Katalin Nagy: There’s a well-known saying in sport that you shouldn’t change a winning team. Yet this is what Hungary’s re-elected prime minister has done. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Why the changes?
Viktor Orbán: Good morning. It’s because we must always try to find the right buttons for our coat, and not the right coat for the buttons. Over the last eight or ten years our government’s goals have remained unchanged – and indeed those with longer memories will recall that our first government between 1998 and 2002 also worked towards goals such as those we are now working towards. But every four-year term, every government, has its own special character, and its own special tasks. One must choose people for the tasks, and not tailor the tasks to suit the people. There will be fourteen of us in the Government, seven of whom can be said to be professional politicians, who have built their reputations and their recognition in this profession, and this is how listeners know of them. And there will be seven people – half the Cabinet – who have built their reputations, recognition and expertise outside the world of politics, and who are recognised experts in their given fields.
Yes, in the media certain ministers are already being criticised, and there are attempts to accuse them of various things. Should they defend themselves?
Of course. One has to remember that the worlds of academia, of the economy, of intellectual pursuits and culture are markedly different from the world of politics. In the worlds of the intellect, business and academia it is obvious what achievement means. Someone achieves something, and whether or not people like it or agree with it, recognition is still due, and there are means of expressing this: various academic qualifications, or the profit made in business. In every sphere of life there is a system for recognition, in which outstanding achievements are identified and recognised. Politics is not that kind of world. Here the situation is different: someone can be smart or good-looking, they can have built an academic, intellectual, military or police career, or a successful career in business; but as soon as they enter politics they will be attacked. So instead of saying “Hello”, people look for a way to bring them down. That’s the kind of world politics is. This is an unattractive side of our profession. There are far more pleasant sides to it, and on the whole it is a fine profession, but this is also part of it. It is like a fight club: whoever enters needs to take account of the fact that their rivals will immediately attack them. If someone hasn’t got the stomach for this, if they think that this will hamper their professional work, they shouldn’t enter politics. By contrast, those who are inspired by this, and who find that struggle brings out the best in them, should choose this profession.
After the election you said that up until now you have led the Government, but from now on you would like to direct it. For me “lead” and “direct” are two synonymous verbs, yet you’ve made a distinction between them.
Yes, because, after all, I graduated from law school. But that is of secondary importance, as most of our listeners didn’t attend law school, and so I don’t think that the explanation of legal categories would be useful now. All I wanted to say was that in the period up to now there has always been something which has diverted a great deal of my personal energies and time away from directly running the Government. In the national interest I have had to divide my energies differently. I will again call on the memories of our older listeners when I say that in 1998 we needed to repair the damage caused by the [previous government’s] “Bokros Package”. And then we remember how in 2010 there was a financial collapse and crisis in Hungary. Then we needed to produce, to create a new constitution. These were the issues which we had to deal with, and not management of the Government’s everyday work. If you remember, in 2014 the migration crisis appeared on our horizon. Now, however, in the period ahead I’m not expecting any extraordinary development that would divert some of my energy and resources away from the direct management and organisation of the Government’s activities: that’s not likely and I’m not expecting it. Of course, something can always happen, as one of the beauties of our trade is its unpredictability; but at present I feel that I’ll have a much greater chance of accurately defining specific tasks and seeing through their implementation.
Is this why the government office – the Government Office of the Prime Minister – has been set up? Will this be its function?
Yes, in essence it will be a strong centre for governance answerable to me, which we’re calling the Government Office. It will coordinate the work of the ministries’ state secretaries for public administration, and the institution known as the Government Control Office – which is in charge of controlling finances within the Government – will report to it. It will also include a unified intelligence gathering centre. In a keenly competitive international environment, this will enable Hungary to benefit from improved information and intelligence gathering activities. In the last few days I’ve already started building this body.
Who will be Deputy Prime Minister?
