Twenty-seven minutes to eight. We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.
Viktor Orbán: Good morning.
A couple of days ago you met one of Europe’s most respected conservative politicians, Helmut Kohl. What did you talk about? What was the main topic? Did you talk more about Germany or Hungary?
We talked about Europe, but naturally the meeting was prompted by German-Hungarian friendship. I always call on the Chancellor when I visit southern Germany. Something which is always mentioned is that the Hungarians helped the Germans in their process of reunification, because we let East Germans over the border and brought down the Iron Curtain. This is true. But what is less frequently mentioned is that the reverse is also true: we have much to thank the Germans for, because German reunification – their swift reunification – made our liberation irreversible. We somehow tend to forget this. In Germany there were enormous debates over reunification. In essence, the left argued for a slower process of unification for the two German states, but Chancellor Kohl insisted throughout that a Germany unconditionally belonging to the Western world must be created without delay – immediately, if possible. It was a reunited Germany which guaranteed the freedom and independence of the peoples of Central Europe. For this I think we owe thanks and gratitude to Helmut Kohl. This is why I always call on him.
This meeting was effectively three-way, despite the fact that the third protagonist, Angela Merkel, was not present.
Yes, but there were only the two of us, and therefore…
But she did feature in your conversation, didn’t she?
…we do not see ourselves as protagonists. But this meeting was a meeting between the two of us. It did not concern third parties.
But you surely agree that there is a reason why half of Europe was speculating over what would be said about the present German chancellor.
The reason for that is that there was – and here I want to give the strongest emphasis to the use of the past tense – a major difference between Germany and Hungary over the ways in which we handled the migrant crisis. These were sharply contrasting positions. We said that the external borders must be protected, and no one may enter the territory of the European Union without being registered: without us knowing what they want and what they want to do here, and without us giving them permission. By contrast, the Germans said that this is an extraordinary situation and anyone may enter, without controls. These were two diametrically opposed positions. But in the interim the Germans have changed their position. Today what they are saying is the same thing that we have been saying. If we want to understand this, we need to remember that in the West they speak a different language: a political language of a different nature. Over there they use a polite, indirect style of speech which carries hidden messages; meanwhile the language of Hungarian politics is direct, clear and straightforward. But if we decipher what the Germans are saying – the importance of protecting the external borders, and so on – we can see that their position has changed. There, too, the emphasis is now on the importance of protecting the external borders. We use two different means to achieve this: firstly, we are coming to agreements with countries outside Europe – one such attempt is the agreement with the Turks; secondly, we are firmly protecting our borders on the Balkans route. This is also why the flow of refugees has stopped. So I think that, while Europe does not admit to the primacy of protecting the external borders, when it comes to enacting the necessary measures it is saying exactly what we have been saying and doing.
You have become rather optimistic about the Germans, the German paradigm. I suppose you are referring to what Angela Merkel herself said only yesterday: that if the European Union is unable to guarantee the security of its external borders there could be serious ruptures in the functioning of the EU’s internal market. But we still have the quotas. Have the two positions converged on this issue as well?
The quotas are, of course, a completely different issue. But they are not about whether we should let anyone in, but about what should happen to those who have already been let in. This is a different debate. We cannot continue what we have been doing up to now: opening our gates to the aggressive pressure of economic migrants. That must be stopped. That debate is now over – there is agreement on that. The debate we are having now is over what should happen to those who are already inside the EU – or what should happen to those who are still managing to enter, despite the fact that – as you can see – we have closed the Balkans route. Hungary, with the assistance of the V4 countries and the countries of the Western Balkans, has sealed this route. It is no longer possible to use this route without controls. But the problem at Italy’s maritime borders has re-emerged. They can still enter through that route. Those borders have yet to be protected, and we shall then see how many are inside, and the debate is about the distribution of these. My position is rooted in a very simple principle. This may sound coarse or harsh – but it is valid. If someone has made a unilateral decision to let migrants in without controls, if someone has unilaterally assumed the underlying responsibility involved in this decision, and we – the other European countries – were not allowed to sit at the table when that decision was made, then we cannot be expected to share the consequences of this decision at an international level. If the decision to let them in has been made at a national level, the decision on the consequences of that decision must also be made at a national level. This means that Hungary was not a party to this decision; we would have opposed it, and had there been a democratic procedure, we would even have prevented it. We were not given that opportunity. We cannot now be asked to suffer the consequences of someone else’s decision. We cannot be asked to voluntarily import into Hungary the problems arising from their decision: terrorism, violence and the threat to European culture. Why should we do that? So this question – the question of the quotas – remains. If we are unable to stop Brussels, which is in favour of distribution – and in Hungary the left represents the view of Brussels – we may well find that those outside Hungary will tell us whom we should live together with. I think that this would amount to our national independence and sovereignty being trampled underfoot. This must be stopped with a referendum.
