PM Orbán: Jobs will be lost if European competitiveness fails to materialize

The prime minister said Europe’s biggest problem now is its decline in competitiveness, adding that Hungary’s EU rotating presidency would put a European competitiveness pact centre stage.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said hundreds of thousands of jobs may be lost in the next decade if European competitiveness fails to materialize.

PM Orbán told a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Rome, that Europe’s biggest problem now is its decline in competitiveness, adding that Hungary’s EU rotating presidency would put a European competitiveness pact centre stage. Hungary and Italy have a common interest in a successful and competitive European economy, as well as in a policy that does not isolate them from partners outside Europe, Orbán said. European industry must be robust, with green transition working “in cooperation rather than against it”, he said. Meanwhile, he said the importance of Italy-Hungary cooperation spanned the economy and defence policy, and this should be broadened to include energy too, noting that a gas pipeline will be built connecting the two countries’ networks via Slovenia. He also noted that Slovenia had until now held out on an agreement to connect Italy and Hungary’s gas networks.

Regarding economic ties between the two countries, PM Orbán said Italy is Hungary’s 5th most important economic partner, with trade doubling in the past decade and exports reaching records last year. He welcomed that 600 Italian companies currently employ 200,000 people in Hungary. Hungary and Italy have recently cooperated in developing the Triest port and a logistics project in Ukraine, he added. In defence cooperation, Italy’s contingent of troops stationed in Hungary is the largest, with 256 Italian troops integrated into NATO’s command in the country, he said. Regarding the EU enlargement to include the Western Balkans, he said it was “shameful and unacceptable” that those countries had been waiting for membership for 15 years. “We should say yes or no, but we shouldn’t do this.”

Meanwhile, in connection with illegal migration, Orbán said Hungary supported Italy’s proposal regarding a comprehensive European strategy for African development. Africa’s population is expected to grow by 750 million people in the coming 20 years, he said. Europe will either have to come up with a plan to develop Africa “to keep Africans home” or face waves of mass migration it is ill-prepared to defend itself against, he added. On the subject of how EU posts are assigned, Orbán said the heads of EU institutions should not be selected on a party-political basis, adding that he would not back the relevant “party agreement”. As the longest-serving prime minister in the EU, Orbán said he saw “the root of European problems” in a 2014 decision of the European Commission’s then-president “to turn the political body into a political player”. That process had been ongoing ever since, he said, adding that currently, three parties divided the most important posts among themselves, putting EU institutions on a party-political basis. This resulted in “government and opposition”, which was antithetical to the inclusivity at the root of the European ideal, he said. “Everyone should be included; no country should feel they are in a minority or opposition,” he said.

PM Orbán said that during talks with Meloni, he had not discussed party politics, adding that those issues had been concluded during last week’s Brussels summit. Orbán said he had made it clear his Fidesz party would not sit in the same group as an “anti-Hungarian Romanian party”. “There is nothing to negotiate about; we are not going to sit in a group like that.” At the same time, Orbán said he and Meloni agreed they both remained committed to the cooperation of right-wing parties, even if they did not sit in the same parliamentary group. Meloni Italy supports Hungary’s program for its upcoming European Union presidency, with its focus on the challenges posed by demographic decline, as well as improving competitiveness and European defence capabilities. At the joint press conference, Meloni said the “new European approach, which has recently taken shape” regarding issues such as the protection of the EU’s borders, the stand against illegal migration and cooperation with African countries, “must be boosted”. Regarding the war in Ukraine, Meloni also thanked Hungary for enabling important decisions in the EU and NATO, “even if opinions were not always aligned.” Also, Meloni said she appreciated that the Hungarian presidency would focus on the EU integration of the Western Balkans.