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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Kossuth Rádió’s “180 minutes” programme

Éva Kocsis: Good morning. It’s twenty-seven and a half minutes to eight. We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.

Viktor Orbán: Good morning, and good morning to the listeners.

When you announced that Hungary had repaid the very last instalment of the twenty-billion-euro loan which Hungary received from the IMF-EU-World Bank group, you advised everyone to raise a glass to this. Did you do that? You were in France. What was your choice of drink?

The truth is that I came home from Paris last night. It was midnight when I got home, and I immediately opened a bottle of red wine – which is perhaps understandable on such a historic occasion. We drank to the news with red wine from Géza Balla’s winery. I must say that our family is, of course, more involved than most in public life and politics, and the children and my wife are better informed than is perhaps usual in most families – but that is also understandable. At the same time, I believe that yesterday and the day before – when the European Union confirmed that they had received the last repayment in the credit line we received from the IMF and the European Union – were very important days even for those who are less interested in the country’s affairs, but who nonetheless form part of the our nation’s community. This is because now we are free, and we can now follow our own chosen path.

Is this also of symbolic importance?

Well, yes. And it also has financial significance. In today’s international environment we can see in Europe that countries’ sovereign debt is increasing, rather than decreasing. And even maintaining the financial balance of budgets is causing major difficulties in countries much stronger than us. At times like this, loans are usually not repaid, but taken out. So Hungary is a success story in this respect, and in an environment of negative European trends it is the exception. Moreover, you know how it is: if you owe someone a large amount and you cannot repay it, or if you have to repay a loan over a long time, you do not feel free. You feel defenceless. And if – in addition to the country’s sovereign debt – the socialists gave you a foreign currency loan as a nice gift in your personal life, you are very close to being crippled. So you cannot live a happy life in debt slavery.

Does this mean that when drafting the 2017 budget you can afford to be a bit more generous?

On Monday I will see next year’s budget in its entirety for the first time, and the Government will discuss it then. But based on the figures, I think that, yes, we shall be able to pursue the policy, the core philosophy of which is to enable everyone to take a step forward. Every working Hungarian individual and Hungarian family should feel – and not just feel but actually experience – that when they outline their plans for the year ahead, they will be taking a step forward. Everyone should be able to take at least one step forward.

We shall come back to domestic affairs at the end of the interview, but let us now cover some less encouraging topics. Migration. We have not met here in the studio since the terrorist attacks in Brussels.

Indeed.

Since then, however, we have learnt a great deal about the Brussels incidents – for instance, that the Belgian authorities were not exactly on top of events, either before or during the terrorist attacks. For some time experts have been urging for the coordination and development of European secret services. But in essence these intelligence services protect their countries’ national interests. There is some contradiction in this situation.

There is, but it can be resolved.

How?

First of all, we must lay down the number one law, which is more important than anything else. And this is that if anyone has information on the possibility that a terrorist attack may occur on the territory of any Member State, they must inform the country concerned immediately and without delay. When the news emerged that terrorist attacks were also being planned against Hungary we needed to take it seriously – we simply could not ignore it. It is too late to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. So we must take any such information seriously, and we immediately contacted the supposed source: the CIA.

You must be talking about the Polish news report claiming that Hungary would also be attacked.
That’s right. In a situation like this, we must take action immediately, and as there was the suggestion that this intelligence came from US sources, we contacted the CIA to find out the truth of the matter. We were told that they had no knowledge or information to that effect. So we must also operate this fast-response system, informing each other of potential risks – immediately, frankly and in depth –within the European Union. It is undoubtedly true that everyone carefully protects their own operatives. When we speak of information, it naturally means intelligence data; but in fact it also involves a source, and no one is happy to disclose the names of people they have deployed as undercover agents in countries which present a potential source of terrorism, because the slightest error could result in compromising their agents’ cover. So everyone jealously guards the source of their intelligence. This is why it is very difficult for a German to disclose information to a Hungarian, or for a Hungarian to provide information to the French, or for the French to share intelligence with the British, and so on. But despite the difficulties, the nature of this discipline means that we will need a coordination or consultation scheme, and the future sharing of information within a trust-based mechanism.

Do the Hungarian intelligence services also have the same information as the CIA: that there is no specific threat?

