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Mar 13, 2017

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press conference after the meeting of the European Council

Brussels, 10 March 2017

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The European Union has held a two-day summit of heads of government. You may have received the text entitle “Conclusions” – or if not, you soon will. As I see it, we exchanged views on three main topics, and we also adopted decisions. The first issue was that we needed to elect the President of the European Council: the person chairing the prime ministers’ meetings. The second issue, which I had to deal with, was to gain acceptance for the latest Hungarian legislation on migration from the heads of the European nation states here: the Member States. And the third task was to discuss the future of Europe, bearing in mind the fact that it will soon be sixty years to the day since the European Union’s Treaty of Rome was signed. There will be an EU summit in Rome, at which we would like to address a message and a European programme to voters. We sought to word this message; to be more precise, we sought to determine the main pillars of this document about the future of Europe.  

As regards the President of the European Council, we elected Donald Tusk to the position. For Hungary this decision was about Europe, about Europe’s operability, rather than about one Member State or another. We must accept that European politics operates on party political lines. The Hungarian governing parties belong to the European People’s Party, the EPP, and there was only one candidate from the EPP. I was therefore unable to keep the promise that I had made to President Kaczyński, as before our meeting the Polish government’s candidate – my friend Mr. Saryusz-Wolski – left the European People’s Party, and so only a single European People’s Party candidate remained. I would note that a day or two before the Brussels summit I informed the Polish prime minister about this situation, so no one should have been taken by surprise. When it came to this agenda item the situation was tense, however, and so I’m convinced that in the period ahead we’ll need to remain calm and composed. As far as we’re concerned, we did everything we could to reach a reasonable compromise, but it’s very difficult to reach a compromise – let alone a reasonable one – on the role of individuals. This was a battle that the Poles could not win, and so we must resign ourselves to the decision that was arrived at, even though there is a Member State – and Poland at that – which finds it unacceptable. From the viewpoint of Polish-Hungarian relations it’s important to emphasise that the decision adopted now does not affect the Polish-Hungarian alliance: we continue to firmly stand by the Poles on all issues which involve unfair attacks against their country – and there are quite a few of those here in the European Union. So regardless of the decision on the individual for this position, Poland can rely on Hungary’s solidarity. No one should use this debate against a single Member State – and so Poland also deserves respect and equal treatment in the future. At the same time our esteem for the Polish people and our friendly feelings towards President Kaczyński remain unchanged. This is what I can tell you now about the decision on this individual role.

As regards the debate on migration, I can sum up the result by saying that when I informed them about the latest Hungarian legislation the prime ministers of the Member States raised no objections and did not protest. I underlined that the content of our new legal rule coincides fully with the criteria and needs raised earlier by the Germans and the Austrians. In other words, no legal trick or loophole will allow anyone to leave Hungary for Germany or Austria before their asylum claim in Hungary has been fully assessed. We have now created the conditions necessary to ensure this. No one shall be able to move freely – no one shall be able to enter the territory of Hungary and move freely – until we have established their identity, their reasons for arrival and their intentions, and until we have decided whether or not they can enter the European Union through the gateway of Hungary. So everyone will be kept in semi-open detention. The term semi-open detention – which is a precise legal term – is not the same as imprisonment: the latter is something which people are not allowed to voluntarily leave; asylum-seekers, however, will be free to leave immigration detention, in an outward direction, away from the EU. They will not be able to move inward, into the territory of the EU, but no one will be under arrest. So someone who decides that they don’t want to wait in the transit zone for the definitive conclusion of their case will be free to leave in the direction of Serbia. We won’t lock anyone up, but they will not be able to enter the territory of Hungary. For those of you who find it hard to envisage this, I suggest that you think of it like an airport. The airport transit zone model is more or less the legal solution that we are now enforcing on the Hungarian border. I think it was an achievement that we persuaded the Member States’ prime ministers of the need for this, and they have raised no objections to our new legislation. What we’ll do with the Brussels bureaucrats is another matter. Here in Brussels we not only have prime ministers, but also thousands of bureaucrats. They are usually the ones with objections, and they also have powers which they can use to try to force Hungary to change its decisions and rules that they happen to dislike. That battle is yet to be fought, but, based on the experiences of this summit of prime ministers, I feel that we also have good prospects when we fight it.

As regards the future of Europe, there’s no doubt that the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome finds us at a difficult time; or, to be more precise, a dramatic time, as the task ahead of us is no less than defining Europe’s place in the new world order emerging after the UK leaves the European Union. What does all of this mean for us? What security, foreign and economic policy implications will this have for us? We regularly discuss these questions. I have suggested that we take an optimistic stance. First of all we should make it clear that, despite all its difficulties, Europe continues to be the best place in the world. In any event, we should place due emphasis on what we’ve achieved so far, and the unprecedented results that European culture, European civilisation and the European economy have achieved since the Second World War. And if we look around the world to see where one can live the best life, with the best prospects for happiness, Europe would have every chance of being considered the best place. Under no circumstances should we ignore this, and we should also make it clear that over the next few years the goal should be preservation of this position. At the same time I suggested drafting very clear, unambiguous passages on Member States’ powers, so that the document to be adopted now should not lead to attempts at withdrawal of powers by stealth or amendment of our core documents. We should make it clear that Member States’ powers cannot be taken from them. We should make clear that we do not want to step back, and we do not want to destroy what we have built thus far. In parallel with the V4, the Benelux states also prepared a document, a thorough reading of which raises the suspicion that those countries might intend to retreat on certain matters. We shall have to discuss this carefully with our Benelux friends, and so there will be a V4-Benelux summit. We have decided this now, and it will take place in the early summer, under the Polish presidency. 

