Éva Kocsis: We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Good morning.
Let's say a few words about the latest European Union summit. Was the increased tension due to the Hungarians or the Poles?
It was a difficult summit. Decisions on personal positions are always sensitive: we had to elect the president of the European Council, which is council of Europe’s prime ministers. Whoever leads it effectively directs intergovernmental cooperation within the European Union. So this was an important matter. And Polish internal political debates became associated with this decision, so the summit was tense. We got over that, but then our meeting became tense for other reasons. Some serious questions concerning the very future of Europe were on the agenda. It’s very difficult to conduct a calm discussion about the future of Europe, partly because there are too many viewpoints, with the horses pulling in several different directions, and partly because there are two sides to this coin. On the one hand Europe is still the best place in the world; on the other hand we all feel that we are entering an age of decline and challenges, and if we do not make changes then the European continent will soon lose the economic and political importance it currently has in the world – or a large part of it. So the track we find ourselves on is a bad one, and we have to make changes. Such matters always create tension.
And did anyone bang the table?
Well, first of all, ladies were present. This places restrictions on us.
Ladies can also raise their voices.
Yes, but we men must behave properly when ladies are also present. The governments of several countries are led by feisty, tough and highly-respected women. We're not taking about small countries: Poland is an important country, the UK is even bigger, and there is Germany as well. This influences the discussion. On the other hand, prime ministers prefer the old-fashioned style of debate, with arguments and counter-arguments, weighing each against the other to jointly arrive at a good decision. So this is not half a minute of verbal fencing in front of TV cameras, but serious, weighty discussion. And so table-thumping is out of the question. Nevertheless there are sharply opposing standpoints.
I’ve asked about banging the tablebecause earlier I spoke to Kinga Gál, who said that in the committee – or subcommittee – which on several occasions has concerned itself with constitutionality and the rule of law in Hungary, the situation was quite tense because of the border closure.
That is a party political question. That committee, which is under the aegis of the European parliament, operates on essentially party lines, and therefore expresses party positions. The prime ministers represent national standpoints, and this is conducive to more restraint.
Border closure, the Hungarian border fence, has gone beyond party affairs, because Strasbourg has ruled on a similar case. Strasbourg says that the transit zone is in fact detention, regardless of the fact that the area is open towards Serbia. So we can effectively foresee what will happen in Hungary.
We’ll come back to this in a minute, but without criticising the work of EU leaders, now we are exactly where we were two years ago.
Well, further forward, but also back there – because two years ago there was no fence in Hungary. So the qualitative change in European migrant policy can be summarised by saying that there’s a country – Hungary – which has stood up for its own interests, and continues to stand up for the principle that the essence of the European Union is observance of the laws we have created together. We have shared laws on the protection of borders, and they must be observed. People are not allowed to roam in and out at will, and short-term political interests do not allow us to suspend enforcement of the laws on protection of the borders. So there is a new situation. You may remember that this situation provoked huge debates, and because of this back then I was called every name under the sun, and we were universally condemned. But what we did then has now not only become widely accepted, but it is the norm to be followed. Several countries in the Balkans are pursuing similar practices, as are other countries: our neighbour Austria, for instance – or Slovenia. Other countries are also securing their borders. So what has happened – and we should say this with modesty, as hubris can backfire on you – is that Hungary has protected its own borders, and has also protected Europe’s borders. It has been able to do this partly because our border is the European border, and partly because our actions have encouraged others to follow our example. So if today Europe’s borders are protected to some degree, we Hungarians have played a major role in that.
The question that you asked about where they are is an interesting one, because I’m intrigued about whether the practical implications of this situation are discussed at all in EU debates. The thing is that there are rules. The regulations state that if someone submits an asylum request in the European Union, they’re free to move in the Member State they are in – not in the entire territory of the European Union, but in the Member State where they are. However, the essence of this procedure, the asylum procedure, is to vet the person in question; this is a difficult task if they’ve disappeared from the authorities’ radar screen.
That’s right. This is why at the latest EU summit I informed the prime ministers about the Hungarian decision to ensure that from now on what you’ve described won’t happen in Hungary. Those who submit their paperwork in Hungary and seek to enter the territory of the EU by crossing our border will be required to remain in a form of detention, in a supervised location, until completion of their cases. What happened earlier? We were duped: they took advantage of the legal loopholes. They submitted their applications, and we refused them. And then organisations in Hungary, but funded from abroad, launched foreign-financed legal proceedings challenging the Hungarian state’s decisions in the courts. Until final court rulings were arrived at, those people were free to move around in Hungary, as EU regulations allow. They abused these regulations by setting off for Western Europe, where there are no border controls; and if we consider that recently a number of terrorists have passed themselves off as refugees, we can see that this was the easiest method for terrorists to enter Europe. We simply must not idly stand by while hundreds of people in Europe die. At the meeting of prime ministers I said that this is what Hungary has decided: Parliament has passed the law, and we’ll create a transit zone on the border – along the entire length of the border. This is similar to the situation at airports. This doesn’t qualify as forcible detention: the transit zone is for those seeking entry to Hungary who have not yet received permission to do so; and if they don’t like the situation there, they can leave in the direction of Serbia.
