Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the conference of the parliamentary speakers of Southeast European countries and the V4
24 September 2021, Budapest

Esteemed Speaker, Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Guests,

I’d like to thank the Esteemed Speaker for inviting me to this meeting. It’s important that you’re here in Budapest. Budapest is your city, too. If you take a walk, and I hope you will have the opportunity, you will see many cultural monuments that you created here in Budapest. One of Budapest’s most important squares is called Bosnian Square. If you want to have a coffee somewhere, you will find a Serbian cafe, you will find Serbian churches, you will find the Albanians living and working together with us, especially in the Hungarian catering industry. Anyway, I would like you to feel not only as visitors or guests, but to see Budapest as a city which you yourselves have always had something to do with, that you yourself built in part, and that is therefore your city also now. Budapest has one other pleasant side which has developed in the past few years; namely that people say what they think. This is very dangerous; it’s very dangerous also in general, but in politics it is especially so. Hungarian people have a tendency for this, but it’s not only about that, it’s not only about that anthropological feature of the Hungarian people. It’s also about the fact that the whole of Europe, the whole of Western civilisation is in a situation where we are compelled to face momentous questions not previously known, and unless we talk straight and with clarity, we will delude ourselves, and during times requiring difficult decisions, nothing can be as dangerous an enemy as delusion, especially if we bring it upon ourselves. So allow me to be straight and honest also in my short address today.

In the Hungarian language, it’s a phrase that all secondary school students know that the Balkans are the gate of Europe. A gate is part of a house. This means that the Balkans are an integral part of Europe, they belong to us also culturally, and as every gate, the Balkans, too, are a very important place. Observing things from here, from Hungary, everyone likewise learns in secondary school that if any power, any power greater than us starts expanding from the East, the Southeast, the South towards the interior of Europe, towards the West for whatever reason, then the road always leads through the Balkans. This is not a matter of choice, this is a geopolitical feature. Therefore, those who live in the interior of Europe – and today we ordinarily call them the European Union, and this is especially true of the founder states of the European Union – think of the Balkans in one of two ways. And the way these countries perceive the Balkans also determines your perspective of Europe.

One option is that they perceive the Balkans as a buffer zone with which Western Europeans protect their own peaceful, safe, prosperous and comfortable lives. If there is a conflict coming from the South or the East, it shouldn’t reach Vienna, it shouldn’t reach Berlin, it shouldn’t reach France; it’s best to take care of these conflicts somewhere in the Balkans. This is how it was for many hundreds of years; we Hungarians, too, would have a thing or two to say about this as for many hundreds of years we ourselves were treated as a buffer zone. When we needed help, they didn’t come, it was better for everyone if major conflicts, the armed political conflicts of religions, civilisations and powers were fought out in the territories of the Balkans and Hungary, rather than those conflicts slipping to Western Europe. It was only an extra profit of this policy that when the countries that were made a buffer zone had to be liberated and that was not possible without external help, those territories could be freely distributed as loot. This is how we ended up, too. As we were unable to do drive the Turks out of Hungary on our own, we needed the assistance of Western European forces who then distributed Hungary among themselves and the families of the then elite as loot. So we know this fate only too well. We have finally fought our way out of this situation, we are already in the European Union, and so it’s difficult to turn us into a buffer zone, but you’re still out there as easy prey.

So thinking on a horizon of a few decades, not just a year or two, the question is whether the European Union will continue to treat the Balkans as a buffer zone, or will change its old way of thinking that is so very disadvantageous and painful for the peoples living here, and will opt for another strategy. There is another strategy, it’s called integration. Rather than turning the Balkans into a buffer zone, the Balkans should be integrated into the European Union. If we look at it from this angle, we have to say that recently Western Europe has given the Balkans nothing, but has taken much away from them, mostly in the form of well-educated, highly qualified experts and workforce. What we have now is not an integration policy, but something with which they’re trying to replace an integration policy. The truth is that the commissioner responsible for enlargement is doing his best in vain; integration, the actual integration of the Balkans requires political, strategic decisions which are adopted not by commissioners, not even by the Commission, but by the Council that is comprised of the heads of state and government of European countries. Until they decide to integrate the Balkans, we will continue to witness a drawn-out process which is becoming lost in details; a process which focuses on regulatory problems instead of strategic issues; a process which is referred to as talks, but which is in fact intended as a stalling tactic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Battle of Kosovo took place in 1389. It had an unfortunate outcome for Europe, we lost it. You should remember what happened there: in the Battle of Kosovo, the Serbs bore the brunt of the fighting, and in addition to valiant soldiers from the Balkans, fighters from the West only came from Hungary and Poland. Though Christian Europe was at stake in the battle, other than the Hungarians and the Polish, Western soldiers could not be found. Though amidst peaceful circumstances, today, too, the situation is the same. If you ask whom you can count on in the European integration of the Balkans, I have to say that you can count on the same people as in the Battle of Kosovo.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Naturally, as in all royal courts, also at the Brussels headquarters of the EU polite speech is required. No one from Brussels will speak to you quite as candidly as I do here in Budapest. Over there, they will talk about problems related to the rule of law, over there they will speak about progress, over there they will talk about chapters, over there they will talk about adaptation, they will be concerned for you that regrettably their absorption capacity is limited, and will say similar elegant things as, at the end of the day, in the French court vulgar speech is not allowed. But the truth is that all the fine words serve no other purpose than to conceal the fact that we here in Budapest had better state loud and clear, the fact that today there is no will among Western European heads of state and government, there is no will in their circles for any further enlargement. We regard this as a serious strategic error. I speak not only on my own behalf when I talk about supporting enlargement; the whole of Central Europe, the Polish, the Czechs, the Slovaks have all continuously and persistently supported the enlargement of the European Union and the European integration of the Balkans.

