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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good morning, Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: This week the Government launched an information campaign about Brussels’ plans. Immediately after the appearance of the first billboards and online communication, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker responded by saying that he doesn’t really know how to react to “the Hungarians’ conspiracy theory”. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. The indignation from Brussels was predictable. Why was this information campaign necessary?

Viktor Orbán: Good morning, everyone. We’re facing an important election. For us Hungarians this is nothing to be surprised about any more: we’re used to a feverish atmosphere before all our election campaigns, given that they usually signal to us that we need to decide on important issues. Now this is the case in Europe. What’s interesting is not the fact that we’ll go to the polls: what’s truly interesting is what we’re deciding on. Now the issue is the future of Europe. The stakes are high, and the debates are fierce; their ferocity matches the stakes. Everyone is watching everyone else, and when any campaign event takes place, there’s a reaction from all the other affected European parties. What I’m aiming for is something that the rules of normal human thinking class as desirable: that before the election we first clarify the facts. I believe that first of all the Government has an obligation here: the Government must help people to see things clearly, to see what the European elections are about. After that the parties can start their campaigns. So now we’re at a stage at which everyone is already thinking in terms of the campaign, but we haven’t yet precisely identified what’s at stake in the election. In such a situation we must run information campaigns in which we need to tell the people what’s at stake in the elections. No one disputes that at the heart of the elections is the issue of immigration. People know less, however, about the detailed questions that together form the problem of immigration – or, as our information campaign says, what Brussels is planning. People have the right to know what Brussels is planning. We’ve arranged this into seven points. I’m familiar with each of these issues specifically, having personally taken part in the debates on them. And now the Hungarian people can also appreciate what migration means, what measures Brussels – with its pro-immigration majority – is seeking to employ. The Brussels bureaucrats – as we call the decision-makers over there – would all like to increase immigration, which as we see it would result in Europe ceasing to belong to Europeans. This information campaign is about their instruments and methods. Whoever wants to know about this and is interested can now access this information and read it. Indeed they can receive further information from us.

Brussels claims that it is continuously working to protect Europe’s borders, and now it has also launched a campaign in response. What’s more, just this week an agreement has been signed on the expansion of Frontex. It’s true that this will be somewhat delayed, because it will only start in 2021; and only those will use it who want to do so – meaning that the arrangement will not be mandatory. So they feel that the statements featured in the Hungarian campaign are not accurate and not true.

Yes, but this is a meaningful debate, so let’s discuss it. As regards border defence, if they genuinely want to defend the borders, then how did migrants get into Europe? Migrants got into Europe because the borders were not defended. Indeed our leaders – the President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker, for instance – continually talk about the need to facilitate legal migration to Europe. So they are working to give people who are now entering Europe illegally the legal opportunity to come here just as they have done up to now, but in a legally regulated and lawful way. We don’t agree with this. And the European Parliament itself has adopted a number of decisions which in the period ahead will promote support for migration. We are talking about enormous sums of money: they want to give many billions of forints to pro-migration NGOs, for them to guide the process of immigration. So we’re spending money specifically to popularise the idea of immigration, and to bring ever more groups of people into Europe. The expansion of Frontex is naturally a sound idea, but one should take account of the numbers involved. They want to defend the borders of the whole of Europe with approximately ten thousand people, while the defence of Hungary’s southern border alone requires some eight thousand armed personnel, with fluctuating degrees of intensity. This is how many people we need to defend this section of border when there is no direct migration pressure, but only a continuous threat. What will happen if tens of thousands of people appear there? Obviously we, too, will have to increase the number of armed units deployed there. So Europe is unable to create a border defence agency capable of protecting the entire length of Europe’s external borders. Therefore Member States, nation states – including Hungary – must continue to accept responsibility for border defence; but this possibility is being denied us. For instance, we’ve asked them to reimburse at least half of our border protection costs, but they’ve turned a deaf ear.

They’ve promised it in the past.

They’ve promised it several times, but they still haven’t given us a penny. They’re very good at making promises, but they don’t deliver on them. So I see that although they talk about defending the borders, in their real-life actions they don’t give the nation states any assistance in border defence. On the contrary, they announce programmes which would arrange for legal and regulated migration and the transportation of migrants into the European Union.

We’ve just received an answer to the question which Tamás Deutsch asked the European Commission in November, regarding the number of migrants who have received anonymous migrant bank cards. The data is astonishing, as in its reply the European Commission puts the number at ninety thousand. And the sums that have actually been withdrawn with these cards probably add up to billions of forints. The problem, however, is that these transactions are not legal, because every bank card must display the holder’s name.

