Mar 23, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Budapest Summit on Migration: Here’s the decisive issue of our time

Migration has become a decisive issue in European public life today, drawing new dividing lines in politics and raising essential questions about Europe’s future.

Those were some of the main themes at yesterday’s opening day of the Budapest Summit on Migration, hosted by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium.

“The decisive question for the sake of the protection of the European way of life and Christian culture,” said Gergely Gulyás, minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, “will be whether a spiritual renewal is possible that would provide an opportunity to protect the identity of Europe.”

It’s crucial, said Minister Gulyás about the importance of the summit, to have a forum where experts can talk frankly about one of the most important questions of the 21st century, especially at a time when “the freedom of expression isn’t driven by fairness and respect but is choked by political correctness.”

And because the issue of migration has such great impact on the future of Europe, the topic must be addressed with candor.

“There are no winners,” said Gulyás, when it comes to migration. “There are only beneficiarias,” and those who benefit include the so-called philanthropic businessmen, the underworld organizations involved in human trafficking, the left-wing of the political class hoping for new voters from migration; and industries participating in the supply of migrants from public funds.

Migration cannot be pushed as a solution for demographic problems and labor shortages, he said. Hungary is proud of its international engagement to help in the protection borders but also to provide aid. “We should not be providing the wrong kind of help,” he said, and “supporting migration is the wrong answer. Help needs to be delivered [to those hot spots] where it’s needed.”

The European Commission, he said, has considered adopting in European legislation provisions of the UN’s Global Compact on Migration. That is, despite the fact that nine out of the 28 EU member states oppose it. Migration remains one of the most important issues at stake in the upcoming European elections, said the minister, and we must send a clear message about where the people stand.

“Recent years have shown,” he said, “that if there is a will, migration is stoppable.” The only solution is to evaluate asylum applications within the framework of the rule of law and outside of the territory of Europe and only grant entry to those who are entitled to refugee status according to the Geneva Convention.

The minister is right, of course, if there is a will to take on this migration challenge, then there are solutions. But, as I highlighted in my remarks to the conference, it’s difficult to have a rational, cool-headed debate about migration when narrative around the topic, the framework in which we’re supposed to discuss it is already determined.

How is it possible, I asked, that knowing the facts, we still have proponents of migration show argue their case with appeals to concepts of solidarity, European values, obligations and Wilkommenskultur and try promote it with, for instance, the UN Global Compact on Migration?

Take for example the incident a few years ago at Bicske, on the southern border of Hungary and the external border of the EU’s Schengen Area. Photographs of Hungarian policemen stopping people from crossing the border illegally were published with the aim of depicting Hungarian brutality toward migrants. The truth, of course, was far from the distorted image conveyed by the photos.

Examples like these show clearly how much the narrative has already been set down. This has become one of the real challenges of our time Europe, standing up against that narrative to have a respected voice in political decision-making and the opportunity to change policy in the European Union. These challenges should be addressed, and not by misconceptions and by conspiracy theories, but by a realistic assessment of the situation.

Our biggest hope, I told the conference, is that the old narrative can be overcome with a new narrative. Our narrative, the Hungarian narrative, is honest, frank, sometimes provocative, but a lot closer to the actual reality.

We have another hope as well. We hope that the debate ahead of us reaches beyond the simple problem of migration. Through the prism of migration, we can develop a proper attitude toward other challenges that Europe faces: family, population shifts, economy, institutional issues in the European Union and the kind of democracy in which we live.

As Prime Minister Orbán has said, and I reiterated yesterday at the summit, migration has become a new dividing line in European public life.

The Budapest Summit on Migration continues Saturday and Sunday and features a number of prominent international voices on these issues, including former President of the Czech Republic Václav Klaus, former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, Ayaan Hirsli Ali, John O’Sullivan, Daniel Pipes, and many others. Prime Minister Orbán will also address the conference.

Read more about the Budapest Summit on Migration here and the summit agenda here. Follow the livestream here.