Press statement by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán following talks with Prime Minister of Italy Giorgia Meloni

24 June 2024, Rome (Roma)

Honourable Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

From 1 July Hungary will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Preparation of the Hungarian programme is complete. I was in Berlin on Friday, I am here today, and on Wednesday I will be in Paris, aiming to gain the support of the major European countries for this programme.

First I will tell you what we did not talk about, as you will ask me anyway. We did not talk about party matters, because we settled those on Monday. In Brussels on Monday I made it clear that we stand on national foundations, and so we cannot be in a party alliance with an anti-Hungarian Romanian party. This automatically precludes any discussion about cooperation between my party and the ECR. We cannot join such a group. On Monday we also agreed that, regardless of this, we are all still committed to moving forward with cooperation between the European parties of the Right – even if in the upcoming period we will not be sitting together in the same group.

Having said that, I would like to say a few words about what we did talk about. We talked about the economic dimension of Italian–Hungarian relations. The Hungarian economy is an economy on an upward trajectory. You are our fifth largest trading partner. In the past ten years trade between our two countries has doubled, and last year our exports were at a record high. Six hundred Italian companies are operating in Hungary, employing twenty thousand people. We are grateful for this. There are two large Italian–Hungarian joint developments: one is in Trieste, a port development; and the other is in Ukraine, in a settlement called Gorond/Horonda, where we are trying to implement a large Italian–Hungarian logistics project. Our cooperation in defence is very strong. Of the military forces stationed in Hungary, the Italians provide the largest number of troops, with 256 Italian soldiers forming part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence – this is its official name – deployed in Hungary. Italians and Hungarians – Italian and Hungarian soldiers – are working together in the Balkans. In Operation Althea [in Bosnia and Herzegovina] there are 260 Hungarian soldiers and a strong Italian presence, and in KFOR [in Kosovo] there are more than six hundred Hungarian soldiers and slightly more Italians. So it is clear that cooperation between the two countries is significant, both in economic and defence policy. And we want to extend our cooperation to energy. This has not been the case so far, because up until now Slovenia has been an obstacle to the interconnection between Italy and Hungary, to the construction of a pipeline linking the two countries. This has now changed, and so there will be a Slovenian gas pipeline section: Italy and Hungary will be connected, and your LNG terminals will provide us with greater diversification through a significant source, set against our supply from the east.

As far as the rotating presidency is concerned, we would like to table a major plan, which is complete and which is called the European Competitiveness Pact. We are convinced that at the moment Europe’s biggest problem is its decline in competitiveness. It is in the interest of both Italians and Hungarians for the European economy to be successful and competitive. It is also in our joint interest for Europe not to isolate itself from economic partners outside Europe, for Europe to have a strong industrial base, and for the green transition to be achieved in cooperation with European industry and not against it. We will talk about all this in this competitiveness pact. It is my personal conviction that if we do not have a European competitiveness pact, we will lose hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming decade.

The other topic we talked about, and on which we have a shared position, is the integration of the Western Balkans and the Balkans into the European Union. I told the Prime Minister that I think it is a disgrace that the countries from that region which have applied to join the European Union have, to date, been waiting to become members for fifteen years and two months. This is quite simply unacceptable! Let us say “yes” or “no”, but let us not do this!

We talked about illegal migration. You are closer to Africa than we are, but migrants are also coming to us, and so the situation in Africa affects us too. We estimate that over the next twenty years Africa’s population will grow by 750 million. So, in the next twenty years, Africa’s population will grow by twice the amount of the entire European Union’s population. This is just the growth! There are two options: either there will be a development concept for Africa that will keep Africans at home; or there will be mass migration that we will be unable to protect ourselves against. This is why we support what your Prime Minister has proposed: that there should be a comprehensive European strategy for the development of Africa.

Finally, if the Prime Minister will allow me, I would like to make a comment on the allocation of positions in Brussels. I am the longest serving prime minister in the European Union. So I saw how it was in 1998, when we were just a candidate country, and I saw how it was in 2010. I also know what went wrong and when. And the root of the European problems that we are suffering from today is that after the European elections in 2014, the then President of the European Commission announced that the Commission – which used to be “the Guardian of the Treaties’’, a politically neutral body – should be transformed into a political body. This process started then. It has been going ahead ever since, causing ever more problems in the European Union. What is now in the pipeline is a coalition of three parties allocating the important European posts among themselves and not involving others. This is the opposite of the previous philosophy of involvement. This sets the institutions of the European Union on party foundations, on party-political foundations. Since there is no inclusion, but exclusion, there will therefore be a majority and a minority: there will be a “government”, and there will be an “opposition”. This was not the idea! This is not what the EU has been designed for! The EU was designed for engagement: everyone has to be involved – the big countries more, the smaller ones less, but somehow everybody has to be involved. We must not allow any country in the EU to feel that it is in opposition, that it belongs to the minority. This is why up to now things have always gone in a way that has aimed for inclusion. That is not what is happening now, and I think that this is the wrong path, both philosophically and strategically, and a path that the European Union should not be going down. This is why I – personally and on behalf of Hungary – cannot support the party agreement that is now being prepared for the allocation of positions. There are many other absorbing matters, but I do not want to take up too much of the Prime Minister’s time.

Thank you very much for your attention.