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Mar 07, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

“The smart Hungarian goes to Berlin through Munich” – PM Orbán receives Bavarian PM Seehofer in Budapest

The first thing we learned from last Friday’s joint press conference following the meeting between Prime Minister of Bavaria Horst Seehofer and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is what they didn’t do during their meeting.

“Let me express first what we didn’t do and what was not our intention,” said PM Orbán. “We did not come together to weaken the German government or the governing parties entering the election race. It is the opposite – as we are also a member of the European People’s Party, we are interested in a CDU-CSU victory in Germany and a strong chancellor.”

The prime minister’s jest referred to media speculation that PM Seehofer’s visit was somehow related to the coming election campaign in Germany, where Seehofer’s CSU is a coalition partner to the CDU. PM Orbán added that Hungary has remained entirely consistent on the issue of migration and, regardless of any election campaign, has not altered its position in any way.

“Two men meet up,” PM Orbán joked later, “and what everybody is interested in is what they think about a lady, who is not present.” His reply was in response to the repeated questions from journalists at the press conference asking whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a part of their discussion.

Although the issue of migration did come up later in the press briefing, the discussion was mostly about economic cooperation between Bavaria and Hungary. Germany remains Hungary’s number one economic partner and within that cooperation, Bavaria is the most significant. “There are 2,300 Bavarian companies in Hungary, providing more than 100 thousand workplaces,” PM Orbán said, naming Audi, Siemens, Knorr-Bremse and Continental as examples. Prime Minister Seehofer congratulated Orbán for Hungary’s economic performance over the last several years and announced further projects under development as well as an invitation to the Hungarian prime minister to visit Ingolstadt.

Both sides emphasized the importance of the close ties between Bavaria and Hungary. “The smart Hungarian takes the road to Berlin through Munich,” said PM Orbán, noting the historic nature of the friendship between Munich and Budapest, the support Hungarians received from Bavaria during the 1956 uprising, and also that the first Hungarian king married “a Bavarian lady.”

The press, not surprisingly, was eager to hear more about the EU migration crisis and the upcoming summit with Turkey on the issue.

Prime Minister Orbán repeated that Hungary supports an agreement with Turkey, but it cannot replace Europe’s ability to protect its own borders through reinforcements. We cannot give up that goal. Hungary, as PM Orbán said, understands that the deal with Turkey comes with a price and Hungary is willing to pay its own share of that price. On the issue of visa-free travel into the European Union, PM Orbán said that Ukraine must be given priority. “Europe has a burden towards Ukraine,” so if visa free travel becomes a possibility, Ukraine must be given priority.

Hungary stands firmly on a particular point, however. “In case of migration, we find zero to be the optimal number,” PM Orbán said, adding that of course if someone wants to relocate migrants from Turkey into their own country, they can do so, but Hungary must be given the “authority to sort out economic migrants from refugees.”

PM Seehofer explained that migration must be stopped at the EU’s outer borders and “until this becomes reality, national solutions should be supported.”

Both prime minister wished success to the Chancellor Merkel for the negotiations this week with Turkey. Some journalists in the room didn’t seem convinced. When one of them asked PM Orbán whether he was looking for reassurance from Seehofer for his “tough stance on migration,” the prime minister framed the whole issue from a different perspective.

PM Orbán said that two cultures are clashing in Europe: the culture of respecting the agreements and not respecting the agreements. The clash occurs in many aspects of the EU, whether it’s the agreements about the euro, the limits on budget deficits, the “no bail out” policy or the Schengen Area. “I am confident that we dig Europe’s grave, if we allow the culture of not keeping the agreements to spread,” the prime minister said, explaining that in this regard, there is no difference of opinion among Chancellor Merkel, PM Seehofer and PM Orbán.

This is not a question of “toughness” or “friendships,” PM Orbán added. Bavaria, Germany and Hungary are all for maintaining these “objective foundations of European relations,” the treaties. If anything, “this visit assured [us] that we are not alone in thinking [this way]. That’s an important signal for us,” the prime minister said, adding pointedly that “to Berlin and to the German chancellor, this meeting doesn’t have consequences.”

Prime Minister Seehofer agreed, expressing thanks for Hungary’s support in insisting on respecting the basic terms of the EU agreements. He mentioned that he’s had occasions when “he had to explain himself before for calling on [other nations] to keep the contractual obligations,” which should not have to happen. He added that countries that lay on the outer borders of the EU should be helped.

With the election campaign beginning to heat up, the media was perhaps hoping for something sensational, some scandalous remark against European leadership or divisive rhetoric from within Europe’s biggest family of parties, the EPP. It never happened. Instead, the prime ministers talked about the outstanding cooperation between Bavaria and Hungary and engaged the journalists in a frank and open discussion about how Europe should handle the migration crisis in the future. Let’s all hope for fruitful discussions at this week’s EU summit.