Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Rádió programme “180 Minutes” [full text in English]
Budapest, August 26, 2016
We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.
In Rio there were 160 Hungarian participants in 21 sports, and we won 8 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze medals. We came 12th in the official medals table, and 10th in terms of total medals per capita. You were there. Other than greeting the results with pride as Hungarians, what conclusions should the Government draw?
I am among those Hungarians who salute all our athletes who qualified to compete in the Olympic Games, regardless of the results they achieved. The very fact that someone is prepared to sacrifice years of their life in order to represent their country in a prominent sporting event is a remarkable commitment, and something which commands respect. And, of course, there are champions before whom we not only raise our hats, but throw them in the air. After all, we beat the world eight times. Hungarians account for approximately 0.2% of the world’s population, and compared with this our achievements have been outstanding. At the same time, I am more cautious with my words, because I would not like sport to yet again become a party political issue. We have worked for many long years to declare sport a strategic sector, and to raise the issue of sport above party politics. I think we have managed to achieve this. Today it doesn’t matter which political tendency one sympathises with, or which party is close to one’s heart: we all look upon Olympic achievements as Hungarian achievements, and agree that sport is an area which deserves to be supported. This is a great outcome. We have very few issues of national unity, but sport has become one of them. We should cherish and preserve it. At the same time, it is the Government’s duty to broaden the opportunities for sport. Our goal is for every young person in Hungary to be able to take part in sport on a daily basis.
I’d like to ask you about the conclusions to be drawn, for instance, in the possible reconsideration of the sports financing system, in light of the results achieved, whether there should be action on plans for hosting the Olympics, or whether we are prepared at all to host events in Budapest.
Well, one of the most attractive features of our job is that one needs to think things over, and it is good to think things over. In fact, after a world event that is held every four years, thinking things over is a necessity. It is necessary to evaluate the situation, to draw conclusions, and to make plans. This will be the task of the Hungarian Olympic Committee and the sports cabinet. I would not do their job for them, and likewise I would not run ahead of myself. But I can certainly say that right now we do not need a plan for the next four years, but rather a plan for the next twelve to fifteen years; this will need to take account of demographic changes in Hungary, as fewer children are being born and fewer people are involved in sport. It will have to cover the coordination of physical education in schools and training in sports clubs. And it will also have to cover financial issues. If you speak to someone from the world of sport, they will no doubt say that one also can sense the strategic nature of the sports sector in everyday, tangible outcomes: the conditions needed for sport are now much more widespread than they used to be, both in sports clubs and in schools. Swimming pools, gymnasia and sports halls are being built, and we would like to have fencing centres and shooting ranges. So I think we shall reach a point at which Hungary will be excellent not only in terms of professional sport, but overall will also be a healthy, sporting nation in everyday terms.
To be awarded the Olympic Games, for instance, you also need backing from everyday life. An important criterion for hosting the Olympic Games is how much popular support the plan enjoys in the given country.
What are the chances of Hungary hosting the Olympic Games?
The chances of hosting the Games are moderate, so no one …
You are not overly optimistic.
I do not want to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, but there are three Goliaths and one David here – that is the situation. It is not bad for Budapest to be in the same list as Paris, Rome and Los Angeles, but their sizes are clearly different: there is a healthy person and three giants – one David and three Goliaths. So we’ll have a very difficult task, but we have a great many good arguments. After all, we are the only one of the top ten nations in the all-time Olympics medal table which has not yet had the opportunity to host the Olympic Games. And an agenda has recently been launched to return the right to host the Olympic Games to the entire world, as up to now the privilege of organising the Olympics has increasingly been the preserve of an exclusive “club” of megacities. It is time for the whole world to regain the opportunity to host the Games like the old days; I could mention Amsterdam, Stockholm and Helsinki – or even Barcelona. And finally, the Olympic Games would be important for us because this would result in enormous economic benefits for us. Budapest is growing, Budapest is improving – we can all see that. We are proud of it: it is a beautiful city, and lots of things are happening here. Mayor Tarlós – with a little help from the Government – has successfully woken this city from a catatonic state. Now it’s alive, it’s dynamic, it’s exciting, and the world is curious to see it. But we’ll need a great many developments – after all, a 21st-century Budapest is only just unfolding before our eyes. All the developments that will need to be implemented in this city to prepare for the Olympics would be necessary for the city anyway. One of our decisive arguments for hosting the Olympic Games is that hardly any projects would need to be carried out that would not otherwise be required without the Olympics. And so I would sum it up like this: if this is the situation, the question to be answered is not why we should host the Olympics, but why we should not.