Whenever reports like this emerge, we normally hold a National Security Cabinet meeting. I convene this with my ministers who have secret service sources: from the army to the Defence Minister and the Interior Minister. Together we check who has what information. This is a pretty unsophisticated solution – stone-age, even. I would now like us to have a system in Hungary which immediately relays the most important information received from the different services to a centre where it is all assessed in a single place and the relevant correlations are quickly revealed. This is not easy; there are a great many information protection laws in Hungary. There are strict regulations, because Hungarian history has taught us that security services of this kind can be used against our own citizens. That is what we had under communism. As a result, everyone is careful with things like this; everyone can see this – myself included. After all, we entered the political arena to fight the communists, and so I have vivid memories of this world, of how they used the security agencies against Hungarian citizens; and I would not like to see this happen again. At the same time, it is also clear that, during a security crisis – and in Europe today we are experiencing a security crisis – the intelligence services operating within a given country, say Hungary, must share all the information with each other in a systematised and regulated manner. This is so that we and I can take the decisions with which I can guarantee the security of the Hungarian people.

You are talking about the counter-terrorism action package. We shall continue with this in a minute, but let us briefly return to the specific information that I asked you about. If neither the CIA nor the Hungarian government has any specific information, do you agree with the experts’ claim that the threat made by the Islamic State in the video footage is symbolic?

This is …

If we are able to talk about symbols in the context of the Islamic State.

It seems to me that this claim has been taken too lightly – perhaps even irresponsibly so. This is because there may be no threat today, but tomorrow morning there may well be. So this is a permanent threat, and we cannot say that it is not serious, or that it is not tangible but only symbolic. It is serious. The situation itself, the security crisis we are living in today, is a result of the fact that others in Europe – but not us – let in one and a half million unregistered people without controls from countries with which we are at war, or from territories where we are militarily active. These are people about whom we know nothing, because they entered with no controls. This situation will pose such a potential and ongoing threat to Europe over the next few years that it will not allow us to declare any information on threats as being merely symbolic. This is also why we have designed a counter-terrorism action plan here, in Hungary.

We shall talk about this action plan in a minute. Let us talk about the international context a little. A new proposal related to asylum and immigration was introduced on Wednesday. In fact, it is initially about supplementing the Dublin Regulation. What is perhaps more evident is that this is a centralising proposal. A central institution would decide whether a person is eligible for asylum or not. I believe that the quota, too, would fall within their competence.

The paper you are talking about, the proposal which the European Commission released in Brussels, is one which the Member States are now required to discuss. The essence of this proposal is that there should be a mandatory resettlement quota in Europe. This is what we are fighting against, this is what I have been fighting against personally for a year or a year and a half. When we announced our referendum initiative, it is against this that I called the Hungarian electorate to battle, if I may put it that way. Because if we do not stand up for ourselves and do not protest against this proposal, a situation may arise in which it is approved; and then people in Brussels, rather than in Hungary, will tell us whom we must let into Hungary and whom we may not let in. They will tell us whom we must live alongside. From over there they will tell us what sort of country – in terms of its ethnic composition – our children and grandchildren will live in, instead of the country which is Hungary today.

I do not wish to downplay the importance of this issue, but, whether it is approved or not, the fact that at present practical implementation is not working suggests how this type of centralisation might work.

Having just spoken about communism, that was a dictatorship with rules of oppression, but as it was a slipshod dictatorship, and only half or one-third of the rules were enforced, the regime was bearable. But what kind of life was that? To have the Sword of Damocles permanently hanging above our heads, continuously exposed to the threat that someone somewhere else will decide whom we must take in and live alongside, and that we must integrate into our lives the threat which they embody: these are issues which I would not allow anyone else, other than ourselves, to decide upon. We must not give Brussels the chance to make decisions of this nature. If the Hungarian people think that they want to help someone or they want to take someone in, the Hungarian people will make that decision through their elected leaders and representatives. We cannot hand this over to anyone else without compromising the country’s sovereignty.

Why do you think they are beginning to work on a different mechanism, only a few weeks after the Turkish-EU agreement, which was announced with such great fanfare? Isn’t the agreement with Turkey working? It’s not really working in practice, is it?

