immigration Hungarians.

In response to the observation that there have been demonstrations against right of centre, anti-immigration governments not only in Budapest but also in Belgrade, Vienna, Warsaw and Rome, he said that pro-immigration forces sponsored by George Soros which are preparing for the EP elections are engaged in protests everywhere and will continue to do so, but “this is the nature of this particular sport”.

The Prime Minister said that “The campaign has started, there are demonstrations, programmes are being outlined […] we are in the campaign phase, and this is how it will be until May”.

Photo: Károly Árvai

He went on to say that the novel feature of the campaign is that it is international. There is a pre-eminent issue – immigration – which arranges the entire European political arena around itself, and this is what European voters will decide on.

Asked about unity being forged between the Hungarian Left and Jobbik, the Prime Minister said that his question to the Left is whether it is wise to legitimise representatives of anti-Semitism in the interest of short-term party political interest.

Regarding George Soros, he drew attention to the fact that those who want to defend Mr. Soros with continual reference to his origins harm both Hungarian politics and Soros himself. “Anyone who hides behind their origins, instead of engaging in the debate, is a coward”, he stated.

Mr. Orbán also said that Hungary accords France and its president the respect they deserve, but one cannot ignore the fact that Emmanuel Macron is a major figure and leader among the pro-immigration forces. He described their personal relationship as a good one, but said that the future of Europe and that of their own countries is at stake, and the realisation of Macron’s plans would be bad for Hungary.

In the context of Hungarian-German relations, he pointed out that bilateral relations and relations between Fidesz and Germany’s CDU/CSU governing coalition are seen as being of special value. Cooperation with Germany has always been a priority goal of Hungarian foreign policy, he noted, and there is a need for a deep and sincere relationship; today, however, such a relationship does not exist, because the German political elite does not respect the decision of the Hungarian people to reject the prospect of Hungary becoming an immigrant country. He added that Germany is pressuring Hungary to follow the path it has set out on – a path which Hungary does not want to follow. As a result, he said, there can be no compromise.

Migrant issue points beyond the borders of Europe

Mr. Orbán mentioned his visit to Brazil a few days ago, highlighting that the migration debate extends beyond the borders of Europe. In his view, if the election message of the newly inaugurated President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro is transposed into Hungarian, it becomes “Hungary before everything, and God above all.”

In another reply he said that Hungarians take an illiberal stance on the most important issues, such as immigration, the family and Christian culture.

Responding to the statement by Guy Verhofstadt (leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament) that the Hungarian prime minister is neither a democrat nor a Christian, Mr. Orbán said that liberal notions in Europe have gone so far that today their principal enemy is freedom. He added that liberals not only want to say who they are, but also who is or isn’t a Christian democrat.

Hungary is performing better

The Prime Minister said that at its meeting on Wednesday the Cabinet had heard Finance Minister Mihály Varga’s report, according to which household consumption increased by 6 per cent in 2018, while gross wages increased by an average of 11 per cent.

Last year, Mr. Orbán said, Hungary’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 4.6 per cent, by the end of 2018 government debt had fallen to 71 per cent of GDP, and the budget deficit stood at just 2 per cent.

Commenting on the data, Mr. Orbán said that the economy is stable, and that this can also be expected in the coming year. “Hungary is performing better,” the Prime Minister declared.

Asked about economic policy, he also said that the Government will do all it can to achieve growth of 4 per cent this year. In the Government’s view, however, unless growth-generating measures are enacted in the first quarter, the figure will be below 4 per cent.

The Prime Minister noted that in 2010 3.7 million Hungarians were in employment, while today that figure is 4.5 million. If everything goes to plan, he said, in the long term it can be expected that 4.5 to 5 million people will be able and willing to work, thus bringing Hungary close to full employment.

He stated that therefore there is no point in pursuing an economic policy which would require the work of more people: the need is for growth produced by an economy that can operate with the work of this many people.

Mr. Orbán said that the current situation favours workers, because today if an employer wants to find workers they will find it difficult, and so “workers have the upper hand in negotiations”. This, he said, will lead to higher wages and better training.

Photo: Károly Árvai

Speaking about Hungarians working abroad, he pointed out that 6 per cent of Hungarian workers are doing so: the lowest figure for the region. These workers send money back to Hungary, show enormous courage and deserve high recognition for holding their own and succeeding in a foreign-language environment, he said.

In answer to a question about the expiring mandate of György Matolcsy, Governor of the National Bank of Hungary, the Prime Minister said that on this matter “no surprises whatsoever are to be expected”.

With regard to Budapest Bank, he pointed out that the Government has an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which stipulates that Budapest Bank will be returned to the private sector.

Regarding the possible introduction of the euro, he said that there is no target date, for two reasons: on the one hand, there is no clear prognosis about the future of the common currency; and on the other hand, no one knows where the eurozone will be heading in the coming period.

The national consultation on family policy

The Prime Minister also informed the press that in the national consultation on the protection of families 1,382,000 completed questionnaires were returned.

He stressed that this represents the third highest participation rate among the national consultations conducted so far, showing that the situation of families, the raising of children and demographics in general are important not only for the Government, but also for the entire country.

