Krzysztof Ziemiec: Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. Good evening, Prime Minister. I’d like to thank you for accepting our invitation to appear and speak with us on one of Poland’s most important news programmes.
Thank you for coming to Budapest, I’m pleased to be here.
Prime Minister, many Polish people are worried about the ongoing dispute between the European Commission and Poland’s government. They are anxious about what this is leading to and about the decisions that will be made. If the European Council brings this matter to a vote, what position would the Government of Hungary take?
Hungary stands by Poland. This procedure against Poland has no factual basis and the way it’s being conducted is also unfair. We feel that Poland is being treated unjustly, and the sense of common destiny that we feel in Central and Eastern Europe compels us to stand up for each other in times like these. So Poland can count on Hungary.
Is that really all? Opposition parties in Poland claim that Hungarians will often do whatever is in their own interests. In other words, will Hungary not change its position?
Every country will make announcements and act as its own interests dictate. I believe this is how it should be. But this dispute is not only about Poland, and not only about the Polish-Hungarian friendship, but also about the collective interest of all countries in Central Europe. What is being done to Poland today may be done to another country tomorrow; so when we stand up for Poland it is not only our friendship with Poland that tells us that we’re doing the right thing, but also our own national interest.
Prime Minister, how do you see this dispute between the European Commission and Poland? How important is it? To what extent is it about the rule of law – or can it be viewed as part of a much wider dispute between Brussels and Poland or Hungary?
I believe there’s a very important underlying fact here. These past few years have proved that Central and Eastern Europe has a significant role to play in European politics. Central European countries are now coordinating their actions, and they have the ability to promote their agenda and interests; and the largest player, the most prominent player – the flagship of this cooperation in Central Europe – is Poland. And Western Europe has to accept the fact that now all of Central Europe has grown stronger: all of the Visegrád Four countries – individually and collectively – have proved to be great economic success stories, and their political influence in Europe has also grown. We can therefore rightly expect to have at least as much say in common European affairs as is proportionate to our contribution to European growth. The V4, and within it Poland, also have a stabilising role in Europe. If it weren’t for Poland and the V4 countries, if it weren’t for our growth, Europe’s economy as a whole would be much weaker. And now we expect others to respect us and recognise our work, and we expect them to refrain from attacking us for political reasons. Poland has every right to be treated with such respect. So I think there’s a dilemma behind this whole issue: the question of how Western Europe – which has always considered itself to be far more developed than Central Europe – will handle this new reality, in which the focus of the European Union has moved from the West to the East. In the past, European politics mainly hinged on cooperation between Germany and France, but today we also have cooperation between Germany and the V4. Now the EU has at least two axes. This is a new state of affairs. This is something that Western Europe will need to get used to; and I believe that the reason behind the latest procedure against Poland is that Western Europe has been unable to come to terms with this new situation. But this conflict will help make this clear, because we shall all stand up for Poland; and this will make Western European countries realise that no Member State should be treated in such a way.
That is exactly what Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on this show just three days ago, when he made no secret of the fact that his visit to Budapest today was conceived as the first step in a diplomatic offensive. He said that he is seeking dialogue with Brussels and the European Commission, and that dialogue is his highest priority. Do you believe dialogue is enough? Given your successful navigation of European institutions over the past few years, what do you suggest the Polish government should do?
Yes, I do see a chance. This is because Poland is an influential country and your prime minister commands respect. Poland’s flourishing economy is fuelled by an economic policy, and he is the person responsible for that policy. This means that Poland’s economic success is your prime minister’s success, and this gives him sufficient respect and strength to assist him in the talks. So yes, I believe dialogue will yield results: I’m quite sure about that.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Now we’ll continue this conversation on our channel TVP Info. Prime Minister, are you sure, though, that dialogue will be enough? Some people say that dialogue will not be the deciding factor, the reason being that the European Commission has specific objections over the rule of law in Poland. At the same time, the Government’s supporters say that the Commission will not listen to what the Polish government has to say, because the essence of the dispute is not the rule of law, but rather Europe’s future and issues that affect the prevailing worldview. Which opinion do you think is closer to reality?
