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Apr 08, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

PM Orbán: Hungary celebrates paying off debt, will propose alternative to EU’s quota system

In his regular, radio interview on Friday morning, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that, on the EU’s quota system, “it cannot be the case that one member state alone makes a decision and the others suffer the consequences.” He also spoke about the symbolic significance of paying off the loan and that Hungary has good reason to celebrate this weekend.

“It was about midnight when I got home from [the OECD summit in] Paris,” the prime minister said, “and I immediately opened my bottle of red wine saved for such historic success…, as the European Union verified that the last installment of our IMF-EU bailout, which was paid to the EU, was paid back, [the payment] arrived there, was entered into the books, and we are free to follow our faith.” It’s not only a financial success but also a meaningful symbolic victory that Hungary has paid back the international loan that the Socialist-led government took out in 2008 because the country, under this former management, could no longer finance its expenses from the market.

Since 2010, the fiscally conservative Orbán Government has made debt reduction and budget discipline a top priority. Since 2010, the trends have turned positive. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is coming down. The annual deficit is well below 3 percent, and Hungarian GDP is amongst the fastest growing in the EU. Now, marking the loan “paid in full” calls for a good bottle of red to celebrate the closing of a reckless era of financial irresponsibility.

In today’s Europe, the prime minister said, the more typical pattern seems to show the debt-to-GDP ratio on the rise and the budget overspent. Fiscal discipline “is a hardship for countries much stronger than we are,” he said. “In times like this it is not typical that loans are paid back, but rather that new loans are taken.”

Turning to security issues, PM Orbán suggested closer cooperation of the security services of allies to tackle the permanent “security crisis we live in” and asked Hungary’s political opposition to be a partner in improving Hungary’s counterterror abilities by giving Hungarian security services the same tools as their western European counterparts. “It’s not easy because our history teaches us that [an interconnected system] could be used, was used under communism against our own citizens. As I myself joined the political arena then, I have vivid memories of those times (…) and I don’t want this to be repeated.”

Talking about Hungary’s planned referendum on the EU’s quota system, the prime minister said that the quota is an issue “we have to stand up against, otherwise it becomes reality.” The mandatory migrant resettlement system, in his words, represents a “Damocles sword, hanging above our head” by which others would decide “whom we accept in, whom we have to live together with, that we have to build the danger they embody as a part of our lives.” This decision “should not be given to Brussels. If the Hungarian nation believes that it wants to help someone or to shelter someone,” then it has to be the decision of the Hungarian nation, the prime minister said.

He also announced that on Monday the government will present an alternative package to the EU and the international public. An alternative is needed, PM Orbán said, because of the widespread misunderstanding that the “Turkish deal would solve anything in the long run. The deal with Turkey solves only one question: how we are going to put a brake on the influx of migrants on the Western Balkans route. But it does not solve the [resettlement] of many who are already here. [That’s] 1.5 million people.”

Orbán explained that most of these 1.5 million people are now in Germany and the aim is to resettle them in other European countries. The prime minister explained – and here’s one of the key points in the whole debate, where it becomes a question of principle: It wasn’t the European community as a whole, but a single country that decided to admit these people in the first place. On this point, the prime minister was very specific:

“Since on letting them in illegally, one country, at its national level has made a decision, the consequences of this decision cannot be elevated to the international level. Everybody should take responsibility for the consequences of their decision. Nobody asked us whether we wanted to let these people in. If we were a part of this decision, they could say we should suffer the consequences together. But it cannot be the case that one member state alone makes a decision and the others suffer the consequences together [with it.]”

“We Hungarians have a defined idea of what should be done…We think that the Commission missed the target,” he said, explaining that instead of reforming the system of refugee rules -- the Dublin Protocol system – the system of common borders – the rules of the Schengen Agreement – should be kept and further expanded with a few new rules. Hungary’s government will present a proposal along these lines as an alternative to the proposal of the European Commission, which is “firstly, unsuitable; secondly, wrong in principle; thirdly, impractical and deeply harmful to the sovereignty of nations.”