Was the question of Hungary hosting the Olympics raised at any meeting in Rio?
The truth is that it would have been better if I had been able to attend more of the events. I only had the opportunity to be present at two or three events. The reason I went to Rio was to meet all the Olympic leaders, including the President, Vice-Presidents and all the more influential members of the International Olympic Committee. I went to have talks with all of them, and to try to gain their support for the cause of a Hungarian Olympic Games.
And they fuelled your pessimism a little?
I had an opportunity there to take a look at the opponents. You see, it is like leaving the changing rooms, when the referee leads the teams onto the pitch, and one finally gets to see the size of the players on the other team. Everyone made an effort in Rio, everyone showed their true colours there, everyone rolled up their shirtsleeves and showed their biceps, their abdominals, their size. Our competitors drew themselves up to their full height, and the sight was nothing short of fascinating.
Let’s continue with a less cheerful topic. On Wednesday the Austrian interior minister told Die Presse that Austria is planning to introduce a state of emergency. The Austrian chancellor also mentioned this earlier. However, he would have liked – or would like – to consult with Hungary beforehand. From the Interior Minister’s words we can now conclude that they seem to want to introduce a state of emergency as soon as possible, and this state of emergency will also affect Hungary – in terms of the return to Hungary of migrants in Austria, if nothing else. Do you know anything about this plan?
There is no one to be returned to Hungary, because no one is able to enter Hungary in the first place. This is a slight exaggeration, of course, but in essence it is true that not even a bird can enter the territory of Hungary without being screened. Therefore the Austrians will have to answer the question of where they want a fence. It is now certain that the external borders of Europe must be protected. It is also clear that this is not possible without physical protection. I always say this – or try to say this – as gently as I can. I am not a heartless man and the Hungarian people are far from heartless, but the border cannot be protected with flowers and cuddly toys. The border can be protected with fences, police officers, soldiers and weapons. We must protect it, and our need to defend ourselves will be greater over the next few years than it has been previously. So the question is where we want to protect the borders of Europe. I advised our Austrian friends that they should not seek to protect Austria at the Austrian-Hungarian border, but on the Hungarian-Serbian and the Hungarian-Croatian borders. Furthermore, we should seek to protect those borders together at the Serbian-Macedonian and the Macedonian-Greek borders. And if the other European countries are willing to mobilise resources, we could even protect the borders of Greece’s southern islands – but we Central Europeans do not have sufficient strength to do so on our own. Securely sealing and defending the Hungarian-Serbian and Hungarian-Croatian borders is a realistic goal, and if there is Central European cooperation, we shall also be able to protect the Macedonian border.
But the Austrians say that the border controls at Hegyeshalom which have recently become almost permanent are in place because – thanks to people smugglers – migrants are getting across the Serbian-Hungarian border. Then people smugglers transport them to the Austrian border, where the Austrian authorities are looking for them. Recently there was a report in the Hungarian weekly Heti Válasz on how people smugglers help migrants to cross the Hungarian border at night.
But in Hungary there are only a few hundred people presently undergoing asylum hearings, so we do not have masses of migrants here. Hungary has defended its southern borders, and so no one is entering there. Naturally we have a problem, because people who are refused entry appeal against this refusal with the assistance of paid activists from human rights organisations funded from George Soros’s money. They have to stay in the territory of Hungary until their appeal is heard in court, and while they are in Hungary we are not allowed to detain them in closed camps. This is a huge mistake. Earlier we kept them in closed camps, but the European Union prohibited this. If they were required to await assessment of their appeals in closed camps, here we would not even have the few people whom people smugglers are trying to direct towards the West. Then this number would indeed be zero.
