Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press conference in Brussels after the EU summit
21 October 2016

Good afternoon. Welcome to you all.

This summit of prime ministers had an extremely varied agenda. Yesterday afternoon and early evening was taken up with discussing a flood of problems related to migration. There was a long, extensive debate about Russia –and in this context, about Syria. Today we exchanged views about free trade agreements – in particular, the agreement to be concluded with Canada. Naturally the events of the first day were the most important for us, as they are more relevant. Here there is an old philosophical dispute between the governments of the European Union. There are countries which are traditionally, let’s call them, immigrant countries; and there are countries which do not want to become immigrant countries. And the dispute is about whether every country must become an immigrant country, or whether every Member State has the right to decide for itself about its own constitutional identity, as we put it.

At this point in time, this theoretical debate centres on the proposal which the Commission prepared in relation to a new asylum system. During the summer they tabled this proposal in several stages, but it has now become a coherent concept. In it the Commission makes a number of interesting recommendations which are worth considering, but alongside these they are also proposing the indefensible idea of mandatory resettlement quotas. Before the meetings yesterday and today the question was what we should do about this situation. At all costs we wanted to prevent the approval of the Commission’s proposal on such an asylum system, because it would have been contrary to our best interests. We managed to prevent this, and as a result no decision of any kind was approved which is contrary to Hungary’s best interests and the result of the referendum, or to the intention of the new majority which expressed its will in the referendum. We managed to prevent this. Of course we would have liked to achieve more. I proposed that we remove it from the agenda – not just remove the Commission’s proposal from this meeting’s agenda, but from the agenda of European institutional talks in general. This because it is quite clear that there is no chance of reaching a consensus on one of its most important elements, and there is no point in keeping on the agenda a proposal from the Commission on which the prime ministers will never reach a consensus. I could not achieve this, and although I made this proposal, President Juncker made it clear that he will not withdraw the proposal.

So right now we have reached an impasse, and in the end we were unable to resolve this stalemate during the meeting. As currently Slovakia holds the Presidency of the EU, we agreed to ask the Prime Minister of Slovakia to develop –for the next prime ministers’ summit in December– a proposal which could break this stalemate. There are not many of us, I believe, who would like to be tasked with such a mission, as, in my view, the contradiction between these two mutually exclusive proposals cannot be resolved. But hope springs eternal, and as the Slovak prime minister agreed to develop a proposal – or to try to do so – the Council decided that this is what should happen. Furthermore, the time has also come to adopt a more forceful stance in this debate over “solidarity”, because those in opposition to us favouring a pro-immigration policy have repeatedly slandered our honour by arguing that Hungary is not showing solidarity when it refuses to take in migrants. I announced that from this point onwards Hungary will regard all the money and energy that we are investing in the protection of the borders to be part of that solidarity. This should be included in solidarity. We are not asking for any decision on this, but from now on Hungarian solidarity in the refugee crisis will be manifested in protecting our borders. The basic reality of this is that in doing so we are not only acting in the interest of Hungary, we are not only protecting Hungary interests, but also the interests of everyone behind us and our borders – in other words, the entire European Union. We therefore demand that this be recognised as a manifestation of solidarity, especially as there are Member States which have a duty to protect their state borders, but are not doing so. They are not showing solidarity with the other Member States of the European Union, but we are. And so we expect to hear no more insulting claims that Hungary lacks solidarity.

I made another proposal, which was likewise rejected. We had already spoken about this, but we have not yet acted to implement it. This is the concept of setting up refugee camps in which migrants – immigrants and refugees – are gathered together and offered safety outside the territory of the EU. We spoke about this, but we have not adopted a decision on this. We continue to maintain that there is a need for level-headed and dispassionate legal procedures in order to carefully separate migrants –economic immigrants – from true refugees. The conditions for these procedures are not currently available within the territory of the EU, as people are arriving here illegally, and it is extremely difficult to conduct level-headed and dispassionate procedures in relation to people arriving here illegally. So it would be a welcome solution for everyone if we set up these refugee camps – hot spots as they say here – outside EU territory, and if the legal procedures separating economic immigrants from true refugees were conducted there. If that were to happen we would not have the situation that Germany, for instance, is struggling with today, where there are hundreds of thousands of people on its territory who have not been granted asylum and who must therefore leave the territory of the European Union. Rather than gathering them together – after they have been here for several months or years – and removing them from the territory of the European Union by force, it would be much more humane not to let them enter in the first place. In my view, the humane solution is to create these hot spots outside the territory of the EU. This is what I proposed, but it was rejected. The continuing hope of the majority of EU states is that, having managed to conclude – or being about to conclude – agreements with five countries in Africa, we shall also manage to come to agreements with others. Therefore their hope is that we ourselves shall not be required to stop the flow of illegal immigrants at our state borders, but that the countries of departure will do that job for us – as Turkey is doing right now. This would mean that Niger, Nigeria or Mali – to mention only a few of our negotiating partners – would do the same, and therefore there would be no need for centres where economic migrants would be separated from refugees. I think that this is a vain hope, but hope springs eternal, and so I think that we should give Foreign Affairs Commissioner Mogherini a chance to try to realise this idea.