Mr. Orbán said that he hopes to give an account of the measures to be implemented by the Government on the basis of the national consultation in his “state of the nation” address, due to be delivered sometime around 10 February.

The Prime Minister stressed that the future of the country lies in families.

He went on to say that a memorial period entitled “Thirty Years of Freedom” will be organised to commemorate the fall of communism, and in conjunction with this a memorial committee is being set up. The Speaker of Parliament László Kövér will be asked to chair the committee, and on it Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, will be mandated to represent the Government.

Mayor of Budapest István Tarlós also attended the latest Cabinet meeting, and the Prime Minister said that decisions had been made on the renovation of the Chain Bridge, a sewerage project in the District XIII and city sport parks. Issues which will soon require decisions had been identified, including extension of Metro Line 3.

The project for enlargement of the Paks Nuclear Plant was also mentioned at the press conference. The Prime Minister said that every effort is being made to minimise delays. Explaining the situation that has developed, he pointed out that there had been the requirement to conduct a complex European public procurement procedure.

Freedom for workers

In answer to questions concerning the recent amendment to the Labour Code, Mr. Orbán argued that the amendment is necessary because today the problem facing very many – primarily small and medium-sized – businesses which want their employees to work overtime is that they have to find loopholes in the law in order to do so. He said that the current measure “gives workers freedom”, seeks to remedy this situation, and hopefully will do so.

He pointed out that people will receive their pay as previously at the end of every month, and if they agree to work overtime they can clarify the terms and conditions in advance. The legislative amendment offers a possibility, he said: some will take advantage of it, and others will not, but the law itself is good.

Speaking about the Government’s regional policy, the Prime Minister said that the culture of cooperation among the peoples of the Carpathian Basin is a legacy from King Saint Stephen, and everyone benefits from cooperating with the Hungarians. He described Hungary’s current assertion of its interests in the EU together with Slovakia as a historic achievement, and said that in his view “we are not far from being able to do the same with the Romanians”. He said that Hungary’s regional policy stabilises Europe, and Central Europe within it.

Asked about the increased wealth of his family members and friends, he said that he does not comment on business issues, because an important first principle for politics in Hungary is the separation of politics and business, and “even if a businessperson wants to engage in politics”, they will have little prospect of doing so.

The right approach to corruption is zero tolerance

Asked about the level of corruption in Hungary, Mr. Orbán said that there is no acceptable level for corruption, and zero tolerance is the right approach. The fact that in this regard Hungary is improving year after year is itself a refutation of the claim that the level of corruption in Hungary is above the European average. He also stressed that Hungary has the strictest law in Europe on the asset declarations of Members of Parliament, and in his view there are hardly any politicians in Europe who would pass the test of having to disclose in such detail the relevant facts of their private lives over the previous thirty years.

Answering a question on the establishment of a centre-right media foundation, he said that what he sees in Hungary today is a leftist, liberal and anti-government media majority: the most popular television channel, the weekly with the largest circulation, the most popular internet platform and what is perhaps the most widely-read national political daily are all critical of the Government, and are leftist and liberal. In his view it is irrelevant whether media outlets representing opposing viewpoints are together or separate. “There are more of you against me than with me”, he told the journalist asking this question.

Regarding the opposition demonstration at the headquarters of MTVA (the public service broadcaster) in December, Mr. Orbán said that not even Members of Parliament are above the law, and while naturally they have the right to enter any public institution in order to seek information, they have no right to disrupt or to take over the operation of such an institution – for instance, to decide what statements should or should not be read out on air.

Photo: Károly Árvai

The boundaries of legality

The Prime Minister spoke about the fact that in Germany recently a politician was the victim of a serious assault, describing it as an alarming and worrying phenomenon in the country of law and order and respect for legality. Everyone has the right to demonstrate and to go on strike, he said, but the boundaries of legality must not be crossed. He asked everyone to refrain from violence, and expressed concern over Members of Parliament themselves resorting to physical force – for instance, when Hungarian opposition MPs prevented the Speaker of Parliament from taking his seat while conducting a plenary session. He said that acts such as this “set an extremely bad example”, and must be publicly condemned.

He added that he is also paying attention to those now demonstrating in Hungary, and while he understands that they disagree with the Government on many issues, these have been debated. He said that no one should call into question the fact that in a democracy it is the majority in Parliament which adopts decisions.

Regarding his office’s relocation to Budapest’s Castle District, Mr. Orbán said that the lack of physical separation between the executive and the legislature is a legacy from communism, and “it is good that we have finally got rid of this”. The symbolic heart of Hungary’s thousand-year statehood is in the Castle District, he said, while the symbolic heart of Hungarian democracy is in Kossuth tér.

In answer to another question, he said that in Europe the prevailing interpretation of history and assessment of the political situation have been presented within the framework of a liberal conception, and European public discourse has viewed world events through a special liberal prism. This era, however, is now coming to an end, he said, with the emergence of issues on which many people disagree with the values represented by the media and with the resulting policies. Mr. Orbán expressed the hope that the centre of gravity in the media will also shift.