Éva Kocsis: Twenty-five minutes to eight. Good morning. In the studio we have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with his first interview of the year. Good morning.
At the beginning of the year we usually wish people a happy new year, but the question is: what makes a new year a happy one? Let us consider the following. On the one hand, we have the positive measures: reductions in VAT and personal income tax, and first homes benefit. On the other hand we have, for instance, the things that we finished our last interview with, such as the coordination of education with the economy, or what your state secretary for health care said: that the healthcare system is effectively the last sad remnant of socialism. If we consider these things – challenges versus positive developments – which way are the scales tipping at the beginning of the year?
Let me use your turn of phrase: a Happy New Year to everyone. I, too, wish you and your listeners a Happy New Year. I must immediately begin with the usual excuse that, naturally, the Government can do a great deal, but cannot provide happiness and a happy life, because a happy life requires far more than that which we could provide. What we can provide, however, are the circumstances in which everyone appreciates and feels that their efforts are worthwhile: that hard work pays off. In my opinion, if we evaluate the situation by looking at the last five years, we can see that we are increasingly heading in a direction in which everyone can feel that their hard work and effort is paying off, because every year they can take a step forward. And everyone can move a step forward: this is a national government. It doesn’t represent only certain strata and groups in society, but the entire nation: every member of the nation. We therefore want to give every group, class and stratum the opportunities to move forward. This will also be the case this year. There are tax reductions, and there is a minimum wage increase of around 5 per cent in real terms, combined with tax reductions. I think that this hasn’t happened since 2002. And we shall also launch a major benefit scheme for first homes. These are important things, but my message to the listeners is that it is important to consider not only what will happen in the year ahead or this year or what opportunities will emerge. I would also invite them to consider that whatever we have accomplished, it is all there: it is all there permanently. So the Government has not pursued mere political campaigns: whatever the Government has started – for instance, public works or tax reduction or job creation, the job projection action plan and the promotion of families – have not disappeared after a year or two, but have become integrated into life in Hungary. All these schemes are still there, to be relied upon, to be built upon, and to factor in. In other words, we not only take one step forward, but we have firm foundations, on the basis of which everyone can plan their own personal future and that of their family.
What are the areas in which you have told your ministers that you would like to see a step forward over the next few months?
We must now accomplish everything that we resolved upon in our laws for this year: tax reduction, the first home benefit scheme and the strengthening of families. Beginning this year we shall phase in tax benefit increases for families with two children. We have announced the first home benefit scheme, which will be made available to a great many people. In that department, we shall have to enact further measures – for those working in public employment, for instance. We are working on this. And we shall also have to implement tax reductions, but my job is to start thinking about what will happen in 2017, as we would like to approve the financial plan for 2017 – the central budget – by 1 July 2016, as we did last year. So in the first quarter of this year we are already planning for the areas in which in 2017 we would like to pursue the directions which we have embarked upon in recent years.
Are the changes you mentioned in connection with first home ownership needed because there are some who have been left behind due to lack of funds or other reasons?
No, the reason is that it is simply impossible to create a first home benefit scheme which simultaneously provides opportunities for everyone. We are not all the same, we are not all in the same situation, and in Hungary families are also in very varied situations. We are in different financial situations, and family benefits must be combined with loans; and in order to take out a loan, you have to meet certain criteria. So this is a complex issue. We have to move forward step by step until we can see that everyone has the opportunity to take one step forward. I think that there is a chance to achieve this, because in Hungary over the past five years every important issue which seemed impossible at first sight later became a national cause. Take the reduction of household utility bills. It had been universally accepted that there can be no such thing: household utility bills cannot be reduced, they can only be increased. We said that this is not impossible, we would do it – and we did it. Today everyone agrees with it. First home benefits fall into the same category. Everyone criticises one thing or another, then a year goes by and everyone seems to suddenly recall that they had been long-time advocates for it. They even claim they took part in its development, and it has become a national cause.
There have been some important meetings this year, even though 2016 is only a few days old. On Wednesday you met Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of Poland’s ruling party, and yesterday British prime minister David Cameron. How do you perceive the situation in light of these meetings? Have the EU reforms – Britain’s proposed reforms within the EU – gained a strong ally, or is it the increasingly strong Visegrád cooperation which has gained a new ally?
