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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Kossuth Radio’s “180 Minutes” programme

Éva Kocsis: – Before Brussels and after Brussels, between two stories, we have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.

Viktor Orbán: – Good morning.

– Did the last visit make any sense? Was there any sense in going to Brussels again?

– On Wednesday I visited the European Parliament, and on Saturday I’ll meet the prime ministers, when we’ll decide on the schedule of the negotiations regarding the departure of the British. So this is not a question of whether one feels like going or not: that is perhaps the least of my considerations. If Hungary is attacked, the Prime Minister must go to the scene of the attack. The most recent such scene was the European Parliament, so that is where I had to go and where I had to protect Hungary’s interests.

– Was what has just taken place in the European Parliament a legal affair or a political one?

– It was a political affair. Our dispute with the Commission will be a legal one, however. So first there was a political clash, and those who were interested may have seen it; lengthy legal debate – consultations and debates – will now follow, to go through the details. But at the centre of those will be the European Commission, rather than the European Parliament.

– Are you expecting a protracted debate?

– That is the way it usually is. One can only judge based on one’s experience. Based on the disputes we’ve had so far, they took longer to complete. But I would like to dispel any notion that this matter is extraordinary, as Hungary has twenty-odd disputes, infringement disputes, with the Commission – while the Germans have fifty-odd. So Hungary is in the bottom third of the table: we are not among the troublesome or quarrelsome countries. We have troublesome and quarrelsome political opponents backed by financial speculators who incite these representatives to attack Hungary from time to time. At times like this we have to commit ourselves to engaging in the controversy; but as for essentially legal disputes, Hungary tends to be towards the back of the field: we are among the more conciliatory ones, who are willing to compromise.

– And you’re saying this now because the scenario involves an infringement procedure.

– Yes, that is what will come now. The Commission has announced that it’s planning to launch procedures in several areas. One of them is on the higher education legislation. This is a strange story, as earlier they tried to sound the alarm to half the world, claiming that this is about academic freedom; but looking at the latest events, I see that this whole thing has been reduced to a financial issue: how and under what financial conditions services may be provided in the field of education in Hungary. So this case is no longer about freedom, but quite simply about financial issues – and we are ready to negotiate. The other, weightier, issue is our legislation on migrants, which has been targeted by the Commission, George Soros and NGOs. They want Hungary to dismantle the fence, to change its legislation, and to let in illegal migrants; or, even if we don’t let everyone in, to at least provide freedom of movement within Hungary for people appealing against rejection of their entry applications. Such free movement is not possible today: we’ve prevented it, and this is what the “container camp” and the transit zone are all about. So there has been an attack on Hungarian policy against illegal immigration, and we are approaching the end of a lengthy process of consultations which may well result in the launch of infringement proceedings.

– Let’s go through all the issues you’ve raised, one by one. Let’s begin with the higher education legislation, and then talk about the Soros case in more detail. It would be easy to deal with higher education legislation – or at least the infringement procedure – because the leadership of the People’s Party will ask you to harmonise Hungarian higher education legislation with the relevant EU regulations in the light of the legal concerns raised by the European Commission, within the one-month deadline set by the Commission. So this could be easily resolved.

– In our view there is harmony. If the Commission takes a different view, we shall consider it. We would like a very clear and transparent situation. Today the least I can say is that the affairs of George Soros’s university in Hungary are not transparent, and its legal arrangements are not transparent either; and so we would like a very clear, transparent and simple situation. We do not understand why they want to use loopholes when a large gate – indeed a golden gate – is open. We would like to clarify exactly how many university degrees they issue, why they do so in exactly this way, and what this actually means. We will receive answers to all these questions in the period ahead.

– You will consider it? So you’re flexible – meaning that there are elements that you’re prepared to change?

– We live in a European cultural environment. In this European cultural environment, the starting-point is to engage in debate. Those who say they will never consider other arguments should perhaps not be in the European Union. We have always considered all other arguments. The most that can happen is that we will not accept them. And we have a reply to every other proposal put forward. Those who put them forward see our replies as either positive or negative, but there is one thing we never do: we never respond to any reasonable argument by refusing to consider it. So we consider every argument. We always have a position – a position of our own, which either coincides with the positions of others or doesn’t coincide with them. Obviously at times these positions don’t coincide, as we represent Hungarian interests. But the most important thing, of which every Hungarian can rest assured, is that they have a government which in every debate has a position: a negotiating position based on reasonable arguments and driven by Hungarian interests.