The Austrians say that another reason for introducing a state of emergency is that – and I quote the Interior Minister – if people set out in huge numbers, there will be no time left to do this later.
Yes, but we should note here that when they say things like this, they are not talking about Hungary, but about Italy: Austria’s main source of exposure today is not Hungary, because we are a well-protected country with good defence capabilities. There is more of a threat from the direction of Italy, which has poorer border defence capabilities.
I am also curious to find out what information you have on the intensification of this migration flow, because European leaders appear to be preparing for this.
Security is an issue which we cannot play games with. Immigration and migration degrade Europe’s public security, they pose a threat to the public, and they bring terrorism upon us. Those who claim that there is no connection between migration and terrorism don’t know what they’re talking about, or for some reason they’re trying to conceal facts which are perfectly clear. We are believers in straight talking. In Europe there has been a rise in terrorism – and in fact terrorism has emerged and reached its present level – because hundreds of thousands of people came in without controls from areas where Europe and the Western world are seen as the enemy. As a result, terrorism has increased. Semi-war conditions exist. Under these circumstances we cannot afford to take risks. Up until now in Hungary we have had a police force of some forty thousand: forty-four thousand. This is not enough, and we cannot guarantee the public’s security with only this many people. We have decided to increase the number of Hungarian police personnel by three thousand to forty-seven thousand, with three thousand of these on continuous border patrol and policing. We have decided to physically reinforce the border fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border – meaning that we shall erect another line of fence, equipped with the latest technology. We should also prepare ourselves. I do not wish this on ourselves, and would like us to be able to avoid it, but as security is not a game, we should also prepare ourselves for a change in Turkey’s policy, and the immediate appearance of hundreds of thousands of migrants on Hungary’s borders. In that event we will have to detain them – and if persuasion is not enough, we will have to do so with force. And that is what we shall do.
We’ll come back to Turkey in a minute, but first let’s clarify one sentence you said here. So we are preparing to build another fence – a double fence?
The technical plans are currently being prepared for erecting a more robust system of defence behind the current lines of defence, which, as you may remember, were built very rapidly.
When are you planning this for?
Whenever the Interior Minister presents the relevant technical plans. It will be a robust structure. You can see that the fence which we have already built is enough to act as a barrier to people arriving in waves of a few thousand, or tens of thousands. We need a physical barrier which is also able to halt the advance of hundreds of thousands of people arriving at once.
Because more and more of them are coming and, if I understand correctly from your words, you too are preparing for the possibility that this Turkish-EU agreement will fall through.
For our sakes I do not want it to fall through, but if it does fall through by then it will be too late to do anything. We must make arrangements for our security now.
What will your position be at this summit in Bratislava – where, for instance, the Austrians will suggest that the accession talks with Turkey should be broken off?
We support Turkey. We need a stable Turkish government, President Erdogan in a secure position, and reliable Turkish foreign policy. If the stability of Turkey is shaken for any reason – be that an attempted coup or anything else, and we have seen such things – there will not be a single stable state in that region to negotiate with, to talk with, or to act together with.
But do you support Turkey even if it means continuing the accession talks? There are rather a lot of question marks around this.
Well, that is no great price to pay, as we have been in talks with them before.
But could this happen in the near future? Turkey expects clear and straight talk, and it expects someone to say precisely when – on which day in which month – it will happen.
I think that we must talk with Turkey, and must give them and talk to them about everything which serves our security; and we need not come to an agreement with them on anything which does not serve our security.
When you leave this studio you are heading for Warsaw, where Chancellor Merkel will meet with the V4. I could ask you what you expect, but based on the statements you have made to date everyone knows what you expect. The “Wir schaffen das” attitude has not changed as far as Germany is concerned. Now we know what politicians say in their statements, but the main question is that someone at some point will have to bring things to a head. Who will that person be?
I myself would like to be one of those who know what to expect.
But you can decipher what to expect from the statements yourself.
