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Feb 19, 2016

Summit on Migration: 'The EU Approved the Hungarian Solution'

PM Orbán addressed the EU's latest decisions on migration, V4 cooperation and the British proposals on EU reform in a press statement, February 19, 2016, following the EU Summit.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán issued a press statement, February 19, 2016, following the EU Summit, covering UK and the EU, movement of workers and social benefits, the Visegrád Four, and the migrant crisis.

Scroll down for the complete text. Here are some key quotes from the prime minister:

On the migrant crisis

“We concluded that 2015 was a difficult year for Europe – and, I should add, for Hungary in particular. Unidentified and unknown people in their millions emerged on the southern borders of Hungary and the European Union. In the autumn of 2015 the Hungarian response was clear and unequivocal: controls, identification, interception and turning back. This was precisely as is laid down in the Schengen Agreement. This was a difficult and costly policy, but a successful one in terms of protecting Hungary.”

“The most important development at today’s summit was – and I am going to summarise a long debate in just half a sentence – that, in effect, the Hungarian solution was approved in the European Union for the first time.”

On the Visegrád Four

“The Visegrád Four stayed together throughout: we engaged in the talks together, prepared joint positions which we represented together, and eventually achieved major results together.”

On the UK and the EU

“The heart of the matter is that we have achieved the goals we set for ourselves, and I am able to inform you of two important issues.”

“One of them is what is referred to in Brussels as “Brexit”: in other words, whether the European Union will be able to change a few important issues so that the British prime minister, who wants to keep the United Kingdom within the European Union, can have a good starting position in the referendum to be held in Britain shortly.”

“The British proposals effectively sought to ensure that the European Union should finally move forward from its current weak, stagnating position, should become more competitive and stronger, should become better equipped to withstand the storms of the world economy, and should take a more proactive stance on the world economic scene.”

“For the sake of those who are interested, I should perhaps say that we have succeeded in strengthening the role of national parliaments; the British have ensured that the practice of the withdrawal by stealth of powers from the nation states must come to an end, and that national parliaments must be given the right to block laws; this means that if a certain number of parliaments do not support some legislation, that legislation cannot be approved in the given form.”

“The principal task that we accomplished – and I believe that we have achieved a major result here – was that it was declared in no uncertain terms that the freedom of movement for workers continues to exist everywhere – including Britain.”

On movement of workers and social benefits

“And finally, the issue which is most important for us Hungarians is that no new regulations of any kind shall apply to cross-border commuters; this means that the rules relating to Hungarians who day after day commute to work from Hungary to a foreign country may not be amended in any way.” 

“On this issue we approved a rule – and I think this meets the criteria of fairness and fair treatment – whereby no restrictions of any kind are acceptable on the social benefits available to children living with their parents where they work.”

Following is the complete statement:

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s statement to the press following the summit of the European Council

19 February 2016, Brussels

Good Evening Everyone!

It was really not my intention to ruin your night, but it is perhaps better to immediately evaluate the EU summit of heads of state and government, which ended only a few minutes ago. We would also like to head back today, in the hope of getting home by tomorrow morning. This was a long summit, and no doubt it shows: everyone is exhausted and ready to collapse. It ended at the right time. I cannot even remember when we began. Perhaps on Thursday. We do not even know what day it is. The heart of the matter is that we have achieved the goals we set for ourselves, and I am able to inform you of two important issues. 

One of them is what is referred to in Brussels as “Brexit”: in other words, whether the European Union will be able to change a few important issues so that the British prime minister, who wants to keep the United Kingdom within the European Union, can have a good starting position in the referendum to be held in Britain shortly. Right from the beginning the European Council has been receptive, and has come to the conclusion that we should give the British all we can so that they can hold a successful referendum ending in a “yes” vote. The British, however, asked for nothing less than that we change the current policy of the European Union on a number of issues. If we look upon this whole issue from the right perspective, in fact the British wanted us to strengthen the European Union. In the modern world, “strengthening” means enhanced competitiveness. The British proposals effectively sought to ensure that the European Union should finally move forward from its current weak, stagnating position, should become more competitive and stronger, should become better equipped to withstand the storms of the world economy, and should take a more proactive stance on the world economic scene. I have to say that the British have eventually achieved this goal, and while as a result of their demands a good many changes have taken place, these changes are important for the future of the European Union, with or without the United Kingdom. I shall not outline the two or three packages which serve to enhance competitiveness, because enough has already been written about these, and there was not much public debate regarding these questions. 