We know full well that we who are already inside the European Union – that is, the European Union itself – need the Balkans’ EU membership more than the countries of the Balkans themselves do. I know that many countries believe that membership of the European Union has once-in-a-lifetime financial opportunities to offer. I’d like to sober you up. Membership of the European Union does not result in any kind of monetary gifts. If anyone tells you otherwise, you shouldn’t believe them. I’d like to draw everyone’s attention – I could say, it should be compulsory reading for Central European politicians – to the report that the Polish Parliament prepared a few days ago. Poland is a big country, bigger than any Balkans country, with a population of 38 to 40 million. Also economically, it’s an enormous and strong country, stronger than we are, stronger than any of us here in this room. And in the Polish Sejm’s report – which looked into the development of financial transfers, including EU grants, profits and developments, the balance of Poland’s EU membership since its accession in 2004 – you will find a negative number. You will find a staggering negative number. If therefore anyone in the Balkans believes that accession will result in free development funds, they’re wrong. Despite this, I’m convinced that joining the EU is in the best national interests of the Balkans countries as it is in Hungary’s best interests to remain a member of the European Union. But not because of the money. These reports are only spread by Westerners who have a colonialist approach and believe that with money anything can be taken care of; they believe that the world consists of two types of people: those who give, that’s them, and those who take, that’s us, and for that we should be grateful. However, this is a misconstruction of the actual balance of power because the situation is that for Hungary the most important argument for EU membership is – and you’re invited to consider this – that it gives access to markets. There is no free money, there are markets on which you can sell the products you make at home. And let’s be honest, if Hungary – which is by Balkans standards a bigger country, a country of ten million – didn’t have access to the markets of the European Union, if we were unable to sell our products there, then the living standards of the Hungarian people would be radically lower than they are today. But not because we receive money from the European Union, but because we are given a chance to be better than they are. To make products that are of superior quality, cheaper, more competitive, and then they’re prepared to allow those products into their own markets. Think about it: if there was no European Union, European trade would be regulated by agreements between nation states, the same as it was during the period before the European Union. And countries similar in size to us would never be able to reach bilateral agreements which would provide such market entry opportunities for their own goods as we have now when the European economy is coordinated in the EU. Therefore, despite all legitimate criticisms, despite all our evident grievances, despite all impolite and even unlawful actions evidently taken against us, we have a vested interest in the European Union surviving and being strong. And in giving us a chance – if we work hard, if we’re smart, if we’re competitive – to sell our products, our knowledge, our services, and to thereby raise our own peoples’, our own citizens’ living standards. This is the meaning of the European Union.

This is why the large states of the European Union are less than enthusiastic about enlargement because this means that they, too, must compete. But let’s hope that the time will come in Europe – there will be all sorts of elections in the coming few months, so let’s not rule out that the time will come when instead of short-term considerations driven by daily political survival and the winning of the next elections, there will be at least medium-term thinking and planning for at least a decade ahead – when Europe will have leaders who understand that the integration of the Balkans is inevitable also for the interior core of Europe living in the greatest comfort and prosperity. The issue of security is evident. The interior of Europe will not be safe until the Balkans are integrated. But there is more at stake: Western Europeans will not be able to maintain their living standards without integrating the Balkans.

