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Dec 03, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

PM Orbán in Prague: On the rough terrain of European politics, only the brave ones survive

Following his stop in Bratislava to attend the Friends of Cohesion summit, where he predicted “difficult negotiations concerning the next seven-year EU budget,” Prime Minister Orbán was in Prague to meet Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to talk economic cooperation, V4 and the upcoming EP elections.

Speaking at the press conference following his meeting with PM Babiš on Friday, Prime Minister Orbán stressed that “this level of Hungarian-Czech economic cooperation is unprecedented,” adding that while European politics has recently become tougher and tougher, the Czech Republic developed a “courageous stance” on most issues. 

On the economic cooperation Prime Minister Orbán said that trade volumes and investments are on the rise, citing as examples the pharmaceutical industry, energy, agriculture and telecommunications sectors. The PM named defense industry as one of the most dynamically growing fields adding that “it’s not simply a business matter, it also has confidential depths.”

Turning to common V4 investments, the prime minister confirmed the need for linking the four capitals through high-speed railways. He said that the countries agree on the necessity of harnessing nuclear energy, and Czech firms are in fact also engaged in the Paks power plant project.

European politics, according to Orbán, has recently become tougher and tougher, and on this rough terrain only the brave ones get to stay alive. “Lately, the Czech Republic has developed a courageous stance on an array of difficult issues,” the PM said.

Speaking about the UN migration pact, Viktor Orbán said that anyone who signs it, puts their citizens “heads” at stake. “This document lays down basic theoretical tenets which don’t aim to curb illegal immigration, but facilitate it,” he added.

As we are approaching next year’s European Parliamentary elections, it is high time that “tired MEPs go home” and leave room for new ones, “who understand that we have entered a new era.” Coming to his closing remarks, Prime Minister Orbán reiterated his long-standing message: ultimately it should be up to the member states, and not the Commission, to decide which direction the EU should proceed.

Prime Minister’s visit to Prague followed his attendance at the Friends of Cohesion summit last Thursday, a gathering of 16 EU member states calling for continued support to the Cohesion Fund.

“We can expect some difficult negotiations concerning the next seven-year EU budget,” said Prime Minister Orbán, following the Bratislava meeting, “but we’re going to reach agreement.”

“Interests differ,” the prime minister said, but there are a few among the member states with interests that align and “we call ourselves friends of cohesion.”

The gathering, attended by several European heads of government, focused on the EU’s 2021-2027 budget and, in particular, the so-called Cohesion Fund. Hosted by Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, the summit emphasized the importance of the continued development of the region and the need to reduce inequalities among the member states.

The 2021-27 financial framework submitted by the European Commission in May proposed a reduction in funding for both the cohesion policy and agriculture. The Cohesion Fund is a financial tool in the EU budget that aims to reduce disparities among member states.

To respond more effectively to the proposed budget cut, the countries taking part in the Friends of Cohesion agreed that they must act together. The group comprises 16 EU member states, countries that share a similar concern for a continued commitment to cohesion funding and the reduction of disparities among richer and poorer member states.

Specifically, the representative agreed that the new European budget must ensure sufficient funds to further develop economies at the national level and also be more capable of dealing with new challenges such as security, defense, climate change and migration.

The conversation is not an easy one because the members differ in their national interests and priorities, but in the end, even these cases “tend to be resolved successfully,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

In addition to Prime Minister Orbán, leaders at the Friends of Cohesion summit included heads of government from Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia. Also, senior officials from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Italy, Portugal and Greece, as well as EU Commissioners Maroš Šefčovič and Günther Oettinger.