Both statements are true. I saw it as important to begin this year in the same way we began last year. Last year we started with a strong foreign policy programme. The German Chancellor and the Russian President came here, we have just received the British Prime Minister, and the Polish prime minister is also due to come here. Meanwhile, I have had talks with the chairman of Poland’s governing party. This was a special meeting, which I could also say was like a club meeting for two old boys and former freedom fighters. There are not many of us left from the old resistance – the resistance to the communist regime – who represent real political power, or who have some kind of position of power. Mr. Kaczyński is one of these, and so am I. So this was an interesting meeting, and we spoke a great deal about the eighties, Solidarity, Hungary, and the fall of communism. At all events I thought it was important to point out that it is a waste of time for the European Union to consider imposing any kind of sanctions on Poland, because that would require unanimity, and Hungary will never support sanctions of any kind against Poland. We have already suffered what the Poles are experiencing now. We also demanded that Hungarians be given the respect that they deserve. I think the Polish are right, too, when they say that they cannot accept the tone which these days Brussels is using ever more frequently. More respect should be given to the Poles, because they deserve it. The British prime minister’s visit indeed focused on matters related to Europe, because all of us feel that the importance and role of Europe is declining – in particular its role in the world economy; and our continent is losing its competitive edge. As a trading nation the British are particularly affected by this loss of competitiveness, but it is not good for us either. So if we want a strong Europe, and that is what we want – Prime Minister Cameron, myself, the British and Hungarian peoples – we must improve Europe’s competitiveness. The view of the British – which we share – is that we must not just take small steps forward, we must not just patch up the existing system, but we must renew the European Union and we must deal with very serious issues. The British have done this and it is good for us. Of course we are all equal in the European Union, but this does not mean that we have the same weight. If we Hungarians raise a question we shall be given a hearing, but this will not have serious and immediate repercussions. If the British say that this is an important issue and hold a referendum on it, and for that reason ask the European Union to set out on the road to renewal, there will be immediate consequences. In other words, we should see the action being taken by the British as an opportunity for the renewal of Europe. And it was in this spirit that we conducted our talks.
Yes, if we consider the realistic chances of the British proposals or reforms in a European Union which is hesitating to make decisions on much smaller problems, if we consider the chances of these proposed British reforms, one tends to be rather sceptical.
Yes, but first of all, it is a good idea to spread British culture or the British approach within the EU. The British have a marvellous characteristic. Of course no nation is perfect – not even the British or the English – but they do have one marvellous characteristic: they don’t allow themselves to be influenced, they live their own lives, they are always British and that is how they will stay. Because they are English first, and European only second, and they do not accept external pressure from anyone. They live in a way consistent with the conventions and traditions they have had for hundreds of years. And I think it is important to acknowledge that we should not create some homogeneous mass, a United States of Europe without nations, but we should strengthen the nations; and strong nations will then constitute a strong alliance which we call the European Union. This British approach coincides with the Central European mentality – the mentality of the Poles and the Hungarians, the Slovaks and the Czechs – and therefore I believe that there is a natural alliance here.
In order to obtain full support, do you think it is necessary to settle the dispute over European workers, Eastern European workers?
Everyone in Central Europe is concentrating on this issue, because it is the one which concerns us most, or this is where we perceive risks; the British proposals are significantly broader than that, however. The British are proposing, for instance, that the role of national parliaments be strengthened. If national parliaments think that damaging legislation is being considered in Europe, they could stop this process. We support this; this is a measure which enhances our sovereignty. The British have also put forward principles rooted in there being no room for double standards, the use of which in Europe today – explicitly or implicitly – is routine practice. A kind of “Brusselism” is dominant. The British say that no prejudicial distinction should be made between eurozone and non-eurozone countries. In other words, there can be no room for double standards: the same rules must apply to everyone. They also suggest that ways should be found to prevent abuse of the British system of in-work benefits. I agree with this. At the same time, we cannot accept discrimination of any kind, because the fifty thousand or so Hungarian people working in Britain today are working hard and honestly, and we can prove that their contributions to Britain’s public finances exceed the services they receive. Additionally, this number of around fifty thousand Hungarians working in Britain is a British statistic from 2014. Of course it is now January 2016, but this number falls far short of the some eight hundred thousand Poles working in the United Kingdom. It is therefore beneficial for us Hungarians if this issue is not dealt with in a British-Hungarian bilateral agreement, but in an agreement between the Visegrád Four and Britain. Because whatever is acceptable for Polish interests will also be acceptable for Hungarian interests.
Cameron’s view on sovereignty coincides with yours, but it does not coincide with the approach of the strongest. Are we heading for a two-speed Europe?