Let’s take a look at the situation of Central Europe as evidence. Today the situation is that if we Central Europeans weren’t members of the European Union, European, Western European living standards would be much lower than they are at present. The combined trade of the four Visegrád countries with Germany is double the volume of German-French trade. The combined trade of the four Visegrád countries is triple the volume of German-Italian trade. It’s no exaggeration to say that today the German economy would crumble without Central Europe. Without Central Europe, without the Visegrád Four there is no German economy, there are no high living standards. There would be no higher German living standards than what we have here in Central Europe, and this is also true further inwards, of North Italy, and will be increasingly true of France, too. This clearly shows that if the predecessors of the incumbent Western leaders hadn’t opted for enlargement at the time, then today the economy of the European Union would be much weaker. Growth, extra performance all come from Central Europe. All projections indicate that in the coming many years economic growth in the Central European region will be much higher — , often double — the growth of the economies of Western Europe. This is the reality, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Between 2021 and 2028 we have the latest budget of the European Union which we created under the present balance of power. In 2028, several of the Visegrád countries will be net contributors. The Czechs are already close to this. And observing the growth of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, and seeing the stagnation in Western Europe, this state of affairs will set in by the second half of the decade. This will change the political balance of power, too, within the European Union. This is good news for you. The economic weight, influence, political strength of pro-enlargement countries will increase. I’m convinced that what happened to us would also happen to you if you were to join the European Union. Meaning that not only would you be given an opportunity for growth through the markets, but you would become the next big economic engine of the European Union. I know that when you look at your own numbers and recall the troubles that you’re struggling with at home, what I’m saying sounds hard to believe, but you would be the next economic engine of the European Union. Believe me, we looked at those who told us the same at the beginning of the 2000s with the same bewilderment. No one believed at the time that fifteen years later the V4 would become the economic engine of the European Union. This is reality today. The Balkans will be the next great opportunity for the European Union. If the peoples of the Balkans are given a chance, then just as the Visegrád countries did, within a few years they will pick up the pace, will reinforce their economies, and real growth, real economic growth will come to the European Union from the Balkans. So when I say that the EU has a greater interest in the Balkans’ EU membership than the peoples of the Balkans themselves, then I don’t just mean security, but also the economic interests of the West. If we’re unable to connect the life force and aspirations of the Balkans, the desire of the people living there to find advancement, the impetus that is the engine of all economic growth, if we’re unable to connect this to the European economy, then we surrender an enormous opportunity. Therefore, I’m encouraging you to stand up for your demand for European Union membership with maximum self-confidence and self-esteem.

It’s good news that the cooperation of the Hungarian economy with the Balkans countries is promising. After 2015, the volume of Hungary’s trade with the countries of the Balkans increased significantly. Trade relations are developing dynamically. In 2020, direct Hungarian capital investments in the Western Balkans region increased by 16 per cent, significantly surpassing the data of the previous year despite the fact that we’re talking about the year of the pandemic, and will slowly reach 2 billion euros. In the first half of 2021, the volume of trade between Hungary and the Balkans countries increased by between 10 and 40 per cent each compared with the previous year’s corresponding period; depending on the country we’re talking about.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is good news for us, but I’m convinced that it’s good news for you, too. The mentality of the Central Europeans, the V4 and Hungarians is different from that of Western Europeans as regards economic relations with you. Western Europeans are far away, and so in actual fact they only want to skim off the top of the economies of the Balkans, to gather profit-making opportunities, to acquire your intelligent and highly trained workers. This is understandable, this is in their best interests, this is how they act. Central Europe has to offer more than that as the V4 looks upon the Balkans not only as a simple economic target, but as an enormous opportunity with which we can enlarge Central Europe. We don’t know precisely what will happen in the coming years, but we do know that the Western European economy will grow at a slower pace than the Central European, and so we have a vested interest in creating a big Central European economic area. We are four now, this is the V4. If you see the figures, you will understand why we cooperate. We have a vested interest in enlarging this Central European economic region towards the South. For the Central Europeans, the Balkans are not a place of profit, but a strategic opportunity which not only enhances our security, but allows us to enlarge the entire European Union’s most dynamically growing region. Therefore, we have an interest not only in making profits – though this is the point of all economic investments – but we have an interest in making profits whilst ensuring that the countries of the Balkans develop as swiftly as possible. We want railways. We want roads, we want bridges, we want to connect our energy systems together. We want these countries to not only receive foreign investors, but to produce, to make competitive goods and then to come to us, to the countries of the V4 also as investors. In other words, what Central Europe offers the Balkans region is medium- and long-term strategic cooperation. Let’s build – the V4 and the countries of the Balkans together – the entire European continent’s most dominant economic region. We have a chance to do that. And believe me, the moment will come when – similar to the V4 countries, when the European economy is no longer able to function without us – neither will the European economy be able to function without the countries of the Balkans. For this, you will have to join the EU, you will have to integrate via the Central European region, and you will have to make yourselves indispensable for the German, Italian and French economies as well. This is a realistic opportunity. It is not my duty to think about the opportunities of the Balkans peoples, this is your responsibility. I think about the opportunities of the Hungarian people, but I’m sure that this is the most favourable context both for the Hungarians and the peoples living in the Balkans if you want to plan a period of ten to fifteen years for yourselves which you will be able to describe to your own citizens as a success story.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the peoples of the Balkans the road to the European Union leads through Central Europe. I’d like to confirm – thanking you for your attention one more time – that you can count on Hungary and Central Europe in general, but in particular as regards the enlargement of the European Union.

I wish you all the very best.