But this is what they have been talking about the whole time. In Hungary there was a simple communication error on this. Within an hour I saw that this misconception had completely overwhelmed the Hungarian media and public. The mistake was a factual misunderstanding, which assumed that the agreement with the Turks would solve something in the long run. The agreement with the Turks provides the answer to one problem: how to hold back the tide of people who are heading for Europe along the Western Balkan route. But it will not solve the problem that many of them are already here: one and a half million people, whom it is planned to distribute across Europe. Most of them are in Germany, and now they want to distribute them among the rest of the countries of Europe. We cannot accept this as a principle, because if, within its own national competence, one particular country decided to take in people illegally, the consequences of that decision must not be raised to an international level. Everyone must accept the consequences of their own decisions. They did not ask us whether we would let these people in. Had we also been a party to this decision, we would now admit that we should jointly bear the consequences. But it is not acceptable for a Member State to make a unilateral decision, and then for others to suffer the consequences. So I want to say that we have a problem with the people who are already in Europe. The other problem is that migrants have set out and our setting out along different routes: routes other than the Balkans route. You should recall that the first influx – or flood – of migrants did not come through the Balkans, but by sea and through Italy. And we have to reckon with the reactivation of this route. So the Turkish agreement solved one problem from a vast pool of problems, but left the rest unresolved. And Brussels now wants to solve the other problems with new regulations which are completely contrary to the principle of national sovereignty.

The Czechs, the Poles, the Slovaks and several other Member States have made it clear that they do not accept this proposal – or these proposals. But in the end, when we have to bang our fist on the table and say “no”, won’t Hungary be left on its own?

You can never know, but you cannot go to war in constant fear that your allies will betray you. So we must strengthen the trust between us, we must strengthen the alliance, we must build a strong alliance system, and then we shall not find ourselves alone. But in my view this will not be enough. We have a clear and firm idea – we Hungarians have a very clear, firm idea – about what should be done. We take the view that we should not concern ourselves with rewriting the Dublin asylum system. We take the view that the Commission has gone down the wrong path, and is looking for the solution in the wrong place. We take the view that the Schengen Agreement must be observed, but the current Schengen rules must be supplemented with a few new ones. We have already drawn up these rules, more or less. The Government will discuss them on Monday, and we shall then table our own Hungarian proposal. We believe this can solve the problems – unlike the European Commission’s proposal, which on the one hand is inadequate, and on the other hand is unprincipled. Thirdly, it is impractical, and fourthly, it infringes on the sovereignty of nations.

One of Hungary’s solutions – which you referred to earlier in this conversation – is the counter-terrorism action package. You have also already said a few words about the intelligence centre. It is one element of a package of measures welcomed by most opposition politicians here in this studio over the past week or two.

That is great news, and all they need to do is vote for the corresponding legislative amendment. But so far they do not want to.

The situation is not quite as positive as that.

Well, this is a difficult thing, because no acts of terrorism have occurred in Hungary. But Hungary is part of the EU and the terrorist attacks in Brussels were in fact aimed against the EU – as Brussels is the heart, the very centre of the European Union. And in this sense they were also aimed against us. But here there is no immediate sense of threat, as there is in Paris or Brussels. I think the opposition itself is not taking this seriously enough, and in my view their approach is irresponsible. At times like this a responsible opposition should be a partner in the improvement of our counter-terrorism capability. I understand the nature of the problems they have raised, but these are technical issues: they are secondary to the fact that the lives of Hungarian people may be in danger here. Here is a potential situation which we must prevent. So I respect the human rights concerns which are reflected in the views of the opposition, but these must be harmonised; indeed we must rather prioritise counter-terrorism rules, and harmonise them with current Hungarian legislation for data protection and for the guarantee of human rights. So right now we cannot have one or the other: they must be coordinated and harmonised, and eliminating the threat of terrorism must be given priority. This is my view, and it does not coincide with that of the opposition.

The opposition was much more optimistic a week ago. They became more sceptical when they saw that the amendments which they requested a week ago, after consultations with the Ministry of Interior, were not all fully integrated into the proposed legislation.

Those proposals were not good, and would have castrated Hungary’s counter-terrorism capability. That is life. Sometimes you make good proposals, sometimes bad ones. This also happens to the opposition, and I am asking them to admit this.

Initially they questioned the very need for a counter-terrorism action plan. Just to clarify, on the whole isn’t it the case that this action plan is not needed because the current regulations are inadequate in an emergency situation, but because such situations need to be prevented?

