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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press conference after the meeting of the European Council

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

What should I begin with? The European Council’s meeting yesterday covered a lot of topics, so it’s difficult to give it a clear structure. Perhaps we should use Hungarian logic, and talk about the things which are most important for us.

The most important thing from a Hungarian point of view is that, before the summit, the prime ministers of the four Visegrád countries held a meeting in which we adopted a joint statement. As far as I’m aware we made this public, and I would kindly ask you to study it, because it contains everything worth knowing about European positions in terms of migration. We have very clearly laid down three things. There’s nothing new in this, but despite the strong pressure placed on us, we repeat these three obvious assertions – and this in itself is an important political achievement. The three assertions are that the external borders must be protected, that those who have entered must be removed from the continent, and that those who want to enter and those whom we have removed must be guarded in large camps outside the territory of the EU, where they must be duly screened. This screening process will enable the Member States of the European Union to decide – each at its own discretion – which people they wish to allow into their territories. This is the triad: these are the three pillars which support the V4 position. Naturally you are all perfectly aware of the fact that we also take humanitarian issues and international law into consideration, but the essence is that everything stands or falls on whether or not we close the borders now. I would like to stress that Hungary is closing off the path from the direction of the Balkans towards the interior of Europe. But Greece is unable to secure its borders, and its situation depends on the goodwill of the Turks; and Italy is likewise unable – or unwilling – to close its borders. From a European point of view, the situation in Italy is dramatic – the new Prime Minister himself has made no secret of this. Earlier Italy was more of a transit country on the route, but now that the proportion of migrants from African countries has risen, Italy is increasingly a target country. According to the Italian prime minister, the situation there is becoming more and more difficult. Well now, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the position the V4 has adopted, and migrants are now able to reach the interior of Europe through Italy, rather than via the Balkans route.

In the debate on this agenda item I pointed out that the Slovak presidency has done an excellent job, and has made a genuine effort to find a compromise. The fact that in the end they didn’t find one was not their fault in any way, but the situation has simply become a logical impossibility – as there are two positions on the table at the same time which cannot be reconciled. In consequence, there’s no way of finding a compromise between them – this is the truth. While the closing document continues to encourage us to keep talking – and we will talk, because it’s always better to talk than not to talk, and it’s always better to seek a compromise than not to seek one – it’s best for us to understand that there are two mutually exclusive positions on the table. I could also say that what the Germans want is something which the Hungarians don’t want. To put it more precisely, we don’t know what the Germans want. What we do know is what the German Chancellor wants. What the German Chancellor wants is something which the Hungarians don’t want. We know what the Hungarians want, because we are the only country which has asked its people what they want. As a result, we are not talking about one government’s position being opposed to another government’s position, but the German government’s position being contrary to the Hungarian people’s interests – the interests and position precisely stated by the people themselves. This is why, although seeking compromises is important, we must accept that either we distribute [migrants] or we don’t – and the Germans seem to want to distribute them. By contrast, we say that it is we Hungarians alone who may decide on who will live in the territory of Hungary. It appears that the difference between the two positions will be impossible to bridge.

The other thing I could say in the context of this agenda item are words of gratitude. We thanked the three other V4 countries for continuously sending us border security, military and policing assistance, and we especially thanked Austria for having recently joined the efforts of the V4 to protect the Hungarian borders and stationing significant forces on Hungary’s southern border. We publicly thanked Chancellor Kern for this. Clearly on matters like this – on national security matters – party affiliation is secondary, as the Austrian Chancellor represents the socialists, while that can hardly be said about us.

