Zsolt Törőcsik: I welcome our listeners, and I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the Public Media Centre’s studio in Brussels. Good morning.
The reason that today we’re talking to each other here is that the heads of state and government of the European Union are meeting for a two-day summit. There are a number of important topics. One of the most controversial of these is the European Commission’s budget amendment proposal, which would require Member States to pay many extra hundreds of billions of euros. Talking about this in your video yesterday you said that the European Union has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy, and that now everyone in Brussels is asking one question: Where has the money gone? Last night did it emerge where the money has gone?
We’ll ask that question this morning. Yesterday and last night there was a migration war in the Council Chamber. Some people are still being patched up. We’ll take up the subject of the budget this morning. But in fact, although the migration battle was quite intense, this is the debate that everyone’s really preparing for. This is mainly because when we adopted the seven-year budget perhaps two years ago – two and a half years ago – we collectively agreed that we wouldn’t amend it: that halfway through the Commission wouldn’t come back and say, “We want more money.” Yet that’s what’s happened now, and this is why the knives are being sharpened.
By the way, on Tuesday you said that there are four points that make this budget proposal unacceptable, frivolous and unsuitable for debate. Has the position changed since then?
What is it that we’re talking about? We’re talking about the fact that the Commission has announced that the money has run out. We’re halfway through the seven-year budget period. And the Commission is saying that it’s asking Member States to pay billions of euros more than what’s already been specified in the seven-year budget. So now it’s talking about items, the purposes for which it wants to ask us for this money. First of all, it would like to give Ukraine 50 billion euros. But we don’t know what the 70 billion euros or so that’s been given so far has been used for, and why it hasn’t been enough. And if we’ve given 70 billion in a year and a half, which is bad enough in itself, how will this 50 billion be enough for the coming years? And who is it that will check that it’s really being spent on what we’re giving it for? So we have a haphazard financial package for Ukraine. The second is the most hostile proposal, the one that stings. This is about the fact that the Commission has taken out a loan from a fund called the Recovery Fund, which we created to combat the effects of the Covid pandemic, so that these should be distributed among the Member States. Now, the Hungarians and Poles haven’t received a penny from this, but it’s turned out that, because of changes in the world economy, the interest on the loan to be taken out has increased. And now the Commission is asking for a further 18 or 19 billion euros, so that it can pay these interest payments. Meanwhile we haven’t received a penny of the money on which we’re told we need to pay higher interest. And then there’s a larger amount of money that the Commission’s earmarking to help migrants come into Europe. And even saints realise that charity begins at home: they’re even asking for a few billion euros to give themselves a pay rise. In the meantime, they’ve adopted a document, called the European Semester, in which they demand that Hungary abolish the reductions in household utility bills. So let Hungarians pay more in their household utility bills, let’s send more money here (to Brussels), and they’ll get pay rises. So the way things are, it’s so absurd that it’s clearly not just the blood of one Hungarian that’s reaching boiling-point, but the blood of the leader of almost every European Union Member State. So the Commission faces a difficult morning. It has to answer some very serious questions about where the money has gone and who’s responsible for the fact that, after two and a half to three years, the European Union has in essence been driven to the brink of financial bankruptcy.
So is the consensus among Member State leaders that they’re not necessarily keen on giving the Commission additional resources? Because, as you’ve mentioned, now a lot of countries are thinking about helping those of their citizens who are in difficulty because of the war and the sanctions. And, as you’ve said, in the meantime the Commission would double the money it gives itself for a PR budget, for example.
We have the war and the sanctions, which have caused inflation and increased prices. What almost every leader should focus on, and would like to focus on, is looking after his or her own citizens and helping them. No one came here to give more money to pay the European Union bureaucrats instead of families and citizens who are in difficulty back home. Now, there are different cultures within the European Union: there are those who are softer, less outspoken, more subtle or more polite; and there are those, like the Hungarians, who say “What’s in my heart is on my lips”, and are blunt when talking about what they think of this kind of leadership or budgetary management. But on the whole what I can say is that there’s almost no chance of the Commission’s objective being accepted here now. A long battle is beginning: the Commission will come up with another proposal, then they’ll try to buy the votes of the Member States one by one; and then, as is the custom here in Brussels, the bureaucrats will try to push the matter forward. We’ll see how far they get. One thing is clear: we Hungarians cannot accept the abolition of the cuts in energy bills in Hungary. We shall not give any money for pay rises for the bureaucrats here, and we shall not give any more money to Ukraine until they’ve told us where the 70 billion euros we gave them earlier has gone. And we consider it absolutely ridiculous, absurd and impossible for them to ask for more money to pay the increased interest on a loan from which we never received the amount we were owed.
As you’ve mentioned, the largest item of this extra contribution or extra payment is, of course, the support for Ukraine. But will another payment of this size bring us closer to peace, to peace in Ukraine? Because, as you said in your interview with Bild, the current funding isn’t necessarily the right course of action, it won’t necessarily lead to victory. And yet in the West it’s seen as the right way to go. Have you sensed a change in attitude towards the war in Ukraine – perhaps even at yesterday’s meeting?
