Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press statement following a joint session of the Hungarian and Serbian cabinets
9 February 2018, Budapest
Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s event is a special one. We have met the Serbian cabinet in a joint session. I am grateful to the Serbian prime minister for bringing her cabinet to Budapest. This is not only a rare and marvellous occasion, but also an extremely important one. Serbia has always played an important role in Hungarian history, and the Balkan region has always been a key issue for Hungary’s security. Today has seen a meeting between the leaders of two countries that can claim to be proud, each of which has a strong sense of nationhood and a solid cultural identity; their cultures are based on Christianity. And when they think about the future, this is something that they want to preserve. Today has seen a meeting between two countries which see their roots as extremely important. This is given urgency by the fact that today the security of all of Europe is endangered. Assuring the security of our countries and citizens is a problems for everyone. We have gained the opportunity to do this together. As I see it, Serbia and Hungary must act together to defend their borders, the security of their citizens and their cultural identities. Accordingly, at today’s Cabinet meeting we first of all expressed our thanks to Serbia, to the President of the Republic of Serbia and to the Prime Minister, for helping Hungary stop migration at its southern borders. I repeated Hungary’s offer and commitment to Serbia which will enable it to count on Hungary’s assistance in defending its southern borders if and when needed.If such cooperation is required, if assistance in terms of technical matters or personnel is required, then Hungary is ready to put those things at Serbia’s disposal. We once again thank you for everything that Serbia has done so far in order to secure Hungary’s southern borders.
But Serbia is not just a key county in relation to security. Serbia is our largest southern neighbour and one of the key states in the Western Balkans. It plays a significant regional role: without Serbia there can be no peace in the Balkans. As a result of the efforts of recent years, Serbia can boast a level of performance that has progressively reduced the country’s national debt. Last year Serbia’s gross domestic product increased by 2.8 per cent, and its budget deficit was only 1.3 per cent. These are figures that any Member State of the European Union would be proud of. The proof of progress is obvious and clearly visible in Serbia, and its prospects are encouraging. For this reason the EU should see Belgrade as a resource and an opportunity – particularly when one considers that when Serbia protects itself from migration, it is also protecting not only Hungary, but the whole of Europe. This is one of the reasons the Visegrád Group is striving to maintain close cooperation with Serbia. We not only support Serbia’s accession to the European Union, but are actively calling for it to happen as soon as possible.
As far as Hungarian-Serbian relations are concerned, I can tell you that there is harmony between us on political issues. I would like to underline the significance of this. There is a European belief – which I think is mistaken – according to which only countries with a weak sense of nationhood can live in peace and can cooperate well with each other. Here we see proof of the exact opposite. Serbia’s sense of nationhood is strong and so is its identity, and Hungary is also proud of its national identity. These are two countries that stand on firm national foundations, and yet we are able to cooperate well with each other. This is far better than bogus internationalism, which tends to disguise problems. We prefer to identify problems, rise above them, deal with them and solve them. Accordingly, I can safely say that today there are no conflicts between Hungary and Serbia on any political issues. With regard to trade and the economy, last year we once again broke all previous records. The volume of trade between the two countries increased by roughly 30 per cent, and we believe there are prospects for further growth this year.
Our cultural relations are flourishing. Hungary views the Serbian community in Hungary as a priority partner, and the Serbian government also extends this recognition to the Hungarian community in Serbia – for which we are grateful. Several requests relating to culture and education were submitted today by the Serbian community in Hungary, and these were unanimously supported and accepted at the Cabinet meeting. So here in Hungary we will be supporting the cultural projects of the Serbian minority. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for Serbia’s support for the autonomy of Hungarians in Vojvodina, the national councils and their background cultural institutions. If I take a panoramic view of the Carpathian Basin, then I have to say that everything happening today in Serbia in relation to minorities is exemplary. And at every international forum, I will continue to draw attention – as I have done up to now – to the fact that Serbia’s attitude to its Hungarian minority is proof that it has an exemplary minority policy.
