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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes”

Twenty-five and a half minutes to eight. We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.

Viktor Orbán: Good morning.

On Tuesday the Curia decided to give the green light to the referendum on the resettlement quotas, despite protests from human rights activists and civil society organisations – which are now directed not only against the referendum, but also against the Curia’s decision. Do you know whether this wave of protests has also spread to Brussels? Are we being criticised from over there as well because we want like to hold a referendum in response to an international convention?

This is not a legal dispute. There are people in Hungary who want us or the EU to resettle large numbers of migrants in in our country, and there are those who are opposed to this. We who oppose this want to hold a referendum. And those who seek to settle foreigners among us want to block our opposition. Of course this is what Brussels wants to do, and so do the Hungarian cheerleaders for resettlement – including rights organisations and the left.

Do you agree that the European Union should have the power to impose the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of the National Assembly of Hungary?

That’s the question. It is clear, simple and understandable.

Let us take one step forward. If the “no” side wins, how should Parliament implement the result of the referendum? What must it implement?

It must reject all decisions from Brussels which aim to settle migrants here among us against the will of Parliament.

But doesn’t the Hungarian government – or don’t you as the leader of the negotiations – already have this kind of authorisation?

I have the authorisation to say “no”, but no matter how loud my voice is, my word is worth less than that of ten million Hungarians.

But will the word of ten million Hungarians be enough to stop Brussels on this issue?

We are working to make sure that it will. We are calling this referendum so that we can stop Brussels.

Don’t you need to rally more people, more countries, to support the ten-point package of proposals?

We shall see. It would be good if there were more of us, but for the moment our energy is completely focused on Hungary. My own strength, and that of Hungary, is not enough to persuade the whole of Europe to hold a referendum. We are doing our own job. Europe is a community of nations, and every nation can see what is happening. Sooner or later they will see that the Hungarians are right, because Brussels cannot be stopped in any other way than with a referendum. In Brussels the only thing they understand is a loud and clear declaration of the will of the people. And other countries will join our ranks if they also want to prevent creeping domination by Brussels, and if they want to satisfy their citizens’ demands that Brussels should not be allowed to deprive their Parliaments of the right to decide on issues which determine the lives of their nations. We cannot rule this out.

Will the result of the referendum apply to everyone? Will it apply to the migrants who are already here, or to the newcomers, or to the new distribution mechanism?

It will be binding for the future. As regards the past, a decision has been taken by the EU which we are contesting in court. So we are not now trying to change the past – we want to settle that in the court. With the referendum we are seeking to shape the future.

It complicates the situation that the European Commission now has a new proposal. It effectively covers a permanent and new mechanism.

This is what I have always said, and the left, which is pro-resettlement, has always denied it. They claimed that there is no Brussels plan – no forced resettlement plan. Now Brussels itself has made such a plan public. There is such a plan. So the left, too, should now understand that this is not a party political issue. The stakes are high: this is about a plan to deprive the Hungarian people of the right to decide whom we wish to live together with and whom we do not wish to live together with; others want to transfer this right somewhere else, to a foreign land, to a city somewhere called Brussels. At the same time this is about our life. We must not look at this in terms of party politics. I am openly asking everyone who is able to do so to join in the resistance to forced resettlement.

Are there any elements in the new proposal which the European Commission has just announced which you find acceptable? The centralised institutional asylum system, for instance?

