PM Orbán: Our plan is not to leave Brussels, but to take it over

In a podcast interview with conservative Hungarian weekly Mandiner, Prime Minister Orbán spoke about Ukraine's accession to the EU, his recent Zelensky meeting, Ursula von der Leyen and protecting Hungary’s sovereignty.

In his Mandiner interview, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán expressed his strategic vision for Hungary and its role within the European Union. Critical of the current state of EU politics, PM Orbán suggested a need for a more assertive Hungarian presence in Brussels. "Our plan is not to leave (Brussels), but to take it over," he stated, emphasizing Hungary's potential to influence EU policies.

PM Orbán also discussed his recent meeting with European officials, including a less conventional encounter with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We sat together in the audience, if you can call it a meeting, while the people cheered the newly elected Argentine President. I wouldn't call it a negotiating situation, but he had something to say to me, and so we took the opportunity to exchange words,” PM Orbán said. He added that the conversation revolved around the recently passed Ukrainian minority law seeking to give back the rights of ethnic Hungarians, which were taken away in 2015.

“We are now studying exactly how this law is to be understood. But I don't have high hopes for it because our approach is quite different. We say that in 2015 you took a law away from the Hungarians. Give it back. Don't make a new one; we want to take back what was already there, (a law) for which we know the text, the words, and we know how it is implemented, we know how it works. Give back nothing more, nothing less than what you have discarded. This is not it,” PM Orbán said.

A significant part of the interview was devoted to the EU's relationship with Ukraine. PM Orbán expressed skepticism about fast-tracking Ukraine's EU membership, highlighting the importance of adherence to established accession procedures and criteria. He proposed a strategic partnership with Ukraine instead of immediate membership, citing the complexities and risks involved in altering the accession process.

The prime minister described recent talks with European officials as crucial in understanding the current geopolitical landscape, especially concerning Ukraine's status and negotiations. He stressed that Ukraine is not in a position to start accession talks with the EU largely due to the ongoing conflict in the region.

He was particularly vocal about the portrayal of Hungary in international media, referring to a Politico article that labeled him as “The Spoiler” of the year. PM Orbán took a pragmatic view on this, asserting, "If the party is bad, then a party spoiler is very useful." He further addressed allegations about Hungary holding Brussels hostage for financial gains, dismissing them as baseless and emphasizing Hungary's separation of financial and policy matters in diplomatic dealings.

Moreover, PM Orbán touched upon Hungary's foreign policy, emphasizing the need for dialogue and maintaining relationships, even with controversial figures such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. Defending his choice to engage with Putin, he stressed the importance of dialogue in resolving conflicts.

On Hungary's geopolitical position between the West and the East, PM Orbán expressed his vision for the country's future. He stated, "We are in the midst of a battle... where the world should move toward connectivity and cooperation, rather than retreating into a Cold War-type of bloc formation." He argued for a strategic balance in Hungary's international relations, advocating for an approach that avoids returning to the divisions of the past.

In terms of economic strategy, Prime Minister Orbán said that Hungary is focused on becoming a meeting point between Western and Eastern businesses. He highlighted initiatives to attract investments from both the East and West, thereby leveraging Hungary's geographic position.

The prime minister further addressed several critical issues in his interview, focusing on Hungary's sovereignty and its stance within the European Union. He emphasized the need for protective measures against external influences, saying, "We need to close the holes (in our sovereignty), like holes in Swiss cheese where the cunning mouse can sneak through." He added that legislative changes are needed to ensure Hungary's sovereignty is not compromised by foreign funding, especially in the context of elections.

Regarding the European Union, PM Orbán was critical of the current leadership, particularly Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. He questioned the effectiveness of her leadership, stating, "We cannot say that the Commission has done a good job, and its work cannot be separated from the performance of its president."

PM Orbán made clear his desire for new EU leadership that better aligns with Hungary's interests.