Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press conference after the meeting of the European Council
23 June 2017, Brussels

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m trying to decide on a good starting point, because so many things have happened, and unless we put them in logical order, it’ll all end up like a lopsided haystack. Perhaps we should begin by saying that, this time too, we adopted conclusions. You’ll receive them, and you’ll be able to read them, so I’ll leave my explanation of these to the end. Instead we should start by saying a few words about the purpose of this summit of heads of government. The prime ministers chose a very realistic starting point, as the French elections have just taken place and the German election is ahead of us, and this restricts the targets that we can set ourselves. We have managed to achieve the goals we set, one of which was ambitious: we can be confident in saying that if a European army eventually comes into being, this summit will appear in the history books as its moment of conception. After all, we agreed that European defence should be strengthened, the essential rationale being Europe’s need to be able to support its economic and political strength with military strength. In the past we were reluctant to define European security policy goals in such clear terms. Now, however, there was full agreement on this. There was some debate about whether everyone should be involved in this arrangement, or if there should only be strengthened cooperation, but on the whole this doesn’t really matter, because – if I’ve read the situation correctly – there was full agreement that everyone wants to take part in a European system of defence. To this end we immediately set up a financial fund to encourage European military spending. And we also confirmed that we’re all interested in creating full harmony and rationality in military procurement. I don’t want to bore you with figures, but if you add up how much European Union countries spend every year on their defence industries and militaries, I think it’s more than three times the corresponding annual amount for Russia. Of course it doesn’t match spending by the United States, but we’re talking about a spectacular, enormous sum. If we were to spend and use it in a coordinated way, rather than simply operating national armies, if we were to build a common European defence capability – and eventually a European army – we would end up with more security for our money than we have today. I believe that this is the most important result of today’s meeting. For us it was important that there was mention of the need for a state of balance – geographical balance – in terms of access to funds and developments, as it is clear that there are significant differences in the state of development of our defence industries. The capability and performance of our own defence industry can best be described as moderate. For a long time this industry was neglected; there was some rationale to this, as Hungary was compelled to concentrate its energy on putting its finances in order, and then launch the economy on a path of growth. We are now working on raising the economy to a growth range of between three and five per cent, and naturally military spending could only come after all these things had been achieved. So in Hungary, too, the national security cabinet has only just now adopted decisions constituting the first steps towards creating an independent Hungarian arms industry. Clearly a defence industry such as this, in its present state, cannot compete with the defence industries of larger Western countries with happier histories, and this is why we need geographical balance in terms of access to funds if we want to avoid Central Europe being left out of this entirely.

Another topic that I should mention here was internal security and the fight against terrorism. This is a wide topic, you know this well, and you can read about it in the document being released. In this respect it is significant that we pointed out that the internet industry also bears some responsibility, and we expect it to develop technologies which are timely and automatic in exposing terrorist movements which organise on the World Wide Web. We had already adopted decisions like this in the past, calling upon this industry to play its part in the effort; but not everyone – in fact only a minority – took part in the effort, and therefore in Europe the effectiveness of this system is limited. We’ll now encourage even the smaller service providers to enter this cooperation, and to develop their own technologies to combat terrorist activities online.

The third big topic was the issue of climate, and determination of how the European Union should respond to the American announcement – which shocked many of us – that it will withdraw from the Paris agreement, or won’t implement it. In this area the text is rather lean: we adopted a resolution saying that we continue to remain committed to the goals we set earlier. There was also a proposal in its preparatory phase – and it was quite a robust one – that we should commit to the contribution previously agreed on by the Americans but now abandoned by them. Luckily common sense prevailed, and we didn’t make any new undertakings, but we did confirm our existing undertakings.

We heard the President of the European Central Bank, and President Draghi told us how the European Central Bank sees the state of the European economy. I can say that the Central European countries had every reason to show modest pride during discussion of this agenda item, as it seems that the European economy will be able to reach a growth rate of two per cent this year, largely thanks to the outstanding growth of the Central European countries. Estimates now stand at around 1.8–1.9 per cent, but according to the President this may rise to 2 per cent. The growth rates expected in the Central European region this year are around four to five per cent, and so we Central Europeans have every reason to say that we are making a significant contribution to the European Union’s expected economic success this year.

In the context of the economy, we can’t avoid the issue of protectionism. Such crude terms aren’t used over here: this is a very offensive term, and here you have to use the term “fragmentation”, which means that areas which were previously freely accessible for competition suddenly start fragmenting as a result of all sorts of regulations. Starting with the economy, Schengen is one of these. We have a Schengen system, but its fragmentation has begun, as a number of countries in the heart of the Schengen Area reinstated border controls many long months ago. And so we have a Schengen system, and yet we don’t have one. The situation is similar in relation to the freedom of movement of workers; and the problem of “posted workers” – one legal form for the employment of Central European people in the West – also always finds its way onto the agenda. This is linked to the concept of fragmentation: to the question of whether we’re now moving back from the era of free trade – and the free movement of goods, capital, services and workers – towards an era of protectionism. There was a long debate about this issue, and if you look at the relevant decision or conclusion you’ll be able to read an interesting text, because you’ll find that in the EU there is growing support for some kind of European monitoring, observation, some kind of record-keeping and forecasting related to investment coming from outside. So the European Council has adopted a defensive position against the formerly unlimited free flow of capital, against investment coming from third countries. While the Member States don’t want to surrender the means of this defence entirely to the European Commission, in this conclusion we’ve called upon the Commission in the clearest possible terms to make proposals and to also develop at a European level a monitoring system for external investment. You may remember that there are an increasing number of debates about the fact that individual Member States are seeking to prevent, slow down and change investment coming from outside the EU on different grounds – with reference, say, to national security criteria. You can find signs of this process in this conclusion. To some extent this also relates to the fact that at the beginning of this week – perhaps on Monday – the prime ministers of the Benelux states and the V4 met and also discussed this issue. We discussed at length the legal arrangement, called “posting”, for the employment of Central European nationals in the West. The standpoints on this are not yet close, but the distance between them is not an unbridgeable one, and so on Monday we agreed with the leaders of the Benelux countries that we’ll have further meetings on the matter. Today a new player joined this series of meetings, as the V4 received the President of the Republic of France, and we likewise discussed this matter with him.