There was another tiny Hungarian domestic political question here, and I only mentioned it so as not to leave any European issue on the agenda unclarified. There is a Hungarian party which claims that we accepted the mandatory resettlement quotas earlier, and they refer to a letter received from Brussels. I took Mr. Tusk’s cabinet to task for sending such a letter to Hungary, but in reply they said that in fact they never sent the letter in question. They have never told anyone that the Hungarian prime minister did not oppose the forced resettlement of migrants. They received formal legal questions, they gave formal legal answers, and there is not a single word in those about what the Hungarian prime minister said or did not say, or what position he represented. But as this situation has emerged, it was necessary to introduce an innovation, and in order to clarify this issue beyond question we insisted – together with the Slovaks– that the Hungarian position should be noted in the footnotes of the conclusions – in the closing document.

In connection with another item on the agenda, together with other members of the V4 we strongly recommended that Ukraine should be granted visa-free travel as soon as possible. The legal procedures have been completed, and Ukraine meets all the conditions. So there is no legal obstacle of any kind to recognising the right of Ukrainians to enter the territory of the EU without visas. We have asked the Commission not to neglect this issue any longer, and for us to grant visa-free travel to Ukrainians.

Then the dilemma, the problem arose over what should happen to the sanctions against Russia– you may have already written about this in today’s papers. There was a brief moment – a few weeks – when it seemed that there was a majority within the EU in favour of gradually lifting the sanctions against Russia. Hungary would have welcomed this, given that the sanctions do more harm to Hungary than to the Russians. However, the climate has changed, due to the situation which has developed in Syria: the bombing and the military operations. So in the end the content of this agenda item was not about the possibility of easing sanctions against the Russians, or lifting them altogether. Increasingly the question emerged– and there were proposals to this effect – that, due to the military operations and events in Syria, we should consider the possibility of further sanctions against Russia. In the end, this combative attitude subsided, and everyone followed the path of common sense: we agreed to return to this issue in December. But we made it clear that actions in violation of international law – the law regulating warfare, the rules that regulate military action – must not go unpunished anywhere in the world, including in Syria. This is something which everyone should consider when they contemplate military action, and this applies to everyone: individuals and entities alike. The Council did not go beyond this, but there was perceptible anxiety and humanitarian concern over what will happen to the people who are trapped in Aleppo, where there is intensive bombing. And we agreed that in a situation like this the European Union must not remain silent, and must stand up for the civilians, for the innocent victims and potential victims; and we must do everything we can to curb or prevent military operations which could claim civilian lives. And that’s that. I think that I have effectively covered everything on that.

There was a lengthy debate on the free trade agreement with Canada, on which no agreement was reached. The position of the Walloons is not yet entirely clear. Belgium is divided into regions, and these regions – or member states as we might call them – have their own parliaments, their own decision-making powers, which are extremely strong. At this point in time the Government of Wallonia, the Parliament of Wallonia, does not identify with the free trade agreement to be concluded with Canada, and is blocking its ratification. We shall see what this will result in. There was a long and heated debate about this, which then led us on to issues of international trade. We are going to grant China the status of “market economy”. This will take place within the foreseeable future, and it must lead us to review the measures which we can lawfully employ within the context of free trade to protect our market. We even approved a document stating that the European Union should modernise these market protection measures – particularly when it concludes free trade agreements with countries possessing power and economic potential which is similar to in scale to ours. A key issue in economic cooperation with them is the level of market protection measures allowed in international law. In a long debate we reviewed these, and approved a variety of proposals. These are not contrary to Hungary’s best interests – in fact, they promote our interests, in my view. Hungary is an extremely open, export-oriented country. At the same time, Hungary also needs internationally practised forms of market protection. Consequently, the European Union adopted a position coinciding with the best interests of the Hungarian national economy.

Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions, I am at your disposal.