So we can state that today saw a meeting between two friendly countries. Today’s was our fourth cabinet meeting, our fourth joint cabinet meeting, and I can safely say that the two countries are approaching the establishment of a strategic alliance based on friendship. We still have work to do in order to achieve this, but the prospects are here before us, and it seems to me that at the next joint cabinet meeting we will also be able to harmonise the two countries’ medium-term interests and also reach – or be able to reach – a level of Hungarian-Serbian strategic cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We also discussed issues relating to economic cooperation. On several occasions Serbia has asked for Hungarian investments not to be restricted to the territory of Vojvodina, but for as many investments as possible to be made south of Belgrade, in central and southern Serbia. Today we also signed such an agreement. I am pleased to announce that Hungarian investments are now also present in central and southern Serbia – primarily as Serbian-Hungarian joint ventures. And OTP Bank’s loan activities also extend far beyond Vojvodina. So we would like to become a full investment partner to all of Serbia. I am convinced that the strengthening of the Serbian-Hungarian economy is grafting Serbia to the European Union. The fastest form of accession is for the Hungarian and Serbian economies to become as integrated as possible, because that will mean Serbia becoming integrated with the markets and economic area of the European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We will also be opening new border crossing points, but Madam Prime Minister will be talking more about that. We will be opening one very soon, but we are also planning to open more. We have established a scholarship programme for fifty Serbian students, and Serbia has also offered scholarship places for Hungarian students. We established that the number of students attending Serbian schools in Hungary is increasing, and we thank Serbia for the fact that the number of students attending Hungarian schools in Serbia is also increasing.
We are also pleased to see that the restoration of the Synagogue in Subotica (Szabadka) is also practically complete. Both Serbia and Hungary have devoted major funding to this, which is a superb cultural monument and one of the most refined buildings of its kind. The whole building is a true work of art, and we will be able to open it to the public very soon.
I feel it is also important to say that I informed the Prime Minister of the significant change that has occurred in Hungary’s strategic position. It has emerged that in the coming years Romania will be extracting some four billion cubic metres of natural gas every year, which it plans to export. An American company will carry out this work, and in the related tender the first three places were occupied by companies which are 100 per cent Hungarian-owned. Therefore we will very soon be able to conclude an agreement that will enable us to import more than four billion cubic metres of natural gas from Romania to Hungary every year for the next fifteen years. The Hungarian section of the gas interconnection is already complete, and the Romanian section is now under construction. This means that from around 2021–22 we will be in a new situation. And so with due modesty, but also pleasure, I can announce that the era of Russian gas monopoly in Hungary will come to an end, as we will be able to procure more than half of our gas imports from another source – in this case Romania. This is a totally new situation – not just for Hungary, but for the whole region. So far when we have spoken about diversification we have only been able to diversify gas transport routes, but now we are finally able to diversify the source of natural gas. This means that Hungary will also find itself in a new geostrategic position – one that is more favourable than previously.We discussed this and similar large-scale issues.
In addition to energy, we naturally also discussed transport infrastructure, as the Belgrade-Budapest rail line is under construction. We spoke about the renovation of the Szeged-Baja-Subotica railway line, for which preparations are going well. The plans are already available and these projects will also be going ahead soon. Naturally there are currently rather more Hungarian investments in Serbia than the other way round. This is perhaps understandable in view of the two countries’ situations, but in closing I also spoke about Hungary’s intent for this to become a “two-way road” in the foreseeable future, with Serbian investments also beginning to appear in Hungary. We have undertaken to establish the required favourable conditions for this. We await the arrival of Serbian investors and venture capitalists in Hungary so that we can integrate Hungary and Central Europe with both the Northern Balkan and Western Balkan regions.
Thank you once again, Madam Prime Minister, for providing us with the opportunity to hold these talks.