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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the Hungarian-Ukrainian Business Forum

Good morning Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Mayor of the City of Debrecen for allowing us to be here. We thank the University’s management for hosting this conference. Why and how are we here, in Debrecen? The Honourable Prime Minister of Ukraine arrived in Hungary yesterday, and we organised a series of activities to present him with: we showed him the Parliament Building, we took him to the Academy, and we spent the evening in the Operetta Theatre. We also wanted to show the Honourable Prime Minister a city which would make it clear that there is more to Hungary than Budapest. We also wanted to show him another capital: the capital of Eastern Hungary. Your city of Debrecen has not only earned this title on account of its past, but its future is also a justification for the Government of Hungary looking upon it as a city of great importance. The Hungarian economy has reached a stage of development at which our only faint-heartedness can impose a limits on our performance and achievements.

Citizens of Debrecen,

The sky is the limit. There is, of course, no guarantee that we shall reach it, but according to the time-honoured law, if one does not set goals which are impossible, one will not reach the goals which are possible either. Naturally there is also no guarantee that the Hungarian economy will be as successful over the next few years as it has been over the past three years. Ever since 2013 we have all seen that Hungary is on an upward path – even our political adversaries see it, and perhaps even they cannot deny it. There is no guarantee that this will continue forever, but according to all reliable projections, I can tell our Ukrainian friends – and also the people of Debrecen – that this upward trend could carry on for quite a few more years. This is the time to be brave, this is the time to be innovative, this is the time to push our imaginations to the limit. and this is the time to put back on the table all those old plans which our parents and grandparents were unable to implement for political reasons, but which are still there, in the drawer of some old cabinet. This is the time to beat a path to Hungarian government agencies, to the Government of Hungary and the Prime Minister’s Office, and to the financial institutions which can provide funds through Eximbank and the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, and are able to launch developments.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

So this is why now we are here in Debrecen. I would like to say a few words about the prospects of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. It is very good that I have clearly arrived here with the Prime Minister of Ukraine on friendly terms, but the question is how long this will be the case. We all know that Ukraine is not in an easy position. Everyone here in the audience is well-travelled, you read the papers, and you are fully aware of the difficult situation that our eastern neighbour, Ukraine, has found itself in over the past few years. Semi-war conditions exist, together with violation of sovereignty. Hungarian-Ukrainian trade figures have also suffered as a result, because while it is true that there was an 11 per cent increase in the first eight months of this year, there was a 33 per cent decline in the previous two years. So we are talking about a country which is in an extremely difficult situation. But we are also talking about a country of 46 million. With its population of 10 million, Hungary can appreciate this difference in size. After all, if we look at what10 million of us have been able to do in recent years, what could a country of 46 million be capable of? Its area is enormous, and its geographical situation is nothing short of superb, as it is a link between East and West: for us Ukraine is a geographical gateway, where the East begins.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are talking about a country which has high hopes, but which is suffering from serious political difficulties. Under such circumstances, what could guarantee that Ukrainian-Hungarian political relations will remain at the excellent level they are today? This is important for you, because if favourable political relations between Ukraine and Hungary do not exist, the opportunities for business are far more limited. Naturally, in our dreams, the best state of affairs is when the economy is entirely independent of politics. We learn this from our textbooks as well, but we all know that it is not so. Political stability, the effectiveness of a government, its ability to make the right decisions, and a predictable legal environment ensured by a government clearly have an impact on opportunities for business, and on the advancement of your businesses. And this means that you have a vested interest in the long-term maintenance of Ukrainian-Hungarian political relations at their present level. This gives you the shelter under which you can do business.

I am convinced that Ukrainian-Hungarian friendship will survive in the longer run, because we support Ukraine’s strategic goals, as we have publicly declared. We look upon Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty as the number one consideration, and as long as Ukraine stands up for this, we too shall stand up for it. Secondly, we are a country which is not afraid to say out loud that the goal is Ukraine’s accession to the European Union. Today this seems impossible and to be shrouded in a permanent fog, as today the European Union is suffering with its own problems, and has lost the energy, desire, ability and passion to enlarge, to extend its borders outwards. Nevertheless, if the Ukrainian people are also in agreement, we must speak up for the idea of Ukraine becoming a member of the European Union in the medium term. This is because the European Union will fall behind in global economic competition unless it has access to newer and newer resources. And in fact Ukraine is not a problem, but a resource –which can also be a resource for the European Union.