Of course we can discuss the legal aspects of this, but I think that is less important. What is truly important is the underlying intention. If we’re not supporting migration, why are migrants being provided with bank cards topped up with money? We’re giving them money so that they can come into the European Union. We completely disagree with this. We’ve rejected this right from the beginning, but the EU wants to continue this practice. All seven points of the Hungarian government’s information campaign are supported by facts. And they aren’t disputing these. Just take a look: the dispute is not about the truth of one specific issue or another; they’re issuing a blanket denial, saying that none of this is true, and that these are gross misrepresentations with no basis in reality. But when we ask for specific details, when we ask them to say which of our claims are untrue, they suddenly fall silent. At the “Government Info” press conference yesterday we proved very clearly, with factual evidence, that our statements are true. Let me repeat as straightforwardly as possible: they have been exposed. A campaign like this lays bare the plans of the Brussels bureaucrats. And at times like this, those who have been exposed are not happy with the Hungarian government. But we are accountable for our actions to the Hungarian people: our responsibility is towards them, not towards the bureaucrats in Brussels.

The latest news is that the European People’s Party will hold a special parliamentary group meeting focusing on the Hungarian campaign.

Splendid. This the right thing to do; then at least we can discuss the seven points, which we think are genuine, and which they dispute. I think that if there’s a dispute, if there’s a difference of opinion, we should discuss it. Bring it on, we’re ready.

At the beginning of the week Jean-Claude Juncker said that this is a hate campaign. Well, I can’t really find anything in it that is an incitement to hatred. In fact it is a highly revealing reality check. Obviously after five years it’s unpleasant to have to face up to the fact that the policy pursued by the Brussels leadership has failed. And this is not just something voters are imagining: they see the results with their own eyes.

This debate has many layers. One of them is that clearly the European elite is not used to being criticised. But that’s not how things work in a democracy. Nowadays you can’t start a campaign as if we were still in the late 19th century, under Emperor Franz Joseph: you can’t just say that everything is fine and as it should be, and we’re perfectly satisfied with everything, when one of the world’s largest economies has left the European Union, and simultaneously millions of migrants have entered the European Union. Someone has to take responsibility for this. And the truth is that this responsibility lies with the leaders of the European institutions. This cannot be avoided. It was the Soviet era when we weren’t allowed to talk about what the situation was like. The situation is bad. On a number of issues we’ve failed. Naturally Hungary has a share in the fate of the European Union, so its successes and its failures are shared. All we are saying is that we must elect leaders – and this is what the elections are about – who will not repeat the mistakes of the past five years. You cannot sweep mistakes under the carpet; and in any case, no carpet is big enough to cover two such monumental mistakes as ushering out the British and ushering in migrants.

The family protection action programme very rapidly provoked a huge amount of international reaction, and opinions are extremely divided. One side says that finally here is what we need: the Hungarian government is showing long-term thinking, and wants to increase Hungary’s population by encouraging the birth of Hungarian children. The other side, however, rejects the idea out of hand, and even stigmatises it in extremely harsh terms – claiming, for instance, that this reminds them of the Europe of the 1930s. Everyone who’s learnt a little history or lived at the time knows that this is a reference to the Hitler era.

It’s worth talking about proportions, because if you only rely on press reports it seems that opinion is divided. But this doesn’t describe the situation accurately. It is not true that opinion is divided: there is an enormous number of people – not only in Hungary but across the whole of Europe – who live their lives in the traditional way, and are perfectly clear about the fact that children and family are the most important things. I can’t give you an exact percentage, but I believe that on this we form well above ninety per cent of the population. And then there are those close to the media, who are influential, and who think differently from the great majority. I wouldn’t call this division; I would just say that there are people who choose lifestyles that are strange and peculiar from our traditional point of view, and who don’t agree with our proposals. But we haven’t suggested compelling everyone to have children. So the difference is that those who don’t like the family protection action plan won’t make use of it. But they shouldn’t attack us, people who want to live in a traditional world that respects the family. They should keep their opinions to themselves. What we’re doing now is offering people opportunities: those who want them will choose them; those who don’t want them won’t choose them. Why dampen the enthusiasm and trust in the future of those people who want to make use of these opportunities? Those who don’t want them should not make use of them, while those who do should make use of them. So therefore I’m just not prepared to concern myself with negative views, unless they pass the test of diplomatic courtesy. When the leaders of foreign countries say such things, then we must of course take diplomatic action to defend Hungary’s reputation: we must protest, and we must summon them to our embassies. This means that we must do the work that’s needed in such a situation. But let’s not allow the overwhelmingly large majority that we are all part of to be categorised or misrepresented to make it look as though this is a divisive issue. The fact is that before introducing our family support measures we created enormous national unity. In the national consultation we identified the points on which the majority of people agree. Some 1.3 million people were willing to take part in this debate; then we assessed the situation, and found that the majority of people support family protection measures. There is never one hundred per cent national unity on anything, but when the overwhelming majority of people are on the same side, see a cause as important and support it, we have every reason to call that national unity. I think that in Hungary national unity has emerged on supporting families, and we in the Government must work to serve this unity.

