Éva Kocsis: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is here in the studio. Good morning.
Viktor Orbán: Good morning.
What did they say in Brussels when you pulled the completed National Consultation questionnaires out of your backpack and put them on the table?
Our reputation had preceded us. Earlier the plan was for the basic decisions about future EU immigration policy to be made in December at the prime ministers’ summit, which has already taken place. The plan was for this policy to include the mathematically formulated distribution of migrants arriving in the EU or transported to the EU – even if Member States oppose this. This would not be a permanent mechanism operating on a day-to-day basis, but if the number of immigrants was high – and in recent years we’ve seen that this could easily occur – then this distribution system would be triggered. This plan had to be prevented, and this is one reason we asked people to participate in the National Consultation; and I would like to thank the more than two million three hundred thousand people who did so. At the prime ministerial summit a weighty argument was needed: weight was needed to buttress our position, so that we could prevent such a decision. That’s what we managed to do, and so we’ve completed fifty per cent of our task. As these debates are recurring, and this one was just the latest in a series, we have repeated opportunities to explain our position; and I had planned the remaining fifty per cent of the task to be to persuade ever more of our opponents – or those arguing with us and opposing our views – and to bring them over to our side. Well, in that respect I did not succeed, as there are still as many against us now as there were earlier. Perhaps their enthusiasm and the gleam of true faith in their eyes has dimmed somewhat, but their number has not decreased. As we were unable to reach a decision at the December summit, we agreed that we would look at the matter again and try to come to a decision at the next summit, which will be in March – some time after the twentieth. So we will face another attack, as those who want mandatory relocation and immigration quotas will renew their efforts in March. We have gained some time, and – as we also say in Hungarian – whoever gains time, gains life.
But why do you think that after having spent two years trying to convince them, you will suddenly succeed in this over the next few months?
Because in the meantime elections are being held in Europe. I look at all those who argue for the mixing of the European people with people who have come from foreign continents: those who want Europe to have a mixed population and who claim that the path of progress and development is for us to abolish societies based on national and Christian foundations, and that we must instead live our lives in such a mixed multicultural society. And when I look at those who represent this position, I see that they are continually losing ground in national elections. And this is why I say that whoever gains time gains life, because in the end the European people – albeit with difficulty, with creaking stiffness, haltingly, but in the end – will assert their will. Look at the elections that have been held in Europe over the last few months. And I think that this process will intensify. So we must hold out until Western Europeans follow the Central Europeans by becoming strong enough to use their democratic institutions, their elections, to force their leaders to pursue a policy which people favour and support – a policy which rejects immigration. For the last two years I’ve followed this line of strategy – and I don’t think I was wrong to do so.
When we spoke about this on a previous occasion you said that this would be the year of rebellion – and I think that these were the things you were referring to. But in France we have Macron, a champion of migration; and Angela Merkel persists in her calls for “internal EU solidarity” and in her support for migration. Despite struggling with migration pressures, the Southern countries continue to support the quota. Is this the year of rebellion?
First of all, in France the entire political elite has been swept away. The Socialist Party no longer exists – or at most only as a pile of rubble. And then there is our sister party in France, The Republicans, formerly led by President Sarkozy and then represented by Prime Minister Fillon: we certainly got a bloody nose, and were left locked out of the grand chambers of governmental power. So the French people sidelined the traditional French elite and rebelled against it. What exactly they have chosen to replace it – well, no one knows for sure; now all we know is how the new president presents his plans for France and Europe, one after the other. But one thing is certain: it was dissatisfaction that landed him in the presidential palace. In Austria the situation is completely clear. In my very first term as prime minister, in Austria there was an attempt to form a government of the right. At that time immigration was a less important issue, but under the leadership of Chancellor Schüssel there was the attempted formation of a government of the right, standing on national foundations and representing conservative values. It became a worldwide scandal. Apart from us, very few people expressed continued solidarity with the Austrian people and the Austrian government. Now there has been an election, and the same formation has come into being. In Austria a conservative government of the right, based on Christian foundations and rejecting immigration, has entered office. And it seems that on the whole the world is ignoring the odd angry hiss of steam, and has acknowledged that in Austria this is the new reality. And in Germany immigration has changed the balance of political power. The German election was on the cusp of September and October, and coming up to Christmas a government has still not been formed there. No one knows what the outcome of this will be. So I’m not saying that European people have already won the battle centred on immigration, I’m not saying that democracy has been re-established, and I’m not saying that the will of the people has been enforced, because in many places leaders have not accepted this; but we can clearly see this process being played out, and moving in this direction.
