Kocsis Éva: We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.
Viktor Orbán: Good morning.
In Parliament on Monday you said that you want a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe. Looking at the background it’s clear that you think this definition stands in opposition to that envisaged by the European Union. What do they want?
We’d rather talk about our own intentions, but …
Well, one should assess the surrounding environment.
Not wanting to avoid answering your question, our way of thinking is that we want a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe. This means that we don’t want to participate in experiments which reshape either Hungary or Europe, our wider home. So we like being Hungarian, we like the fact that the country is Hungarian, the culture is Hungarian, and the language is Hungarian. And we expect our leaders to always take decisions – decisions affecting Hungarians – in line with the interests of Hungarians. As for Europe, we don’t like experiments, although we don’t deny that individual member states have the right to engage in experiments which push aside European cultural traditions and the accepted European way of life, and in their place create an amalgam with another culture, another religion, another worldview, and allow into the territory of the European Union groups from alien peoples en masse and without screening. We think that such a practice will transform Europe: the Europe which we call European Europe, which we recognise, which we love, which we honour, which we longed for throughout the communist era, and where we now freely and gladly travel. That Europe will change if things continue as they have done. We think that such a process is bad. Of course if the Germans, French or Italians want to subject themselves to such an experiment, we cannot deny them that right. But we ask them not to force us to take part in such an experiment.
Where does one go from here? We’ll return to the subject of the way forward in Europe, but if fewer people had taken part in the national consultation would it have undermined your migration policy?
I’m prepared to admit that we can be pretty determined even without a national consultation, but there is a difference between a standpoint which has been arrived at after some members of a government have debated it at length, and one which has the same content, but has also been shaped by millions of people. The latter is different in its weight, its cohesive force and the expectation to follow through on it; and it’s also seen in a different light by the outside world. Countries now experimenting with the creation of Eurabia – or with the amalgamation of the remnants of Islamic and Christian culture – will now have to recognise that it’s not only the Prime Minister or members of the Hungarian government who don’t want to take part in such experiments, but that the Hungarian people have declared this in every form possible at every opportunity.
One of the conclusions of this national consultation relates to the orientation of Hungary’s migration policy, which the voters agree with. But what will happen if, at the end of the infringement procedure, the European court rules that a violation has occurred? What will Hungary do in that event?
No one can force us to renounce our position. A government can somehow be pinned against a wall, forced into a corner, or punched in the stomach a few times; and we’ve been repeatedly threatened. That sort of thing can happen, but it cannot be done to a people. What’s more, we’re not talking about one people, but there are a few of us here in Central Europe who are speaking out and saying “Thank you, but no thank you”. So I believe that we must stand our ground, and accept the fight. We’ll see what form this takes – before a court ruling or after a court ruling – and what our options are. One thing we must definitely recognise, however, is that the Hungarian people have made it clear that they don’t want to be mixed with those from elsewhere; they don’t want to let in people from cultures and civilisations that are different from ours; they don’t want to abandon the results – economic and social – which they’ve achieved in the past few years; they insist that they want to live in security; they don’t want to see illegal immigrants; they don’t want to take such risks. And there are quite a few of us: the national consultation – which was the most successful national consultation ever, with record participation – has confirmed this. An entire nation is now looking to maintain its position. And as Prime Minister my duty is to find the ways and means, to explore them, to use them, and on the whole to lead a line of diplomacy which will ensure that in Hungary eventually things are as the Hungarian people want them to be, and that they will stay that way.
Wouldn’t it be easier, wouldn’t there be less uproar, if you said: “Alright, send two thousand people here”? They won’t send them here anyway, because the quotas don’t work. The Slovaks, too, have made their contribution, despite the fact that they have also turned to the European Court. So the people they want to send here … quite simply, the mechanism itself is not working.
As Prime Minister I’ve seen my share of floods – starting in 1998. And I know that if a dam begins to leak and is broken, sooner or later the water will burst through. So if we have a position, it must be clearly declared, and we must stand up for it. Rather than scheming, we must defend our position, as we do with dams.
The German government has also sent a message on this. Both candidates for chancellor have said, Angela Merkel has said she agrees with the infringement procedure against Hungary: she doesn’t see anything extraordinary about it. And Martin Schulz has said that he wants to send you the message that if you do not cooperate you should also say goodbye to EU funding.