That’s right, it is so that we can prevent and avoid these situations, so that we can protect people’s lives. The aim is not simply to come to terms with disaster after it has already struck. That is not what we need. We need to prevent it happening in the first place.

If the opposition does not vote for the plan, what next?

I would not be so pessimistic. I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say that what has happened so far has been nothing short of irresponsible; but the debates are not heading in the wrong direction, and so I can imagine that eventually we will be able to agree on the most important points. If they reject the plan, we shall have to address this problem within the existing legal boundaries. Today the Government of Hungary has more limited options and has fewer tools at its disposal. Its legal options for preventing acts of terrorism are more restricted compared with other western countries. I would like the opposition to help in ensuring that the anti-terrorism tools at the disposal of other western countries are also available to the Hungarian counter-terrorism authorities. This is all we are asking.

Just one more sentence about migration. You have just had talks in France. No doubt migration was also on the agenda when you attended the OECD’s special meeting. You met Nicolas Sarkozy, and you will soon pay a visit to Germany. What is the mood in the European Union mainstream on migration? Is there a lot of door-slamming? Is there a lot of tension? Is everything calm? Is everyone waiting to see what happens next? Is everyone committed?

There has been a period of calm before the storm, but as far as I can see nerves are beginning to fray. People in many places are incensed – I am, and Hungary also, I think – by the fact that the Commission has released this proposal, which is an open attack on the sovereignty of nation states, and which seeks to use the law to introduce forced resettlement quotas across the whole of Europe. In the next few weeks I will have to rearrange my schedule, and I will have to try and visit as many places in Europe as possible to have talks and consultations and to forge alliances, because otherwise we cannot block this insane idea. At the same time, as I mentioned, we must also work out our own proposal, present it to the international public, and secure wider support for it. These are the tasks for the next few weeks and months. In my calendar there will be less in the way of home affairs and more in the way of foreign affairs, because now Hungary’s interests can be best served by blocking this proposal from Brussels.

Let us go back to domestic matters. Let us continue, for instance, with the referendum law. You were interviewed after that incident at the election office, and you said a few words to the effect that an investigation must be launched. A lot of things have happened since then. Is the Curia’s decision that the referendum legislation must be amended a criticism or a response?

Well, the law on the procedure for referenda is a very important piece of legislation. It is about the fact that while the Constitution gives Parliament precedence in the Hungarian constitutional system, it also opens the way for referenda, for the people to decide directly on certain issues, so that not all important decisions should necessarily be made through their elected representatives. This is a fundamental right of the people, and therefore all rules relating to it are particularly important and sensitive. And it has turned out that this piece of legislation is far from perfect in some of the details of the procedure itself – as undignified incidents like the one we saw outside the election office can occur. This is why we asked the election office to make a recommendation. They made a proposal, the Justice Minister largely agreed with it and prepared a proposal of his own, and he submitted his proposal to Parliament as the Government’s proposal. If Members of Parliament approve this proposal, the weaknesses in the law on the procedure for referenda can be remedied, in my view, and we shall no longer find ourselves in undignified situations – either as individual Hungarian citizens, or as communities. I think that this technical legislative amendment will protect the honour and dignity of the country.

At the Fidesz board meeting or parliamentary group meeting, what will you propose to the party regarding the referendum on Sunday as a day of rest? Should they campaign? Many think that you will take pre-emptive action and change the legislation in advance.

I have heard all sorts of speculation, but it is too early to take a definitive stance. I think that first we should calmly review what has happened over the past year. It has been around one year since the Government set out on a path. Parliament did so, too, as a law needed to be passed. I would describe this path as the desire that everyone should be able to be at home on Sunday and spend this day of the week with their families. We call this a ban on Sunday working. This is a general principle. This is what we advocate. Naturally, we do not wish to deprive people of the possibility of working on Sunday, because there are many who – due to the higher pay available or their particular lifestyle – do not want to give up working on Sundays. But we do not want this to be imposed or compulsory. We do not want anyone to work in a place where an employer can demand that their employees work on Sundays, even if they do not want to. So in this sense, we want to give free Sundays back to workers. The first and most important step towards this goal is in retail, because this is the area which is easiest to regulate. This is where we started. But this was only the first step. We have been working ever since – we are conducting consultations with the trade unions and the chamber of commerce and industry – on finding ways to extend the principle of free Sundays to other sectors as well. We are not making progress fast enough on this matter because it is a very complicated issue, and a substantial proportion of the population see this as an interference in their lives. So we must be very careful. But we have succeeded in resolving it in one area: in retail. A year has gone by, and on Monday the Government will receive a report from the Minister of Economy on the conclusions to be drawn from the past year, and the views of the trade unions and of the people concerned: those who work on Sunday. Have retail sales declined? Have sales shifted – at least partially – from larger companies to smaller businesses? What is the actual situation? We will look at these facts on Monday. We shall release this report to the public, and this will obviously provoke debate; and later, in the light of this debate we shall decide on the right political course of action. We still have time for this.