Related to this agenda item, we also said that there’s no need to be fearful about the Balkans route. There is, of course, a certain fear, given that – regardless of what President Erdoğan’s intentions may be at any time – the situation of the Turks is fragile, with terrorist attacks occurring in Turkey. The Turkish president and his family survived the last coup attempt with only twenty minutes or so to spare. So regardless of what President Erdoğan wants, the situation of Turkey itself appears to be a risk factor, and naturally the question therefore arises whether yet another flow of refugees could once again start from the south, from the direction of Turkey. Our answer is that this can’t be ruled out, but there’s no need to fear, because now we’re reinforcing Hungary’s border protection capability by using completely new technical solutions. So Hungary is able to defend the interior of Europe, but once again there may be more movement on the Balkans route. The prime ministers – including myself – agreed that in such a situation we shall help each other. But even if our cooperative effort to divert any further waves of refugees and migrants as far south as possible were to fail, Hungary would itself be able – with V4 and Austrian help – to curb and to halt at its borders a northward migrant flow of any volume coming from the South. This is what I said at the Council meeting. I stressed that here in Brussels they can count on this, and I would add that they can also count on it in Vienna and Berlin. I also told them that they could give us some assistance. Except for that from the V4 and the Austrians, we haven’t received any help so far – not even, horribile dictu, from Brussels. Though at this point in time their actions are hindering rather helping, Brussels could help us in our efforts if they abolished some of the rules which have nothing to do with real life. I specifically asked Brussels to change the rules under which a migrant to whom we’ve denied entry and who exercises the constitutional right to appeal this decision in a court of law, may enter the territory of Hungary and freely move around the country until the court has ruled on their case. Let’s not beat about the bush: if they can, most of them want to immediately leave our country for the West. No one would be able to leave Hungary for the West if – instead of prohibiting the practice – the EU made it possible to take into custody those waiting for court rulings on their appeals against refusals to grant asylum. But yesterday evening the Council of Prime Ministers didn’t accept this request, this proposal of mine. So I have to say that in this area the balance of power between the defenders of the status quo and, let’s say, the reform opposition, doesn’t look good. We – who claim to belong to the reform opposition – have been unable to achieve results here, in Brussels, even on such simple and obvious matters: issues which are not only in our interests, but also those of the others. So for the time being, a migrant is free to move around the territory of Hungary until the adoption of a court decision. The responsibility for this lies with Brussels; and if migrants leave Hungary for the West, Brussels is likewise responsible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe it’s an important achievement that the prime ministers agreed that we must – or we should try to – conclude agreements with African countries: agreements of the same kind as we have with the Turks. We have created different groups of countries. I myself specifically suggested that Egypt should be among the countries with which we enter into agreements under any circumstances. Egypt is absolutely key. We’re not doing quite as well there as we are with several other countries. We can establish – and there are several examples of this – that whenever we entered into such agreements and managed to enter into cooperation with the governments of the countries concerned, we have achieved major results in reducing the number of people coming from those countries. I’d like to speak about an idea which was once branded by the international press – and also a few Western European prime ministers – as inhumane, inconceivable and insane. I made a proposal as part of the Schengen 2.0 plan, which perhaps you remember. In international politics the world is changing so fast that it seems as if it was years ago, but in fact it can’t have been more than a few months ago. I said that a huge, guarded refugee camp should be set up and operated outside the territory of the EU, somewhere on the Libyan coast or in some other suitable part of Africa. At the time my idea was met with scorn and contempt, but this position is now gaining in acceptance. We are now talking about how we could accomplish this task, who we could come to an agreement with, and where such facilities could be set up. This clearly demonstrates that, even in Brussels, it’s not quite a hopeless task to make recommendations which at first are, of course, rejected, but are later embraced, as common sense comes to the fore.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We also spoke about security issues, as the NATO Secretary General was also our guest. He came to talk about European security cooperation. His clear intention – and ours also, as we invited him for this reason – was to talk about how to avoid any unnecessary duplications in NATO’s defence systems and the prospective defence systems of the European Union, and to make sure that European defence should not find itself in a position opposed to or rivalling NATO. It is right that it shouldn’t – this would be contrary to Hungary’s interests.

NATO has its own role. At the same time, if we connect this intention of creating European security with the situation we see in Syria – and last night we discussed Syria at some length – we can clearly see that we still have a great deal to do in this department. Here the most important thing is to face the harsh realities. I’m not saying that this happened last night, but we made a move in this direction. On the issue of Syria, the statements we’re making are not strong, but, by international standards, they are uncompromising or harsh; or, rather, I saw my fellow prime ministers making such statements after the summit. And we can also find some harsh wording in the common declaration. But we must admit that, when we face reality, we find that we have plenty of heart and a loud voice, but we lack strength. A degree of frustration stemming from the combination of these three things is reflected in every statement. The lesson we can learn from Syria – where in the past a few EU Member States have also been militarily involved – is that if we don’t have actual military might, the result can only be military defeat. This is precisely what we’re suffering in Syria right now. And if there’s military defeat, all that remains – instead of victory, the settlement of issues and genuine help for the people living there – is well-meaning rhetoric. I don’t underestimate this, and I think that declaring good intentions is, of course, important. I’m convinced that it is also important for us, because this is a matter of self-esteem; and it’s important for the Syrian people who can feel that, although Europe is not there to help them militarily, we are there on their side at least in terms of diplomatic and international criminal law procedures. Regrettably, however, well-intentioned platitudes don’t resolve a situation in Syria which others are now seeking to resolve with military might.

