Katalin Nagy: Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s President-elect, has nominated the Hungarian candidate László Trócsányi for the Neighbourhood and Enlargement portfolio. Siren voices had been pronouncing the impossibility of him gaining this post, but he did so all the same. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Why is it important that László Trócsányi has been given this post?
Good morning, and greetings to our listeners. He hasn’t been given the post: he’s been nominated for it. As political wisdom has it, we should kill the bear before talking to the furrier. So the President of the Commission has nominated him for that position, but there’s a battle ahead of us, because the European Parliament will hold hearings for the candidates and then form an opinion about them. Only after that will nominations be finalised. I expect there will be some fiery moments. The Hungarian opposition – which has fully mobilised to attack and snipe at our former minister and Hungary’s candidate László Trócsányi – has promised to make its own contribution. All the same, let’s not deny that even interim success is success, and let’s confidently declare that Hungary has delegated a magnificent person. Here personal suitability is a key issue, and this demonstrates the intellectual and spiritual capacity and strength of Hungarian politics, and Hungary in general. I think that with due modesty, but confidence, we can be proud to have nominated such a person. In addition to the fact that he was led our party list for the European Parliament election and 53 per cent of the voters supported him, we’re talking about a university professor and a scholar of the Francophone world. He has published several academic volumes, for both Hungarian and international audiences. He has also been a judge in the Constitutional Court. He is an experienced international diplomat, having worked as an ambassador. And he spent many years on the Venice Commission, which has been critical of Hungary. So however one looks at him, one cannot point to a weakness. The only criticism that could be levelled at him is that, from the viewpoint of his attackers, he comes from a bad place – because he’s Hungarian. But there are so many of us Hungarians – some ten million – that we cannot accept this objection.
Is this achievement solely one of Hungarian diplomacy or assertion of Hungary’s interests, or has the V4 also strengthened within the European Union?
If we take stock of the past two or three months’ diplomatic struggles and the distribution of power in European politics that has emerged after the European elections, we see the following. The Visegrád countries have been allocated two vice-presidential positions, which is unprecedented; we will have a Slovak vice-president and a Czech vice-president. The Polish have been given the agriculture portfolio, which relates to one of the most important policies in the entire European Union, involving more money and affecting more people than any other. And Hungary has been given the Enlargement and Neighbourhood portfolio. This relates to the entire Western Balkans and to Ukraine; and relations with the countries of the Caucasus Region are particularly important for us. It also relates to the countries of North Africa, which are also neighbours of Europe on the other side of the sea; and this is especially important in terms of migration. So the Visegrád Four have been given very important positions and portfolios. To this we could add something which is not usually linked with this in public discourse, but which forms part of the intricate web of negotiations: there will also be a change at the head of the International Monetary Fund, with the departure of the French lady who currently leads it. We fought a fierce battle over her successor, who will be from Europe; we fought over who Europe’s candidate should be. We’ve succeeded in giving strong support to the candidacy of a Bulgarian lady, and she could well be appointed; a decision on this will be adopted soon. It was primarily the V4 that fought for this. Our entire region, with the V4 in the lead, is continuously gaining in importance. What we say, do and think is increasingly important and carries every more influence, opening the door wider to the assertion of Hungary’s interests. Just the problems in our relations with the countries I’ve mentioned show how important this is for us: we have unresolved questions related to Ukraine; it is our security that is primarily affected by the future of the entire Western Balkans region; and migration, too, affects us above all. So I believe that, in terms of Hungary’s national interests, everything that has happened is favourable and is good news.
People in the West don’t like to discuss enlargement – particularly enlargement towards the Western Balkans. In the past five years the European Union and the European Commission have made almost no progress on this issue. Under László Trócsányi’s leadership, do you think it will be possible to make progress on, say, the cause of the Serbs or the Macedonians?