In a minute we shall talk in more detail about the ten-point action plan which you announced a week ago, but in this context let us just return to the Kohl meeting. One of the points in your action plan proposes that asylum procedures should be conducted outside the borders of the EU, at sealed and guarded hotspots. This effectively continues on from arguments made in Helmut Kohl’s book “Out of Concern for Europe”, the Hungarian-language edition of which has a foreword written by you. In his book the Chancellor makes it clear that the refugee crisis should not be resolved in Europe. But if we look a little further, we can see that while you stress the sovereignty of the nation states, the Chancellor primarily sees the solution in a stronger, more united Europe. Isn’t this a contradiction?
No, because this closer unity is called Schengen. My proposal is that those who are members of the Schengen system – that is, those who enjoy its benefits by being able to move around a Europe without borders – must also honour the obligations which arise from this. This means the obligation of protecting the external borders, if their country is on the periphery of the EU. Those who fail to do so must be asked to yield to others the right to protect their external borders. This right cannot be taken away – because these are, after all, nation states. But they can be asked to hand over this right to a common European border protection scheme. If they refuse, which they also have the right to do, they must be excluded – or their Schengen membership must be suspended.
Whoever it may be. So either they protect their borders, or they hand over the protection of their borders to the joint military and police forces of the European countries, or they leave Schengen. These are the three options.
What we see at present is that, due to the agreement with the Turks, the migration flow on this route has abated. Migration has, however, once again been redirected towards Libya.
This is why it is important for a government to be formed in Libya as soon as possible. We should not forget that when Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister he had an agreement with the Libyan government, and as a result there was no migration pressure from that direction. In the meantime, however, Berlusconi has been replaced as Prime Minister of Italy and a few Western states have destroyed Libya’s government. And now we see chaos there. As a result there is no fence, and there is no political will to curb the flow of economic migrants making their way from the coast of Libya to Europe. This capacity to curb the flow must be restored. It is therefore crucial that as soon as possible a government is formed in Libya with whom an agreement must be reached on the establishment of a large refugee camp on the Libyan coast: outside Europe, on African territory. This should be financed and operated by the European Union, and all those seeking to make their way to Europe must be gathered there. They must be checked there, they must submit their legal applications there, and the relevant proceedings must be conducted there. And then, if there are countries which are prepared to take them in, they can enter Europe in a regulated manner. This, I think, is the solution.
Is this in line with the ten-point package of proposals you presented last week?
This is core of it.
You have already mentioned the Germans. More than once you have underlined that one of the fiercest parts of the debate has already subsided. But does this also mean that the strong Germans are behind your ten points? Will they be?
Not completely, because in the meantime Brussels has revealed its own proposal. We needed to draft Schengen 2.0 in the form of a clear-cut action plan because Brussels has come up with an absurd proposal. Brussels says that Europe should solve its demographic and economic problems by letting in the largest possible number of migrants. This concurs with the document revealed today regarding the migration policy of former socialist governments in Hungary. So Brussels and the Hungarian left – or, I could say, the European and Hungarian left – are in complete harmony. They want to bring millions of people into Europe. In the programme of the previous socialist governments it was stated that in the foreseeable future one-tenth of the country’s population would be foreigners. This is insanity and nonsense to my way of thinking. Perhaps, from the viewpoint of the left, this is something worthwhile, but from my viewpoint – from a national and Christian viewpoint – this is a nightmare, an absurdity. So in any event we must prevent this, and in this respect we not only need to stop Brussels, but we must also stop those allies of Brussels, the Hungarian left. Everyone can now read what plans they were considering. So our position is that we must decide on this question once and for all in Hungary with the referendum. I consider this idea to be all the more absurd if you take a look at youth unemployment rates in European countries: we can see that in Greece and Spain, in the southern states, youth unemployment is as high as 40, 45 or 48 per cent. Instead of importing, letting in migrants from outside who come from different cultures, who cause problems of coexistence and who increase the threat of terrorism, why are we not trying to give jobs to the young people of Europe – to our children, the generations who will follow us, our children who are at home on this continent, the children whom we have raised and educated?
Unfortunately we have no time to talk about the current state of European integration, but critics – those who criticise you – claim that European society is shrinking, and someone has to do the work.