Well, first of all, I don’t remember us Hungarians – either the Government or the people – ever trying to tell the Germans what to do, what to think or how to think. And we’ve definitely never wanted to interfere in how they live their lives. I could also briefly say that we’ve always accorded the Germans the respect that is their due; and we expect them to also accord us the respect we deserve. There is an election campaign in Germany. I’m asking German politicians to leave us in peace. They shouldn’t involve us in their election campaign. This debate, the statements made about us, are not about Hungary, but they should be interpreted in light of the election struggles of German domestic politics. But we don’t want to take part in them. We’re not running in the German election. They should talk about something else, they should deal with their own German problems, and they should let Hungarians live their own lives.
But there’s no campaign in the Venice Commission, and no elections there. On the subject of NGOs – and the US Embassy has expressed a similar view – they say that identifying an organisation as funded from abroad may seem neutral, but considering the strong political statements made against such organisations, and with the current circumstances in Hungary, such a designation may have a harmful effect on these organisations’ legitimate activities. And here let’s also mention the US Embassy’s assessment: they consider it unfair and discriminatory, and the United States is concerned about the law. That is the other front.
The Americans’ opinion is the truly interesting one. The Venice Commission put forward a less interesting position: it’s an old mistake – a familiar category error, I could say – to mix law and politics. If anyone reads the Venice Commission report, they’ll clearly see that it’s in two distinct parts. There is dry legal argumentation, which can be used for discussion. And we don’t dispute most of those findings – maybe some, but that is not too important. And there’s another part, which is political bile, pure and simple. The fact of the matter is that the Venice Commission doesn’t like governments adopting rules such as these. I believe that the United States doesn’t either, and this is why the U.S. opinion is intriguing. There are much stricter rules in the United States: over there the rules on organisations funded from abroad are harsh. Compared with the Americans, we’re refined and polite. In the United States fines are imposed, and people are locked up if they fail to comply with this law. Whenever they release a publication, they’re required to state that it was funded from abroad. So the American regulatory system for NGOs which accept funds from abroad is several times stricter than the rules we have in Hungary. Seen from this angle, the intervention in this debate by the Americans is a very interesting initiative.
Perhaps the Americans guessed that you’d come up with this answer, because in their communique they added that in their view the legislative situation in Hungary is not the same as that in the U.S., because their laws require registration of organisations engaged in political propaganda specifically guided by foreign interests, while the new Hungarian legislation requires the registration of all non-governmental organisations receiving an annual sum of at least 7.2 million forints from abroad.
Yes, but our concern is that they take part in Hungarian public life by shaping the political discourse. Let’s face it, no one would be particular interested in organisations raising money or collecting second-hand clothes and distributing them among needy Hungarians or Central Europeans. There’s a debate here. The organisations which have spoken out in protest are ones continuously involved in politics – which they have every right to be – and which seek to influence public opinion – which they also have the right to do – and which represent views which don’t coincide with Hungarian interests, but with foreign interests – which they also have the right to do. All of this is possible because Hungary is a free country. We have a single, modest request: that they should always let us know if they receive their funding from abroad. We would like to know this, and the Hungarian people will decide what they think about it. The law doesn’t penalise this practice: it simply creates transparency. To ordinary Hungarian thinking – not sophisticated American thinking, but simple, unvarnished Hungarian thinking – it’s simply incomprehensible for someone who is not ashamed to take money to be ashamed of declaring that fact.
As regards NGOs, these organisations claim that they already state that they receive funding from abroad. I have here the website of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and here it says how much money they receive from abroad. They’re asking why that’s not enough.
Relatively few people visit the website of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. By contrast, people listen to what they have to say when they engage in various debates in the public eye in Hungary. And when you listen to such debates or read pamphlets, when you read the position of an organisation, it’s worth knowing that it is receiving funding from abroad. It’s not really the way of the world that people around the globe can hardly wait to give money to someone else because they have too much of it themselves. If someone is given money, there’s a reason for it. And so I believe that we have the right to know who is being given money, why, and for what purposes.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee have said that they’re not going to comply with the law, and they’re talking about civil disobedience. What can they expect?