We would like to avoid that. At present, no one would like to make changes to fundamental European documents – say the founding treaty referred to as the European constitution. Because everyone knows that if that debate is opened, it will be very difficult to close it. But I believe that today the European Union is suffering from serious problems – I would call these Brusselism – which we will not be able to solve without treaty amendment. Currently, one kind of Brusselism – and this has serious consequences, as in the migration issue – is that whenever a problem emerges, the first reflex is that they immediately say we need a European solution: we must withdraw powers, and we must create a common European migration policy, instead of leaving each state to perform its duty and protect its own external borders. If they had done what we suggested – with everyone protecting their external Schengen borders – in Europe today we would have perhaps some tens of thousands of real political refugees who had been genuinely persecuted, rather than one point six million illegal immigrants. So I think that immediately declaring every issue a Brussels issue is not a good reflex. This is Brusselism: the stealthy withdrawal of powers from the nation states. Today, in the context of the migration issue, everyone can now see its serious risks: security and economic risks. Therefore, as reality is on our side – the British-Central European side – there is a chance of achieving changes.
Yes, but while we speak of Eastern European workers and their in-work benefits – and not only in Britain but also in Germany – large German corporations or Angela Merkel or the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce are highlighting the need for the immediate involvement of the migrants you mentioned in the labour market.
I think this is a flawed line of thought. There may be countries in Europe which need additional labour, but the free movement of labour within the European Union was conceived to create opportunities to move to the countries where there are more jobs: wherever new opportunities emerge people should be free to go there, and we should thereby help each other out. But if despite this, despite the internal free flow of labour, the need emerges for additional outside labour, this should be within the framework of guest worker agreements. To confuse the issue of migration with the issue of guest workers is a very serious error. There is a guest worker system in Europe which regulates the way in which guest workers can be brought into Europe from outside. According to this, those countries which want guest workers – because the privilege of deciding on this belongs to the nation states, rather than Brussels – can bring them in from outside. But these are not migrants who have broken into our homes, whom we have not selected for specific jobs, who have quite simply kicked the door in on us, and must now somehow be taken care of. These are two completely different worlds: the world of guest workers and the world of migrants.
Let us talk about migration. Having seen the events in Cologne, we have been shown a rather alarming aspect of all that is happening in Europe. And in addition to Cologne, we could see similar events in Salzburg and in Northern countries. I am talking about the attacks on New Year’s Eve. Most people are baffled: on the one hand as to why these events were covered up for so long, and on the other hand, as to why it was thought necessary not to report who was responsible. Have European leaders simply lost control of events?
I do not want to begin the year with debates which may seem to be of an ideological nature, but for some time I have been saying that the liberal mentality – liberalism in its present form, in this modern form – has turned against freedom. The fact that liberals have turned certain principles into rigid dogmas and want to make them compulsory is bad for freedom of speech. This issue, too, relates to those who want to lecture us on freedom of speech. In the name of liberalism and freedom they supress all negative news associated with refugees or migrants, as certain developments in real life do not coincide with their ideological views and they want to take in immigrants, thinking that it is good that are coming into a country. But in fact they are doing something bad in the name of freedom in democracy, and are not moving towards a system built on freedom. As a result, today freedom of the press is much wider and deeper, much more diverse in Central Europe than in many Western European countries. Beyond the issue of public security, this whole case – of harassment and sexual assault – draws attention to the current state of freedom of opinion, public discourse and the freedom of the press in Western Europe.
Let us talk a little about what is expected on the issue of migration. I will start from a little further away, but this is obviously necessary to see the big picture. In the past you have mentioned that you see a number of signs, which suggest that this process is being directed in some way. Not long ago – a few days ago – Professor Kelly M. Greenhill, Professor of Tufts University Boston and Harvard, gave an interview to our programme, 180 Minutes. In 2010 she wrote a book about the deliberate instigation by political forces of a process of migration. She said that her research shows that in fact migration flows are often not spontaneous processes, but come about as a result of exertion of deliberately orchestrated political pressure. For instance, in the interview she also mentioned the role of Turkey. In light of this and considering all these facts, what point will this question have reached at the end of this year, when we evaluate 2016?