Initially Hungary’s opposition parties sharply criticised the plan: they didn’t like it at all. Now, after the second week, we’ve got to the stage at which they’re putting forward supplementary proposals. This shows that they do understand what it’s all about after all.

We can see that in Hungary recently a political culture has developed in which if the Government says anything – for instance, that the weather’s fine, or it’s raining, because it’s irrelevant what we actually say – the opposition immediately takes the opposite stance. It’s impossible to conduct a rational discussion like this. At various times I’ve been in opposition for a total of sixteen years, but if we’d pursued this political strategy, we’d have remained in opposition forever. The people don’t need an opposition which spoils good things for them, but which contributes its own knowledge to good things when good things come along. Therefore I welcome the fact that the opposition has all kinds of proposals, and naturally we’ll consider all of them. Family support is one of those things that is never permanent, and is not cast in stone. Life doesn’t stand still, but is in a constant state of change, new phenomena are emerging all the time which one should respond to, and there are experiences which are worth evaluating. So I welcome these proposals, and indeed I ask the opposition to contribute constructively to the wise resolution of issues that are important for the country.

We’ve just been hearing about growth in the building industry, and the president of the industry association has said that they’re very happy about something that they themselves have suggested in the past: that family housing support will also be available for use on existing properties.

This proposal appears to be simple enough. In the case of support for families, for home creation and housing for families, support related to existing properties was in place, and it is in place today. While this is an excellent path to pursue, and I support it, we must be cautious, because something like this can have the most unpredictable fiscal impact. We can find ourselves in the position of only being able to very approximately estimate how many people will take advantage of it. And there is nothing worse than announcing a programme, and then a year later being forced to admit that it’s costing too much and we cannot continue it. If we did that, we would be letting down a lot of people, dashing their hopes and leaving them feeling that they’ve been excluded from something. So we must be careful. So what are we doing now? What we’re doing now is linking two issues: the commitment to have and raise children, and the problem of villages. What is happening in Hungary is that very many villages with great histories are becoming depopulated. Village communities that have existed for hundreds of years are disappearing – partly because too few children are being born, and partly because people are leaving. We regard the village way of life as a valuable one. I personally know what this is like, because after all I’m a village boy myself. Even though I’ve lived in the city for many years, I know that if you’re born a villager you’ll be a villager your whole life. In Hungary the village way of life is wonderful: it’s like the country’s blood system. And so the system of Hungarian villages must not disappear. What we’re doing now is identifying the villages in Hungary – regrettably there are more than two thousand of them – where the rate of population decline exceeds the national rate: where, despite family support measures, the number of children being born is still lower than the numbers leaving life in Hungary. This is exactly what we want to change. There are villages – more than two thousand – where the situation is even worse than the average. We’re now making it possible for those who want to have children – for families with one, two or three children – to use the available support also for the purchase, extension and refurbishment of existing properties if they want to create a home for themselves. This would be for a family in a village with, say, three children and who would like a bigger home, but do not want to build a new house – although I would also encourage them in that if they want – because they think that would be beyond them. Around the countryside, in villages, there are very many empty properties in good condition and, as a first step, families can use funding of ten million forints to buy such properties. They can then also take out preferential loans. I think that this is a fantastic opportunity for families with three children. And as someone who was born in a village and knows about village life and property prices, I can say that such a sum of money can be a launch pad. This is an offer that should be taken seriously.

There the same amount of money goes further than it does in a city.

