Press statement by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after his meeting with Ulf Kristersson, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sweden

23 February 2024, Budapest

Honourable Prime Minister, Distinguished Members of the Swedish Delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

We have had an extremely interesting, stimulating and fruitful discussion. Today’s meeting is an important milestone in a long process. We can also call this long process a process of rebuilding trust, on which we have been working with the Prime Minister for many months – and soon years. We are happy to say that here today we can mark the end of this phase. We have succeeded in mutually clarifying our good intentions. I have been able to tell the Prime Minister that the basic principle of Hungarian foreign policy is that we must gather friends. Even if it is not always apparent, this is the goal and essence of Hungarian foreign policy, and therefore with all countries we strive to find those points and those interests on which we agree, and to establish the deepest possible cooperation. Meanwhile, in those areas in which we see the world differently or think in different ways, we should respect these differences.

A Swedish prime minister’s visit to Hungary is a rare event. Therefore perhaps the Prime Minister will allow me to point out that Sweden was a true friend of Hungary in 1956, when the Hungarians who fled our country and went to Sweden as refugees were not simply provided with food and accommodation, but also a second home. That was a very difficult time in our history. Many people left Hungary, and we are grateful to all those nations – including the Swedes – who hastened to our aid and received those Hungarians. I hope that they did not do badly out of that deal with us; because, after all, those Hungarians integrated successfully, and perhaps contributed to the performance of Sweden today – something which is respected by everyone.

I would also like to remind everyone of something which is my personal experience: Sweden was our crucial partner when we were negotiating our accession to the European Union. The accession to the European Union by the countries of the former Soviet sphere was a process that took longer than necessary. It took much longer than we would have liked. At the time we hoped for a quick process, but this was not possible because there was no agreement among the Member States on whether the new applicant countries should be admitted – and, if so, how quickly. There were those who argued for a slower process of inclusion, and those who argued for a faster process. Sweden argued in favour of faster inclusion and expansion, and so we have very positive memories of that. And the breakthrough was also achieved by the Swedish presidency: at a summit in Göteborg our Swedish friends finally managed to open the gates, which allowed us to enter the European Union. So I would also like to evoke this memory as an important emblem of the trust between our two peoples.

The present also looks good, Ladies and Gentlemen. Our trade cooperation is a true success story, and every year we break the record for our trade volumes. Compared to 2010 – when we returned to power, Mr. Prime Minister – we have doubled our trade volume, and are moving towards a figure of 3 billion euros. There is cooperation between our two countries – important and successful cooperation – in the area of nuclear energy, in which we cooperate in the political arena in Brussels. We are pleased that there is a Swedish stakeholder in the construction of the Paks II nuclear power project, and last year we also benefited from the arrival in Hungary of 70,000 Swedish tourists, who contributed to the performance of the Hungarian economy. 

This is all well and good, but none of this was discussed today. This was not what we were talking about. Today we talked about defence cooperation. This was mostly about the fact that, as a result of a long negotiating process, we have been able to put an end to a series of talks which is extremely important for Hungary. Here we are talking about Hungary’s defence capability. For the sake of the younger ones among you, I would like to say that between 1998 and 2002, during the current governing coalition’s first term in government, there was a big debate in Hungary about whether our country should develop independent air defences at all. This was because the associated costs were extremely high, and some people questioned the point of it. And if we were to decide that we should, we needed to decide on the technological path to take. During the period of my first government, the then leadership decided that Hungary should have an independent air defence capability, and that the technological basis for this would be cooperation with the Swedes. This is how Hungary decided on the Gripen system, on the military capability that the Gripens can provide for Hungary. We have been following this path ever since. Now we have reached an important point, because the contracts for this hardware are about to expire. Also, since – to put it bluntly – we were broke, when we bought our first Gripens we could not buy as many as we really needed. So now the moment has come to extend our previous contract and supplement our fleet. And today an agreement was reached to expand the Hungarian Defence Force’s Gripen fighter-bomber fleet with four more planes, thereby significantly increasing our military capabilities and further strengthening our ability to play a role abroad. In the changed security environment – which is how the Russo-Ukrainian war should be referred to in the language of diplomacy – it is of particular importance that the Hungarian Air Force is able to contribute to allied tasks outside Hungary with its own means and at its own expense. We have also agreed to extend our contract for logistics services related to this military system, and even extend it to the field of training. Although the big item – financially the really big item – is the extension of the contracts and the four new planes, the most important thing is not always the most expensive. What I consider really important is that an agreement has been reached for SAAB and the Defence Innovation and Research Institute of Hungary to jointly open a centre of excellence with an artificial intelligence focus, and for cooperation to begin in the field of research and development. One of Hungary’s great ambitions is that we do not simply want to use defence technology, we do not simply want to learn how to use it, but we also want to be able to participate in research and development. I respectfully thank our partners for this.

After concluding this matter this morning, we continued our discussion with EU affairs. In this regard we identified the points on which there is agreement between our two countries, especially in light of the fact that Hungary will soon hold the presidency of the EU, and Sweden has recently completed that task – in the first half of 2023, if I am not mistaken. Sweden gave the European Union a presidency that was truly appreciated by everyone. Today we received a promise that we can incorporate all Sweden’s experiences into the Hungarian presidency, through a direct exchange of experience. I respectfully thank the Prime Minister for this. And we aligned the priorities of the Swedish presidency at that time – which have been espoused by the Swedish government ever since – and the priorities of the Hungarian presidency. We confirmed that during the period of the Hungarian presidency we will be able to support each other in areas such as global economic competitiveness. We can also support each other with regard to the European Union’s need for a common security and defence policy – or to the extent that it has such a thing, then the need to develop it further in a direction that results in a capability based on a serious defence industrial base. And we also agreed that we must fight against illegal migration and help each other in eradicating organized crime.

We talked about these issues, and we agreed on them. In addition, I learned a great deal from today’s meeting. The Prime Minister explained Sweden’s situation, its problems and challenges, and we looked for points on which we will be able to work together in the future, recognising the similar challenges faced by Hungary. 

I respectfully thank you once again, Mr. Prime Minister, for coming to Hungary, and I also respectfully thank the delegation for honouring us with their visit. The Hungarian parliament will sit on Monday and make the necessary decisions. With this, together with the Prime Minister, we have closed one phase and opened a new phase.

Once again, thank you very much!