Recently the Germans have said that the flow of immigrants must be slowed down. We should not forget that nowadays around one hundred thousand illegal migrants are arriving in the territory of Europe every month. We Hungarians do not really perceive this because we have defended ourselves, and they are no longer coming here. As a result, this problem does not feature in our lives. But we cannot ignore the fact that we are affected, because this is a European issue, and all the other countries are suffering from it because they failed to take the necessary protective measures in good time. They are trying to do so now: you can see that they are reinstating border controls, and so on. This is not good news for us and we aren’t happy about it. Because they were unable to protect the Schengen Area’s external borders – no one, apart from the Hungarians was able to do so – defence structures, visa schemes, border controls and fences are being introduced within the Schengen Area. Fences and defence lines should not have been erected within the Schengen Area and within Europe, but on the external border of the Schengen Area – as Hungary has done. Freedom within the area would then have been preserved. But as we failed to protect this zone of freedom from the outside, it is now shrinking on the inside, and we are increasingly losing the opportunity for free movement. These are all negative developments. So despite the fact that one can say that we Hungarians have proved to be right, while this may be true it did not make us happy at all, because here a dark prophesy is turning into reality. If we do not protect the external borders we shall lose our internal freedom. Hungary is not happy about this, and so we think that the current German position that immigration must be slowed down has taken a turn towards common sense. But in my opinion this will not be enough. The crucial question for 2016 will be whether the others, too, will finally realise that slowing down immigration is not enough: it must be stopped. To this end, we must build lines of defence; Hungary has set an example in this. I think that the next line of defence which must be built should be on Greece’s northern border: a European line of defence must be built on the border between Bulgaria and Greece and between Macedonia and Greece. Bulgaria must be admitted to the Schengen Area, as it has fought well and has met all its treaty obligations. We must strengthen Macedonia: we must send money, personnel and equipment there, so that we can build a European line of defence. I have no illusions that the agreement concluded with the Turks will be enough on its own. It is a fine thing that the Turks have promised that there will be a line of defence there, but using our own resources we must build a new European line of defence one country further in: on the northern border of Greece. And that is where we must stop – not just slow down, but stop – immigration.
Let us talk about two domestic political events, developments. The raising of FHB’s core capital – which has been an ongoing affair for some time – is a news item from yesterday. We are talking about a mixed-ownership bank in which the state has a stake, but there is also private capital. Why is this so important for the state?
Indeed, this issue has provided the first debate of the year. The financial institution in question became part of the cooperative system, and the system of savings cooperatives is important for the Hungarian government. These cooperatives play an important role in every healthy financial system in Europe. Therefore the Hungarian government intervened – at the expense of a lot of political controversy, and even a great deal of animosity – and reformed the system of cooperatives. We also invested a lot of money, and so we see cooperatives as our allies and our partners in cooperation. What has happened now, when FHB’s core capital was raised, was that the Government of Hungary decided to seek to maintain the Hungarian state’s shareholding in the bank. This was rejected; they have the right to refuse this request, but within a framework of cooperation and a policy of alliance I do not think that this is what should be done. Done in this way the measure is unfriendly – and even hostile. It is a mistake which the bank needs to rectify. And we continue to maintain the demand of the Government and the national economy that the Hungarian state’s percentage shareholding in this financial institution should not decrease.
There is another debate which is currently creating a stir in Hungary. The Olympic Games in Rio are fast approaching, and so are the World Aquatics Championships in Hungary. Meanwhile, there is more and more tension related to the swimming federation.
There are things in one’s life or in a country’s life that are difficult to understand. For instance, I know almost everybody involved in this affair. When we put in our bid to host the World Aquatics Championships, Katinka Hosszú also spoke out for it; in order to succeed I needed to work with her – and I was pleased to do so. We approached the public and went before the assessment committee together, in order to jointly accomplish the task. And I got to know an excellent personality in Katinka, who worked very hard for the Hungarian cause. At the same time I also know László Kiss, the head of our federation, who has grown grey while nobly serving as one of the most outstanding figures in Hungarian swimming. His name commands great respect: after all, he brought home gold medals from four or five Olympic Games, so we are talking about a very accomplished person, and he is also an excellent individual. So when one judges each of them individually, one can see that here is an excellent athlete and sports professional. But still nothing good has come from this whole situation – indeed things have begun to go sour. Something has snapped, and the whole thing has started to move in the wrong direction. This is all I can see at this point in time. And of course we are currently preparing for the Olympic Games, and in Hungary the Olympic Games are a national affair; therefore, it is perhaps not altogether unjustified for me to speak about this case. At the same time, sport is not a party political issue, and politics must be kept out of sport; when the Government deals with sports affairs, it never considers the political views of athletes, coaches or the leaders of federations. Without government funding, sport in Hungary could not survive. So I have spoken to several of the parties concerned, and have offered our goodwill services as mediator. I told them that we shall be more than happy to do whatever we can; but someone should tell us what it is that the Government can do to help avoid a breakdown in cooperation between all these excellent people, and to help regain the unity which will help to achieve results at the Olympic Games.
So have you found out what the problem is yet?
Then we shall continue when we know how you could help in mediation. For the past half hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.