First of all, the proposal which has now been submitted is a complete mistake. If you have heart pains, you do not seek treatment for your kidneys. Our problem is not the distribution of refugees, but protection of the borders. We will not have security and calm, and we will not be able to protect our values and economic achievements, until we are able to defend our borders. So what we need today – and what Brussels should now decide on – is the principle and question of the protection of the borders. This means two things. First of all, we must strengthen protection of the borders: we must not let anyone in without controls, registration and related individual decisions. The other thing is that the conditions for assessing and deciding on the applications of all those who want to come to Europe must be created outside the territory of the European Union. They must be kept outside the EU. This means that refugee camps must be set up outside the European Union. They must be operated and financed, of course, and we Europeans must guarantee the safety of the people in those camps, but in my view no individual should be able to set foot on European soil until a country of the European Union has assessed their application and accepted it. Until that happens they must be kept outside. The fact that they are now inside and are awaiting a decision here is unacceptable. This is what the EU should resolve, and this is what I have proposed. This is what the Schengen 2.0 proposal is about. But it is clear that the Commission is not concerning itself with this, but with an asylum issue: the issue of how to distribute the people they have let in. And we did not let them in – they did. This is in fact the lesser problem, because sooner or later they too will realise that the number one priority must be protection of the borders. There have been some signs lately that they are beginning to realise this. But this punitive proposal, according to which they want to make countries which do not want to take in migrants pay 250,000 euros for every migrant not admitted, is like being punched – or kicked by a horse – in the chest. It is hard to find words, it is hard to express one’s outrage in civilised language. I have done some sums. Over the course of seven years, a Hungarian citizen receives approximately four thousand euros in funding from Brussels. In other words, according to Brussels, a Hungarian citizen is worth four thousand euros over the course of seven years. Meanwhile a migrant is worth 250,000 euros. And I have also calculated that for the average Hungarian citizen to make 250,000 euros it would take thirty-nine or more years of hard work. That would be without spending anything on food or drink, children, clothing or housing. So for this sum he or she would have to work for thirty-nine years. This clearly shows that those who claim to be our leaders in Brussels are sitting in an ivory tower, far away from the world, with no concept of reality, and without the faintest idea of what they are talking about. How could someone even come up with a proposal like this? What sort of patronising insult is this for the poorer European countries? So this is a more profound problem. Right now we are talking about refugees and the migrant issue, but this is a much more profound problem: the problem is that Brussels doesn’t understand the world which it is meant to be influencing with its rules.

Brussels is not necessarily calling this sum a fine or a penalty, but is saying: “OK, fine, don’t take them in, we accept this, but someone will have to cover these migrants’ expenses, and you have to contribute to that”.

Do we want to spend 250,000 euros on each migrant? The equivalent of around forty years’ average earnings in Hungary? What sort of figure is this, and how did they come up with it? This is absurd!

The leaders of EU countries have had plenty of meetings recently. Have these figures, these proposals, these ideas ever been tabled before?

We hear a lot of drivel in the political arena in Hungary, but the fact that some leaders talk claptrap from time to time is different from them picking up a pencil and drafting a proposal, and then having it discussed and voted on by serious people who then release it to the world. I’ve heard some poppycock in my time, but I have to tell you that this being the official position of a European body, a commission, has taken even me by surprise.

But when we last spoke, only two weeks ago, you were relatively optimistic about the direction that issues related to migration were taking in Europe.

Yes, but now we are talking about the Commission. I think that ever more frequently the nations of Europe are saying that the top priority is protection of the borders. What I was talking about was that even the German Chancellor has marked out this course. When prioritising our tasks I managed to get the highest priority assigned to border protection in a number of European Council documents. We made some good decisions, we set out in the right direction, but now this has come to a standstill, because the Commission has suddenly come up with this 250,000-euro fine. I must remind you that no one has elected the Commission for anything: these officials are not elected, they are not representatives of the European world and European politics chosen by the European people. I have to say that never before has there been a more powerful piece of propaganda against the idea of the European Union. So, having tabled this provocative proposal, Brussels is campaigning more powerfully than ever against Europe, and against the notion of European cooperation.

The former NATO Secretary General has said that if Hungary were applying for membership of the European Union today it would be refused entry. In his view, both Hungary and Poland are nationalist and anti-European, and countries where democracy and constitutionality are being eroded on the pretext of national sovereignty. In Europe he is not alone in this view: at the latest meeting in Rome, at the meeting held yesterday, countries seeking to strengthen their national sovereignty came in for their fair share of criticism, even though they were not named. The President of the European Commission, who is rather pessimistic about the current state of the European Union, said that suddenly they realised that not everyone agrees with the views of the EU. There are Member States, he said, which are full-time Europeans when it comes to taking, but part-time Europeans when it comes to giving.