We took on an enormous challenge when we stood up for enlargement, because there is indeed a phenomenon here: in Eurobabble or jargon it’s called “enlargement fatigue”. The poor things in the West have grown tired of enlargement. In the West there’s an interpretation of Europe’s economic problems which states that the Western half of the continent would be doing much better without past enlargements and the associated debates that consumed so much energy. First of all this isn’t true, and of course it isn’t true: a considerable proportion of the European Union’s growth comes from Central Europe, and the enlargement of a market – and our accession meant just that – always generates additional economic energy. So rather than taking something away, it always adds to it. But you know how it is: when someone’s unsuccessful, they need to point the finger at someone else and blame them; and if I’m the cause of something, but I don’t want to be identified as the person responsible for it, then I need to point the finger at someone else. This is why Central Europe is so frequently mentioned as an explanation for Western Europe’s poorer political performance. But my logic is exactly the opposite: if we take a good look at what’s happened in the past few years, I can confidently say that if the EU hadn’t hesitated, if it had carried on with enlargement, and if in 2015 Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were already members of the EU, then it’s certain that migrants, illegal migrants, would not have made it as far as Germany. After leaving Greece, migrants wouldn’t have arrived in a “no man’s land” in the sense that there were only national authorities in those countries: the European Union had no options or powers, as migrants arrived in countries which were not members of the European Union. Therefore we were unable to hold them to account, and we were likewise only able to provide inadequate assistance. So if that blank patch in the Balkans region had been filled in, if there’d been European Union Member States in those territories, then after migrants crossed Greece, the next place where they could have been detained wouldn’t have been Hungary, but Montenegro, Macedonia or Serbia. So I see things completely differently to how people in the West see them. I shall try to convince them on this, because while of course it will be Minister Trócsányi’s responsibility to represent this policy within the Commission, there will also be debates among the prime ministers about whether there should be enlargement – and if so when. This is why the V4 met leaders of the Western Balkan countries in Prague yesterday. Their prime ministers were there, and in a joint statement Hungary and the other Central European countries clearly stood up for enlargement; because Europe needs a bigger market, a larger labour market, greater economic potential, higher growth and greater security. We can obtain all this from the Western Balkans.
When the head of the European Commission allocated the positions of commissioners, she slightly renamed them. One of them is interesting: rather than a commissioner for migration, she has called the post “commissioner for protecting the European way of life”. This has outraged the liberals. What’s your opinion on this?
This is a sad story, and it offers a glimpse into the darkness that rules the heads of some people in Europe today – also in politicians’ heads, unfortunately. Protecting our way of life is the primary duty of every politician, whether they’re liberal, Christian democrat or socialist. This is because the people live in a certain way, they’ve created a way of life, and the way people have arranged their own lives is not an accidental outcome: they’ve clearly arranged their lives in such a way because this is how they want to live. If this is how they want to live, it’s our duty to minimise or eliminate the impact of any external forces that would change it. So if there is a fine and important task in politics, it is to seek to protect the way of life that the people have freely developed for themselves. Why do people employ us? This, after all, is what politicians are for. People do their jobs, live their lives and work; but there are common causes, such as the issue of our way of life, that someone must deal with. We, the politicians they elect, are the ones who must do this. I cannot understand how anyone could say that it’s not their duty to protect a certain way of life, their own electorate’s way of life. The debate probably revolves more around how we perceive migration: as a natural, integral and desirable change in our way of life; as a fairy tale which will lead to something beautiful and good; or as a danger. And, based on their own day-to-day experience, the majority of Europeans see it as a danger. Therefore I believe that the right thing to do is for the European Union to defend itself against migration. Pro-immigration forces, including several Hungarian MEPs – the opposition tends to belong to that camp – support immigration. This is the subject for debate. Now, if the President of the Commission were Hungarian, rather than a German lady, we would not have called that position “protecting the European way of life”; instead we’d have called it “commissioner for protecting Christian culture”. No doubt this would have brought the sky down. Even the term “way of life” is too much for some. This clearly shows that there’s a problem. In European politics there’s no consensus on even the most fundamental issues. This is what we have to live with in the coming years; but instead of moaning about it we must strive to be in the majority.
Let’s just briefly talk about the fact that it seems as if the departing President of the European Commission never really understood or felt attached to this way of thinking. Recently there was an interview with Jean-Claude Juncker, and naturally he was asked about his relationship with you. He said that in fact your personal relationship isn’t bad, and you sometimes have a joke together, but he said that Viktor Orbán isn’t a European politician, because he only cares about Hungary. He described you as a “blind national politician”.
It’s hard to see the world through the eyes of a Luxembourger. The Commission’s former president is from Luxembourg. In negotiations I sometimes wonder how my counterpart sees the world. What does someone from Luxembourg say when they want to be proud of themselves or their nation? How does it all work? For a Hungarian it’s clear that if there’s one thing we want, it’s for Hungary to be respected and appreciated, and for us to be seen as Hungarians. We don’t want to scrape away from ourselves the undeniable fact that we’re Hungarian: personally I believe – and many others share this view – that the best moment in life was being born Hungarian. Some conclusions follow from this. We’re part of a fantastic culture, and we speak a fantastic language. I feel sorry for those people in the world who don’t speak Hungarian, because they’re excluded from the fantastic literature that has been created by authors from, say, Márai to Móricz. We have a fantastic history, the essence of which is in standing tall and standing our ground to defend something: in the most difficult times, in the most difficult circumstances, against overwhelmingly superior numbers. Then there is our country, which is a beautiful country. Being Hungarian is a fantastic thing. What could be more important than this? Therefore I cannot possibly put myself in the shoes of my friend Mr. Juncker, who probably doesn’t think in the same way about his own Luxembourg identity as I do about my Hungarian identity. I am European because I am Hungarian. If I weren’t Hungarian, I couldn’t be European either. And this is why I believe that the European Union must be built as a shared home from nations, and from the identities of nations and national pride. This is when people like me with national feelings will truly feel at home in Europe, and when we will be able to accept the institutions of the European Union.