We have a general deputy. When there are two parties in a government, rather than one – and here we have Fidesz and KDNP – it is usually called a coalition government. I wouldn’t call this a coalition government, because KDNP and Fidesz enter elections as a party alliance. This is similar to the situation in Germany, where the CDU – the Christian Democrats – and the CSU – the Christian Social Union, the Bavarians – run in elections as a permanent party alliance. And if they had won a majority – though this time they didn’t, the poor things, but in Europe not many succeed in doing what we have done – they would lead Germany as this party alliance, without a coalition. We have a majority, and so we aren’t ruling as a coalition, but running the Government under the leadership of the Christian Democrat-Fidesz party alliance. In spirit it is a Christian democratic government. If you look back to the past, I’ve always been proud to say that whenever I am prime minister, Hungary has Europe’s most Christian democratic governments; this time will be no different. Our conception is that the type of democracy we should build is the one which we call Christian democratic. We are not liberals, and we are not building a liberal democracy: we are building a Christian democracy, which has European traditions and which has European roots. There is a great debate about this, a debate which is essentially of an intellectual nature: about illiberal democracy, liberal democracy and Christian democracy. This doesn’t need to disrupt the daily lives of Hungarians, because it has no effect on them. But the intellectual sphere is also an important one, and there too one must interpret what a government does and why it does it. Here we are working on building a Christian democracy. I could say that we are working on building an old-school Christian democracy, rooted in European traditions. In this human dignity is paramount, the branches of power are duly separated, freedom is unconditional, families are supported – because family is also a value – and global ideologies are rejected; because we believe in the importance of the nation, and in Hungary we do not want to yield ground to any supranational business or political empire. We fight for full employment. Equal rights for women are very important. And we do not want any changes which would result in increased anti-Semitism in Hungary, as we have observed in several European countries. In other words, this is a solid Christian democratic worldview and system.
So will there be others, in addition to a general deputy prime minister?
Yes, sorry, yes. So there is a general deputy who is the President of the Christian Democratic People’s Party [KDNP]. This is where my digression is leading – my apologies. This will be Zsolt Semjén, who will also be responsible for Hungarian communities abroad, church affairs and national minorities in Hungary. And now I would also like the support of two other deputies. Security is important, and as we can see in the migrant situation, in the period ahead – perhaps for more than a decade – the issue of immigration will be the most important one for Europe. Therefore there will also be a deputy prime minister for national security, who is also the Interior Minister: Sándor Pintér. And in the economic sphere we have someone who embodies, radiates and realises dependability, calm and financial stability. This is also an important issue, and so I have asked Finance Minister Mihály Varga to also act as deputy prime minister responsible for the economy.
The parliamentary group of Fidesz has been formed, and next week the new parliament itself will also be inaugurated. How does the timetable look? What are the most important issues and tasks?
Indeed, today is an important one, because as of today the result of the election is final and non-appealable. It is clear that we have 133 seats: this is what we have to work with. I regret not having 134.
You’re referring to the ruling by the Curia [Supreme Court].
As I see it, the Curia has deprived us of one mandate. Let’s not beat about the bush: the fact of the matter is that the Constitutional Court has stated that the Curia reached an unsound verdict. The Curia’s ruling deprived us of more than four thousand votes, and so its unsound ruling meant that we fell just short of winning a final seat: our 134th. So now that’s how it is. We must acknowledge it. From time to time we must also acknowledge bad decisions, because the law provides no scope for remedying this bad decision, as the result of the elections must be finally ratified today. And so we’ll live with it.
So the parliamentary group has been formed and, as I said, shortly Parliament will also be formed. What are the most important tasks? What will Parliament start its work with?
First of all, I’d like to reassure everyone by making it clear that the goals haven’t changed. Naturally tasks are always changing, as are circumstances and situations; but the goals – and it is important, perhaps the most important thing, for the people to understand the goals motivating the actions of Hungarian state administration and the Hungarian government – will not be changing. I never hide my intentions. I can be criticised for some things, but a lack of straight talking is not one of them. I always speak openly and up front – even if sometimes it means I get into trouble, or voters prefer more refined expression. I say up front what the situation is, what can be expected and what we’ll be capable of. This is also what I’ve done now: the two point eight million people who voted for us knew precisely what it was that the Hungarian government wanted. We shall protect Hungarian culture and Christian culture, we shall not hand the country over to outsiders, and Hungary shall remain a Hungarian country. For us let Hungary come first: we expressed this very clearly and openly. We shall not compromise on the goal of full employment: instead of welfare benefits, we want to give jobs to everyone. This will require lower taxes, higher wages and a well-functioning economy, and we have created the conditions for this. We shall give support to families raising children. We shall continue to observe, uphold and maintain the agreement we concluded with pensioners, according to which – showing respect for lifetimes of honest work – we shall preserve the value of pensions; and, if circumstances permit, we shall raise them – as we have done in the past few years. So there will be tax reductions, wages will increase, pensioners will have security, and meanwhile we shall maintain the country’s general calm, security and stability.