I believe dialogue itself always means that there is a chance, and this is why I’ve always followed that path: I’ve always been open to talk, whenever possible. That has even been true when the chances of success were slim. On the other hand, each of the 28 EU Members States sees the world differently – there’s no doubt about that. If we consider the state of the European Union in an ideological context, we’ll see that some countries – especially in the western parts of the continent – believe that the development of humankind, of Western humanity, has entered a new phase: they believe that it’s time for Europe to enter – or that it has already entered – a new, post-Christian, post-nation state era. And they believe that there is nothing wrong with this – indeed they believe that it is the way forward, it is the future. And then, for instance, here we are, the Hungarians – and I believe Polish people feel the same way – who do not want to live in a post-Christian and post-nation state world. Our history has taught us that we Hungarians – like other Central European peoples – have survived due to both our Christian culture born of Christian faith, and our national identity. If we surrender those things, then the Hungarian community, for instance, will disappear from the face of the earth: there will be nothing to keep us together. This is why we cleave to our Christian cultural roots and our national identity; but a large segment of Western European society does not share this view. For this reason our view of migration is different: we see migration as a threat; whereas Western European countries tend to welcome it – and even organise it. The question is whether, if see the world so differently, we can live in the same community. My answer to this is: “yes, we can”. We want a strong Europe, and this can only be achieved if we respect one another’s opinions and do not force our policies on others. So we don’t want to tell the people of Western Europe what they should do; but at the same time they shouldn’t tell us how to look at the world. They should let us stay Christian and live as Poles and Hungarians.
If I understand you correctly, you agree with the words of our former prime minister Beata Szydło – who believes that Poland’s mission is to return to European roots, European traditions – and Poland’s new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who says that he believes one of his main tasks is to make Europe Christian again. Do you agree with these opinions?
I absolutely agree. But let me say this once again: I believe that we shouldn’t force our way of thinking on Western Europeans; but equally they shouldn’t tell us to accept theirs. Live and let live. In the past ten years, we the people of Central Europe have proved that nations built on Christianity and national identity can not only develop, but also become prosperous countries. Poland and Hungary are successful today because they have strong Christian cultural roots and have preserved their national identities. So we are living proof that economic and social policy based on our values can make a community successful. We are successful countries. We are the most successful countries in the whole of Europe: we the people of Central Europe.
Prime Minister, for some time you and your government have been the target of a lot of criticism from sections of the European elite and media. Over the past two years Poland’s government has faced similar criticism. Let me ask you this: is it worth engaging in such a fierce dispute with Brussels and the Commission, when both countries stand to lose so much in the endgame that the confrontation will no longer be worth it? Now I’m not only talking about losing face, but also losing a good deal of our structural funds. Some European politicians have been quite clear on this. Commissioner Oettinger, for example, has said that cohesion funds should depend on respect for the rule of law. Is it worth continuing this political game so combatively?
First of all, we must stand our ground because of migration. Let’s not forget that migration has a part to play in this. Some Western European countries have chosen to become immigrant countries. They have abandoned their roots and declared themselves multicultural societies, and so they will live in parallel worlds: the newcomers and the established populations. That is not what we want. But if we don’t defend our own interests, then Western Europeans will force their immigration policy on us. They will send people here whom we do not need, and we will have to take them in. Furthermore, they will ship in more and more people from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. That is something we must prevent. On the other hand, there’s the question of funds. I would be more confident on that front. First of all, the countries of Central Europe are not begging for money. A large portion of the funding that is allocated to Poland and Hungary for development finds its way back to the countries that have transferred it; thus the cohesion policy and support policy in place today benefit all Member States: both the countries that give and the countries that receive. This is not only in our interest but it is also just as much in the interest of Germany and France. They profit from us. I wouldn’t like to create the impression that we have our caps in hand begging for money, when in fact we are the fastest growing economies in the whole of Europe. In my opinion the Treaty must be respected, and the budget must not be linked to any rule of law procedures. In the Treaties these are clearly two separate procedures: one is about budgets, and the other is about the rule of law. There’s no link between the two, and no link can be made – we simply cannot agree to that. Furthermore, a unanimous agreement will be needed to pass the budget. I participated in such negotiations once: in 2012–2013, when the present seven-year budget was being discussed. I sat there with our Polish colleagues, and I know exactly how to advance our interests: I remember how we did it then. In the end everyone won – including both Poland and Hungary. That’s what we need to do again. And I believe we can.