The international offshore scandal is in full swing. The news has made our listeners more or less aware of what is happening here. Every half hour a prime minister or a prominent public figure resigns, or at least we learn that they are involved in the Panama offshore case. Have you spoken to the members of your government yet? Within your party, have you make it compulsory to look into the possibility of someone being involved?

The question is in itself absurd. In Hungary there are clear transparency rules. Everyone, including the Prime Minister, every Member of Parliament and every member of the Government is required to make a declaration of assets. I have been a Member of Parliament since 1990, and since then I have been required to make a declaration of assets every year; and ministers are also required to submit one every year. These are continuously accessible and available. In a declaration of assets one is required to state all assets and interests, whether offshore or not. Therefore the question in itself is absurd, because thereby I would be presuming that my ministers had not completed their declarations of assets truthfully; that would amount to a statutory offence, and that is inconceivable. So these declarations of assets must be accepted as true and correct – or at least I accept them as such. Mine is also true and correct, and it is available and public, there for all to read.

I have another question on this, and then I would like to talk about education.

Yes, but now that you have raised this offshore issue, unfortunately we must talk about it, because it is a serious question. On the one hand it is good news that, as far as I can see, the Hungarian government and major political figures in Hungary do not appear to be involved in this case. At this point in time I am not aware of any information to the contrary. There are some pieces of information, however, which could also be called the Hungarian ties. These are mostly linked to bankers and, while I do not want to move the conversation in a party-political direction, as far as I can see they are mostly linked to socialist tycoons. So there are problems here which must be addressed. And I will quite explicitly ask the Minister of Interior – the minister responsible for the operation of the tax authority and the minister responsible for the secret services – to investigate the offshore ties which have now been revealed to the public in Western Europe. I think the Hungarian people have every right to expect to see whether or not those who have substantial business capital in Hungary observe the laws and pay their taxes. They have the right to find out who are behind these Hungarian offshore ties. This must be investigated fully and in depth, and the results must be revealed to the public. To complicate matters, another investigation in London come to light in relation to the procurement of some metro carriages before our government’s term in office.

Backhanders in the billions.

Yes. So some time between 2002 and 2010 – and I am not going to mention company names – metro carriages were procured, and the British police or prosecution service now claim that they have evidence of abuse. We must ask for this evidence, we must obtain it from them, and then we will have to investigate every last detail of the case. So in the next few weeks and months both the police and the prosecution will have plenty of work in connection with the cases we have seen in the international press.

We have very little time left for a noisier topic – at least noisier in the street. Those whom I have spoken to and who have attended the Education Round Table discussions say that the debate is of a professional nature and is heading in the right direction. Nevertheless the trade unions have announced a national strike.

Well, this is important. After all, we are talking about our children and, as time goes by, our grandchildren. But at any rate we are talking about the generations who follow us. We are talking about whether the work we have done has been meaningful at all, because if generations are growing up who do nothing but squander everything we have worked hard to create in Hungary, our own work, too, will become meaningless. But the contribution of those alive today and the meaning of our work will be compounded if – as is set out in the preamble to the Hungarian constitution – there are young people who restore the greatness of Hungary, carry on our best traditions and make this country successful, and if we are able to raise such children and young people in our schools and families. So there is perhaps no question more important than this. Consequently, it has to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves. For my part I strongly favour negotiations. This is a serious issue, these are serious questions, they have to be discussed seriously, and only negotiations can lead to results. At this point in time I cannot see who would benefit from a strike. In my view no one would benefit from a strike, but by contrast many people would benefit from a compromise – in particular, future generations. And I therefore encourage everyone to engage in talks.

You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.