So I suppose that the “Stop Soros” legislative package and the constitutional amendment will be presented in the interest of security.
You’re coaxing the details out of me after all. As our listeners will recall, the situation is that in 2016, at the height of the migration crisis, I initiated a referendum. And it was a superb referendum, because more than three point three million people faced in one direction and in unison stated what they wanted. But thanks to the opposition’s boycott – they asked their supporters to stay away from the polling stations – turnout didn’t reach the statutory threshold, and not enough of us voted in that referendum. But we needed to make some decisions to enable us to protect the country from immigrants and migrants. Then I chose another approach, attempting a constitutional amendment, as I could hope that there would be at least a handful of opposition MPs who would put the country’s security first, above party politics. I hoped that we would make up the shortfall in Parliament with one or two votes from members of the opposition parties. We didn’t get those votes: MSZP, Jobbik, everyone in opposition rejected the constitutional amendment that was designed for the country’s security. Now, however, we have a two-thirds majority. This is thanks to Hungarian voters, and I cannot thank them enough. Therefore I feel that it is my duty and the joint moral obligation of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party to see through this constitutional amendment. We shall do just that. The Stop Soros legislative package is also linked to this. A shadow army of George Soros is operating in Hungary. We want them to come into the light and to be visible. We want to know who they are, we want to understand what they want, and we want them to reveal the source and the amount of funding they receive, and whether they need to do anything in return for it. I think that this is a question of democracy, so that the arena in which political debates take place can be clearly seen by Hungarian voters. In part the Stop Soros legislative package serves this purpose. We would also like to make it clear that migration is not an issue of human rights, but an issue of national security. It is intimately linked to Hungarians’ everyday security, and therefore we must follow the rules related to national security. Those who wish to engage in activities related to migration must seek permission to do so from the responsible state body. I am convinced that this will contribute to the safety and security of every Hungarian. At the same time, those non-Hungarian nationals who support illegal immigration will be expelled from Hungary. This is the essence of the Stop Soros package.
You met with the leaders of the European People’s Party. What did they say? Did they congratulate you on your two-thirds victory, or did they congratulate you and then say “Dear Viktor Orbán, you should be a little more careful, because from time to time liberals say that Fidesz should be expelled from the People’s Party”?
The liberals will expel themselves from their own party, and they have nothing to do with our party. I could also thank them for their good advice, though it is irrelevant. This is about something more important. This is about the fact that Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party belong to the extended family of the European People’s Party – which is the strongest party alliance in the European Union today. Although I don’t want to take the conversation in this direction, in my opinion it isn’t the strongest group, because the largest group in the European Parliament is not that of the European People’s Party, but that of George Soros. The true facts of political life should be revealed not only in Hungary, but also over there. But first we should concern ourselves with Hungary, and when things are on course here, then we should table this issue. By the way, in the EU bills like the Stop Soros bill are regularly proposed, but then rejected. They seek to bring to light various lobbying organisations which operate under the cover of European institutions, and of the European Parliament. The largest and strongest of these is George Soros’s organisation. But we are a strong parliamentary group, and there will be European Parliament elections in 2019. This is important, because then the main issue can only be migration, as that is what interests the European people; they know that this is what will determine their fate. European leaders have been afraid to ask Europeans’ opinion on this, and so far people haven’t been given the chance to state their views on migration and immigration in a single country – apart from Hungary. Only Hungary has organised a referendum, a consultation on this. The European elections, however, will be nothing less than a grand referendum and consultation on the issues of immigration and migration. So in 2019 the European people will voice their opinion and let European politicians know what they expect them to do about migration, and how they should do it. Our shared European People’s Party – which includes parties that support immigration and parties, such as ours, that are opposed to immigration – will have to prepare for this. There are parties from countries which have already turned themselves into immigrant countries, and there are countries – such as Hungary – which don’t want to become immigrant countries, and don’t want to transfer their countries into foreign hands. The question is one of how we can work together in the upcoming European parliamentary election campaign; this is what we had to discuss.
But is it possible to achieve alignment on this?
We’re working on it. In our world, in the world of politics, very few things can be called impossible. This is a highly creative profession, every day new solutions emerge, and clever people – or at least people who consider themselves to be clever – sit around tables and think all day about how to solve problems that at first sight seem impossible. They often succeed.