What do you expect from the European Union? An infringement procedure?
We’ll see. The prime ministers acknowledged what I said without a word. This is also because they – in particular the Germans and Austrians – are continually calling for people whom they don’t want in their countries to be prevented from entering: people who have not been given official permission to reside in the EU. I cannot satisfy this demand in any other way; Hungary and the other border countries can only satisfy this demand by introducing a transit zone system along their borders. So in fact we’re seeking to uphold the law – European law – and at the same time we are also protecting the interests of much wealthier countries behind us – countries to the west of us – and protecting the security of all Europeans, as we screen out terrorists. It’s hard to argue against that.
Hasn’t the issue emerged that the regulations...
Sorry – Soros and his associates will naturally launch fierce attacks on us, but we’ll try to win that contest.
Now that you mention George Soros, why do you think many people say that you see threats everywhere?
Well, I’m sitting here next to you right now, and I’m not sensing any threat at all. And there are a number places where I don’t see threats. My job is … I’ve sworn an oath, the Hungarian constitutional system’s prime-ministerial oath, to comply with the Constitution and its provisions, and to ensure the compliance of others here – including foreigners.
At this meeting was there talk of changing the regulations?
You mean the European Union’s regulations?
That’s right. The situation as it stands is that the regulations work when two, three or fourteen asylum-seekers arrive in the European Union – but we’ve gone way past that.
My colleagues are not in an easy position. Only in very few countries do governments have an absolute majority: coalition governments are the norm. And Europe’s coalition governments often include liberals and left-wingers – and they are pro-immigration. They clearly want immigration: the liberals for ideological reasons; and I don’t quite understand why the socialists want it – but perhaps for some ideological reason also. Just now you asked me about the atmosphere of the talks. Well, the last time we met, we also discussed the document about the future of Europe which we want to adopt next week in Rome, on the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the EU. On this, for instance, I even had to take a stand against the prime ministers of some bigger countries, as they wanted to adopt a text saying that migration must be managed humanely and well. In reply I said that we should lay down the goal, and the goal is that migrants should not enter Europe: the goal is not to manage migration well, but to stop their entry: to stop them outside our borders, and there separate genuine refugees from other migrants. They don’t agree with this – or there are some who don’t agree. And so we can’t create a text like this, because they want to bring the migrants here, in a well-managed, intelligent and humane manner. Meanwhile we Hungarians – and a few other countries – say “Thank you, we ourselves will decide whom we want to live alongside, so please don’t release a flood of migrants on our countries”. And as a result there is a debate here which affects the future of Europe.
This situation will set the scene – or has already set the scene – for something that we already talked about two years ago, when the German and French economic ministers wrote an article about how a “two-speed Europe” should be conceived. It’s quite interesting that one of the authors of that article from two years ago was the French economic minister – Emmanuel Macron – who now stands a good chance of becoming French president, and who has ideas similar to those of Angela Merkel. So the politicians were there, in Versailles, at a mini-summit in which they also talked about this two-speed Europe – or, as they put it, a “differentiated Europe”. Do you see this mini-summit as a de facto show of strength or a warning?
I’ve mentioned that from time to time our debates are full of emotion and energy, because the European Union is indeed facing major decisions, and the stakes are high. And, of course, this two-speed or one-speed idea is an important debate. I’ll say a few words about that in a minute, but I always only look at what this debate means for Hungary; and if I see that the conclusion is that they want to take away national competences and relocate them to Brussels, even though this is a general debate I’ll try to intervene on the side of protecting national sovereignty. There is, for instance, the big question for the future of whether or not the European Union should have a “social pillar”. This is the usual blather, but what’s really behind it is that they want to take away from the Member States the right to set their own taxes. If decisions on the rates, method and structure of the Hungarian fiscal system are not adopted in Budapest, but in Brussels, I can tell you one thing for sure: the multinational corporations will benefit, but we Hungarians will not. Therefore, to determine the implications for us of this debate, this one-speed or two-speed Europe concept should always be translated into Hungarian as well. Or when they talk about the Energy Union – which is a big issue for the future – it means that Brussels wants to take away from us the right to fix the prices of household utility services. This is because the Energy Union means that the Member States will not be allowed to fix the prices of electricity, gas and district heating, but those prices will be fixed somewhere around Brussels using a complicated system. This most certainly means that the multinational corporations will be better off and the big energy providers will be better off, but the Hungarian people will lose out. Of that we can be sure, because before our government introduced reductions in household utility charges, multinational corporations always benefited: prices were sky high and people could barely pay their bills. Since we took control of things this hasn’t been the case: prices have fallen, and people are able to pay their essential overheads. There is no competition in the provision of essential services. This isn’t like milk or bread, where you can choose which shop to buy them in. You can’t choose where to buy your gas. For essential services, if the state doesn’t provide regulation in its own citizens’ interests, the multinationals are the ones that will benefit. This is something we must prevent. And so when we translate the high-flown debates about the future of Europe into the language of Hungarian reality, we find some really flesh-and-blood issues behind them.