When the countries of the Visegrád Four [V4] tabled their concept for strengthening the Southern European countries and defending the Libyan border, Angela Merkel responded by saying that this was all very fine and a good idea, but she remained insistent that it would not work without “internal solidarity”. What arguments did she use to back up this position?
First of all, I always suggest to other countries in Europe – as well as to the Germans – that they show solidarity with us. They talk about solidarity, but they don’t show solidarity with us; because on its southern borders Hungary is not only defending itself, but also the whole of Europe. The V4 and the Austrians have helped us, sending police, soldiers and a variety of units of uniformed personnel; but no one else has sent us any assistance. And no one has offered to take a share of the financial burden, so we’ve had to bear all the costs of defence: we’ve had to recruit thousands of new police officers and border guards, and we’ve had to erect a physical barrier system on the border; and all of this has been done with money contributed exclusively by Hungarian citizens – from their taxes and from their government’s budget resources. The EU only provides us with funding for rather dubious uses: essentially for human rights programmes, the adoption of migrant protection procedures used elsewhere, and so forth. In other words, the processes that it supports are completely contrary to what Hungarians want to see happening in Hungary. So we are protecting them, but they have left us to cope on our own; they can sit in relative calm and comfort in the continent’s interior because we are here, on the edge, protecting them. So after all this, making demands on Hungary is not a gesture of solidarity. These, then, are the arguments I usually put forward. And to drive the point home, we – because this is not only the position of Hungary, but also of the Poles, Slovaks and Czechs, so all four Visegrád countries – have now decided to provide substantial financial assistance to Italy, which is struggling to halt renewed waves of migration on its sea borders. Every analysis, every report by European Union and NATO specialist and research institutes, indicates that in the years ahead – and we’re not talking about decades, but years – the migratory movement from Africa towards Europe of many tens of millions of people will be set in motion, or continue and intensify. And one of the routes for this movement – but not the only one – leads to Europe through Italy. This route must be blocked, and Italy must be defended. If Italy is not defended, we will not be able to defend Europe either; if we are unable to defend Hungary we will be unable to defend Europe, and exactly the same is true for the Italians. Therefore the four Visegrád countries have provided Italy with significant financial support.
Are you counting on Austria, for example, agreeing with the V4’s decisions or aligning itself with the V4 in the upcoming period?
Well, as I’ve said, I am indeed counting on it. Regardless of the status of the ideal of democracy in any given country, I’ve always thought that on the whole we Europeans can describe Europe as a democratic continent. For this reason, in the long run the will of leaders cannot remain far from the will of the people. A year ago the two were much farther from each other than they are now. So a year ago the leaders were much more in favour of immigration than their voters were. This gap has narrowed. The people have not moved closer to their leaders, but those leaders have been forced to acknowledge that if they persist in the approach they’ve been following they’ll be forced to up sticks and hit the road. This process is now taking place as we watch. I am sure that sooner or later the will of European people and the policy of their leaders must come together and once more align with each other. This is the natural order of democracy. At times, perhaps, there can be a certain gap between the will of the people and the aims of their leaders, but in the long run a wide gap will be unsustainable.
It seems that for the Poles this gap remains: the ruling party is supported by over 40 per cent of the electorate, while support for the opposition is declining; and in the meantime there is the launch of an Article 7 procedure – the EU’s “nuclear option”, which we’ve talked about a million times in relation to Hungary. Obviously many things will happen before the issue is voted on, but I assume that Hungary will not support this procedure.
First of all, as regards immigration, in Poland I see consensus between the country’s prime minister – its leader – and the Polish people. The overwhelming majority of Poles have the same attitude to this question as the Hungarians do: the overwhelming majority want to protect Christianity, which here is not a question of religion, but a cultural framework; they want to remain Poles, just as we want to remain Hungarians – so they want to defend their national identity; they want to say who can and cannot reside within their country’s borders; and on important issues of Polish independence – or of our Hungarian independence – they do not want to allow decisions to be made elsewhere, in Brussels, say, rather than in Warsaw or Budapest. That is something that we cannot accept. So, if I may put it this way, the Poles are essentially on the same spiritual and intellectual plane as we are. And in a European context this can be described as good. Poland is now under sustained attack, and what we are witnessing is an affront to justice – it is grossly unjust. Poland is in fact acquitting itself well in terms of refugee and migration affairs, but its obligations are different to those of Europe’s southern states. Let’s not forget that tens of thousands of migrants have gone to Poland from former Soviet territories, and it has not received any assistance in providing for them. In addition, more than one million Ukrainians are now residing in Poland. So that country is experiencing a great deal of pressure on it from the East; but the EU is taking no account of this whatsoever. The EU wants to force everything into the same mould, and thinks that the only problems in the world are those experienced in Western countries. Therefore it is simply unwilling to accept our problems. Poland has become a victim of this way of thinking. So Poland should be given more respect and recognition. Moreover, we should not bury our heads in the sand: Poland is Central Europe’s flagship, isn’t it? Without Poland there is no Central Europe; without a strong Poland there can be no strong Central Europe. It is in the interest of everyone in this region for Poland to be successful; it is their interest even if they are not Polish – even if they are Hungarian, for example. Without Poland our actions will have insufficient weight: it is the Poles who lend real weight to Central European unity. So when someone attacks Poland – as Brussels is doing now – they attack the whole of Central Europe. So we must stand by the Poles; I’m convinced that this is in Hungary’s national interest. I’m now not only talking about friendship and justice – although they are weighty arguments – but about Hungary’s national interest. It is in our interest to stand shoulder to shoulder with Poland and make it clear that no European decision to punish Poland can be enforced, because Hungary will exercise its right to prevent anything of the kind. This is also the position that I personally represent.