Some members of the audience are about the same age as me. They might remember that communism in Hungary finally fell in 1990, and we were only admitted to the EU in 2004, fourteen years later. When the EU did not want to admit us, and we had to fight to be let in, they told us the same things that they are now telling Ukraine: we would cost them money, if there were more countries there would be less money for each country, and so rather than adding to the European Union’s strength, we would diminish it. And now look at the reality. We joined in 2004, it is now 2016 and, twelve years after our accession, if we Central Europeans – the countries of the V4 – were not members of the European Union, there would be no economic growth in the EU, only stagnation and decline. The only reason there is growth in the European Union is that these four countries – from Poland to Hungary – are growing dynamically, and have become Europe’s new economic growth engine. The same will happen to Ukraine; initially it will cost money, but already in the medium term it can add enormous potential to the European Union. Therefore we shall always stand up for Ukraine’s accession to the European Union.

You are right, however, when you say that today we are unable to solve even much less serious problems – such as Ukraine’s citizens not being granted visa-free travel. Hungary demands just that. We find it inconceivable that we should engage in serious negotiations with Turkey before we grant visa-free travel to Ukrainians. You must be aware – as you could see it on television – of the risk which Ukraine took when it decided to move closer to the European Union three years ago. The country is still paying the military price for this. I am convinced that – having promised three years ago that Ukraine can advance towards the European Union – it is also our moral duty to grant that privilege. This should be the result of the promise we made – even if right now Europe is on a bumpy road. We must give the citizens of Ukraine access to visa-free travel. We must allow them to enter the territory of the European Union without visas. This does not cost anything – it is simply a matter of friendship, political courage and strategic thinking. Europe needs Ukraine, it needs the citizens of Ukraine in Europe, and it also needs the Ukrainians living in Ukraine, who will be able to contribute to the performance of the overall European economy. I am therefore convinced that both common sense and the moral duty stemming from earlier promises obliges us to grant Ukrainians visa-free travel. It is also insupportable that one of Europe’s richest nations, the Netherlands – which, compared with us, is rolling in money – vetoed a strong free trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, while the other 27 EU Member States supported it. These are anomalies which must be remedied. And we must open up the opportunity for Ukrainian businesses to cooperate with the European Union’s business organisations within a free trade agreement.

A further guarantee that politics will promote your business activities, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that together with Ukraine’s prime minister we have designated specific programmes. We have prepared an action plan, which is currently being finalised, and Minister Miklós Seszták will represent the Hungarian government in the implementation of this business action plan. As you may have heard, it covers road construction projects, the opening of border crossing stations, and the setting up of development funds. We have opened a credit line for aid for Ukraine worth EUR 50 million. This year, as you may have heard, we shall make HUF 2 billion available for calls for proposals for Ukrainian and Hungarian businesses in Transcarpathia, and another HUF 5 billion next year. And when this sum is spent, if it turns out to be insufficient, we are prepared to increase it by a great amount, as we have already done in the case of Vojvodina – which is another important cause for Hungary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now there is a tailwind, now is the time to hoist our sails, now is the time to embark on things which one has been planning for some time, but for which one felt that the moment had not yet come. Now there is an opportunity to do just that. I urge Ukrainian and Hungarian companies to do business, to try out new things, and in the implementation of your business plans you will find partners and a helping hand – both in the Ukrainian and the Hungarian governments. I encourage all of us to step out of our own shadow, to conquer our faint-heartedness, and to dare to think much bigger than we would have thought possible – even just a few years ago.

People of Debrecen,

I am talking about something which you, of course, have no lack of: courage. There are great times ahead, and the City of Debrecen, businesses in the eastern part of the country, Hungarians and Ukrainians in Transcarpathia and Ukrainian businesses with an interest in Hungary will all be able to make good use of the inherent opportunities.

I wish you every success with the rest of the forum.