This is just adding fuel to the flames – all the more so when one considers that we Hungarians have shown the highest level of solidarity in the refugee issue. But, because we are Europeans, I have been reluctant to send a bill to Brussels for the costs of registering 175,000 asylum-seekers, I have not billed Brussels for the additional operational costs of the Hungarian police force, and I have not billed them for the construction costs of the fence. If we sign a Schengen Agreement, if we do our job, and we do not transfer these costs onto them, we are behaving in a European manner. But they are not behaving in a European manner. And as for that statement about not everyone agreeing with the European Union, this once again shows the root of the problems. The European Union has no independent views or opinions. The opinion of the European Union is the aggregate of the opinions of the Member States. This clearly shows that they imagine that they exist independently of us. But this is not the case. They are in Brussels to serve us, to serve the nation states. We pay them and we provide the reason for their existence. They cannot say that in Brussels they have an opinion, and the Member States must agree with it. It is the other way round: it is the Member States which have opinions. Sometimes they coincide with each other, sometimes they differ. We have our debates, and out of these debates a European opinion evolves. The Treaty clearly lays down that the European Union comprises the Member States, rather than the institutions, the Commission and the Council. It comprises the Member States, and the institutions – whose leaders talk about us and the peoples of Europe with such insolence – are there to facilitate cooperation between the Member States. We are not here to serve them – they are there to serve us. The line of thought you have referred to clearly demonstrates this fundamental misunderstanding. But before that you quoted someone else as well.

Yes, the former NATO Secretary General, who said that if Hungary was applying for membership today…

Yes, but we know the former NATO Secretary General. We’re talking about that Spanish person, aren’t we?

Yes.

He is an old communist.

There are others as well. Donald Tusk and Martin Schulz are not very optimistic on Europe and the future. But if I just refer to your words, we see a picture of the future which is also not very optimistic. In fact, who should bang the table and demand root-and-branch reform of the European Union? You have already done that once.

Well, fine but, I am sorry …

The British have done it, too.

…I didn’t say that I’m not optimistic.

Well, your words are hardly full of optimism…

There are problems. No, my words simply reflect the fact that there are problems, unsettled issues, and insane proposals from Brussels.

Well, this doesn’t give cause for optimism.

This doesn’t give cause for optimism – that much is true. But this is just a circumstance, and not a decisive one. What matters…

What does give cause for it?

The European nations. Quite a lot of the European nations are in a very good situation. Sensible opinions are being formed in more and more countries. The European nations are fine, thank you very much. It is only Brussels that is not working properly. But we shall fix it, because Brussels must serve us – the European peoples. I am optimistic about this, except that it is not just a matter of stating one’s wishes, and then the world changing itself according to those wishes. We have to work, fight and struggle, and from time to time organise referenda. We must work, put in the effort needed, and then things will start heading in the right direction. So we Central Europeans have no reason at all to be pessimistic. The engine of the European economy is in Central Europe: Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary are doing well. The citizens of these countries – including us Hungarians – can take at least one step forward every year. So we Central Europeans have reason to be optimistic about the future.

We shall continue with such economic and budgetary matters in a minute, but someone listening to us may well be thinking that they can be optimistic if leaders seek to protect their interests in the migration issue. The experience of the past few years, however, has shown that the power of Brussels has been greater than that of the Member States.

But we should also take into account the fact that we have protected Hungary. Whatever anyone may have said, Brussels did not protect us. In fact, they sought to make us exposed. We realised that we needed to protect ourselves. And we have. We put an end to the influx, we built the fence, and we kept events under control. This requires ongoing effort, but we are keeping events under control. We are guaranteeing the security of the Hungarian people. Here we shall not consent to the overnight disappearance of our cultural heritage, and here we shall not tolerate parallel societies. In Hungary, and in Central Europe as a whole, we are on top of the situation. So what Brussels says is one thing, but what is happening in Hungary is another. And if we look at what is happening in Hungary – say on the migrant issue – the essence is that we, as the Hungarian nation, are able to assert our own interests.

Excuse me, let’s just briefly return to this week’s proposal from the Commission. What will the response of the Hungarian government be? What will happen?

We shall attempt to translate the reaction of the Hungarian people into the politest language possible.