One lives differently: in villages one lives differently, budgets differently, the sums are different, and the cost of living is different. Life in a block of flats is different from life in a single-family home. The support I’m talking about also applies to single-family homes. I’d just like to add that we’re trying to move forward step-by-step, and agree alliances with everyone: alliances that Hungary needs. We’ve concluded an agreement with [Mayor of Budapest] István Tarlós on setting up the Council for Metropolitan Public Developments in order to stimulate development of the home city of the people of Budapest. Then there is the Modern Cities Programme, which was developed and is being run by Lajos Kósa, and which provides opportunities for Hungarians in cities. And now we have launched the Hungarian Village Programme, which is being run by our friend, MP Alpár Gyopáros. He has arranged hundreds of meetings, visited hundreds of settlements, and spoken to local mayors. We’ve asked them for their opinions, and so every measure we’ve now adopted in the interest of villages was preceded by lengthy consultation. The same has been true for the issue of families. When I said that I wanted to come to an agreement with Hungarian ladies or women, I asked our Minister of State Kata Novák to work out the details, to put the package together. And that is what she did. The credit for this family protection action plan is mostly due to Minister of State Novák, but politics is unfair in shining the spotlight on me rather than on those who developed this plan and who did the lion’s share of the work. So I’m trying to move forward one agreement at a time, because I believe that we are one community, one nation, and we should come to agreements on important issues, form an alliance, and then implement these joint plans. Now this is also what will happen in villages. I strongly believe that the village is not a thing of the past, but of the future, and I believe that in villages people can live lives of quality. And it is not at all the case that someone who decides to live their life in a small village will find themselves at the end of the world and cut off from the rest of the world. I grew up in a village with a population of fewer than two thousand: that’s where I went to school; it was the world I got to know; it’s where I was socialised, and learnt to read and write; it’s where I acquired the foundations for my view of life. And I’m glad for how all this happened. I’m sure that there are many people in Hungary – hundreds of thousands of young people – who are like I was fifty years ago.

When you introduced the family protection action plan and programme, many people said that it will bankrupt the country, because it’s impossible to generate that much money. How is Mihály Varga budgeting for it?

“Thou measurest with niggard hands. Thou art a great Lord!” The Finance Minister is always extremely cautious, and he’s right to be, because if everyone were carried away with enthusiasm – as we are from time to time – the country would be buried in debt. So we need a calm, level-headed person who is reliable, doesn’t get carried away by negative or positive feelings, but puts his elbows on the table and just says “Let’s look at the figures”. Without such a person in the Government generosity could ruin the lives of the country’s citizens, because the road to Hell is paved with good intentions – and this is also true of politics. So we must always have a responsible, reliable, dependable person. And in my view the fact that the country has just been upgraded by a credit rating agency – and will receive further upgrades in the future – must be seen as incontestable recognition of the Finance Minister’s work. I’ve always held him in high esteem, and have worked together with him for many years. Of course the opposition is always sniping at him. But as Hungary is a part of the world’s economic system, there are also players outside the country, and there one can clearly see that the performance of the past few years – which is of course the joint performance of the people and the Government, with the emphasis on the people, but with the cooperation led by the Finance Minister – has been recognised outside the country’s borders. This is resulting in financially measurable advantages and, slowly but surely, step-by-step, the country is being upgraded. This shows that the Finance Minister – who supports families and has a large family himself – knows exactly what he is doing. What’s more, he’s also a man from the countryside, coming from the town of Karcag – which is not New York, and not the world’s centre of urban life. So he knows exactly what life in the countryside is like, and what villages are like. While he supports all we’re doing and agrees with it, he sets clear limits on our possibilities and tells us what we can and cannot afford. And I always accept his opinion, because the country’s finances must be in order. All our future plans stand or fall on whether or not the country’s finances are in order. In this we need restraint, composure, patience and responsibility. We are glad to have such a finance minister.

These plans have been announced in February. The detailed rules need to be developed, and the ministries are working on that. We’ll find out how many laws have to be amended, and that will be a task for Parliament, won’t it?

The situation now is that the family protection action plan will be on the agenda at the next Cabinet meeting. On Wednesday we had a Cabinet meeting, in which we also touched on it, but as I see it we’ll finalise the rules – including the financial details – at the next Cabinet meeting. And then there will be government decrees, and resulting legislation. We’ll undoubtedly need to amend laws in three or four places. At the last Cabinet meeting we finalised and approved the issue of the village family housing support scheme and the Hungarian Village Programme in general. So on those I don’t think we’ll need any more government decisions, and we can proceed with the implementation decrees. We also dealt with economic policy issues, which will specifically concern some 440 to 450 villages. We’ve not yet spoken about these in public, but we’ve adopted these decisions as well. The detailed regulations are in the process of being drafted. And the Cabinet meeting was also attended by our former minister Zoltán Balog, who’s responsible in the Government for Roma affairs. He tabled a comprehensive plan for the improvement of the situation, covering the full spectrum, from housing to education. The Government also discussed this at length in its Wednesday meeting. There will be a comprehensive Roma inclusion programme, which we we’ll launch in the upcoming period, the details of which will have to be fine-tuned for at least another month or two.

Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.