– So you will consider proposals. Perhaps my question wasn’t precise. Are you also flexible enough to change the law? Or, if we return to this here in a year’s time, will there effectively be no CEU in Hungary in this form?

– We don’t know the meaning of “in this form”, because no one can actually see its form.

– The law in its current form.

– What we can say is that in Hungary there’s a university called Közép-európai Egyetem: George Soros’s university. There is no doubt over the continued operation in Hungary of this Közép-európai Egyetem, because the new law we’ve passed doesn’t even apply to it. Contrary to what we’ve been hearing everywhere, the fact is that the new regulations now adopted don’t even apply to Közép-európai Egyetem, which operates in Hungary, which issues Hungarian degrees to both Hungarians and foreigners, and which is mentioned by name in the law on the itemised list of higher education institutions in Hungary.

– And the university which issues US degrees?

– We want to find out what that actually is.

– You don’t know?

– No one knows. There is such legal confusion here that it will take time to examine the entire matter.

– When you were in Brussels, didn’t the idea of meeting George Soros for a coffee arise?

– No.

– You didn’t want to, or the other side wasn’t willing?

– The idea didn’t even arise.

– Would you have sat down to talk with him?

– I’ve met him several times, I know him – I know who we’re talking about.

– Naturally, I realise that you know him, but the situation seems so tense: he comes to Brussels, meets the leaders in Brussels, and you are also in Brussels. Maybe it would have been simpler if you’d sat down together to talk.

– I’ve never ruled out anything like that, but this is a different matter now. This is not about who one has a coffee or beer with somewhere, but about the leaders of the European Union receiving George Soros officially, in their offices, before the public. Naturally they’re free to do so, but as a European voter a few questions occur to me – just as they’ll occur to many other European voters. Aside from the question of the university, Soros’s private university, George Soros is essentially a talented Hungarian. Why wouldn’t he be? We might even say this with pride. So he’s a talented financial speculator, and he has used this talent to attack several national currencies, in the process destroying the lives of millions of people – both in Europe and outside Europe. And he has also always been an opponent of the euro. Here in Hungary he also speculated against Hungarian financial institutions, and had to be served a fine of hundreds of millions of forints. The underlying ideal of the European Union is not financial speculation. The European Union’s fundamental ideal is the social market economy. The view of the European Union, together with Hungary as a Member State, is that making money – perhaps large amounts and high profits, which we have no objections to – should occur through generating something valuable, with benefits not only the owner of the capital in question, but many other people as well. Such benefits could be access to job opportunities, for example. The European Union is the antithesis of casino capitalism, in which people speculate against other people’s assets, money or currency, or accumulate wealth by destroying others. That is unacceptable, and that is contrary to all the ideals that the EU stands for. I am shocked – not as the Prime Minister of Hungary, but as a voter in the European Union – that the leaders of the EU should treat a financial speculator with such affection, honour and acclaim in full sight of the whole of Europe. I don’t understand why this is necessary.

– The financially powerful would like to see their interests enforced in the world. It would seem to be more of a problem if EU leaders only assert his interests – his interests alone. How do we know they will only enforce his interests? On the other hand, Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesperson has said that the two men have known each other for twenty years. How do you see this?

– No one prevented him from inviting him to the bar next door for a coffee or a beer, but private affairs don’t belong in the realm of politics. In other words, in politics who one is friendly with is not an issue. Politics is about the representation of the people’s interests; and in this instance leaders mandated to represent the European people’s interests met a man who represents a programme – the programme of financial speculators – that is completely contrary to the ideals and interests of Europe. In my view they should not do so.

– How did George Soros become Public Enemy Number One? Are politicians around the world so soft that he can influence everyone?