Cooperation within the V4 appears to be solid and ongoing, with good relations. But what about our other international allies, the Italians and Austrians? Salvini is no longer in government. In Austria the Government resigned – or was brought down – and there will be an early election. Will our alliance policy change in this field?
I had a strategy and a plan, and what’s interesting about it is not that it was conceived in my head, but that we developed it in lengthy debates. All I did was summarise it. A strategy was put together by the Government’s foreign policy experts, its foreign minister and my advisors: the people who shape Hungary’s foreign policy alongside and behind the current government. This is a strategy which we’d like to implement, and we’re convinced that it serves Hungary’s interests. The starting point for this is Hungary’s stability. There’s no point in talking about foreign relations if matters at home aren’t in order: financial stability, economic growth, jobs and so on. So this is the starting point of the strategy. The second element is to strengthen our alliance with the V4, and to maximise solidarity. This is a given. The third element is to extend our good relations with neighbours who aren’t in the V4, such as Serbia. This has more or less been achieved. I’m expecting some progress in the quality of our relations with the Romanians compared to what they’ve been up until now. And perhaps we’ll also be able to resolve our unresolved questions with the Ukrainians, as now they have a new president and a new parliament. So we have that element as well. My third idea, the third or fourth element of our strategy, has been to find partners among the old EU members who are on the same page as us on the issue that for us is the most important: the issue of migration. These are countries that agree with us, that could be our allies, and with which we could take joint action on demands being made which are disadvantageous for us – such as the admission and distribution of refugees and migrants, migrant quotas and other similar issues. They are countries which want to protect the EU, which have border defence capabilities, and which don’t want to let in migrants. One such potential partner has been Austria, which, before the European elections, was taken out and neutralised in suspicious circumstances. I don’t want to bore listeners with that. But there will be elections there soon – this month – and, with the help of God the arrangement in place before the overthrow of the last government will be restored: the Freedom Party and the Austrian People’s Party will again be able to form a government together, and then we’ll be able to form close relations with them, just as we did before the last government was brought down. This is why the President of the Freedom Party visited me a couple of days ago; and today I’ll receive the Governor of Burgenland, whose position on migration and immigration policy is the same as the Hungarian position. The key country is Italy. Italy is important because it must defend Europe – and thus Hungary – against migrants coming across the sea. For a long time Italy did not commit itself to this task, but instead let migrants in – sometimes at a faster or slower rate, but in the end it let them in. It saw this phenomenon as something positive. And then of course it sent on the migrants – or wanted to send them on and distribute them across Europe. Then along came our friend Mr. Salvini, who is a great friend of Hungary, a brave man, and a man of substance: the first of the Italians to say that Italy and Europe can also be defended at their maritime borders. For some time, while he was Interior Minister – in the last year or two, in the last eighteen months – we were safe. But now chaos has erupted, and he’s left the Government. He’s being missed already: it’s been perhaps less than a week since he left and he’s already being missed, because they’re letting in the boats, and they’re receiving migrants again. They’ve returned to the old left-wing Italian immigration policy, which is a threat to the whole of Europe, Hungary included. And the Italians are again already beginning to demand that the migrants on their soil be distributed, and that we also take in some of them. So all the old shenanigans are reappearing. At the moment I’m not optimistic, but I wish the Italian government every success, while fervently hoping that it will eventually take an anti-immigration stance. Today there is little hope of this – but Salvini is still alive.
There’s a slightly older story, but you haven’t been here in the studio since it happened. In August you met Chancellor Merkel on the thirtieth anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic. Mrs. Merkel made a very important, powerful statement there: she said that Hungary is using EU funds well. This could be important, because in Hungary day in, day out the opposition and the liberal press keep saying that the Hungarian government is stealing EU funds.
