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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning, Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: – We know the lead candidates, and the European People’s Party has chosen the Bavarian CSU politician Manfred Weber – who has said that “we are bridge builders”. Fidesz also voted for the winning candidate. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Should we forget our grievance over Mr. Weber voting in favour of the Sargentini Report?

Viktor Orbán: Good morning. We need to deal with each issue on its own merits. We were offered a choice between two candidates: one candidate, a Scandinavian, represented an extreme form of liberal, pro-immigrant politics; and the other was a Bavarian Christian Democrat. It was not difficult to decide who we should vote for. On the other hand, there’s no need to hide the fact that in politics Hungarians apply some of the approaches that we use in everyday life. During the last Hungarian parliamentary election campaign Mr. Weber came here, he stood alongside us, and alongside me; he supported us, he recommended us to the Hungarian people, and he said that he also symbolised support for us from Europe. So he helped us when we needed that help. He knew that while it is commonly said that politics is another world, this is only partially true: there are universal human laws, and if someone has given one assistance in the past, the proper thing to do is to return that assistance, as if one were on the same team.

– What’s your opinion of the state of the European People’s Party? Of course it’s in a position to launch itself into the elections next spring, but is the party ready and united enough to be able to win in the elections?

The elections will be in May, and I don’t think we’re ready yet, but this congress was an important starting point. It’s worth listeners bearing in mind that it is Europe’s strongest, most influential and largest family of political parties. Over the past few years, the leaders of the European Union have been supplied, have been delegated by us, and we have usually won the elections. This may have made us a little complacent, as the European Left in general is at a low ebb, and is in the process of collapsing. So although we are not unshakeable, the others are in an even worse condition. The present congress has enabled us to recover our footing, to halt our retreat, and to launch ourselves into a joint, large-scale European campaign. Because in recent years we have been in leadership positions, we must accept the responsibility incumbent upon us for the problems that have occurred. And we are telling people openly that we have failed on two counts: we were unable to keep the British in Europe; and we were unable to keep the migrants out of Europe. Indeed there are countries in which an important role is played by members of our family of parties, who have not asked people for their opinions on the issue of migration. In those countries people have moved away from us, have pushed us away, and do not feel that we are on their side. In those countries we need to win back people’s trust. Fortunately Hungary is not one of those countries, which is primarily due to the fact that we have been regularly asking the public about key issues such as migration. In our opinion it is better to govern with the people than without the people – and it is unquestionably better than governing against the people. So it is better if, between elections, there are formats which ask for people’s views. On the question of migration we did this, almost no one else did so, and where this was not done and migration policy was pursued by national governments, there was a loss of confidence everywhere. This can rebound on our European party family. A different direction must be found.

– A different direction must be found, but the UN migration compact will be signed in December. We know that first the United States of America, then Australia, then Hungary – and most recently Austria – have said “thank you very much, but no thank you” to this compact; but in many places across Europe there are debates on whether or not to accept it, on whether or not to stay in the negotiations and sign the compact.

Yes, linking this issue to yesterday’s election in the People’s Party, I can tell you that our duty is to stand with the people – after all, we are the European People’s Party, and that is what our name suggests we should do. Those co-member parties of ours which have failed to do this must now realign themselves with the people, and must protect them from illegal migration, terrorism, crime and economic woes. Therefore our view is that we must not sign the international agreement on the UN’s migration package, because I am convinced that it is contrary to the will and interests of the overwhelming majority of Europeans. This is why – after having read and analysed the pact being prepared – we saw that nothing good would come of it, and we rejected it in good time, as the second country to so, after the United States. The fact that we managed to respond in good time, and were among the first, is thanks to the exemplary efforts of Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. We now see an increasing number of countries following our example, with one country after another announcing that they don’t want to take part in this either. In general I’m a supporter of international agreements, which are usually useful, but now we’re dealing with an exception. This is a bad draft agreement, and it is bad for the people. Its supporters seek to elevate to the level of international public policy certain principles that are contrary to the interests of Hungarians: principles such as the recognition of migration as a kind of human right, according to which someone leaving their home country and arriving in another should receive the same services and benefits as the indigenous citizens of that country. I understand that all these things may well be desirable from the viewpoint of Africa or some countries in Asia – although that aspect is also debatable: how do they benefit from losing the most agile, courageous, intrepid and active strata in their societies? That is a matter for them, but, at the end of the day, migrants’ countries of origin form an overwhelming majority in the UN. And clearly there is an opposing interest: we do not want to take in migrants, and therefore we cannot accept a document which presents this as a noble, exalted goal shared by all humanity.

