Prime Minister, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today has been a special occasion for us. It is very rare for a country to decide to take most of its ministers and hold a joint cabinet meeting with the government of another country. In addition, if something of this kind does happen there is always the danger of empty protocol, because the spectacle itself steals the show; even if nothing is done, it still looks so good to see all those ministers standing next to each other – they must have been discussing something important. But this meeting wasn’t like that, because both countries have come to some important realisations practically simultaneously. In this regard we owe a debt of gratitude to the Slovenian prime minister, who initiated today’s meeting. He has spoken of it with modesty, but the truth is that he insisted that our joint cabinet meeting should not be a mere protocol event, and that instead we should thoroughly develop and prepare for today’s meeting one topic and one project at a time; and so the discussions we have just had were exceptional.
I feel it is important to repeat what we heard a little earlier from the Prime Minister. The Slovenian language is less aggressive than Hungarian, so though I am saying the same thing as him, it just sounds different: in the coming period Europe will not enjoy world attention for being exceptionally successful economically. Instead what we can expect – if we are lucky – is that the European Union will move a stalled European project out of its current state of paralysis; but unfortunately we cannot offer comforting promises that within the next few years there will be a perceivable economic upturn in the European Union that will give extra impetus to your businesses. You shouldn’t count on that. Prime ministers are sometimes mistaken, and sometimes it is good if they are – this would be one such instance – but I doubt I am very far from the truth. In contrast, however, while Europe in general will be characterised by stagnation or tiny steps forward, Central Europe has a very different future ahead of it. Harvard University has a centre for international growth, which recently published a paper about world growth over the next ten years. They indicated – when they had sufficient courage, they predicted – where there will be perceivable growth, and in this respect Central Europe stands out. So I am not speaking as a Hungarian now, and not even as a Central European, but as a reader, an individual who collects information and who knows what other people think about this region. And I can tell you that one of the world’s most respected growth-forecasting centres takes it as read that in the period ahead Central Europe can look forward to exceptional growth prospects, and this is true from Poland in the north to down here on the Adriatic. So I believe that there are more opportunities lying before our feet here in Central Europe, in our own backyard, than we are used to thinking of.
We know each other well and I sometimes travel on “world-conquering” tours together with several of you. Hungarians often think that size is the most important thing, and so we go to Kazakhstan and China and Korea. The more courageous will soon be off to Mongolia, and then if we’ve caught a cold we’ll go to Jakarta, where we’ll be in a hot sweat; so we tend to look to the larger territories, because we think that a large territory means large opportunities. But in the meantime we haven’t noticed that what the Americans are saying about our region, about the region in which we live, is that the highest rate of economic growth will be right here. And so today the Prime Minister and I undertook to try and breathe life into Slovenian-Hungarian economic relations – without, of course, wanting to belittle what we have achieved so far, because two billion euros in trade between our two countries is already a respectable sum. But the two delegations have agreed that this amount is far less than the potential open to us. If you listen to what the Chairman of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has to say, he has figures which prove that in theory it should be politically much more difficult to breathe life into and promote a Slovakian-Hungarian system of relations, for instance: in comparison it would be easy to achieve the same goals with Slovenia, because politically there is in fact nothing here that could hinder cooperation. Yet despite this Slovakian-Hungarian economic relations are moving forward at a much faster pace than Slovenian-Hungarian relations – to say nothing of Romania. So we clearly have something here – an opportunity. Here is a country, Slovenia, which is our neighbour and with whom we may have had our differences during the course of history, but these were not affairs of any major importance and we certainly never caused each other lasting damage. And if we look at things from a historical perspective, then we have stood shoulder to shoulder more often than we have opposed each other. Now, if we take a look at the migration crisis, to name just one issue, then here is yet another example of us standing side-by-side and not toe to toe: one in which we need each other’s mutual assistance, and in which we are duly providing it to each other. So here is a country, which is also ahead of Hungary in several ways as regards its standard of living, yet with which we haven’t yet sufficiently exploited opportunities for cooperation. And so one of the reasons we held a joint cabinet meeting today, Ladies and Gentlemen, is in order to change this situation; in the language of politics, today we attempted to raise Slovenian-Hungarian economic relations – which are otherwise at an acceptable level – to the level of strategic cooperation. What does this require, over and above the political will of the two prime ministers?
