Honourable Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the first time in my life I’m giving a press statement or speech in a face mask. I apologise in advance for any gaffes.
One can spend one’s summer holidays in a variety of ways. I spent mine reading books written at the beginning of the 2010s about the decade from 2010 to 2020. I read these books to determine for myself the limits of the human mind’s predictive capacity. And in these books that sought to predict the events of the past decade, I found nothing about the Trump-phenomenon in the US, nothing about Brexit, nothing about the migrant crisis, and nothing about the pandemic. This clearly shows that we must be careful when seeking to predict the historical significance of something. But even after this summer activity, I have to say that what we’re doing now will feature in history books written about the years between 2020 and 2030. It will feature because we’re not just talking about an energy line: we’re talking about a link between two important countries, implemented at an important moment. I say this with due courtesy or caution, but we all see that Central Europe – of which I’m convinced Slovenia is also a part – is on an upward trajectory: it’s strengthening and increasing in importance. The growth centre of the entire European Union is shifting eastwards, to Central Europe. It has been a long time since the European Union’s sole determinant was the Franco-German axis. Western Europe’s relations with the Central European countries are at least as important as Franco-German relations. This whole region is gaining in importance. When a region gains in importance, then large and powerful countries seek to increase their influence there; thus important countries and regions also become arenas for geopolitical games. Our region has become one such arena. We don’t normally talk about this in public, but the truth is that Central Europe’s strengthening condition has made it an arena for geopolitical games. We can see attempts at gaining influence from Russia, Germany, America and Turkey. We must look on these as natural: they’re not a problem, but a good sign; they mean that this region has become important, and is gaining in importance. And we all know that in Central Europe – but perhaps across the whole continent – energy policy is a prominent field and vehicle for geopolitical games. So today in linking the power networks of these two countries, or launching the project needed for this, we are in fact strengthening our position in these geopolitical games. If at some future time Slovenia comes to an agreement with Hungary on significantly strengthening and linking our gas networks, then that would also have geopolitical significance, and I hope that the two governments will also be able to come to an agreement on that. Significantly increasing rail links between the two countries, between Slovenia and Hungary, would likewise be geopolitically significant. All this would lead to both our countries being able to increase their independence, their sovereignty and the region’s strength, and to being better protected against geopolitical games. We would be better able to assert our own interests. Therefore I’m convinced that what is happening here now is in our shared interest: in the interest of Slovenia and Hungary, and also in the interest of Central Europe.
It requires a certain amount of trust for a people to decide to link itself to another country – particularly when key systems such as electricity supply are linked. Hungary has a special history, which you’re familiar with. For a long time we Hungarians lived with the burden of a shortage of trust. We’ve needed to invest a lot of energy in developing trust-based relations with our neighbours, and much of my work has been devoted to this. This has met with varying degrees of success: there are countries with which we’ve made very good progress, including the Croatians – although one can see variability in that, too; meanwhile we’ve made less progress with the Slovenes. In my opinion, our two peoples have paid little attention to each another: in the past twenty or thirty years we’ve tried to live separate lives, without disturbing each other. And I believe that now this won’t be enough – we can’t afford that luxury. If there are two peoples which can enjoy trust-based relations, which can pool their resources such as their energy systems and so on, both nations can make progress. But building trust isn’t easy. I know Slovenia and the Slovenian people fairly well. It’s very difficult to win the trust of Slovenians. But neither are we Hungarians the most easy-going folk. So building trust between Slovenia and Hungary isn’t a one- or two-day project: we’ll have to spend many years investing energy in building the basis of trust between our two nations that will enable us to create not just one such strategic project, but new ones in the future.
For my part, I’m grateful to the Chief Executive. He’s the manager of a company, but what he’s about to do here, the project he’s about to implement, is about the trust-based friendship between our two nations. This is a flagship project, the largest Slovenian-Hungarian cooperation project of recent decades. In this respect it’s a flagship: the flagship of Slovenian-Hungarian friendship and trust-building. I assure the Honourable Prime Minister and Chief Executive that the Hungarian government is fully behind this project. I truly hope that this apparently purely economic project will lead our two countries to realise that we’re much closer to each other than we tend to believe – indeed, if we read each other’s history well, we can see the shared fate that links us.
This project is important for the Hungarians for one other reason. The prices of electricity and gas are high-profile political topics in Hungary; back home we call this the policy of household utility charge reductions. When I returned to government in 2010, electricity prices in Hungary were the seventeenth highest in Europe and gas prices were the sixteenth highest. Today Hungary has the cheapest gas in Europe, and the second cheapest electricity for private consumers. So, because Hungarian households are now used to getting the cheapest possible energy, for us it’s important that our energy systems are in good condition, flexible and interconnected, and free of malfunctions that could increase the price of electricity.
And finally, Honourable Prime Minister, Dear Slovenian Friends,
We’re monitoring the fight against the virus. Perhaps the Prime Minister will allow me to reveal that at times we’re in daily contact, discussing virus-related developments in Slovenia and Hungary. We can learn from each other, and I’m learning a great deal from the defence methods that Slovenia is implementing here under Prime Minister Janez Janša’s leadership. We can both see that this virus is still on an upward curve, but we’re mounting our defence. Evaluating Slovenia’s defence operation, perhaps you’ll allow me to say that in terms of numbers Slovenia’s fight against the pandemic is one of the best in Europe. And we Hungarians can’t complain either; for the time being we’re one of the best performing countries. Naturally, we’ll be able to triumph when we have a vaccine; but we know that won’t happen tomorrow, and we must somehow lead our countries and peoples together to the moment of freedom, when we finally have a vaccine. I’m convinced that we can better fulfil this duty and manage this process if our two countries also cooperate in the battle against the virus. Thus far Slovenia has been able to count on Hungary, and we have always counted on Slovenia. I wish the Prime Minister and the Slovenian people every success in the pandemic defence operation. If you need help, you can count on us; and if we need help, we will also turn to you, in the spirit of mutual trust.
I wish you all every success.