– It is perhaps no coincidence either that those countries which have already faced this problem were the first to say “thank you, but no thank you”. They know what it is like to have illegal immigrants without documents on their borders, who issue threats and demands.

Yes, it’s also important that we’ve seen these things in the flesh; but it’s perhaps even more important that we’re fully aware of the fact that in reality such international conventions and declarations have a “pull effect”, as they say in Brussels. They trigger ever more waves of migration, because people in parts of the world with the harshest living conditions cannot look on such declarations, cannot interpret them, without receiving the message that there are places in the world where they are welcome. After all, if migration is a human right and a good thing, it should not be stopped, but should be “managed” – as they also say in Brussels. So people living in Africa who have been allotted a harsh fate will think it worthwhile leaving their countries, because they will be welcome elsewhere. Therefore such documents will cause ever more waves of international migration. This is why we must firmly reject them. Even if the whole world – or a sizable part of it – has lost all common sense and has no interest in the views of its own people, its own citizens, there should still be some countries – including Hungary – which want to make it clear to everyone that migrants should not come here. Incidentally, we of course let in refugees, after appropriate screening within the relevant international procedures – which are neither simple nor swift; but we shall not let in migrants, we shall not let in people who come here in the hope of a better life. We have a policy which makes it clear how many guest workers we can accept every year in fields which need additional labour; but they can only work in those occupations, and later they will have to leave. So in relation to foreigners we have a system of regulations, developed on the basis of national interests, which determines who may and may not be admitted, on what grounds and for how long. We do not want to change this regulatory system, because it is not based on abstract principles, but on the interests of the Hungarian people.

– You’ve said that many countries are not interested in the opinions of their citizens. Now the Hungarian government is again asking Hungarian citizens for their opinions. The questionnaires for the consultation on protection of the family have already been sent out. At the same time, the opposition media has said that in fact, as a percentage of the national income, we are already spending more than enough on families. Such people are asking why this should be increased any further.

This is a suggestion from the opposition which is worth taking seriously and examining; because, as I see it, is true that – not in absolute figures, but in relation to our gross national product, in relation to our economic output – by European standards we Hungarians spend more on supporting families than anyone else does. We love children, we love wives and mothers, we love families, it is also good to support them; but, emotion apart, beyond all this, deep down there is also a rational consideration, independent of all sentiment, that Hungary’s population is in continuous decline. And it is simply a function of mathematics and the ability to calculate arithmetically for us to see that if this state of affairs continues, Hungarians will eventually disappear. This may sound absurd, because all around us we see huge numbers of Hungarians. But if one is a politician who needs to think many years ahead – not only a year or two, and not only up to the next election – and who must accept responsibility for the long-term fate of the Hungarians as a community, as is my duty, then I must look forward to what the future will be like in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time if things continue like this. And the proposition in the poem by János Arany that “Never more will God have Hungarians” is not an absurd one: mathematically it is a clearly foreseeable process. This is not a scourge from God, however: it is because we Hungarians – and I don’t know exactly why – are having fewer children than are needed to biologically maintain the size of our community. Throughout history such situations have always led to grief. Perhaps we would overrun our time slot if I were to list past examples, but we have always come to grief when we’ve failed to sufficiently respect life, children and families. And at the same time, I see from surveys that young people think in terms of family and usually want several children. But when later in their lives they come face to face with everyday financial difficulties they abandon these plans; and – as far as I can see – in the end these difficulties are the main reasons that they decide to have fewer children than they planned a few years earlier. My sincere vision is for a Hungary in which not a single young person has to change their plans on starting a family and on the number of children they have, simply because they find themselves faced with financial hardships on the threshold of adulthood. So we are proposing an even more robust family policy, which in a historical perspective benefits our nation and also benefits young people, because this is what they want. And in general its will benefit all of us, because if the country as a whole is younger, it will also be happier and more full of energy. And a country’s average age is determined by the overall number of children.

