Katalin Nagy: The prime ministers of the Visegrád countries [V4] met in Budapest yesterday, when they agreed to take a common position in the European Council on both the selection of EU leaders and matters of content. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio.
Why do you trust that the request or expectation of the V4 countries will be respected? After all, there are twenty-eight countries in the European Union.
We didn’t think that it will be respected: we thought that we will see that it is realised. Politics is a courteous discipline, and so we must speak to each other with respect; but when one wants to achieve important aims, then what matters is strength. Strength derives from two things: the influence of a given country, and the weight of its arguments. In both respects the Central European countries are in a good position: if we look at the V4 as a whole and examine its economic performance, I can say that the trade volume between these four countries and Germany is far higher than trade relations between France and Germany. So this is a major group of countries. We’ve become accustomed to ignoring this. Perhaps it’s just my generation, but I still feel as if we’re burdened with a sense of inferiority, which is completely at odds with the economic performance we’ve achieved in recent years. So if we look at Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, we can speak about our achievements with heads held high. And instead of meekly asking to be taken into consideration, to be noticed and for our interests to be respected if that’s convenient, we can feel fully justified in saying: “Look here people, Central Europe is now the engine of economic growth in Europe.” And we have our goals and our interests, and we shall negotiate on the basis of them. And we shall see that they are fulfilled. So we’ll negotiate with the French or the Germans as equals, and this will also be the case in our negotiations on the question of candidates. At European level also there must be a leader from Central Europe who embodies this self-confidence, strength, and optimistic worldview for the future. We can only support leaders from outside Central Europe who respect Central Europe, who don’t look down on us, and who don’t say that for them to become leaders they have absolutely no need of our votes: they must give the Czech, Polish, Slovak and Hungarian peoples the respect they deserve.
Will there be – or is there already – a joint proposal for the President of the Commission? Earlier it was said that it wouldn’t be Weber.
All the complicated negotiation procedures about individual candidates – and this is what we’re talking about – consist of two stages: first you make a list of those you don’t want, and then a list of those you do. So you need look at the list of candidates and rule out those people who for one reason or another wouldn’t be acceptable under any circumstances. For a leading position in Europe it should never be possible, for example, to support the candidacy of someone who has been involved in attacking a Member State, or who – God forbid – has played a leading role in such an attack. This is regardless of whether or not they were right to do so, as the task of a European leader is to unite the European Union; and someone who has attacked Member States is not suitable for this position. They may be suitable for a different position, but in no way would they be able to represent and embody the unity of Europe.
Frans Timmermans, for example.
One needs a list of those who wouldn’t be suitable. And once we’ve clarified who can’t be considered, we need to draw up a list of those who can be taken into consideration. We need a wide-ranging list to enable us to come to an agreement, because we Central Europeans will not be the only ones deciding: there will be the Southerners, the Germans and France. I see a chance of such an agreement being reached within a week or two.
Can you tell us something about this person?
When can we find out who they are?
Not wanting to be so rude, I’d say that it’s not so much about not being able to find out, but more about the fact that there is an ordained time for everything – including the ebb and flow of political negotiations. We must talk about things when the time comes to talk about them. At this point, if I were to mention any name or anyone’s nomination it would damage their chances rather than improve them, because we’re about to enter a period of complex competition. Therefore I suggest that we’d do well to exercise patience, so don’t force me to name anyone.
In addition to the issue of candidates for leadership positions, matters of content are also very important. You mentioned this when you were here two weeks ago. Is the question of Europe’s future and the direction taken by the European Union in the next five years a matter of content? Do the Visegrád Four also have a united position on this?