Indeed, but some opinions have emerged which claim that any further bitter dispute will lead to Hungary or Poland – or both countries – gaining a reputation as being unpredictable Member States, where laws are not respected and which the foreign investors that both Poland and Hungary want to attract no longer see as investment destinations.
But the opposite is true. The reality is that investors are flocking to Poland and Hungary: both investors and capital are pouring in. So there are two entirely different matters: on the one hand the fact that some European politicians attack Poland – and, from time to time, Hungary; and, on the other hand, international investors’ view of this region – of Poland and Hungary. Global investors have confidence in both Poland and Hungary. We have major investments underway, and that’s why we’re growing. So we have no reason to worry. Central Europe has strong foundations, a strong base; and in recent years it has demonstrated a great deal of strength. This is the fastest growing region in the European Union, and in the years to come we will have the strength to stand on our own feet. We want to be on equal terms with EU countries which are wealthier than us, and we will definitely achieve that: it’s just a matter of will, attitude, resolution, pride and confidence.
One more question comes to mind: about the next EU budget after Brexit. When the new budget is being drafted, do you see any chances for cooperation – not only between Hungary and Poland, but also between the Visegrád countries or the countries of this region – that will help minimise our losses?
We did it seven years ago: the V4 countries negotiated together then. We came up with a special consultation strategy. It worked well throughout the negotiations, so eventually we saw it through successfully. I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do that again. It will work if we have trust in ourselves.
So you are optimistic about the budget and our cooperation?
When I think that the volume of trade between the V4 countries and Germany is far larger than that between France and Germany, then we must look out at the world with confidence and optimism. Let me stress this once again: the economic focus of the European Union is gradually moving from the West to the East, towards the V4 countries. This is a fact we should take seriously and use it to boost our strength and confidence. Once again, we are not knocking on anybody’s door, we are not asking to be let in, we don’t want money and we are not begging. We have very considerable economic strength, and we are sharing that strength with Europe. And we are convinced that Europe can only be strong if its Member States are strong. We want a strong Europe. Europe is important to us, but we need an alliance of competitive, strong and free Member States, and not a United States of Europe – not an empire. We don’t want to be subordinate to Brussels. We are proud Member States, who are also successful; and the past ten years have proved that we are not only successful, but we are the most successful EU members. So I say that people in Central Europe are looking at a bright, outstanding and plannable future. All we need to do is continue fighting to defend our interests – as the people of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been doing over the past few years. The V4 is a success story. Why shouldn’t it continue to be?
I’m asking this, Prime Minister, because Mr Morawiecki has also said that his goal is to create closer cooperation within the Visegrád group – but also at the same time within the Three Seas Initiative. The latter is especially important to Warsaw, but is the region’s future also important to Budapest?
Okay, this interview doesn’t feel like a charm offensive. So let’s talk about the problems. The truth is that there’s a great deal of untapped potential in the cooperation between Poland and Hungary, and we can only blame ourselves for not having taken all the opportunities that have been presented. If we look at trade cooperation between Poland and Hungary, we see that it’s developing and expanding nicely. But if we ask ourselves whether recently we have implemented any major investments, projects or infrastructure developments to make up for what we’ve failed to do in the past, then sadly I have to say that we’ve not done much. So we must create great plans for the future – and your prime minister and I agreed on this. If I want to travel to Warsaw by train today, it will take me eleven hours. With a big investment we could cut that time by half. Today it’s impossible to travel by motorway from Krakow to Budapest, or from Budapest to Krakow and then to Warsaw. We need investments and developments in the energy sector. At present we cannot link Poland’s LNG terminal to the Hungarian-Slovak gas pipeline, because one section is still missing. We still need to build that. So I’m not saying that everything is a bed of roses, because we have a lot of work ahead of us. All I’m saying is that the future is here in Central Europe. This cooperation in Central Europe is giving its people a vision of a bright and promising future; but we need to work harder, and so your prime minister is right to say that economic policy should be a priority. I’m glad a prime minister with an economic background has joined the V4 leaders, because, given his experience as a successful economy minister, I hope that he will give the V4’s economic cooperation a big boost. The Three Seas Initiative is important to us. Of course, we want to keep the V4 group together, because it’s the core of everything. But I understand Poland’s conception that not only the Baltic Sea but also the Black Sea and the Adriatic are important regions – and that is why we are part of this initiative. So in the Three Seas Initiative Poland can definitely count on Hungary’s cooperation.