– It seems that this policy now has followers, as there are also specific measures on the Italian government’s agenda. There, too, they would like to help families. Because Italy, too, takes the view that population decline should not be compensated for with immigrants, but with members of the indigenous population.

Now Italy has a new government, which is pro-family and anti-immigration. The leaders of Western European countries – unlike me, or in contrast to us – believe that there is an easier solution which we should pursue. That easier solution is to let in at least as many migrants as would compensate for the shortfall in the numbers of indigenous populations, because not enough children of our own are being born; according to this approach the numbers would be corrected and the economy would function properly. But Hungarians think differently – I, for one, certainly do. What we need are not numbers, but Hungarian children. Therefore we do not accept migration as the solution to our demographic problems. We believe that we are capable of solving these problems ourselves, but we have not been arranging our lives well enough to realise this extremely important objective. In this respect we are on the same wavelength as the Italian government.

– This is why the national consultation and its ten questions are important.

We have already done a great many things. Obviously, everyone likes to receive recognition for their work, and everyone is happy if they are also able to look back in pride on one stroke or another of their work. In this I am no exception. If we look back on the situation of family support in 2010 and its situation today, we can hold our heads up in pride. Clearly I am not the only one who can do so: the whole country has worked hard for the opportunity of being able to spend more on families. But we introduced the family tax allowance, we restored the maternity allowance and child care allowance, we introduced the extra child care allowance, and then we restored, designed and introduced the housing and home creation allowances. I’ve just checked some numbers: the number of nursery school places has increased by almost ten thousand and the number of places in crèches has risen by some twelve thousand; we are going to build more nursery schools and crèches; and never before have so many children received free school textbooks and free school meals. But all this is still not enough. I can see that at the moment we are keeping the economy on a course of growth which is higher than the average for the European Union, and so now it makes sense to talk about what more we could reasonably do in the interest of families and children. This is what the consultation focuses on. We are not seeking answers on questions of detail, but general guidance from citizens; and if we receive that guidance, in the spirit of this consultation we will be able to adopt several decisions in the period ahead. I know that everyone is busy, but I ask the Hungarian people – and women in particular – to set aside half an hour to complete this questionnaire, thereby helping us in our work. And if they help our work, they will also be helping Hungarian families.

– The state of the Hungarian economy allows the Hungarian government to prioritise support for families. Following the example of international organisations, the European Commission has also recently upgraded the Hungarian economy’s outlook for this year and next: its expansion forecast. They, too, are optimistic in this respect. Trade plays a role in the economy performing well, producing and increasing national income. Before you were in Helsinki, you spent two days in Shanghai, attending a world expo.

Quite right: I travelled to Finland directly from China.

– Anyway, Hungary’s size doesn’t seemed to justify the special role we were given in Shanghai. How did we achieve this status?