Clearly one can find differences between the opinions of the peoples or the leaders of the four countries on matters of detail, but there is agreement on the important, essential issues that are our guiding stars. This is all the more important because it’s quite usual for some governments to fall after the European elections. This is also the case today: some leaders are leaving, and others are coming in. This is the time when the twenty-eight prime ministers adopt a joint document on the direction in which the prime ministers – and the peoples represented by them – would like to develop, guide and shape Europe’s future. Every election year there’s such a strategic paper, and this is also what happened five years ago. I took part in that debate then, and I’m also familiar with the text of the current proposal; so I can compare it with the one adopted five years ago, and see how much the world has changed. New issues have emerged, and the mentality is also changing. We who live in the hustle and bustle of everyday life don’t really have such a perspective, and so we don’t notice the depth of changes, the degree to which the direction has changed. But if you stop every five years and compare the steering document from five years ago with the one on the table now, you can see that Europe is changing enormously. It’s changing in both good and bad ways: both beneficial and detrimental. Anyway, this is exciting work; and it’s of no little importance, because at the end of the day the direction for the development or building of the European Union must be set by the prime ministers elected by the citizens of the Member States of the European Union. Undoubtedly there are also the bureaucrats in Brussels: many of them, an entire army, sitting in a bubble. Occasionally one feels that they don’t even know what’s going on in the Member States and what real life is like: they live their lives within a theoretical framework. Sometimes they seem to have no contact with the realities of life, and every now and then they want us to adopt utterly impractical regulations. But leadership – political leadership – cannot be allowed to slip into their hands: we mustn’t allow Brussels bureaucrats to direct the lives of the peoples of Europe. Leadership must remain in the hands of the community of the elected: the twenty-eight elected prime ministers. And we can best enforce this and lead the European Union by clarifying the most important issues which the bureaucrats must later adhere to. This is where national, Hungarian and Central European viewpoints emerge. Before the European Parliament elections this was why for me personally it was important for the people to pay attention, to hear what I asked of them and what I said about the fact that we were deciding on the direction which must be taken by the European Union. I made three undertakings. I undertook that we would only support documents and leaders clearly representing the conviction that migration must be stopped. From this it also follows that we must fight to marginalise those people who support migration, such as George Soros and his mafia-like network: these NGOs must be driven back and forced further away from the heart of European decision-making, because now they’re exerting far too much influence over Brussels bureaucrats – and through them on European politics as a whole. So it’s very important that we adopt documents which declare that immigration must be stopped. Nations must be given respect. We must talk about this, and in future completely rule out the possibility of anyone bullying and insulting nations on ideological grounds, as Timmermans has done. This is a bad practice, and we must put an end to it. I hope that people who have behaved like this over the past five years will pay for it with their heads and their jobs, and that now we’ll show them that anyone who behaves like this can have no career in Europe. No one who is disrespectful towards nations can expect or hope for a mandate from the very same Member States which they’ve attacked – and so unjustly. The third important thing is that we must not forget Christian culture. This isn’t about the kind of personal relationship anyone has with God, but about the culture that Europe has produced and built over the course of two thousand years, and which has given rise to a specific European way of life. This encompasses values, it is important and vital to preserve – and this is also a task for politicians. We must protect our communities, the family, the dignity of the individual and the nation, which are all the products of Christian culture. The third important matter is that there must be respect for the independence of Member States in the field of economic policy. One cannot force a uniform economic policy on countries which are extremely different from one another. So we don’t want Brussels bureaucrats to dream up and force on us a particular taxation system, or to tell us what the Hungarian budget should look like. We must defend our economic sovereignty, and prospective leaders of the EU will have to respect that fact. In essence these are the directions that are important for Hungary.
Yes, almost all the leaders of the twenty-eight Member States recognise that the European Union must be reformed – but the important question is how that should happen. For instance, it’s not certain that President Macron believes that it’s important to include the protection of Christian values in this strategic agreement – or for that matter the preservation of economic or national sovereignty.
Well, this is the beauty of leading a country: we must ensure that our national standpoints are satisfied in an environment in which not everyone shares our values. But there it’s my task to find a way of doing just that, for which there are some tricks of the trade. I’ve been in this line of business long enough to be able to find such solutions when we talk about this in Brussels next Thursday and Friday.
Obviously on this issue you’ll be representing Hungary’s interests in the European Council. In the European Parliament Hungary’s interests are represented by Fidesz. What direction will the European People’s Party take? You said that we’ll see what direction the European People’s Party takes, and that will determine whether we stay or leave. How do you see this now?