For the sake of those who are interested, I should perhaps say that we have succeeded in strengthening the role of national parliaments; the British have ensured that the practice of the withdrawal by stealth of powers from the nation states must come to an end, and that national parliaments must be given the right to block laws; this means that if a certain number of parliaments do not support some legislation, that legislation cannot be approved in the given form. What we did debate was the few proposals from the British which sought to change the social benefit regulations as applied to them; this is given that the United Kingdom has a specific social welfare system which is different from everyone else’s. In this department, however, we also had interests which we had to make clear: interests which we needed to protect and firmly represent. 

The principal task that we accomplished – and I believe that we have achieved a major result here – was that it was declared in no uncertain terms that the freedom of movement for workers continues to exist everywhere – including Britain. This means that if any citizen of the European Union – including one of us Hungarians – wakes up one morning and decides to go to work in Britain, the authorities there cannot prevent this on any grounds; in other words, the freedom of movement for workers continues to remain an option for every Hungarian. As far as we were concerned, the second question was that the treatment of Hungarians in Britain should be fair and free from discrimination. This means that the in-work benefits which Hungarians working in the United Kingdom have paid for should remain available in full, should not be curtailed and should continue to be provided without restrictions. In other words, those services which have been paid for should continue to remain available. We managed to have this approved by the British. If one works in Britain there are a few social benefits for which one is eligible but one does not pay for. In the case of these we managed to reach a compromise, according to which they cannot be taken away from Hungarians either. In other words, those social benefits for which no payment has been made cannot be taken away from Hungarians working in Britain either. In some specifically defined instances it may be requested that these benefits are limited for a certain period. But after a certain amount of time the former regulations must be reverted to. And finally, the issue which is most important for us Hungarians is that no new regulations of any kind shall apply to cross-border commuters; this means that the rules relating to Hungarians who day after day commute to work from Hungary to a foreign country may not be amended in any way. Right from the beginning we in the Visegrád Four made it very clear – through them as well as in the plenary discussion – that we are not prepared to negotiate on any of the rules relating to foreign commuters. As a result these rules remain unchanged. We had to adopt specific decisions on families working in Britain. There could be two to three hundred Hungarian families – and a few thousand, or perhaps a few tens of thousands of Polish families – in which a parent works in Britain, but the children do not live there, staying at home in their country of origin. On this issue we approved a rule – and I think this meets the criteria of fairness and fair treatment – whereby no restrictions of any kind are acceptable on the social benefits available to children living with their parents where they work. This means that no distinction can be made between the children of a Hungarian family living in Britain and the children of British people working in Britain. If someone works in Britain, but their children live in another country on their own or with one of their parents – say in Hungary in the case of Hungarians, or in another EU Member State – the rule to be applied is that the benefits made available by the United Kingdom must be adjusted to the standard of living in the country in which the children live. I think that this is a fair agreement, and as such is acceptable not only for the British, but also for us Hungarians. 

If we look at these aspects in general, we may say that we have protected the most important European principle. This is a great achievement – in particular, in relation to a country which has imperial traditions and an imperial past. In other words, it has been declared that no one in the United Kingdom can be better off than an EU citizen; or to express it in a positive way, not a single EU citizen can be worse off than a non-EU national. This means that EU citizens cannot be discriminated against in the territory of the United Kingdom. This is called the principle of “community preference”, but in this form the term is incomprehensible. Anyway, by the end of the debate this is the principle which we have managed to preserve intact. 

And finally, what we Hungarians may find even more important is that the Central European countries achieved these results together. The Visegrád Four stayed together throughout: we engaged in the talks together, prepared joint positions which we represented together, and eventually achieved major results together. This amply demonstrates that if the Central European countries want to achieve results in the European Union, they can only do so together. Not one of us – not even Poland, which is four times the size of Hungary, never mind Hungary itself – could have achieved these results on its own. This clearly shows that it is essential for us Hungarians to maintain Central European cooperation on as many issues as possible, and to demonstrate its strength in Brussels. 

On the whole I can say that we did everything we could. The decision now lies with the British. We hope that they thoroughly consider the issue of Britain’s future, and make their decision to the best of their abilities. We Europeans have provided all the assistance needed for a good decision. 