We can see a general improvement in Hungary’s position. I think this can be attributed to two factors. If you look around Europe, you will see that there ever fewer governments which benefit from a stable background. I don’t know how many months it has been since Sweden had a government, and – uncharacteristically – the Germans also struggled for six months before they managed to establish the present government, which is now experiencing all sorts of aftershocks. We know the circumstances and difficulties surrounding the formation of the Italian government. And in Spain there is a minority government. So it is clear that political stability is a sought-after asset. And then there is Central Europe – and Hungary in particular, where we are able to continue the work of this government after a third consecutive election victory. This is because the people placed their trust in us, and Hungary is beginning to earn a reputation which is a major benefit to us and enhances our importance: we are seen as a politically stable and reliable country. It is possible to make plans, and it is possible to predict what will happen. Foreign investors and partners trading with us know precisely who they are dealing with, as they have been dealing with the same people for almost ten years. There is personal continuity, there is political continuity, and the prime minister is the same. Furthermore, the whole of Central Europe is becoming more important, and Hungary is part of this region: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, our country – and at times Romania – are growing at twice the rate of the European Union average. A broad consensus has emerged in specialist circles across the whole of Europe. Hungarians do not usually believe this sort of thing because we are a mistrustful people, but believe me that in specialist circles there is a broad consensus that over the next five to ten years Central Europe – including Hungary – will be the European economy’s engine, its source of growth. The Chinese also see this quite clearly, and therefore they created a platform for cooperation – we were also involved in the process, and it came into being in Budapest – that is called 16+1. It is a means for cooperation between China and sixteen Central European and Balkan countries. After my interview with you, I am leaving to go to the Hungarian National Bank, because there will be a meeting of the central bank governors of China and those 16 countries, and I have been asked to open their conference. This clearly shows that now cooperation extends to delicate, sensitive areas such as finance and central banking issues. So what I would like to say is that what we are seeing with our own eyes is long-term cooperation between a China which is growing at a rate above the average for the world economy and a Central Europe which is growing at a rate above the average for the European Union. It is in this context that we must understand why a country like China – a hundred times the size of Hungary – accords such importance to us, and gives us such respect and appreciation.

– Many others are attempting to enter the Chinese market. How can we be successful there?

Well, there is plenty of room there! I have been there several times now. The truth is that every country has its own battle plan, and so do we. Due to its size, Hungary is unable to play a leading role in mass production, but we are strong in producing quality products for certain market areas. On this occasion Hungarian businesses signed four or five agreements. There was an expo, an international fair, which I attended. There was the Hungarian pavilion, there were Hungarian businesses, and I met with the representatives from Hungarian large, small and medium-sized businesses who were negotiating with their Chinese partners. We are selling them everything of high quality, which we all take for granted: from Tokaj wine to goose down duvets. And the Hungarians are talented. Receiving some government assistance, these businesses embarked on their adventure a few years ago, and found what they were looking for. Every year we’re breaking records: today our exports to China are somewhere between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars, and China is now our number one partner outside the European Union, with our trade volume expanding annually by 10, 15 or 18 per cent. So this cooperation is promising. And while there are continual news reports claiming that the Chinese economy will decline – which is probably wishful thinking here in the West – from what I saw they do not seem to be on the verge of weakening. There is a large market, there are opportunities. All we have to do is speak Chinese, adopt our way of thinking, train qualified people here, and we will be able to score success there – if not in mass production, then clearly in the market for quality products. Of course, difficulties emerge from time to time, but they must be overcome. This was one of the goals of my visit, because the avian flu epidemic had led to a ban on our poultry exports – which form an important proportion of our trade – and now that the public health situation has changed, we had to make sure that the ban was lifted. We managed to achieve this, and so Hungarian business opportunities worth hundreds of millions of dollars have opened up again in China.

– At the end of our interview, let me mention another problem, the issue of Central European University. The University maintains that they are complying with the statutory requirements, while the Deputy Rector has admitted that in fact they do not have the type of educational programme or parent institution in the US that is required by Hungarian law, and that they only issue diplomas, and not degrees. In this affair we cannot really see the situation clearly.

It is difficult. The issue of the Soros university is an old one in Hungarian politics; ever since the University was established here it has been surrounded by the constant whipping up of hysteria. People do not know very much about the Soros university. Even by Hungarian standards, it is not a large university: it is a private university, with some 1,700 students – eighty per cent of whom, I believe, are foreign. In Hungary the laws are clear, they apply to everyone, and they must be observed by everyone. It is pointless for them to whip up hysteria: I am not willing to grant anyone exempt status in relation to the law. So the laws must be observed. As for the claim that the University is planning to leave Hungary, I would categorise that as a bluff. In Hungary all the statutory conditions for its operation are in place, and the laws guarantee its operation. So I’d dare to place a big bet on their continued presence in Budapest.

– They say that they will not receive a licence: this is what they’re concerned about.

Let me repeat: the law on this is absolutely clear.

– Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.