Politicians in the People’s Party must recognise that among their ranks there is no other party like Fidesz: a party that has won a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections for the third time.
This is why, when we met, I offered them the assistance of Fidesz and my intensive personal involvement in a large-scale European People’s Party campaign.
Leaders of the European Union – the head of the Commission – have introduced the draft of the EU’s next multiannual budget. We can’t exactly say that it was welcomed with rapturous applause; perhaps only the Germans are applauding. Do you think there’s anything you can do on this?
The German Chancellor herself described it as only being something like an initial proposal. This will be a long debate and series of negotiations. It won’t be the first in my life: I’ve done it before, I know the ins and outs, I know the script, and what events to expect. Here the most important advice is to take it easy. It will be a long debate and, before we get to the point of eventually creating a joint budget for a seven-year cycle, we will also hear all sorts of nonsense. And so it is important to take it easy, because in the end the budget will have to be adopted unanimously. So the Hungarians don’t need to worry: there will be no budget until the Hungarians give the go-ahead. In this debate we will exercise calm and composure, steadfastly representing our best interests. There are a few issues, and I’m not one of those government leaders – such as from Germany and some other countries – who have already publicly stated their opinions on the proposal. Those countries are big – let them run ahead. We are of a different size, and we must proceed with intelligence and prudence, so that in the end there will be a budget which is good for Hungary. This is possible, as the budget we negotiated – the budget I negotiated previously, the one that applies now – has been good for Hungary. It’s true that there have been some changes: for instance, the British are leaving the EU, and therefore the number of contributor Member States will decrease, as will the incoming funds – and therefore, of course, so too will the funds available for distribution. But we’ll use our intellect and skill to defend ourselves from the consequences. There are a couple of things I can firmly say now – and I think that here, right at the beginning, Hungary has to lay its cards on the table. The first thing we must say is that we do not think a single cent should be given to migrants: every country should use its own budget to solve that problem. I don’t support a European budget which takes funding away from farmers, from research and development and from regional development, and gives it to countries which have let in migrants. So I believe that we’ll have to put up a fight there. Under no circumstances will we support a reduction in funding for agriculture – and I believe that on this we’re in alliance with the French. We don’t support reducing opportunities for Hungarian, French and European farmers. I can already see these two points as ones on which we must state our positions clearly right at the beginning; meanwhile on others I recommend a strategy of gradual progress.
Yes, but in ever more proposals one can see the goal or conception whereby EU leaders would like to deprive Member States of their independence. They would like to intervene in areas in which they have so far had no say.
This is a characteristic of every bloated bureaucracy. If you or the listeners are able to follow the debates in the US about the role of Washington as the nation’s capital, one will find things that make even me blush – and I’ve heard a great many things in my life. So in general it’s true that imperial or major power centres such as Washington or Brussels instinctively seek to grow, to expand; and this is only possible by taking away powers, jurisdiction and resources from their constituent elements – in this case from the European nations. This is why I say that we must not create a United States of Europe. We must instead see Europe as an alliance of free nations, from which no one can take away money or jurisdiction: an alliance that we are free to form in the service of shared goals. This is the only thing that can curb a bureaucracy of the type that exists in Brussels. So we shouldn’t be surprised at Brussels continuously seeking – at least in its aims – to expand beyond the limits which were designated for it. We shall not let this happen, we shall validate these limits, and we shall continually defend Hungarian and national sovereignty.
Yes, but we can at least say that what they’re doing is undemocratic.
Bureaucracy does not operate democratically. We are the democrats, who have been elected.
But if they want to tie funding to the rule of law?
Yes, but an important starting point is that no one elected them, yet we have been elected by the people: so we’re the democrats, and they’re bureaucrats. So this is a moral position, an appropriate starting point that backs us up and forms the basis of our position. Hungary and Central Europe need have no fear of any debates – be they on the rule of law or the budget. We are strong, Central Europe is developing, and everyone knows that this region is the engine of the European economy. The community of European peoples needs the Central European countries, and so we shall come to an agreement. As regards the rule of law, we can be especially confident, because we were fully audited in 2013 – the only country in the entire European Union to have gone through such a process. So we have documentary proof that our justice system is in order, and we have documentary proof that here the rule of law is in order. We therefore look forward any such debate with enthusiasm and in a positive mood.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.