This was a very interesting and promising meeting and, as far as I can see, if our specialist advisers work hard over the next few months, we may even come to an agreement. At this point in time I wouldn’t rule this out.

This morning’s main topic was migration. This ties in with another meeting, my meeting yesterday with Mr. Kurz, the new President of the Austrian People’s Party, in which we discussed the issue of migration in depth. We were right to do so, as today this was the main topic. On the whole, the issue of migration continued to dominate the entire summit. We can clearly see that we made progress, as we managed to focus on the issues on which we agree. Previously the migration-related agenda items became an excuse to lock antlers, with everyone immediately pulling out their chief weapon: their argument for disagreement. So in the past compromise or agreement has been reached on very few aspects of this issue, despite the fact that on those aspects there was no fundamental disagreement. Today we reversed this: we didn’t discuss the questions which we knew we wouldn’t agree on. One of those intractable questions is what we should do with migrants who are already here: migrants who were let in – for no good reason, in my view. There are countries which see this as a technical matter expressing solidarity, and that they should be distributed somehow: they would like someone to relieve them of these migrants, whom they let into their own countries. And there is another group of countries – including Hungary – which does not see this as a technical matter expressing solidarity, but as an issue of identity. And we say that it’s inconceivable that anyone other than we ourselves should have the authority to determine the identities of our countries. The people we live together with constitute the very identity of the country, and we cannot allow anyone else to have a say in this. We won’t conceal the fact that we have no intention whatsoever of changing our identity. We understand that in a number of countries there has already been change, and some Member States have a different identity from that of us Central Europeans – including Hungary. But this is no reason for us to follow their example. We have the right to act otherwise. We are ready to help potential future refugees in places where there is trouble. We build fences and protect the heartlands of the European Union. We are prepared to do a great many things, but not to change our identity. Well, today we put these questions aside, because otherwise we would have got to where we normally do. Instead of this, today we concentrated on the external dimensions, or what we call the external aspects of migration. We agreed that the external borders must be protected. We also agreed that illegal immigration must be stopped, and we likewise agreed that we must cooperate with countries of origin and transit.

In this context we discussed Libya at length. The Hungarian position was that the joint statement made earlier by the Italian and German interior ministers is correct. I think no one other than us had previously expressed open support for this concept. Perhaps the position of the French president was the closest to ours. The German and Italian interior ministers believe that we should go down to Libya. Naturally, it’s important to train, pay for and support the setting up of Libyan border guard forces, but they believe – and I agree with them – that we’ll end up having to do most of this work ourselves anyway. If we don’t want people from Libya to set out for Europe, we have to act accordingly – either on Libya’s northern or southern borders. Hungary announced that it supports the Italian-German initiative for us to set up check-points and introduce a monitoring system on Libya’s southern borders. Hungary is prepared to contribute to this with personnel or funding.

And finally we also agreed that we’ll try to set up a joint European Union list of safe third countries. So far we’ve failed to do this, and this was also the case today, but we did declare unanimously that we would very much like to be able to achieve this feat. And we gave ourselves time to compile this list. I believe that the account given to us by the Italian prime minister is also important: he said that on the Italian coast NGOs and people smugglers are jointly organising the transport of illegal entrants to the territory of Europe. As far as I know, the Chief Prosecutor is issuing daily statements on this. The Italian prime minister asked for help. We can’t be proud of the fact that, for instance, the funds needed to train Libyan border guards are still only partially available. The Prime Minister asked for more determination, solidarity and support, which we promised to deliver.

We agreed to hold an extraordinary summit on digitalisation in Tallinn on 29 September. We were given a technical document analysing the state of the European Union’s competitiveness with the rest of the world in terms of digitalisation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can sum up today’s proceedings in these few sentences. Comparing this summit of heads of government – this meeting of the European Council – with previous ones, I can say that we haven’t seen such a cooperative and pragmatic approach at a council meeting for a long time. At all events this is promising. The French president didn’t hide the fact that in the period ahead he’d like the effectiveness of the EU to increase, and that he’ll do everything in his power to ensure this. Clearly the logic of politics means that the timing of such efforts is determined by the date of the German election, but that will take place in September. And as I pointed out in my latest speech in Parliament, in all probability after September we can expect not only intensive thinking, but also planning – and even to a certain degree implementation – related to a comprehensive, great reform era in the history of the European Union. We’ll find ourselves on the threshold of this, and Hungarian public opinion should prepare for these debates intellectually – and perhaps also politically. Everything I’ve seen today has confirmed my view on this.

Thank you for your attention.