Fine, fine, but you see, this task is more complicated than that. We shall indeed meet in Warsaw, the Visegrád Four and Angela Merkel, and we’ll discuss a number of issues. But there is no way of knowing what conclusion we’ll come to. What’s more, on a number of issues we do not know the positions of all the parties. I myself have not laid all my cards on the table. What I can tell you for certain is that we’ll have to accomplish an enormous task over the next few weeks and months, given that Brussels has adopted decisions on the issue of the refugee and migrant crisis. Brussels, of course, comprises two parts. It is difficult to understand this precisely from here, in Hungary, because it is a complicated world, but it comprises two parts: there are bureaucrats and there are politicians. Well now, the bureaucrats have adopted decisions, they have adopted their own decisions. They want forced resettlement. The bureaucrats say that immigration is good, Europe needs people to come here, and we should therefore make it possible for them to come in. Then once they are in, they say that each country should admit them according to set quotas. Those who are not willing to do so on a voluntary basis will have to be persuaded through forced resettlement. This is the decision of bureaucrats in Brussels. Now for the politicians: it is our duty as politicians to change this decision. This is a bad decision. So over the next few weeks we’ll have to ensure alteration of the bureaucrats’ decision. The problem is that not all politicians agree that we should change the bureaucrats’ decision. There are European politicians who agree with the bureaucrats and are trying to cooperate with them. I, Hungary, the leaders of the Visegrád Four, the peoples and governments of the Visegrád countries, however, want to change the bureaucrats’ decision. The question is whether Angela Merkel will be prepared to change this flawed Brussels decision together with us. Will she be prepared to fight for this or not? This is what we should clarify this afternoon. But it is still the morning now. This is the outcome we must achieve this afternoon.
Judging by his statements to date, I think most people will probably quote Jean-Claude Juncker on this matter. But do you agree, for instance, with what Juncker said about the referendum: that it will not be binding on the European institutions, and the outcome of the referendum will not absolve the Hungarian government of its obligations as a Member State?
But Jean-Claude Juncker is the leader of the Brussels bureaucrats. They have adopted…
How will you try to convince Angela Merkel?
They have adopted a decision, and he wants to have that decision implemented. I for my part would not like to see him implement this decision, and I would like politicians to prohibit him from implementing this decision.
What does prohibition mean in practice?
We should adopt a decision: another decision. After the bureaucrats’ decision, the heads of governments will have to adopt a decision of their own which negates it.
And then we have 2 October. Let’s assume that the referendum produces sufficient turnout, and the “no” vote wins. What will happen on the third or fourth of October? What authority will it give you that you don’t already have?
It will mean that there is a nation in Europe – and the only one at that – which has been consulted; that there is a single nation in which the people have had the opportunity to say what they think about the issues of immigration and migration and have made it clear that they do not accept the bureaucrats’ decision. We shall not simply have a negotiating position, but a strong, final and definitive Hungarian standpoint. And I think that with this we’ll also be able to gather many other countries around us.
If European leaders can’t or won’t take the hard decisions, European voters will take those decisions for them – and the leaders may not be happy with the results. This is a conclusion stated recently by Professor Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist from Columbia University, who in his study seeks to answer the question of why the eurozone members are doing more poorly than non-eurozone EU Member States. The professor of economics cites several reasons, but he comes to the conclusion that an amicable divorce would be better for the European Union than the current stalemate, because the current situation is untenable in the long run. Now in addition to the political stalemate, here we have this economic one.
I have read this study, which is thought-provoking and full of fresh ideas. This is the most beautiful part of our job: that ever new ideas and approaches can be conceived, and therefore anyone with an optimistic outlook can always see how circumstances can be conquered by the human will. This is the most beautiful part of politics. Now as far as the economy is concerned, I would say that naturally if European leaders fail to overturn the decision, then Professor Stiglitz could be right. But why couldn’t we decide otherwise? After all, we are leaders for just that reason.
Because this is not what we have seen recently.
Yes, this is true, but we have become leaders in order to make better decisions. As far as the security aspect of the matter is concerned, I can say that in a continental context what is at stake now is the future of Europe, while in a national context it is the future of Hungary. What is at stake is the kind of a world we will live in, and what Hungary will look like. Are we going to live together with large populations of Muslims, are we going to have parallel societies, are we going to live under the threat of terrorism, with far worse public security than today? Will equality between men and women not be self-evident to everyone living in Hungary, will our wives, daughters and parents be safe? And the list of questions could go on. So the future of Hungary is at stake. All I can say to the Hungarian people is that we should not take these risks. Let us protect what we have, let us protect our way of life, and let us reject the decisions of Brussels.