There’s a constitutional system in Hungary, and if the elected representatives of the Hungarian people adopt a law according to the rules, it must be observed by everyone.
It must be observed.
Fine, but one of the characteristics of civil disobedience is that it seeks to draw attention to grievances by non-compliance with the law.
In the Hungarian legal system there’s no allowance for civil disobedience.
So if I’ve understood correctly, in the period ahead Hungary will find itself even more in the spotlight, because everyone will be keen to see what happens to, say, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union or the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
Enforcing the law is not the Government’s task. There are Hungarian bodies which exist to ensure that laws are observed: authorities, courts, the prosecution service, and so on. If someone doesn’t comply with a law, in Hungary there’s a precisely defined procedure for enforcing compliance. So no one will be in for any surprises.
As I mentioned earlier, in this regard you believe that there will be a debate about finding the way forward. Here I’m talking about the practical side of it, which has occupied Europe for some time. Elections are being held in several countries, and obviously the German and French elections are key in this respect. But listening to statements from the candidates, the French and German candidates don’t necessarily agree with the idea of strengthening the powers of nation states.
We must come to terms with the fact that Europe has been facing some serious issues for years now, but so far we’ve been unable to respond to them appropriately. There’s the fact that the economic performance and competitiveness of the world’s emerging countries are stronger and better than ours: better than the European Union. There’s the fact that hundreds of people have died in the territory of the European Union in terrorist attacks, and so there’s a security challenge. There’s the question of whether the European Union is able to shape events taking place in its neighbourhood – whether in the Balkans or in Ukraine. This is a foreign policy challenge. And there’s also a demographic challenge, as ever fewer children are being born in Europe, and our societies are ageing fast. Some major questions lie ahead of us over the horizon in the next 15 to 20 years: who will work, what they will do, how much income they will be able to generate, how we can maintain our pension systems, and so on. These are very serious questions and challenges. We’re talking about them, we’re dealing with them, we’re arguing about them, but the European Union has not yet found answers which are satisfactory and reassuring. It’s right for the great states, such as France and Germany – which play a leading role in the European Union – to ask these questions openly, and to propose solutions. The European institutions, including the Commission, are also doing so. They’ve released a major study on possible future scenarios for Europe, they’ve released a number of studies on important questions, and they’ve invited us to discuss these documents. These debates are taking place now, as we speak. In my view, sooner or later Hungarian public opinion will engage with these debates, and will perhaps learn more about them than it knows now. And sooner or later decisions will also have to be adopted at a European level. This is what we can expect: these are the most important questions of the next six months to one year. We can’t expect decisions on issues like these immediately before parliamentary elections. This is why it was important to get the French elections out of the way, and this is why everyone is looking forward to getting September’s election in Germany out of the way. And then we must deal with finding answers to the big questions. This will be a major debate, which will focus on the form of existence and powers of the nation states, the division of power between Brussels and, say, Budapest – or Brussels and the capitals of the other Member States. It will focus on several issues: how to regulate prices; whether there should be a common fiscal policy; whether or not each country should determine its own economic system; whether or not we should let in millions of migrants, and whether the Member States have the right to say that they don’t want to let them in; whether we have the right to say that we aim to resolve our demographic problems by refreshing and reinforcing our family policy, and that we want to pursue a family protection policy, rather than an immigration policy. All these questions will be tabled, one by one. They will affect the future of Hungary, and it’s worth preparing ourselves to participate in them. This is why we put together – with a lot of hard work – the questions in the national consultation in the way we did; it was so that we could ask the people the very questions which we – and I personally – believe will be the most important ones in European debates over the next twelve or eighteen months to two years. The Hungarian people have hammered down very clear marker posts regarding their positions on certain issues. And my duty is to guide Hungarian diplomacy in line with the direction set out by those markers.
Seeing the speed at which the European Parliament and the politicians of the European Commission move ahead on even minor issues, the average person would think that it will take twenty to thirty years to answer the questions that you’ve just spoken about.
Fine, but we elect leaders for them to make decisions, and to make good decisions. They must be kept under pressure. I’m kept under pressure all the time in Hungary. Politicians in Brussels, too, must be kept under pressure. We have leaders because we expect them to explain these difficult questions to us in a reasonable way, to make it clear what options we have, to then make decisions – good decisions – and finally to implement them. This is why in democracy we have parliaments, governments, prime ministers and ministers.