Let us continue with the budget – which we started discussing last time, and for which we have already seen a number of details. Critics say that, while they acknowledge that more funding is being allocated to some areas, they feel that local governments are being bled dry, because they will effectively get the same amount of funding next year as this year. And they also feel that the lives of pensioners are not being given high enough priority.

Well, first of all, we entered into an agreement with pensioners back in 2010, when we agreed to preserve the value of pensions. At the time this seemed an ambitious undertaking, because we mustn’t forget that before 2010 pensioners were being continuously weakened: the value of their pensions was being continuously eroded. Their annual extra month’s pension bonus was withdrawn, and as pension increases did not match inflation, the value of pensions fell continuously. We wanted to stop this process. This is why we entered into an agreement with them. And we have delivered on our promise. Of course, no one in Hungary will ever feel that something which was taken away from them has been returned in full, because this is not a country in which such a mind-set can simply be switched on. This is not how our senses are programmed. But the cold statistics show that, with the reduction of household utility bills and the raising of pensions, we have effectively managed to offset the earlier losses. Even if people don’t believe it, this is the case: this is a question of facts rather than opinions. What is happening now, however, is that we are curbing inflation, and we have been doing so for years. The real value of pensions will not be allowed to fall, and in addition to the pension increase in the budget, there is also effectively a second pension increase embedded in the budget. The latter is the reduction of household living expenses. This means that by significantly reducing VAT on the most important foods, which pensioners tend to consume in large quantities, this reduction is effectively a second pension increase embedded in the budget. From both our viewpoint and that of pensioners this budget can be supported, and we are able to fully endorse it.

The Budgetary Council says that this is a tenable budget, but a tight one. At the same time, it has criticised the structural deficit, as has the European Commission. They also say that, despite positive signs in the Hungarian economy, in their view the Hungarian government is not making strenuous efforts to keep the deficit down. Is there a realistic chance that, for instance, Brussels will request certain adjustments due to the structural deficit? If I am right, I think that they should be made this month.

I don’t think so. This budget is one of tax reductions and home creation. For this you need money. Of course the deficit could be lower if we did not put all our effort into reducing taxes and promoting home creation – thereby assisting young families in particular. The cap on the deficit which was agreed with Brussels is 3 per cent of gross domestic product. Next year the deficit will be 2.4 per cent, so we shall remain well within the boundaries agreed with the EU.

Families will be the winners from next year’s budget. But will local governments be the losers?

This is interesting. This is not a football match or a battle, where there are winners and losers, but a plan of life for next year, and I think it should be drafted so that everyone is able to take a step forward. This is a budget which points towards civic consolidation, whereby everyone can take a step forward. There are people whose wages are paid by the Hungarian state. They always feature prominently in our plans, because the budget does not influence their lives through budgetary regulation, but through the decision of their employer: the state. What we did here was introduce a career model system, and implement a significant pay rise within the police force and the military – because security comes first. The following year we did the same for teachers – because the future comes second. We are now implementing these measures for those working in public administration – because the third most important thing is order. They will be followed by healthcare sector workers. So we shall now raise the pay of the people who are able to cure our illnesses: the pay of doctors and nurses. And this year we shall also enact measures for those working in the social sector and in the field of culture. So my promise that everyone can take a step forward every year is embodied in next year’s budget.

In the last few minutes you have mentioned large systems, large structures, which cost money. Just today, just now, the State Audit Office has released an analysis of health care. It describes major operating deficiencies and public procurement anomalies. If one puts money into these large systems, these large structures, one hopes that someone will eventually create order, so that it makes sense to invest funds in them.

This week I had a major meeting, which lasted several hours, with the state secretary for health and the minister, during which we touched on these issues. My thoughts on this matter range somewhat broader than those of healthcare specialists, because the healthcare budget is not in fact for health care, but the budget for medical treatment. I do not see absolute equivalence between health and treating illness. There are overlaps between the two, but one is broader than the other. We spend more on our health than the combined items in the healthcare budget, because the latter are in fact for the treatment of patients. Sports, daily physical education in schools and projects which promote a healthy lifestyle all serve to promote health. In other words, if we adopted a more inclusive approach, we could easily classify these within our healthcare spending. In Hungary this is not how we normally do our calculations, but this is how I always seek to put the budget together.

Over the past half an hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.