Firstly, there must be no more gaps in cooperation: these are unacceptable for two modern national economies living side-by-side. But such gaps still exist today. Our two motorway systems are not properly connected – this is fundamentally the fault of us Hungarians; we are the ones who are responsible, but by 2018 we will have rectified the situation. The rail transport system isn’t fully electrified; here it is our Slovenian friends who have somewhat more to do, but we have come to an agreement, set deadlines and the like, and this system will be electrified. Our two electricity supply systems are not interconnected to a suitably high level of quality: we must increase capacity, and this is something we shall do. Our two natural gas pipeline systems are not interconnected; here we are, living side-by-side, and this is not simply an economic issue, but also a question of national security – yet they are not connected. And so today the Prime Minister and I came to several decisions which mean that within one or two years the relationship between our two countries will reach the level required by the modern world economy.
The second important thing we agreed upon – and which we have determined as our common starting point – is that today Hungary is in better shape than it used to be. I am not saying better than ever, but certainly better than we can remember. This is especially true for the younger generation, because the old can perhaps remember that once we were in even better shape. The fact is that the financial foundations of the Hungarian economy are now stable. We have here with us our minster responsible for finances and the budget; and his person also serves as a guarantee that no one in Hungary will ever again endanger the country’s consolidated fiscal foundations – be it out of stupidity, carelessness or for economic or political gain. I will mention quietly – because this is something we rarely talk about – that we won the elections in 2014 without adding to the budget deficit; in fact the deficit decreased, which had not happened in Hungary since 1990. The budget deficit increased in every election year except 2014, and this clearly shows how committed we are to not putting at risk the consolidated fiscal foundations of the Hungarian economy. We have made similar advances in reducing government debt, and will continue doing so in the coming years. And something else you will have noticed is that, while our fiscal situation is consolidated, we are also opening up newer and newer financing resources for enterprises; there is the Central Bank’s programme, as I’m sure you remember, and then there’s Eximbank, which has risen from the ashes like a phoenix. For Slovenian-Hungarian cooperation alone they have just opened a new credit line of 370 million euros, but we are making funding available in similar orders of magnitude for other goals, and we are opening foreign trade offices. I could continue a long list of signs which indicate that, although there may not be as much money in the Hungarian economy as we would like and there is not enough money in the pockets of enterprises as we would like, there is more than there used to be. This also means a higher level of available resources.
This much we can say for certain. Since we are not communists, meaning that capital is not our enemy, and we are not envious if someone is successful, but instead believe that if the representatives of national capital in Hungary are not successful then the whole country will be unsuccessful. There has never been a successful country without successful businesses and business people and equity; although such a situation exists in the Communist Manifesto, it has never existed in reality. Accordingly, it is in our interests – and in the interests of every Hungarian, including employees who earn a monthly wage – that Hungarian businesses should finally be able to perform their economic activities while realising a higher profit than before. And then some of that profit will make its way back into the economy in development, job creation and so on – without which the Hungarian economy could not be successful. I am not claiming that we have already completed all the necessary tasks, but we have signed the required agreements, we have been encouraged to take part in Slovenian privatisation and have opened up the required opportunities; the only remaining question is whether you – Slovenian and Hungarian businesspeople – can make use of these opportunities.
I must tell you in all honesty that I have another, secondary idea on developing Slovenian-Hungarian relations. Because I believe that the Slovenians are just as unhappy as we are about the fact that the areas either side of our joint Slovenian-Hungarian border are among our least developed regions. I am sure that nobody in Slovenia is happy about the fact that the region in which the Hungarians live is economically less developed and has less capital, and we too are not satisfied with the fact that the corresponding regions of Zala and Vas counties are among the country’s least successful and least capitalised regions. And so, while of course relations between the two capitals remain important, we also hope that Slovenian-Hungarian cooperation will result in a new momentum for the development of the regions inhabited by Hungarians on the Slovenian side and by Slovenians on the Hungarian side – with which we can together serve the advancement of a region in which Slovenians and Hungarians alike can move forward in line with their own national identities. And so as a result of this economic cooperation I very much hope that a new regional momentum will also emerge.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While showing my gratitude for the opportunity to hold today’s negotiations, I would like to finish my speech by expressing this wish to all of you: that we should have confidence in the future of Central Europe – including its success – to at least the same level at that which the Americans are showing in us.
Thank you for your attention.