Let’s talk briefly about the economy against the background of the eurozone’s troubles. According to the latest data, the budget deficit is at a record low, and revenues have increased. How much scope will this offer?
Well, this is one way of looking at the economic results: from a financial point of view. Everyone now – everyone I spoke to, business experts – is walking five centimetres above the ground…
So everyone is doing their sums.
…because the figures are much better than anyone expected. The processes are much more convincing, and so on. I share their joy. First of all, I usually observe and follow one figure, one dimension: whether every Hungarian who wants to work has the possibility to do so. Today I can tell you that, as far as unemployment is concerned, we are in the fifth best position in Europe. We are the country with the fifth lowest unemployment rate, which is a fantastic performance, with unemployment currently at around 5%; this compares with a figure in the range of 12% when in 2010 we set out to transform and rebuild Hungary. And when I said that one million jobs must be created in Hungary in the next ten years everyone sat up suddenly, while many expressed their disbelief with explicit hand gestures. Now after six years we stand at 650,000 new jobs created. So it is not at all impossible for Hungary to become a country in which every Hungarian who wants to work and wants to earn a living from work has the opportunity to do so. We have some more work to do in order to achieve this, but the figures demonstrate that the direction is the right one. On top of this, the second most important thing that I look at is the rewards for work. How to raise wages without crushing the economy is a complicated matter. I remember the pay rises of the socialists after 2002, which almost destroyed the country – because the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. So through a complex process of analysis we can determine the rate of pay rises which overall strengthens the economy, improves competitiveness and does not create unemployment. We are trying to gauge this narrow path, day in, day out. And now I see that wages in Hungary have risen continuously every month since January 2013 – or even earlier. This year, too, there are significant pay rises both in the private sector and in the state sector, whilst competitiveness is improving, unemployment is falling, and the economy is growing. Maintaining and preserving this balance is our most important task.
And at the same time there is a tension between a labour shortage and unemployment.
A few years ago, who in their right mind would have thought that Hungary would have to cope with a shortage of labour, rather than with the problem of unemployment? And now you can see that we have arrived here. We are here as a result of six years’ hard work.
And so we’ve arrived at the thousand-dollar question: what will happen in this area? The Minister for National Economy has already said that there may be scope for a reduction in payroll taxes. But is there a script on the table, one of the elements of which you already implemented during an earlier government term? Can you envisage a significant, a radical increase in the minimum wage, combined with concessions to employers?
Well, I have something completely different in mind. These are all interesting technical issues and measures, the application of which is always worth discussing, but this is not what I have in mind. First of all, everyone living in Hungary should have the opportunity to work. This is the most important thing. We have reserves: although there are some fifty thousand job vacancies which cannot be filled, there is still unemployment. So we have internal reserves which should be mobilised. And we have to think on a longer-term scale. We need more children and stronger families. When more children are born, there will be more people working in Hungary. So for me the solution to this question lies on a more historical scale in our demographic and family policy. A government must, of course, also concern itself with day-to-day matters, but it is equally important not to lose sight of the historical dimension. Therefore in order to solve our problems we need strong protection of families, strong families, and support, appreciation and acknowledgement for parents. To sum it all up, we need a demographic policy. In Europe today this is criticised, this is not trendy, and many countries in Europe want to address labour shortages with migrants, because the time horizon of their decision-makers does not extend past tomorrow. I do not accept this, and I cannot agree with this. I believe that most people in this country share my view. We must solve this problem from our own resources. We must unite the Hungarian people, and we must proceed towards the goal of becoming as strong as possible through our own strength and resources.
So a reduction in payroll taxes is a mere theoretical issue?
No, it is a means towards a goal. A reduction in payroll taxes is a good thing. Tax reduction is a good thing. What is important, however, is that it should fit into the bigger picture in the long term.
We’ll continue next time. Over the past half hour you have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.