– I don’t know about that, because in this regard I’m less interested in the European situation than in the situation here in Hungary. George Soros became a public figure in Hungary and the personification of what is objectionable because on two occasions he attacked the Hungarian financial system. In 1994 he tried to acquire OTP bank, and an enormous political struggle developed. Younger listeners will not remember this, but I was also part of that struggle. I have to say that it was [Socialist prime minister] Gyula Horn who stopped George Soros, who wanted to get his hands on OTP; and if back in 1994 Gyula Horn had not resisted the SZDSZ [the Socialists’ coalition partners], OTP – the bank with the largest number of Hungarian savers – would have gone to George Soros. And there was another affair: when foreign currency loans were common in Hungary, he speculated against Hungarian financial institutions and the forint. The authorities launched an investigation and imposed a heavy fine. So there is also this dimension to the story. But that is more manageable, because it is dealt with by the prime minister of the day and the financial authorities. There is another matter, however, which cannot be handled quite so easily – and that is the matter of migration. In the debate this is the real point of conflict, the clash, the toxic element. The reason that I myself need to talk about a private individual – which for a prime minister is not particularly edifying – is that it has emerged that there is a large network comprising many organisations, and hundreds or thousands of people, which in Hungary alone spends more than a billion forints a year. Its goal is to change Hungary’s migration policy. George Soros has published his own migration programme – in his own name – in which he stated publicly that one million migrants must be transported into the European Union every year. This needs to be funded, and he added that he is happy to lend money for this. Ever since then this network has worked to dismantle the Hungarian fence, change the legislation protecting Hungary, blacken Hungary’s name in every international forum possible, and use international pressure to force Hungary to allow migrants entry or passage after all. This is what has turned George Soros the financial speculator into George Soros the pro-immigration European politician. This is what we must take action against.

– When George Soros wrote that article – the piece you’re referring to appeared in Foreign Policy in June 2016 – he wrote about seven points; and indeed the piece states that Europe should take in as many migrants as possible. In his view migrant applications should not be assessed under the competence of Member States, but by a central EU agency. We speak less, however, about another condition mentioned in that piece: that we need strong borders, strong external borders.

– Well yes, but either this, or that. We need strong borders so that those whom we do not want to see in the EU are not able to enter; and Hungary doesn’t want immigrants and migrants within the EU – at least not in Hungary. So these are two distinct, diametrically opposed approaches. But this whole affair has been further inflamed by the case of the two Bangladeshi or Pakistani men, when it emerged that a system has been built up here which will facilitate the continual siphoning off of funds from the Hungarian budget, and which will force the Hungarian people to pay. What happened in the case of the Bangladeshis was that an organisation funded by Soros sued Hungary for not following the correct procedure in relation to these two Bangladeshi men – who have since disappeared. We have no idea where they are, but regardless of this proceedings were launched against Hungary. In those proceedings expert opinion was supplied by another Soros organisation, and in the court a group of judges delivered a ruling under the supervision of a judge who teaches at a Soros university. Clearly we have been encircled. Here there is a well-constructed system, resulting in a ruling that we Hungarians should pay the legal costs – in other words give money to Soros organisations – and also pay thousands of euros to the Bangladeshis, who in the meantime have disappeared. If things continue like this, tens of thousands will scalp us: they will keep dipping into our pockets in an attempt to make off with the Hungarian people’s money. We cannot predict the future extent of this. I only mention this here to illustrate the fact that we’re not talking about abstract philosophical issues, and not even about abstract border security issues, but about very specific legal proceedings. Behind these we have revealed that in fact one can see a networked operation at work. One of the reasons we want to enact a separate law on so-called “NGOs” engaged in activities such as these is because we want to see them, we want to learn about them and we want to find out who funds them. Otherwise we won’t be able to protect Hungary against them.

– Hungary is not alone in this. I don’t know whether it’s mentioned there, in the European Parliament, or in its corridors that, for instance, but Frontex and the organisations participating in rescue activities in the Mediterranean are locked together in an increasingly intense battle with each other. And in Italy there is also ever louder debate about the need to know the true nature of these organisations which – as they rather outspokenly put it – are effectively being paid by people smugglers. So elsewhere there is also intense debate on this, but clearly no action is being taken to resolve these issues.

– Well, the debate is fiercer than in Hungary, because in Italy the charge – which left-wing politicians, like the Socialists in Hungary, dispute – is that people smugglers are colluding with these NGOs, these non-governmental organisations, in transporting illegal migrants into Italy: putting them into floating death traps, from which these non-governmental organisations rescue them and take them to Italy. And there is a funding system behind all this. In Italy this is the charge, this is the position of the investigating authorities. This is a scandal around which politics in Italy now revolves. Just like here, in Italy the pro-immigration left-wingers are denying this and are promoting migration.