When it comes to the war in Ukraine, there are two schools of thought. One is voiced openly, while the other isn’t – except by me. One school, represented by the big fish, the majority, says that what we’ve been doing is good, and we just need to continue. They think it’s a workable idea for the Ukrainian soldiers to fight, for us to give them money and equipment, and in this way the Russians can be defeated. That’s how they express it – with the same directness that I’ve used just now. And I say that a year and a half has passed, we’ve been doing this, and the result is that what we’ve done has been zero – or indeed negative. So we haven’t defeated Russia, the Russian political leadership is still in place, and the Russian economy is doing well, thank you very much. By comparison, we’re suffering from high inflation, and we no longer have enough money to support the Ukrainians. It’s clear that the counteroffensive the Ukrainians have launched is laborious, or it’s questionable whether we can place any hope in it at all. And it’s at this point that a normal person would say that if we’ve been doing something up to now and have seen the consequences, it’s not worth doing the same thing if we want to see different consequences. This is the position of the other school, where we belong: those who say “ceasefire and peace negotiations”. Many people have died, many more will die, the devastation is immeasurable, the human pain and suffering that’s being inflicted is immeasurable. Therefore all means must be used to bring about a ceasefire and peace negotiations. Money mustn’t be given to continue the war, but must be given to bringing about a ceasefire and peace negotiations. So if we have the means, whether financial or political, we should use them to move us towards peace. But this isn’t what the EU is doing at the moment.
How long can the EU maintain this level of support? Because a vicious circle could develop here: the more intense the fighting, the more aid will be needed; the longer the fighting goes on, the more will need to be spent on reconstruction.
I think we’ve already reached the limit of our capacity. That’s the essence of this debate, which is either open or partly hidden. There’s no money in the EU budget. Where has the money gone? We know the answer, or we think we know the answer: somewhere over there in Ukraine. Where’s the Hungarian money? Where’s the Poles’ money? I’m afraid it’s in Ukraine. They gave it to a war that should never have happened. So European citizens are right to rebel; almost everyone’s reporting that, while they’re suffering from rising prices and economic difficulties, the EU is losing its competitiveness, there are all kinds of economic problems, and meanwhile huge sums of money are leaving the territory of the European Union – and in an unaudited way at that. So I think that the money we need for this spending ran out a long time ago. This is why they want to keep taking out loans. So here the risk is not only that the money we have is being used for the wrong purposes, but also that when the money runs out, loans are being taken out to spend new money for the wrong purposes. So they’re not only spending what they have, but they’re also driving the Member States into a debt trap that will last for a long time and will involve high interest payment obligations.
At the beginning of this interview you mentioned that yesterday – yesterday evening – there was a migration war among the EU heads of state and government. And indeed, on the one hand, there’s a part of this extra budget payment that relates to migration, and then there’s the mandatory migrant distribution quota, which was again adopted by the relevant ministers. Politico described last night’s debate as a migration rebellion by Hungary and Poland. How do you assess this part of the debate?
It was a freedom struggle, not a rebellion. What happened is that on several previous occasions we’d agreed that since migration deeply divides us, with some of us for it and some against, any rule will only be adopted if we all agree on it – in other words it would be unanimous. By contrast, in a rapid series of actions resembling a coup, those who support migration have used the Council of Interior Ministers to push through a proposal to set up a migrant quota system. The Poles, the Hungarians and a few other countries protested against this. The Poles and the Hungarians voted against it all the way through, and some countries abstained – which can be classed as a soft “no”. The whole procedure is outrageous. Why agree on something if then you don’t comply with it? What’s more, the decisions that have been taken are unacceptable to Hungary. Now, we can speculate on why there was this sudden, coup-like attack, which has kicked everything over like an elephant in a china shop. We’ve put this down to the fact that there’s been a change at the top of the Soros empire. The biggest supporter of migration in Europe is the Soros empire. There’s been a change of guard there: the big one has been replaced by the little one, who has announced that he’ll be much more active in politics than his predecessor; and this is the evidence of that. What we’re talking about isn’t child’s play: rules have been adopted according to which Hungary must accept at least ten thousand migrants per year – but if the Commission so wishes, we’d have to accept several times that number. So we’re talking about more than ten thousand migrants, or tens of thousands of migrants. Moreover, they want to oblige us to build migrant ghettos in Hungary. So they’ve told us that Hungary must provide accommodation places for tens of thousands of migrants. This will become a ghetto, a refugee camp, a migrant ghetto. Well, I’m fighting this flat out, tooth and nail, in whatever way possible. And we have no intention of implementing these decisions, and we’re saying so openly. I’ve been fighting this battle for eight years; so far we’ve managed to block such things and bring matters to a state of relative calm, because the Commission gave up trying to force a mandatory quota on the Hungarians and the other Member States, realising that it wouldn’t work. Now this state of relative calm has suddenly changed. They’ve staged what amounts to a coup, and have taken decisions in order to take our own country away from us. I repeat: they want to oblige us to build a migrant camp, a migrant ghetto, for tens of thousands.