Some elements of the Polish opposition claim that the Three Seas Initiative is nothing but a fantasy, divorced from reality. What do you make of that?
I don’t want to interfere in Poland’s internal affairs. I’d rather leave that for the Polish people themselves to judge, but what I can say is that you can’t shape the future without ideas. The three seas cooperation is a great initiative with a lot of potential. But it will not happen by itself: it has to be executed, and it has to be operated and developed. We do indeed need major investments in energy and transport infrastructure, and this requires funding, cooperation, planning and resolution: in other words, meticulous work on an everyday basis.
A few minutes ago, Prime Minister, you mentioned a few things that are missing which would improve this partnership. I would like to ask you a tougher question: is cooperation in a group of this size and diversity possible? After all, even the Visegrád countries have their differences – for instance on matters of energy security, gas supply lines and cooperation with Russia. Warsaw and Budapest have different opinions on these issues. Is multi-level cooperation possible within the Three Seas Initiative, when even as few as four countries cannot agree on an issue?
Every country has its own interests, so it’s perfectly normal that sometimes those interests don’t align. They must be coordinated. Cooperation will not happen by itself: it has to be built. But we do agree on energy matters, for instance. Because for us Hungarians it’s vital to have a gas pipeline to and from Hungary that allows us to use non-Russian gas pumped into the Polish LNG terminal; but first that pipeline must be built. We Hungarians and Slovakia have already built it, so the Hungarian-Slovak section is complete. And now we’re encouraging your country and I’m encouraging the Polish government to cooperate with Slovakia and build that section between the two countries. This will create a corridor which is free of Russian influence – something which is vital for our security.
But do you share Polish concerns that Budapest has a different view of cooperation with Russia, gas supply and the Paks Nuclear Power Plant – which will be financed with a Russian loan? We Polish people view those developments with concern. Prime Minister, do you perceive that concern – do you understand our position?
I do understand Poland’s position. We know Poland’s history, so it’s quite clear to us. We understand the reflexes triggered in Polish people. These are important historical reflexes, because past experience is what we can build our future on. So we accept Poland’s position. We too have our own reflexes, and our own path. For one thing, we see the [Paks] nuclear plant as a step towards independence. We believe that a nuclear plant built by Russia but owned by Hungary means more independence from Russian gas. So we’re trying to solve Hungary’s energy supply problems via a more complex route. But I can give you another example. Currently we have no way of importing gas from the South, because our neighbours Croatia and Romania are blocking our access to it. They haven’t been willing to build a pipeline suitable for reverse gas flows. We’ve built one, but they haven’t. We are under a blockade from the South. We need access to gas from somewhere. We approve of plans to build an access route from the South that will allow us to import energy into Central Europe. Poland, however, does not. These differences can be explained by historical conditions, and can be overcome.
Prime Minister, Poland is in favour of European Union enlargement to the West Balkans – to Serbia and Montenegro. Does the Hungarian government back this process? Some Member States are balking at the idea of enlargement.
Poland and Hungary agree on that, but Western Europe does not. The people of Poland and Hungary believe – rightly I think – that the European Union cannot have Greece and then Hungary among its Member States while there are non-EU members separating those two countries. There mustn’t be a hole – a black hole – in the Balkans. One by one the Balkan states need to be integrated: they need to be admitted to the EU. Montenegro could be admitted tomorrow, and talks with Macedonia could be farther advanced today if the EU had been more understanding. We shouldn’t have accepted Greece’s blocking of the accession talks. Serbia has come a long way, so we should open a new negotiating chapter with Serbia in order to speed up its integration. We the people of Central Europe agree that the Balkan states should become members of the European Union; but Western European countries are being cautious. There’s a real disagreement here between Western and Central Europe.