Yes, but if there is a 40, 45 or 48 per cent youth unemployment rate, why don’t we give our own people jobs first?
Does this idea have any followers in Europe? How many will line up behind your ten points?
This is a difficult thing, because what I have said just now – and what sounds natural to Hungarian ears – counts in the West as an exercise in racism. They would say that it is wrong to assign a higher priority to our own children. In Hungary this is something normal, and I think that nine out of ten people share this view. This is the normal course of life. But in the West this is viewed as selfish, as a lack of solidarity and as inhumane; and they even see it as racist for us to level the accusation of terrorism against those migrants who are indeed terrorists. This is absolutely unacceptable. The West is living in a bubble, in a bubble blown out of its own theories, which are completely detached from real life. In Europe, whatever conflicts with this brave new world – which exists not in reality but only in their heads – is condemned in the harshest terms. So we cannot expect those in the West to speak the same language that I speak, and the language that the Prime Ministers of the V4 countries speak. Over there the course is different: there is intellectual oppression. Those who use categories, turns of phrase and values which depart from the mainstream are vilified in the press the next morning. And this has consequences for the political power relations and competition. So my friends in the West are not in an easy position.
Let’s talk about domestic affairs. Next year’s budget is being prepared. If my information is correct, when you visited Germany you also met members of the German business community.
I met the chief executive of Mercedes and people from Deutsche Telekom.
Did you also talk about investments and developments in the light of the 2017 budget?
Of course. We have a strategic agreement with Deutsche Telekom. We would like Hungary to be Europe’s most modern country in the sense of understanding the modern technologies which are shaping not only the economy but also our daily lives, adapting them as quickly as possible to our own nature and way of life, and using them to gain competitive advantage. At Deutsche Telekom I had a glimpse of what the world will be like in 15 to 20 years’ time: I saw a digital demonstration of what a family home will look like, what sort of schools we will have, and how we will travel. The world – and not only Europe – is on the brink of major transformation. What’s more, there is keen competition over where these changes will be the fastest. This is digitalisation. It will affect production, the way we work, the way we learn, the way we live, the way we travel. It will change a great many things. It would be good if we are not mere observers of this transformation, but shapers and active players in these changes: players making strategic decisions. These decisions will be on how and at what pace we want to make all this a part of our lives, how we want to prepare for this, and – though I am a little old for this – how we want to prepare ourselves, our children and our grandchildren for the changes. Hungary’s strength is not in its size, but in its speed, its intellectual vitality, its openness, its ability to understand modern things and assimilate them. The Hungarian mind has always been agile and open, so I am convinced that we are presented with a great opportunity, and we can strengthen Hungary. One of the main points of the agreement with Deutsche Telekom, for example, is – to put it in layman’s language – that by 2018 there should be one hundred per cent broadband internet coverage for both businesses and households. In this regard we want to be among the best in Europe. We want to overtake even the Germans, who have similar goals. For this we need to cooperate with large companies – some American, but primarily German – with which we have already had good working relationships. For instance, with Deutsche Telekom. And we shall jointly implement major developments. We have started to reduce VAT on internet services, and in the next few years we would like to continue this. So we have major plans for the development of a digital Hungary.
From your words I assume that you would like to place more emphasis on innovation, research and development in the period to come. Will this also be reflected in the budget?
Yes, we have taken the first steps. In the past we have spent these funds in a piecemeal fashion. But Professor Pálinkás, the former President of the Academy of Sciences, has agreed to take part in the Government’s work, and these decisions will be made by the expert teams and departments organised around him. We are confident that he has an orderly concept for this work. We have approved his science-policy concepts, and now we hope that he will implement them in accordance with the decisions. Mr. Pálinkás will have a major role in the development of a modern Hungary.
Let’s take a look at some items from the 2017 budget. Earlier most experts claimed that there was a shortfall in education of around one hundred billion forints. Now it seems that in next year’s budget there is some 130 billion in additional spending. What did you ask for when you decided on this extra funding, and how and on what should it be spent in education?