And speaking about facing reality, here we can immediately mention Ukraine. I’m not going to use the term “European army”, because yesterday the meeting of prime ministers decided not to use it, but, without a common European military force, how could we intervene militarily in areas far from Europe, when we aren’t even able to influence military events in Ukraine? What’s more, it’s not only military events that we’re unable to influence. Ukraine was a long item on the agenda, but – and this is not a military issue, but a purely political one – we’re also unable to offer the Ukrainians something which doesn’t involve military-political considerations of any kind, for which there are no legal obstacles whatsoever, and which no one is able, willing or brave enough to argue against in public. This is the issue of immediate visa-free travel. We aren’t even offering that. Instead we argue for hours over how to resuscitate the free trade agreement that was torpedoed by the Dutch, and almost forced onto the rocks. We did that yesterday, the resuscitation was successful, and this is a major result. But in the meantime we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that for months we’ve been unable – even after all legal obstacles have been removed – to grant Ukraine visa-free travel. And what substantive assistance will we extend to Ukraine, if not this? So there was a big debate on the issue of Ukraine. The position of the V4 was firm and determined, and we took a very pro-Ukraine stance, regardless of any differences we may have on the rational and sound policy to be pursued in relation to Russia. So, regardless of that, our four countries stated our common V4 position, which focuses very much on Ukraine’s interests. This is good news for the future. You shouldn’t forget that from July 2017 Hungary will be coordinating the work of the V4; clearly, even if it can’t be achieved in a European context, helping the Ukrainians is something which can be expected at least from the V4. To this end, we shall make the necessary efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We spoke about migration, we spoke about Ukraine, we spoke about the NATO Secretary General, and the issue of military cooperation. Perhaps we should mention one other issue, about which a long and bitter debate developed yesterday. I can’t say that I enjoyed it at all. This debate was about the capping of household utility charges; of course, not in the simple and crude way I have put it just now, but in the elegant European language of law philosophy. The sophisticated European code name for the prohibition of reductions in household utility charges is the “Energy Union”. A year or two ago we made a decision on the Energy Union: our decision was that there will be an energy union – as usual, without deciding what it actually is. Therefore in every document we now confirm that there will be one – there will be an energy union. We’re only just putting together what the common energy policy means, however, and it has now transpired that there are elements in it which some – or the majority – of the Member States would like, while others wouldn’t; and there are elements which one particular country or another would be in favour of, while the majority wouldn’t. Every country with major energy production potential, almost without exception, has one problem or another, so I’ll not even mention their affairs here. It’s perhaps worth mentioning the Poles, because, while I’ve seen many things in the EU, what they’re doing to the Poles now – or what they want to do to them – is something unprecedented, something I’ve never seen before. So we had to speak up for the Poles, and we had to stand up for Poland. As part of the common energy policy on emissions, the Commission approved a regulation on emissions in which they define a unit of measurement which is bad only for the Poles. As we say in Pest, if there’s a classic case of doing someone down, this must be it, but I have to say that they should at least pay attention to appearances. This is what I said. Defining the emission values in a way which is only bad for a single country and does not disadvantage anyone else cannot be regarded as a solution inspired by the European spirit. This is a matter affecting Poles, but as they are an important ally of ours, we had to take a stand on this as well. But there is also a matter which directly affects Hungarians. This time I didn’t raise the detailed elements of this debate, but together with the Poles we announced – and this is also stated in the text – that, although we want an energy union, and we even agreed to observe a deadline for creating an energy union, there are very serious problems which must be resolved before the finalisation of such a union. In the footnotes we’re going to mention Poland – and perhaps Hungary, too, but maybe only the Poles. The final text was put together last night, and it mentions the Poles. The problem now unfolding is that in the package there’s a rule relating to the Energy Union which seeks to prohibit individual Member States enacting price regulation. We discussed this within the V4 as well, and I can reassure you that Hungary will not be left alone in this struggle. There are other countries – more than one I think – which find it inconceivable that Brussels should prohibit the reduction of household utility charges – or, to put it in legal terms, the option of state price regulation. I think that a detailed proposal regarding the Energy Union will be tabled in March, and we shall fight this battle, which I told you about just before the meeting. This clearly demonstrates that the issue in question is not simply legislative, and not just a European philosophical issue, but a question which very directly affects hundreds of thousands of Hungarian families.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I think I’ve managed to cover the most important issues.

Thank you very much for your attention, and if I can answer your questions, I’ll be happy to do so.