Well, I don’t expect foreign politicians to decide Hungarian domestic political debates: we will decide them. The Hungarian people will decide them, they will decide how they see them and what they think. Regarding this matter, all I can tell you is that – according to both the textbooks and experience – in a country where the number of people in employment is continually increasing, where there is development, where there is investment, where there is high economic growth, corruption is bound to be a problem, because it’s a problem everywhere. But what is sure is that it’s not a dominant problem, because then the country wouldn’t be developing. You can recognise those countries which suffer from corruption by the fact that they’re not developing, because the money is being stolen. Although it wouldn’t be very refined, I could mention a few examples of this, going back to the period before our government: I could mention periods in Hungary’s modern history when the country wasn’t growing, and this was related to the issue of corruption. But right now we’re growing. So in my view the whole question is completely different from what the Hungarian opposition claims. But let me repeat: the Hungarian voters will decide how they see this. In this respect a German opinion is important; not in terms of deciding the Hungarian debate, but because the Germans are investors. And if leaders of important countries say – and it’s not only Germans saying this, but also President Trump when I met him – that Hungary is a desirable place for US and German investors, that things are going well here, that resources are being used well, that both EU and domestic funds are used well here, this encourages businesses in their countries to take an interest in Hungary. It’s worth coming here, taking a look and seeking opportunities. The Germans take advantage of them, as they’re Hungary’s foremost foreign investors. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians support their families by working in German plants and factories in Hungary. And Hungarians are running these factories as well as working in them on the shop floor. If you’ve been to a modern German plant, you’ll have seen that it’s not easy for people to hold their own even as shopfloor workers, but they’re also being managed by Hungarians. So we’re not only receiving economic opportunities through German investments, but also opportunities which enable talented Hungarians to learn about the world’s most modern factories and technologies and to operate them successfully. This raises us up, it raises our standards and adds to our strength. So how the German chancellor sees Hungarian-German relations is very important, and I’m happy that while this is a bumpy, up-and-down path, right now we’re going up and not down. So these relations are better than they were earlier. Our disputes with Germany are not usually economic in nature but political, and at the heart of them are the issues of migration and immigration. Germany is pursuing a pro-immigration policy, and is building an immigrant society. Hungary, by contrast, is pursuing an anti-immigration policy, and wants to defend its Christian culture and way of life. Every now and then this difference causes disputes between us, but despite that we can still cooperate boldly and broadly in the economic sphere.
If a stable economy is good for investors, then it definitely enables the Government to pursue an appropriate family policy. Is this what the Hungarian government can build on today? Is this what you want to build on in the future?
If we didn’t have a thriving and ever-improving Hungarian economy behind us, we wouldn’t have the resources for family policy either. What we don’t produce we can’t distribute; it’s that simple. So we have to work, we have to produce results, and the economy must be in order; only then can we talk about everything else. In the “everything else” category families are the number one priority for me. This is particularly true because it’s painful – I think both at a national level and personally – that young Hungarians want to have more children than they end up having. This shows that that they’re not disillusioned and haven’t rejected the family way of life – as it has its own attractive beauties – but during their lives they come up against obstacles which prevent them from giving life to as many children as they would like to. So there are obstacles. Not every government thinks that this is their business, because this really is a sensitive issue. It’s possible to present this as the Government seeking to interfere in the lives of families. That’s not the case at all, but here I see obstacles, and people would be happier if we could overcome them, and young people could be more fulfilled. I believe that it’s one of the Government’s duties to seek to remove these obstacles. This is what we call family support and family policy. A lot of things have happened in Hungary in this area. I’m not sitting here to blow my or our own trumpet, but I do believe that more good things have happened to families under our government than under any other, with the family protection action plan and support for home creation. So I believe that this government has done a lot in this department – perhaps everything it could have done. But it’s not enough, and we need more: I’d like more, I’d like a second and a third family protection action plan as well. But right now even the first one hasn’t been concluded, so we shouldn’t be impatient. But the details of the second and third action plans are already taking shape in our heads.
We have one more minute. On 13 October there will be local elections in Hungary. How do you see your chances? Opposition politicians are talking about a great many problems.
The question is what we see as the purpose of local elections, what we think they’re for. I’m one of those who think that now we need to find suitable leaders who are capable of the good management and organisation of the lives of our cities, towns and villages. So we need suitable people. To my mind, if someone thinks that local government is a weapon with which to fight against the Government, this is proof of that person’s unsuitability. Such a person is not suitable to be a mayor or a councillor, because, in the interest of their settlement and its inhabitants, a good mayor or councillor must be able to cooperate with everyone. The task is not to quarrel and make enemies. A city, town or village must find allies and friends, and must also cooperate with the Government, for instance. Anyone who says the opposite – and I see that in Budapest the opposition’s candidate says the opposite – is unsuitable, because they fail to understand the purpose of local government and the purpose of local elections. This is in contrast to István Tarlós, who for several years has managed and organised the life of this city well. Although we have arguments – a fair number and sometimes vehement ones – at the end of the day he wants to cooperate, because he sees the interests of the people of Budapest as his number one priority. So I’d like to see leaders of that type in our settlements, because then Hungary, too, will develop at a faster rate.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.