Let’s translate then! You spoke about this social pillar. I found a document dated 8 March 2016 on the European Pillar of Social Rights – I believe this is what you’re talking about. It says here that the plan is for this pillar to be introduced in the eurozone, though other Member States may also join on a voluntary basis. As far as I can see, this doesn’t relate to us.
Not for the time being, but this debate hasn’t yet ended. Right now we’re discussing this, and it’s connected to your other question: to what extent those of us outside the single currency area should consent to the eurozone creating an internal regulation to which we are not a party. This is why it’s called “two-speed”. Are we going to see the same situation as we saw earlier – a Europe with a “core” and a “periphery”? And, of course, the whole emotional background to our accession to the European Union came from the desire that Hungary should finally move from its intermediate East-West position – a peripheral situation, a less-developed country status – towards the living standards and economic system of the large European countries, and towards all of us – Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians – joining the core of Europe. But if those who are ahead of us want to shake us off by building their own systems, it’s questionable whether these ambitions can ever be achieved. This is a big debate, and I’m not condemning anyone, and not rallying the troops on this issue, I’m just describing the situation – because even within the Visegrád Four we still haven’t discussed this a great deal, but it’s essential that the Central European countries are as unified as possible on these matters. In this area we can also rely on the Romanians.
I was going to ask whether it’s possible that a solid show of unity among the Visegrád Four, among the Eastern European countries, has provoked the kind of show of strength – or warning – that we saw in Versailles.
I don’t think this was the reason. A more likely reason is that the eurozone countries are looking to understand why their economic growth has slowed down, why they’re losing ground in the world economy and why their share of the gross world product is in continuous decline. This is the question they’re trying to answer. Meanwhile, the economies of non-eurozone countries – such as the Poles or Hungarians, the Central Europeans – have higher growth. We are growing faster, we are more competitive, and we are not losing ground; instead we’re continuously acquiring ever more new markets in the world economy. So this is a serious question which Westerners themselves must find their own answer to.
You said that the multinationals have surely benefited. In this regard can the mostly foreign-owned retail chains operating in Hungary expect some kind of levy in the period ahead?
No, that’s a completely different story. First of all, there hasn’t been a decision yet on what will happen. What you describe as a levy…
I was simplifying the situation.
Yes, but I don’t agree with that. I wouldn’t describe the phenomenon in those terms. It hasn’t been decided yet what we’re going to do, and we’re holding meetings with the representatives of trade organisations. This is a complex issue, and it also affects a great many people, because many people work in retail, and all of us are customers. At the same time, we’re often cheated: there’s the problem of double standards in food quality, for instance. This is an area in which everyone thinks that the current regulations are insufficient and inadequate. Everyone wants them to be changed, but there is great complexity in resolving this situation in a way that benefits as many people as possible, and doesn’t lead to anyone losing out. We must engage in dialogue. No one – neither the Government nor any retailer, large or small – has the philosopher's stone in their pocket. We should therefore expect a period of meetings on this that could last for weeks.
We keep changing the subject, but we have to return to migration, because on Wednesday night Turkey partially revoked the agreement it had concluded with the European Union. The emergence of this situation didn’t cause anyone very much surprise. But on the whole, it seems that Turkey will use the trump cards in its hand.
Once again I have to say that we should thank our great-great-great-grandfathers, because we are sustained by their experiences. From the experiences of Hungarian history I have concluded that we mustn’t put our security entirely in the hands of Turkey. This is something which at one time on the international scene only Hungary was saying. Those who know Hungarian history and the novels and historical works written about Hungarian history, those who went to secondary school – or even only elementary school – all know that we must come to an agreement with the Turks, because it’s much better to come to an agreement than to be enemies. But it is not a wise policy to place our security entirely in their hands. And this is also what I said in Brussels. At the same time, it is an especially unwise policy to place our security in the hands of the Turks and at the same time continually harass them, attack them, and criticise them: to say that they’re not democratic enough, we don’t like their hairstyles, their political system is unsound, and this isn’t how they should behave. So we are constantly generating conflicts with the Turks. I’m not saying that in this dispute they’re blameless, but our approach to Turkey – while we expect our security from them – doesn’t seem to strike the right note. And so I said that even though we need to come to an agreement with the Turks, meanwhile we should build our fences at full speed: we should provide for the physical protection of our own borders at full speed because if, for whatever reason, the agreement concluded with the Turks evaporates, we’ll find ourselves back where we were before. Hungary was the only country – though perhaps I could mention the Slovenes here as well – which understood this, and said that while we have an agreement with the Turks we should start building the security fences. This is why we’re now building our second security barrier, our second fence, which will be complete by the end of May. And this will be a fence that will be able to block the path of even the largest numbers of migrants coming from the direction of Turkey. And so in Austria and Germany people can sleep soundly, because here the Hungarians will be protecting Europe’s external borders.
Is that what you expect?
Well, this is also something that cannot be ruled out.
For the past half hour you’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.