We also sought to explore the issue of a multi-speed Europe. The equality of the Member States is important for Hungary, of course. At the same time we don’t want to be like a poorly-run family, which can only decide either to all go on a trip together or all stay at home together. We wouldn’t want such a state of affairs. In our view, living in such a family would not be too promising or attractive, because those who want to go on a trip should be able to, in the knowledge that their home will be the same, and they will remain with the rest of the family. If we are to live together we must all observe certain rules, but we shouldn’t force things on each other that are not wanted by all of us. So the Hungarian position is that we cannot have a two-speed Europe, there is no first-class or second-class Europe, and there is no core and periphery. In general, this whole question of a two-speed Europe is one of the most abhorrent ideas for us. At the same time, using the system of strengthened cooperation, we do not oppose the idea that on some issues some countries could make more progress, more headway, than others. There are also positive Central European examples which we cited at the meeting today. For instance, in the field of patent rights there’s an arrangement that most Central European countries have joined, and quite a few Western European countries have not. Or there is the issue of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which some Central European and Western European countries have chosen not to join, while others have created or seek to create such an institution. So, in line with individual countries’ interests, we allow countries to move further forward than others – but within certain boundaries. Those who want to go on a trip can go on a trip, and those who want to stay at home should be allowed to stay at home.

On the whole, however, this wasn’t the biggest problem Hungary faced with regard to the document on the future. The biggest problem was a remark relating to migration. Regrettably, the dilemma that is behind the whole issue of migration has resurfaced. The authors of the text – those who made the proposals and, I think, a great many countries here in the European Union – say that migration should be “managed humanely and well”. In contrast to this, our position is that we must resist the pressure of migration. These are two completely different philosophies. Our goal is not to bring migrants into Europe in well-regulated circumstances; our goal is to prevent migrants from coming to Europe. Or, if someone lets migrants into Europe, they should not seek to send those people back to us. This is a very clear position, and I had to state it in no uncertain terms. I proposed that in this document either we shouldn’t deal with the migration issue, elegantly subordinating it to others for a period, or – if we do deal with it – there should be strong representation of our position. This position is that there are countries which do not want to take in migrants, and which want to resist migration pressure. The goal of these countries is not to handle migration humanely, but to prevent the alteration of their countries’ cultural and ethnic composition. This, perhaps, was the keenest element of the debate.

I don’t know whether I should or can inform you – or whether you’re interested – but I also had an excellent splendid bilateral meeting with the Austrian Chancellor. I’ll give you a brief account of that as well, if there’s no objection. This is a very difficult situation. First of all the Austrian Chancellor and I had to agree on how we should disagree. The question was whether disagreement should be as it was with Chancellor Faymann – which would immediately ruin the chances of Austrian-Hungarian cooperation; or whether in the meantime we should reassure each other of our appreciation of each other and each other’s peoples, and – in spite of the disputes – do everything we can to maintain good Austrian-Hungarian cooperation. This is what we had to initially decide on. We concluded that, although there are now serious conflicts between the two countries, we both intend to maintain as much as possible of the good neighbourly relationship between our two countries. We both see good Austrian-Hungarian relations as an asset, and the extent to which the two countries can cooperate with each other will continue to be important in the future. So we should try to confine conflicts to precisely circumscribed topics. Instead of a general deterioration in relations, we should identify the problems on which we disagree, and see whether we can find solutions of some kind. Naturally we perceive these issues in different ways. When it plans to change certain rules on employment and social benefits, Austria believes that it is proceeding in accordance with European law and within its boundaries; meanwhile from my point of view, Austria is stepping outside the European Union’s legal framework. They take the view that the Hungarians won’t be disadvantaged by Austria’s decisions, while I say that they will, and that we do not want to accept this. This is the debate that we want to see through. There are two things I can do – or that the Hungarian government can do. One of these is to take action in EU forums to bring Austrian legislation which has strayed outside the boundaries of European law back within those boundaries. This will be a legal dispute. The other thing I wanted to make clear was that if on one side Austria upsets the Austrian-Hungarian economic balance, on the other side we will respond. We agree that until very recently Austrian-Hungarian economic relations have worked extremely well, so we see no reason why this should change. We believe that this has been beneficial for both parties. Clearly this situation developed because both parties found it advantageous: the Hungarians were satisfied, and so were the Austrians. The Austrians must have been satisfied with their investments in Hungary, as they invest enormous amounts of capital in Hungary – they’re engaged in the dumping of capital, if you like; and we, too, have been satisfied with the fact that, through the possibility of free movement in the European Union, Hungarians have been allowed to work in Austria and received fair and equal treatment. To our mind, it is not the Hungarians who are responsible for upsetting this idyll, but the Austrians, because they want to introduce new regulations. The impact of these new regulations is not entirely clear. The Hungarian government’s estimates are different from those of the Austrian government. We have agreed to monitor the situation, so we’ll keep track of events. I don’t yet know whether we’ll also set up a joint committee, but in any event Hungary will set up a monitoring or tracking committee comprising Hungarian economic stakeholders and specialists from the Hungarian government. They’ll tell Hungarian decision-makers whether or not the situation of Hungarians, of Hungarian workers, in Austria has deteriorated – and if so, to what extent. I’ve promised the Austrian Chancellor that, should we find that the situation of the Hungarians has deteriorated, a fair and proportionate deterioration will also occur in the situation of Austrians in Hungary, because there must be balance. If the balance is restored at a lower level than previously, so be it – but we’re not dupes, and we cannot abandon the existing equilibrium. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We shall put our cards on the table: we want fair and transparent situations, and so we’ll discuss all these issues with our Austrian friends in complete openness. The Austrian Chancellor has also asked me to refrain completely from using a threatening tone, and so please don’t take what I’ve said just now as a threat.