Because we’re a national party and we’ve created a national government, for us Hungary comes first – naturally in Brussels as well. So we’re not one of those parties which wants to represent in Hungary something that’s been conceived in Brussels. There are parties like that in Hungary: they’re the opposition parties. Let’s be fair to them – we could even assume that they believe that such an approach would be better for Hungary. So there are some who believe that it’s better if the question of how Hungarians want to live their lives is not left to the Hungarian people to come to a conclusion for themselves. Instead, it’s said that we should accept that some very important – indeed fundamental – issues related to our lives should be decided in Brussels, with those decisions from Brussels being implemented here in Hungary. So there are parties in Hungary which talk in this way, and this line of thought can be summed up in the concept of a United States of Europe. We, however, are not such a party: we believe that Hungary has its own interests, and only the Hungarian people are able to say what is and isn’t good for Hungary. We’re happy to cooperate with everyone, we’re happy to be their partners, and we’re happy to share joint objectives – but only if and as long as this serves Hungary’s interests. So over the next five years our MEPs in Brussels will represent Hungary’s interests: this is what they’ve pledged to do, this is why they received their mandates, and this is why we’ve supported them. And knowing them, I have no doubt that they will do just that. The question of where we belong – to which group – is of secondary importance: it’s not irrelevant, but it is secondary. Given that such party groupings are themselves being formed, we mustn’t peg ourselves down in a single place, because then we would be putting ourselves at the mercy of political changes in Europe. We must be fully aware of our own interests, and once we know the Hungarian interests that we will be representing we must occupy a corresponding position in the European arena. Change is part of the order of life; but if a party – say, the European People’s Party – changes and develops in a direction which is unacceptable to us and which doesn’t serve the Hungarian people’s interests, then there’s no place for us there. Of course we shall try to preserve the European People’s Party in its earlier form, as the party of Helmut Kohl, which respected nations, regarded Christianity as important, always respected and took into account the views and interests of Central Europeans, and at the same time produced a European Union of great economic dynamism. So the European People’s Party also had a form which was good and useful for Hungary. If this changes, if it becomes pro-immigration, if it ignores its Christian roots, if it fails to respect nations, if it falls captive to Brussels bureaucrats – because from time to time these Brussels bureaucrats capture and trap political leaders – then we will have no place in such a community. But the important thing is not where we’re affiliated, but what we want: who we are and what we want. This is the basis on which we must make our decisions.
Politico has reported that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sent a letter to the members of the People’s Party’s three-person investigative committee. They are tasked with examining – according to the principles of the European People’s Party – the soundness or otherwise of the basic pillars of democracy in Hungary.
Well, I don’t know what they need to investigate. There’s some advice I could give them on who they should investigate instead of Hungary, but I’d rather not go into that now. What’s happened is that we were attacked from within the European People’s Party by parties from Scandinavia and Luxembourg: parties which belong to the People’s Party, despite having fundamentally liberal values. Those parties wanted to have us expelled, and they launched a very aggressive attack on us. This attack took place at the beginning of the European election campaign, which was in itself very foolish – I’d rather not use a stronger expression for it now. So instead of the European People’s Party being able to concentrate all its force on the campaign, and communicating its messages to the European electorate, for a long time its internal problems remained at the centre of attention – similarly to the Hungarian opposition. In consequence, in the European elections the European People’s Party performed worse than it had done earlier – and also compared with how it could have performed. We asked some authoritative people within the European People’s Party to resolve this conflict: people who would be able to bring this dispute to a resolution. I don’t accept an approach within which they come here like teachers or professors to test the students – or to examine our teeth as if we were horses. So let’s forget about that. Hungary is a country, it is a homeland, and there are people here – European people – who must be respected. So examinations of that kind are out of the question. We shall talk about what the European People’s Party wants, what Fidesz wants – what we want – and whether we can reconcile our goals. So I don’t see Hungary as a country under investigation, and I especially don’t see Fidesz – and definitely not myself – as being under investigation: I see us as being equals in a negotiating process. We’ll see what we can achieve.
Parliament is debating the 2020 budget. The tax package is the first item, the first chapter. What do you think the 2020 budget should achieve in order to maintain the economy’s stability and development at this level? Now everyone has upgraded their projections, because the figures for the first quarter are very positive.
