Apr 22, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

PM Orbán: Differences between Hungary and Germany on migration are now over

“When I visit southern Germany, I always find time to visit Mr. Chancellor [Kohl],” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about his latest meeting with former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, adding that they discussed the future of Europe and bilateral relations between Germany and Hungary. Today, in his regular biweekly radio interview, the prime minister had several interesting things to say about both. A few things that may surprise you.

“Today’s Germans say [about migration] what we say,” said PM Orbán, answering a question regarding the foreign media’s speculation about his visit with the former chancellor and the effect it might have on Chancellor Merkel. The prime minister emphasized that he would like to underline the past tense when talking about differences. The nature of political dialogue is different in these two countries. In Germany, it is indirect and over-polite, while in Hungary, it is direct, outspoken and straightforward, he said, adding that careful observers have noticed that the German standpoint on migration has shifted and that German politicians have just recently begun to talk about the importance of border security. 

Earlier, the debate was about the importance of following the border’s rules. The prime minister explained that Germany saw it as a vis major situation, where rules can be suspended, while Hungary was of the opinion that, “No one can enter the territory [of the Schengen Area] without registration, without us knowing what he wants.” Over time, this difference has abated.

“Today, we are debating what to do with the ones who already are inside [the Schengen zone]. And about those who still somehow manage to come in,” the prime minister said, emphasizing that as the Western Balkans route closed, Italy is again seeing increased migration traffic along its shores. 

PM Orbán recalled that in the past Prime Minister Berlusconi had an agreement with the leadership of Libya to manage its borders. “Today, Prime Minister Berlusconi has retired and [Libya’s] government was bombed to pieces by some Western countries,” he said. However, a solution to today’s problem could be similar: to keep the administration of migration outside Schengen’s borders.

“It might sound crude, but it is true,” the prime minister said. The Hungarian standpoint is that if a country makes a decision to let migrants in, to suspend the rules, without consulting its partners, then the country has to suffer the consequences alone. “If, on the national level there was a decision, the consequences should be born on the national level as well.”

“If [a country] is a member of the Schengen system, it has to take on its responsibilities, in case it is located along the external borders of the EU,” PM Orbán said as he described the essence of Hungary’s proposed action plan for border protection. Called “Schengen 2.0,” his plan says that it is the border countries’ obligation to protect the external border under the Schengen regulations. If a border country cannot protect the Schengen borders, it should yield the responsibility to a common European task force. If it can’t protect the border on its own and is unwilling to hand over the task of border protection, then it must leave the Schengen Area.

Prime Minister Orbán, when asked about the ageing of Europe’s population and how some see migration as a possible solution, made it clear that this point is the biggest issue dividing right and left in today’s Europe. The prime minister explained that it seemed unsound to look at migrants, with all the evidence of integration problems, as the needed missing labor force, while some countries have youth unemployment rates of 40-48 percent. “We don’t just have to stop Brussels, but the Hungarian Left, too,” Orbán said, adding that this idea, from his point of view, is insanity. But, he pointed out, it is not up to him or his opponents to decide. “Our standpoint is that we should close this issue with a plebiscite.”

“What I just said [is criticized] in the West. In the West, this is seen as selfishness, a lack of solidarity, maybe even racism,” the prime minister said, adding that these criticisms come from the western mainstream, which lives in a non-existent but beautiful dream world. “My friends in the West are not in an easy situation,” he concluded, delicately suggesting that such frank, straight talking is not easy in Europe.