Instead of showing solidarity and standing shoulder to shoulder with others, wouldn’t it be better just to stay quiet? I only ask this because among the renegades we are seen as relatively good. In a way this is something, because the Poles have got themselves a bad name; the Hungarians are said to be similar, but at least we’re thought to sometimes listen to reason.
I don’t much care what others say, and I don’t crave their recognition. I don’t do what I’m doing to get pats on the head from Westerners, but because I’m convinced that this is in Hungary’s interest and one must take a stand for it. Undoubtedly one must fight intelligently, and calmly if possible, but always unshakeably; otherwise you will be trampled underfoot in the frenzied tumult of competing worlds – or competing nations in our world. So we must stand up for our interests, and I’ll say it again: we must fight intelligently and calmly, but with steely resolve. We need to talk when it makes sense to do so – and right now it does. Right now it must be made clear to the EU that there’s no point in them launching a procedure against Poland, as there’s no chance that it can be followed through on: Hungary will be there, and it will be an insurmountable obstacle blocking their path.
On the subject of the Central European economy, there is now talk of a proposed European monetary fund for the eurozone. It is said that non-euro countries have received an irresistible offer to join. Is the offer an irresistible one?
I’ve also heard something like that, but we didn’t get such an offer. The offer we’re aware of at the moment is meagre, modest and, indeed, worse than earlier. So there is a proposal that those joining the eurozone will receive assistance with their internal reforms – but I think that this is simply duplicitous. If we look at the economic history of the past ten years or more, we see the following: a country’s candidacy for accession to the European Union is also an economic issue, as we are introducing a common currency; and for this its economy, its real economy – agriculture, industry and services – must over time approach the average of the union we aim to enter. The experts call this “real convergence”. Therefore the question is one of what measures can help countries outside the eurozone achieve the fastest possible convergence with the existing eurozone average in terms of their level of development. And the past decade or so shows that the most effective means of doing this is what is known as the Cohesion Fund – the stated purpose of which is promotion of this real convergence. So we don’t need new mechanisms, but we need to strengthen the most effective mechanism we have so far developed. It would make sense to introduce a new mechanism if it were more effective than the ones that we’ve been using so far. I’d say that of course we can experiment with new mechanisms, but we mustn’t abandon the old one: we should strengthen it, increase its financial base and shift the average development level of new EU Member States closer to the development level of the eurozone. So in this regard I don’t see the emergence of any new situation. There’s no question that thinking, conceptualisation and the presentation of ideas is in progress, but this is far from saying that any decisions can be made.
Don’t you see a new situation in the sense that there are efforts to link EU funding in the next EU cycle to the frequently raised question of the rule of law?
I think those proposals are doomed from the outset. The European Union stands on the basis of its founding treaty, of a document in which there is no such possibility. Furthermore, adoption of the seven-year financial frameworks must be with unanimous consent, so that every Member State – including Hungary – has ample opportunity to assert its interests. This is also what I shall do, if after April I have been entrusted with the task.
Let’s talk a little about the economy. Data from the Ministry for National Economy shows that the pre-financing of EU-funded projects has increased Hungary’s budget deficit. Don’t you worry that, in the run-up to next year’s election, these EU funds are being held back because of the procedures that have been launched?
