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May 26, 2017

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the opening ceremony of the ELI-ALPS Laser Research Centre building complex

23 May 2017, Szeged

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome everyone. I would like to greet the Honourable Mayor. We wish to thank him for the opportunity to visit this city for the second occasion within a short period of time. I would like to welcome Professor Pálinkás and the leaders of the university. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to Gábor Zupkó, Mayor of Kispest, who now represents the European Union in Hungary. I welcome the Honourable Ambassador, representatives of the diplomatic corps and fellow Members of Parliament. Thank you, László, for being here with us. I would also like to welcome His Excellency, our Honourable Bishop, who has been kind enough to honour us with his presence. 

Good morning everyone, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s unlikely that any Soviet soldiers who marched around this site would have thought that, thirty years after their departure, a laser centre would rise up here out of the ground. If the slogan used in the [1990] election campaign was true – Tovarishi, konetz [“It’s over, comrades”] – we can say that today the process has become irreversible – at least in this particular spot in Hungary. There will no longer be such army barracks here.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thirty years ago people would have been even less able to imagine that we would equip the new building which has risen out of the ground here with machinery and equipment which is unrivalled anywhere in the world today. Such machinery and equipment represent one of the world’s fastest-growing scientific fields. Standing here with the Honourable Mayor and the former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in front of this imposing building complex – which in a few minutes we will view on the inside – we can be proud of the joint work that has finally led us to this day. We can be at least as proud of this project as of the work which thirty years ago enabled us to banish from the territory of Hungary the Soviet troops who had been “temporarily” stationed here for forty years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Right at the outset I would like to point out that this institution was not given as a gift to us Hungarians. We were awarded the right to implement this project by European decision-makers because, together with another two countries building partner institutions, we agreed to build this laser centre. We have done this partly from our own resources, our own budget, and partly from funding provided for us by the Structural Funds of the European Union. This was not an easy decision. Now, at a time of success, there is no point in recalling the debates that took place back then, but the decision was preceded by controversy over whether Hungary could afford to focus a sum of some seventy to eighty billion forints on a single major project.

In the end, Ladies and Gentlemen, we decided in favour of its implementation. The background against which we did so was a Europe still badly affected by the economic crisis. Furthermore, of the three bidding countries we were in the worst shape. Indeed, you may remember that we were the European Union Member State in the worst situation, being closer to bankruptcy than Greece was at the time of this decision. It was from this predicament that we had to fight our way back: by saving every single forint and euro in order to implement projects like this. Yet I believe that in 2011 we made the right decision when we decided to build this, the largest scientific facility in Hungary’s modern history. We knew that construction of this laser centre would be a worthy contribution to the history of Hungarian science, and we hoped that it would also crown the efforts of our Nobel laureates. Similarly there was no doubt that this project should be sited here, in Szeged. Over the years the research work conducted at the University of Szeged has spoken for itself. Today, however, we hope that this point of light can become a beacon which will attract here students and researchers from all over the world. And at the outset there is perhaps one other thing about which I should say a few words. In Hungary there is the widespread misconception that a project initiated by the Government in an opposition-led city is bound to be doomed to failure. I do not believe this and, luckily, neither does the Honourable Mayor. This project has also disproved such thinking. It demonstrates that while there are and always will be differences, as this is natural in a democracy, we can agree on the work we have to do for Hungary and the future of the Hungarian people. In Szeged it has been proved that when it comes to the interests of the country and the city, it is possible to bridge the divide.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

If I were to sum up in a single sentence what this project means to us, I would say that the ELI project is another step towards the future. The future of European science has already arrived here in Szeged in Hungary – and here in the Central European region. Together with the Czech and Romanian pillars, this is the first major research facility based on the common enterprise of countries which joined the EU in and since 2004, and which together may form a European Research Infrastructure Consortium. We could even say that with this project we are not seeking to catch up with Europe, but with this project Europe is seeking to catch up with the world. This means that this building and the equipment it houses will, we hope, place Hungary on the world map of science – perhaps even highlighting it on the map.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have scientific programmes which we finance partly from EU grants, and there are others which we fund solely from local resources, such as the National Brain Research Programme and its successor, the National Quantum Technologies Programme, or the Digital Production Technology Programme – whatever these names mean. Therefore we should not view this project in isolation. This institution will be worth as much as the researchers using it are able to achieve. We must also look at the background and the support behind it which ensures its successful operation. We must look at the reform of the system of Hungarian academic and scientific institutions that has taken place in recent years – in which Professor Pálinkás has played a major role. We should also take note of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ “Momentum Programme”; and at a local level we should consider the University of Szeged, the Szeged biology centre of the Academy of Sciences, and the Centre of Excellence for Molecular Medicine, which this year has been awarded funding in the European Union’s excellence programme. In addition, the latter institutions have been awarded tens of billions of forints in research grants for the coming years, after calls for proposals from the National Research, Development and Innovation Office. So we can say without hesitation that a bright future lies ahead of us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Hungary can become one of the winners of the future if we create an entire network of scientific research facilities for our country to become a research and development centre, rather than just a production centre.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

But what, in fact, is the purpose of this high-tech facility of 24,500 square metres – which even outstrips the 18,000 square metres of the Hungarian Parliament Building? Obviously others will be able explain this more accurately and more expertly than I can. At noon today we will hear a presentation by Professor Ferenc Krausz, whom we also warmly welcome. However, even those who are at some distance from this line of business can understand that light impulses will be generated here which are so short that they almost defy human imagination: shorter than almost any atomic process. This research can lay the foundations for technologies which are based on atomic processes, and which can offer other fields of science – such as biology or medicine – new research tools of exceptional power. Seen from this angle, perhaps even Hungarians of average education who are not at all well-versed in science can clearly see that – through the medical development – they also have a personal interest in the success of this centre, this research centre behind us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After a great many consultations and preparations following the 2011 government decision, the foundation stone was laid in 2014, the building was completed by April 2017, and the commissioning of equipment has begun.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2011 responsibility for the decision lay with the Government. Today we are handing over the baton of responsibility to scientists, engineers and the whole scientific community. It is your responsibility to use this facility as successfully and effectively as possible. After this, expressing my gratitude to those who built it, all that remains is for me to hand over this enormous asset to the community of researchers in Hungary and the wider world. I ask you to use all your expertise and best efforts to ensure that the ELI European research infrastructure is operating at full capacity by 31 December 2018. Finally, I would like to express the wish that you achieve further outstanding scientific results, raise new generations of Hungarian scientists and, with your fine work here, attract researchers and students from every country in the world. And I hope that in the future there will be many more occasions such as this, when we can stand here together again.

I wish you success in your work. I hereby declare this research centre open.