The other topic on which I should perhaps update you here is the issue of migration. As warranted by the gravity of the question, we conducted long and intense debates, which were not entirely free from emotion. We assessed last year, and sought to understand what kind of year 2016 will be: what the most important tasks are, whether we are able to perform them, what we agree on and what we disagree on. We concluded that 2015 was a difficult year for Europe – and, I should add, for Hungary in particular. Unidentified and unknown people in their millions emerged on the southern borders of Hungary and the European Union. In the autumn of 2015 the Hungarian response was clear and unequivocal: controls, identification, interception and turning back. This was precisely as is laid down in the Schengen Agreement. This was a difficult and costly policy, but a successful one in terms of protecting Hungary. 

The most important development at today’s summit was – and I am going to summarise a long debate in just half a sentence – that, in effect, the Hungarian solution was approved in the European Union for the first time. If you read the document being issued, you will see that we have assigned top priority to protecting the borders and halting the masses of migrants. In other words we declared that they must be stopped, the external borders must be protected and the terms of the Schengen Agreement must be fully observed by everyone. I would even say that at this point in time at a European level we are where we should have been one year ago. In the debate I perceived that the countries on the Balkan route – including Austria – have set out on the path of common sense. Indeed Austria has played a key role in this. This touches on us Hungarians, as we have been unjustly maligned on several occasions recently. However this may be presented – or even denied – and whatever explanation may be attached, we should perhaps point out with appropriate composure and without undue satisfaction that what the countries on the Balkan migrant route are now doing, including Austria, is in fact the Hungarian solution. They are building fences – even though they may call them something else by coining highly amusing linguistic terms. They are building fences, stopping the migrants and sending them back. This has always been the Hungarian position. I am sure that the southern borders of Europe cannot be protected any other way. 

On the whole, therefore, the protection of the southern borders, the protection of the southern borders of Europe, is on the right track; I could even say that it is heading in a direction which is in accord with the decisions of the Visegrád Four. This is good news: the southern borders appear to be in order. We also spoke, however, about other aspects of the migration issue. And not only did we speak about them, but we vehemently argued for opposing positions. As a result we have agreed to bring forward the European summit, which was originally planned for the second half of March, to sometime around 5th, 6th or 7th March. We shall hold the summit in the first week of March, rather than on the original dates of 17th–18th March. I have to say that if the situation in the South is improving, seen from our perspective, the Hungarian perspective, the situation in the West is deteriorating. As far as I can see, a fair number of politicians are arguing increasingly vehemently for the policy of continuing to allow migrants into the territory of the European Union. Some would even transport them here. According to one proposal, we should immediately transport five to ten thousand people directly from Greece to the rest of the EU; luckily we managed to block that. Once these migrants have arrived in Europe, we would be forced to distribute both new arrivals and those who arrived earlier among the Member States of the European Union. This is the question of the compulsory resettlement quotas. Those who are in favour of the quotas were extremely vocal at the summit, despite the fact that I am convinced that there are neither legal nor political grounds for such compulsory resettlement quotas. This is an extremely serious issue, however. Therefore preventing and taking action against the quotas will be the number one task for the next few days and weeks, and this will also be the focus of the summit brought forward to the beginning of March.

We Hungarians saw it as important to point out that Hungary is the only country which is under mass migration pressure not only from the South, but also from the East. We fully sympathise with the Ukrainians, and they have our solidarity. The stabilisation of the Ukrainian state is our most sincere wish. We would like them to observe and implement the Minsk Protocol. We would be happy if the economy in Ukraine recovered, but at this point in time the situation is extremely negative. There are almost one million migrants from Ukraine in Poland. In the Czech Republic there are more than one hundred thousand, and in Hungary we have more than fifty thousand Ukrainian migrants – and this will soon reach one hundred thousand. So due to the difficult situation in Ukraine we are simultaneously affected by enormous bodies of mass migration from both the East and the South. I have asked the President of the European Council to seek a way at the next summit to also address the issue of the masses of people arriving from the East in the territory of the European Union. So I have to say that in the South the situation is in order, in the East the situation is difficult, and in the West the situation is deteriorating. Things are in perfect order only in the North, because there our neighbours are the Visegrád countries, who on most issues follow the same approach as Hungary. 

Naturally we also touched upon the issue of economic governance, and the situation in Syria. If you will allow me, given the late hour, I would rather not go into detail on these topics. 

Thank you for your attention.