First of all, the budget is always for one year, but my job – unlike the Finance Minister – is to see relationships in a timeframe which is longer than that of the budget. So I look at things in a certain historical and cultural context. That is the task of a prime minister. From this point of view we have drafted a good budget for 2017. On the time horizon I’m talking about, we can see that in 2010, when the government of national interest was formed and we announced the development of civic consolidation, about three years of our lives – not the lives of those in the Government, but the lives of all Hungarian citizens – was spent saving Hungary from collapse. We were occupied with pulling back the horses which were galloping towards the abyss, and preventing economic meltdown. That was the legacy left to us. If we look at the figures, you can see this clearly. But in 2013 we opened a new chapter – thanks to the efforts of the Hungarian people, after a combined effort and achievement unprecedented in Europe. As a result, every year from 2013 to 2016 – and in all likelihood in 2017 – we have been able to take a step forward. This will also be the case next year. The Hungarian reforms are working, and so right now we are living through a period of growth. Hungarians find it hard to believe that we are living through such a period of growth, because this is not what we are used to – and we are blessed with a healthy, well-developed critical mentality. But the truth is that we are now entering the fifth or sixth year of a period of growth, in which wages have been rising continuously every year, and in which unemployment has been falling every year – and will soon fall below six per cent. At no time over the past twenty-five years have so many people been in work as there are now: 4.3 million. And all of this has been achieved without taking on debt; indeed in the meantime we have paid back the money lent to us by the IMF and the European Union. Taxes are falling, real incomes are rising, and we have managed to preserve – and even increase – the value of pensions. And the most important thing for me – because we are a government of national interest with a nationally-oriented way of thinking – is that according to the European Union’s latest statistics we are all included: not just the elite or the middle class, but every Hungarian is included in this. So these are not just my words, but those of the European Union: over the course of two years, in 2013 and 2014, we reduced the number of people living in poverty by six hundred thousand. This was the largest reduction in the entire European Union. Twenty-eight per cent of the Hungarian population had been classified as living in poverty, and we have now reduced this rate to twenty per cent. And some significant results have been achieved since 2014, so that in 2015, 2016 and 2017, in one or two years’ time we shall see that the number of those living in poverty has fallen further. For a government of national interest the situation of those living their lives in the hardest circumstances is extremely important. The 2017 budget will provide this, particularly through the VAT reduction on the most important food items.
There is extra funding of 130 billion forints for education. One can obviously be optimistic about this, but should one be optimistic about education as a whole?
We are developing education, but at the same time the budget is, in fact, a budget of tax reductions and home creation. And while there will be additional funding of over a hundred billion forints for education, and this is a significant thing, it is not the most significant item in the budget. We are talking about the budget now, and still more money is going into health care as well, but in reality the focus of the budget is on tax reductions and the home creation programme. But there is still scope to make progress in health care and education.
You mentioned health care. People in the field, doctors – and we have also spoken to doctors who share this view – say that they welcome the additional funding in health care. The problem is that this system is like a bottomless well. No matter how much money is poured into it, the exercise is pointless unless it is restructured.
I’ve been involved in politics since the mid-eighties. Back then in the intellectual workshops of the anti-communist resistance I worked with and learnt a great deal from the opposition figures of the time, who are no longer in politics. And ever since then there has been an ongoing debate on the condition of the healthcare system in Hungary, what condition it should be in, and what condition it is even possible to raise it to. This issue has been an ever-present one for the more than thirty years that I have been involved in Hungarian politics. I think that at the moment the greatest challenge is that in Western Europe pay levels for highly-qualified doctors and nurses are much higher than here. In Hungary the salaries of doctors and nursing staff must be increased. And we must do so within a comprehensive system. It is not enough to give them a single large pay increase and then forget about them: if possible it must be done as part of a pay review system over three or four years. And we must reduce the gap between the salaries of doctors in the West and the salaries of doctors in Hungary. I cannot claim that this pay gap will be eliminated in the next year or two – by the end of my current mandate, which only extends up to 2018. Taking a look at the pay of doctors in the UK or Germany, no responsible person in their right mind would commit to that. But one can commit to reducing the gap. And in the meantime we can improve standards of living here in Hungary – with VAT reductions, for instance, through which even the poorest families will benefit, and through which an average Hungarian family can save up to 35 to 40 thousand forints a year. And while in next year’s budget pensions will apparently rise by only 0.9 per cent, the actual increase will in fact be double that, when one takes into account the VAT reduction. I can say that Hungary will be the kind of place where people will be happy to stay, and where their lives will not be hopeless. But, I repeat, the opportunities for reducing the pay gap for healthcare workers are limited. We shall do everything we can, because we value our doctors; Hungarian people in general value doctors, and we especially value trained nurses, who look after us and our relatives in hospitals. Here in Hungary this is in our soul: we do not see illness as a personal matter, but as a family matter. So we greatly appreciate these professions, and I am glad that there are now negotiations between the representatives from the healthcare system and the Government. We have not yet been able to come to an agreement, but we are negotiating. I believe there is a chance to reach an agreement, and then we can start closing the gap in this area as well.
You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.