– Yes, but the accusation that these organisations are colluding with people smugglers is a rather serious one. I don’t see the politicians of the European Union doing anything to put an end to this, or to sound the alarm.

– Well, first of all this debate must be conducted in Italy, and the EU will only come later. On the other hand, we have also detected a degree of collusion. When hundreds of thousands of migrants were coming towards Hungary from the south we found documents: leaflets giving guidance for migrants which obviously originated from NGOs. So I can tell you for sure that, while trumpeting a humanitarian agenda, these non-governmental organisations financed by George Soros have been continuously and illegally supplying advice and assistance to people unlawfully crossing the Hungarian border. We can certainly state that much. As to what the true motivation behind this was in Hungary – humanitarian assistance, or if money was also involved – I cannot tell you. But I’m sure that once we uncover the entire extent of the Soros network in Hungary, we shall be able to answer this question as well.

– Experts say that a million people are waiting on the Libyan coast to cross into Europe, and they also say that migration will intensify on the Balkans route. Was construction of the second border fence along the entire Serbian-Hungarian border fast-tracked because you expect termination of the deal struck with the Turks? You spoke to the Turkish president yesterday evening. Was this mentioned?

– Well, yes. Turkey is an interesting case. In the European Parliament the other day I was also accused of being too friendly with the Turks. But, after all, the Turkish people made a decision in a referendum, and we must accept the result. On the other hand we are pursuing commonsense policy, and it is neither right nor reasonable that we should first give the Turkish president a large axe, telling him to defend us, and then continually stick pins in his back because we don’t like the look of him. This is not a reasonable policy. In my view we either cooperate with Turkey or we don’t. I think it makes sense for us to cooperate, but in the meantime we shouldn’t expose ourselves to risk. Therefore we need a fence system, which has been completed and will be officially inaugurated today. It is 155 kilometres long and three metres tall, and is capable of blocking the progress of any mass of people. The fence has a security alarm system which significantly aids our border security efforts, and so we’ve said goodbye to the times when people entered Hungary by cutting through the fence or with other do-it-yourself hacks. We now have a fence in place which is practically impenetrable. This is not a short-term solution. But the dispute with the Turkish president – the dispute between the EU and Turkey – is more of a short-term one. We Hungarians must think for the long term. And when we seek to understand the future over a period of fifteen to twenty years we can say that in the long term the pressure of mass population movement and illegal migration that is posing a threat to us from the direction of the Balkans route will continue to be a fact of life for us. And in the years ahead we must absolutely defend ourselves against this. We must defend ourselves so that it doesn’t pose a security threat to the Hungarian people, doesn’t undermine public security, restrict economic performance, or prevent life in Hungary following a calm, balanced and optimistic path. To achieve this we need the fence, and we need protection. I believe that we have created security for the Hungarian people for a long time to come.

– Is the chance of the Turkish deal falling through fifty per cent or higher?

– No one knows, but let me repeat: Turkey is a member of NATO. Therefore Turkey is our ally. We must not – and indeed cannot – treat Turkey like an alien state that is not our partner in an alliance. And due respect must be given to the Turkish president and the Turkish people. It is also our shared goal that Turkey stops the flow of migrants coming from that direction before it floods the Balkans, Hungary and Europe. For that reason it is worth cooperating with Turkey: speaking and behaving cooperatively.

– On 2 May you will submit the Bill on the 2018 budget. Tell me three items in it which will be among the most important.

– This is a budget for working people. The increase in the minimum wage – which in 2017 was significant – will continue, as will the rise in the minimum wage for skilled workers and tax allowances for families with two children; and VAT on fish, restaurant services and internet services will be reduced to five per cent. I think it is important that payroll taxes will also decrease. This means that businesses employing workers will pay less tax per member of staff. As a result, next year we shall come close to full employment. We shall also continue the career models launched earlier for those working in health care, education and law enforcement. An important element in the budget will be the security of the borders and the issue of security in general: the safety and security of the Hungarian people and Hungarian families. Therefore we shall spend far more on guaranteeing our security than we did in previous years.

– You are going back to Brussels tomorrow, and will meet the leaders of the European People’s Party. Will the atmosphere be friendly or scolding?

– This is a party meeting, and I don’t attach particular significance to it. The summit of prime ministers on Saturday morning and the decisions we adopt on Brexit will be more interesting.

– That is what we will continue with. In the past half hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

– Thank you for having me.