Would the “Three Seas” countries, in the broader sense, only be cooperating, or could they act as a counterweight to the older EU members? I’m thinking especially of the situation after the UK leaves the European Community – something which will entirely reshape European politics.
From our perspective, Central Europe is a region between the worlds of Germany and Russia. This region needs to be organised. If we do not organise it, then someone else will. In the past, it was Russia that organised it, when they occupied us – and before that it was the Germans. Neither off those arrangements turned out well for us. As the people of Central Europe, it’s in our interest to organise this region between the Russian and German worlds ourselves. I see great potential in this regard and, of course, it should be organised so as to allow every member of this region, every country of this region, to join the European Union. Then we could create this great, well-organised region within the EU. We the people of Central Europe need to organise this world between the two great nations of Russia and Germany in line with our Central European interests. This is not a counterweight to anything, but a lesson learnt from our history.
Prime Minister, two years ago you and your government had to face a huge wave of migration from the South. You were the first to build a “wall” to separate Hungary from its southern neighbours. And you were harshly criticised for that. Now, even if only quietly, Europe is backing out of the mandatory quota deal, saying that it was a mistake and that it didn’t live up to initial expectations. Do you feel a sense of satisfaction that after two years the world is now saying that you were right?
This is not a personal issue, and I would like to stress three things. Firstly, that if Greece had defended the Schengen border of the European Union, as was its duty, then that great influx of refugees and migrants would not have reached the Hungarian border. So we were forced to build the fence on our border because Greece wasn’t fulfilling its duties – either because it couldn’t or didn’t want to. Therefore we had to defend Hungary. And here I would like to thank Poland and its then government, because they sent us help: real help in the form of uniformed personnel; not words, not good wishes, but military and law-enforcement personnel, who helped us out on our southern border. We Hungarians are thankful for this. On this matter the third thing I would like to say is that I see no prospect in the future of a repeat of those events – of our letting in anyone in such a way on our southern borders. Hungary must never again let people cross its borders in violation of all rules and regulations. The lesson to be learnt here is that a country without borders is like an egg without a shell. Because the countries to the south of Hungary are not EU members, we must defend that border at all costs, and we shall do that again in the future. Let me add that we’re not only protecting Hungary and Poland, but the whole of Europe. When we are criticised for protecting our borders, we Hungarians feel we are being stabbed in the back by those whose interests are also being defended by us when we protect our own borders. That is not fair. When I say this I’m not voicing any personal resentment: I simply think it’s unworthy of the European Union to have a nation, like the Hungarians, being stabbed in the back, censured, reproached and attacked while it’s doing all it can to defend itself and uphold EU regulations.
But Hungary and Poland have been taken to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to enforce the mandatory quota deal. What do you think the outcome of this will be?
We have justice on our side, and we shall ensure it prevails.
To wrap up our conversation, I would like to ask you one more thing, Prime Minister. Can you address a few words to our millions of viewers at home, as this year Poland marks the one hundredth anniversary of its independence? This is an important date for us Polish people, because we finally won back our independence after one hundred and twenty-three years of partition. Do you have any special message or best wishes to the Polish people on this occasion?
First of all, I would like you to remember that the friendship between the Polish and Hungarian peoples is a special bond in the history of Europe. There’s hardly any example anywhere of such strong and deep friendship. It’s important for me to say that our heroes – our generation’s heroes – come from Poland. We were born after 1956, and we didn’t see the Hungarian freedom fighters on the streets of Budapest, but in 1980 we saw Polish people create Solidarity [Solidarność]. We shared their lives through the news, and we even travelled there in the mid-eighties. So we know what ZOMO was [Poland’s communist citizens’ militia], we know what Solidarność means, we remember Fighting Solidarity, and we understand what happened in Poland. Those in the generation that leads Poland today are our heroes: our heroes of freedom. This is why we have so much respect for Poland, and we are pleased that this year Poland is celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of its independence. And all we can say is that having done so very much to win it, you must now guard it well.
Thank you for your kind words, Prime Minister, and thank you for this interview. I hope we will have more opportunities to talk. Thank you once again.