I don’t see that. I repeat: in Europe there is a legal system that tells you what you can and cannot do. Hungary is in a secure position. What’s more, I don’t consider European funds to be a panacea – and I never have considered them to be. For some reason this idea appears in public discourse in Hungary. Hungary pays a great deal of money to the European Union, from which it receives substantial funding; and Western European companies operating in Hungary receive substantial economic opportunities within our borders, and make substantial profits, a proportion of which they repatriate. The expert consensus seems to be that the European Union benefits from giving us money. Western European states which provide funding to Central Europe are actually making money from us. So when they act as if they are making charitable donations to Central Europe, the only reason I don’t laugh is because respect would not allow that; but in fact they are making money from us. So there is no point in Hungarians loitering on the doorstep, shuffling on the spot and clutching their hats in their hands and expressing their gratitude; after all, nothing that happens is anything that we need to feel grateful for. The whole EU financial system, including the money coming to Hungary, is based on joint and mutual interest. It is at least as beneficial for those who provide funding. Incidentally, the Hungarian economy can be operated without EU funds. I’m not recommending…
They say that EU funding is the driving force of growth in Hungary.
They do, but it’s not true. The engine of growth is the work of Hungarians. We have world-class workers, and in Hungary there are world-class factories. These factories are not world-class simply because they’re equipped with world-class technologies – although they do have those technologies – but because in Hungary there are workers who can operate them. So Hungary has nothing to fear, as it is not dependent on any outsiders’ money. Hungary stands on its own two feet, and if financial processes within the EU happen to change, Hungarian economic policy is flexible enough to adapt to the new situation. Today, when EU funds are available and when there are large flows of money within the EU, the policy we are now pursuing is a rational one; but if this were not the situation, if these flows stopped, then we would adapt and adjust our policy to the new situation. Even then we would be able to stand on our own two feet, we would grow and we would still be successful. So what I’m saying is that Hungary can have confidence in its own strength. Hungary is a country whose finances are in order, and whose labour market is flexible. We are talking about a country whose people know how to work and want to work. In recent years the task of our government has been to give people opportunities – to open up as many opportunities as possible. I’ve never believed that governments can give direction to anyone’s life; everyone has to solve that problem for themselves, but to do so opportunities are needed. Our task is to open gates, for there to be opportunities so that Hungarians can try to take advantage of them. Over the past seven or eight years I’ve learned that if there are opportunities, then Hungarians will make use of them. More and more people are working and more and more people are starting businesses; so we have nothing to fear, because the strength of this country is within us ourselves. We will stand on our own two feet, even if in the future EU regulations are amended this or that way – or in a third way.
Christmas is this weekend, next week is the last in the year, and the following week is the start of an election year. When you spoke with your ministers at the last Cabinet meeting, what did you say has been done well this year, and should be continued, and what did you say you didn’t like and should be changed?
I would not repeat that here, because when it comes to work I was born to be a hard taskmaster. This relates back to…
Give just one or two examples.
…this also relates back somewhat to Christianity, because one of Christianity’s great attractions is its acknowledgment of imperfection, and that nothing human can be perfect. There can be perfection in the realm of the divine, but not in human things. And this means that we always have the opportunity for improvement. So there is never a moment when one can sit back and say that everything is as it should be, because things could always be better. And for a government it is very important that this kind of dissatisfaction and higher expectations related to its own work are constantly present. The task of a prime minister is to remind the ministers of this – and that is what I do. I salute my ministers, because they have done a great deal of work and have worked hard. Perhaps we can see that there is something to show for this. This may be one reason for the fact that in almost every year recently everybody in Hungary has been able to take a step forward. As a community the country has advanced, and families have managed to move forward compared to their situation one year earlier. And the work of everybody – including the government – has contributed to this. So at Christmas I speak in a spirit of recognition – but recognition is not the same as satisfaction. Christianity also gives us a new task, a somewhat unexpected one. Of course at Christmas, when we await the birth of Jesus, we see this time of year from a religious point of view. But in 2017 something has been revealed which is more powerful than many would have thought. This is that in Europe the Christian foundations of everyday life are stronger and more important to people than many would have thought. So among people today there is an elementary need to protect Christianity. When people speak about this they are not speaking about religion or belief in God, which is something complex. What people are focusing on is that the order of our world and our lives – even of people who have not encountered or cannot encounter God in any way – is based on the teachings of Christ, because our society is based on Christian values. Peace, serenity, forgiveness, equality, equality between men and women, respect for the family, the values of the national community: these are all values which every one of us – here in Hungary or in Europe as a whole – can and do affirm, regardless of belief in God. And now people see – correctly, I think – that all this is in danger, and is under attack. This must be defended; and no one is better suited to lead this defence than the elected leaders in every country – including in Hungary. In 2017 I learned that in the years ahead – and perhaps the decades ahead – the primary task of elected leaders will be the defence of Christianity.
In the last half hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.