I would rather side with the “cautious adventurers”; after all, we are Hungarians. When things start going well, Hungarians instinctively ask themselves whether this fact will lead to trouble. Of course a great many things in Hungary still need to improve, but on the whole we’ve seen the emergence in Hungary of what I think is a well-founded feeling that things are truly heading in the right direction. This doesn’t mean that things are fine the way they are, but that the country is beginning to perform better and better. The Hungarian language is a strange construction, because “things are going better” means something less than “things are going well”. Despite the fact that “better” is a comparative modifier, people nonetheless have the feeling – without undue excitement – that we seem to have “found a groove”. This doesn’t mean that there’s no need for improvement in a number of departments: we have a lot of silly rules, there are quite a few things we could do better, and we’d also all benefit from the modification of a few habits which we have. But all the same, everyone feels that there are ever more jobs, and while wages never increase as much as we’d like, they’re still pushing upwards. There are good workplaces, and on the whole our economic performance gives cause for optimism or hope. What should we do at a time like this, when things are beginning to look up? We must protect what we’ve already achieved. The economy can grow and take a step forward if we’re able to reduce the risks that are threatening the economy. At a time when things are finally beginning to function well, it is my task, the task of the Economic Minister, of the Finance Minister, of the Government and of policy to protect what we’ve achieved so far from the threats facing us, and also to protect the opportunity for future growth. At a time like this the only question is what it is that is threatening us. At this point in time the threat we’re facing is the slowdown in the growth of Western European economies that are much richer than us. And as we see our trade with them as our top priority, and as we’re all part of the European single market, if things are going less well over there, it’s doubtful whether over here things could go better than over there, or than they did in the past – whether growth can be sustained even in such circumstances. Answering the question of why Western Europe is faring worse today and why growth there is slowing would need another long discussion, for which we probably don’t have time now. But in essence the questions we face are whether it’s possible to pursue an economic policy which – despite the slowdown in growth of countries richer than us – maintains the Hungarian economy’s growth rate, whether there will continue to be jobs in the future, whether there will be ever more good jobs, whether there will be clear and transparent regulations, and whether people will continue to believe that it’s worth working, observing the rules and setting up businesses. We’ve now answered these questions with what we call the Economy Protection Action Plan, which is part of the budget. It contains tax reductions and measures supporting economic growth. Meanwhile – and this is its most important aspect, for which I’m grateful to the Finance Minister – the budget doesn’t ignore the ultimate question of why all this economic policy wizardry is necessary. The Finance Minister accepted the answer to this question: ultimately families must be strengthened. The aim of our budget is to strengthen families, and a precondition for this is the ability to protect the potential for economic growth. The Finance Minister bore these considerations in mind when he drew up the budget. This is the context in which he presented it to members of the Government and how we debated it over several weeks. Then we submitted the result of this debate – as a consensus, an agreement – to Parliament. And I ask Members of Parliament to adopt it – as I hope they will.
A terrible boat accident occurred here in Budapest two and a half weeks ago. The wreck has now been recovered from the Danube. Are you satisfied with the work of the Hungarian and South Korean experts who took part in the recovery effort?
Well, I don’t know whether “satisfied” is the right word. At the end of the day, this was a shocking incident, which can never give rise to satisfaction, because you can never give back the lives which have been lost. This was a heart-rending accident which shocked the entire country, with almost everyone following the news related to it for days on end. I’ve thought a great deal about why this incident shocked the country so much. Obviously the loss of human lives is shocking in itself, but there is also a specific Hungarian viewpoint: the people who died were our guests. The victims chose our country, they came here, they wanted to relax, enjoy new experiences and have a good time here. Perhaps they brought their families here, wanting to show Hungary to them. We are a hospitable people, and this is how we welcomed them. And now here we are as a hospitable, welcoming people, and we see that we have lost them. Now is the time for mourning. We haven’t flown the national flag at half-mast, although that is what we did that at the Prime Minister’s Office. We haven’t made dramatic gestures, but nonetheless the country was deeply affected by this incident. I can say without fear of contradiction that the whole country mourned the victims, and now we all feel deep sympathy for their relatives. We shall talk with our South Korean friends – as they are from a friendly nation – about what sort of lasting memorial they would like to be erected. Partly because of our different cultures and customs, I don’t want to discourteously impose our own mourning traditions upon the South Koreans, but I’d like to talk to them about some sort of memorial, a gesture, a commemoration, some means of showing our respect and engaging in remembrance. This is because these are two friendly nations, some of whose citizens came to Budapest for moments of joy, but whose fate was to lose their lives. So this is something that should perhaps be captured in an appropriate form. But this is a cultural issue, and when the mourning is over we should talk about this with the Koreans, because this will require rationality, while right now the heart is still dominant. Coming back to your question about the recovery effort, in such a situation, in the midst of trouble, there is work to be done. It needs to be organised and attended to: 498 people took part in the recovery of the wreck. The whole country was able to follow this, and we can be proud of the Hungarians and others who took part in this effort. We were able to see the risks they were taking, their courage and perseverance; those who took part in the recovery effort demonstrated simply superb qualities. Divers, police officers and disaster management experts had to work in extremely difficult conditions, and their steadfastness was exemplary. They deserve every respect, and they will receive it from the Hungarian government.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.