Since you’ve mentioned pressure, economic performance and competitiveness, the opposition say that the questions you asked in the national consultation are not relevant, because they’re of no interest to the people. There were also, however, questions about household utility charges, the economy and competitiveness – mentioned in your speech on Monday. If we approach this issue from the average person’s viewpoint, we’re in a difficult situation, because one side of the argument highlights the enormous improvement in competitiveness and an outstanding increase in family benefits by international standards, while the other side claims that Hungary is falling behind. It’s rather difficult to find one’s bearings, and it’s quite a job for someone without an economics degree.
The Hungarian people is one which is blessed with common sense. I suggest that everyone believes their own eyes and their own experiences. On this basis they can accurately judge the state that Hungary is in today, in which areas its performance has improved, and in which ones it hasn’t – as there are surely such areas as well. They can also judge the direction in which we’re heading, and whether things are getting worse in Hungary. Naturally politicians always think in terms of election cycles, and they want to compare their four years with the previous four years, but in general the people are less inclined to do so: they’re reluctant to follow this path. They live from one day to the next, and see their own lives in this dimension. So it’s important for us to talk about Hungary’s economic situation – or competitiveness – in understandable terms, in the language of everyday life. For those who don’t like to overcomplicate things, I can say that in Parliament we’ve passed next year’s budget: we’ve increased the categories of minimum wage significantly – by 15 per cent and 25 per cent this year – and they will also increase next year, as will all other wages. And next year there’s no social group in Hungary which won’t be able to take at least one step forward. We have got to the stage that, while a few years ago we had a depressingly high unemployment rate, soon there will be more jobs than people. Earlier people didn’t pay taxes – and in all honesty they didn’t really have anything to pay taxes from – while now more than 4.3 million people honestly pay taxes on the income from their work, and contribute to the maintenance of our shared existence. I can say that families receive all the support they need to raise children. And I’d like to create even more opportunities for families – far more. We have a robust concept for family policy. We don’t want migrants, we don’t want immigrants, and so we’d like to counteract our population decline with the birth of Hungarian children. Last time I also said that ultimately the decision lies with women, but it’s the duty of the Hungarian government to create conditions in which a family-friendly Hungary greets the birth of children and shows the greatest respect to women who decide to have children. This is the kind of country we want, and the budget is taking one step in this direction. I think that, if one uses one’s common sense, the country’s progress cannot really be called into question – even though the opposition ties itself in knots to make all sorts of absurd claims about how the country is not making progress, and is in decline. Everywhere there are tower cranes, everywhere there are plans, everywhere there are concepts. Not only the state, but also private individuals and businesses are talking about plans and the future, preparing to create jobs and to invest. The whole country is full of vitality, eager to continue and growing. We can always say that we could move forward more swiftly, and there’s no denying that we could. Or we could move forward more skilfully – of course we could. But no one can deny that we have made our way from decline, hopelessness and financial chaos to where we are now: talking about the future. We have a future, and we have something to talk about. I think this is a great thing, and should be treated as something precious.
Let’s talk a little more about employment, which you mentioned just now. Earlier you spoke about full employment. Do you think next year’s budget creates the possibility of this?
Next year’s budget will cut taxes, increase wages, and concentrate resources and energy on improving the quality of vocational training; so yes, I believe we’ll be in a better situation next year than we are this year.
And a different topic to end our interview. Last night everyone was talking about Hungarian football, and how they see its future. Were you surprised that Bernd Storck is staying?
These days few things surprise me, because, you see, I didn’t start in this line of business yesterday – and I also know this world a little from the inside. We have been through another Battle of Mohács: our national team’s latest performance is nothing less than a Mohács defeat. The situation is slightly better than this, as the leader, or the king, didn’t drown in the Csele Stream. So the Hungarian Football Association still has a president. The situation is better than that. Now we must somehow regroup our scattering troops, try to restore order to their ranks, and try to defend what is left of our self-esteem. Once we have done that, we must recapture what we have lost, just as we did after Mohács. Whether the President of the Hungarian Football Association will succeed in doing so or not, all I can say is that he has my support. I’m supporting him.
In the past half hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.