At the V4 summit in Bratislava/Pozsony earlier this week you said that there’s a solution to migration, but the EU simply doesn’t want to implement it. And you – and now also the Polish prime minister – have put forward a proposal urging for stricter border defence, and for migrants’ asylum applications to be examined outside the EU’s borders. And it’s interesting that there was a politician who, back in 2010, said that multiculturalism had failed: and that was Angela Merkel – the politician who later, of course, took everyone in. So, why do you think the European Union is not receptive to, say, defending its borders more strictly?
There are many reasons for this. Different countries have different reasons. Some people confuse migration with regulations on guest workers, and hope to get access here to a trained, adult workforce. I always tell them that I’ve seen hordes of them moving through Hungary. Well, this won’t result in productive workers for German industry. So they misunderstand the situation. There are places where ideological pressure means that people think that a good world will be one in which there are no borders and everyone can move freely. And I say to them, “Folks, they’re blowing up your citizens, there’s one terrorist attack after another, public safety is deteriorating, and there are some large Western cities where you’re taking a risk when you go out on the streets.” But despite this, there’s still enormous pressure. Behind it all, of course, there’s always the Soros NGO network, which exerts great influence on the media and – through the media – on politicians. The solution is as simple as could be. Hungary has demonstrated this. Last year we had to assess a total of 45 migrant applications. No more than that were submitted. Now, I don’t think that all of those people managed to obtain residence permits; and even if they did, I think that they’re not here, but are already in Austria and Germany. So we’ve shown an example; we’re not just talking about what we don’t want. Hungary has made a great many sacrifices: fences, border protection, constant surveillance and patrols at the border, and over the last eight years we’ve spent around 2 billion euros – which even among friends will come to around 800 billion euros. We could have spent that money on other things, on family support, pensions or public security, but we’ve had to spend it on border protection, and we’ve built a system that could be implemented on a European scale. The essence of this is that if someone wants to come to Hungary as a migrant, they must submit their application to an embassy. And they can’t enter the territory of Hungary until we’ve assessed it and said yes or no, this or that. It’s as simple as that! Here (in Brussels) it’s called an external “hot spot”. So we don’t need to build refugee camps in Europe. We need to keep migrants outside Europe, we need to process their applications so that meanwhile they’re not allowed to stay on the territory of the EU. And if they’re granted a permit and there’s a country that will take them in, they can come; if not, they can’t. All it needs is the will to do it; we Hungarians have produced this model. And there’s also something else we’ve done, on which we’ve also spent a lot of money, linked to our philosophy that we mustn’t bring trouble to Europe, but must bring help to where the trouble is: Hungary has launched generous, powerful economic aid operations in many countries – including in Africa – from where migrants would otherwise come. We’re constantly trying to gain political influence in the Sahel region, and we’re trying to help the states there prevent migrants from leaving from that region, because that’s where the greatest pressure is expected. We’re trying to prevent tens and hundreds of millions of migrants from leaving for Europe, for the European continent, because it will be difficult – if possible at all – to stop them. So we’re active in those areas and countries from which people want to come, because their lives really are much worse than they would be if they lived in Europe.
Let’s also talk specifically about domestic issues, about economic policy issues. In economic terms, one of the most damaging effects of sanctions and war is high inflation. In the past two weeks it was decided that the Government would lift the price freezes from 1 August. They’re expecting inflation to fall more than it’s fallen so far, because the war isn’t over and the sanctions are still in place.
Well, energy prices have been raised by the war and the sanctions imposed as a response to the war – which I think is a misguided response. Some countries have been less badly affected and others have been severely hit. We belong to the latter “club”, since Hungary still imports most of its energy from abroad. Although Paks (nuclear power plant) is helping, when Paks II is built it will help even more; and I think we’ve made fantastic progress in the use of solar energy. In this respect we’re perhaps – and I’m trying to be modest by saying “perhaps” – the most successful country in Europe. But it’s also a question of independence, because for the time being the sun is no one’s – or rather everyone’s – energy source; and so solar energy can be seen as our own energy source. And we’ll continue to do this in the coming years, and we’ll get to the point at which Hungary will no longer be a vulnerable country. But we’re not there yet, and so the increase in energy prices immediately hit the Hungarian economy and pushed up prices. We’ve been fighting inflation and price rises from the very first moment. There are those who say that we should let this process take its own course; but I don’t work with such people and I won’t work with them, and this approach is unacceptable. What we need to do is bring inflation down. So we have to be proactive and help people, we have to take decisions that will bring inflation down, that will break it. Now, we’ve taken a number of such decisions in the past – for example, the reductions in household utility bills are themselves one of the most effective instruments. And to make it clear, to enable people to predict what will happen next, I’ve made a commitment to inflation being in single digits by the end of the year: we’ll break it or bring it down to that level. I remember that a few months ago, when I announced this public commitment, I was laughed at by economists and left-wing politicians, who said that it was impossible. But the Government hasn’t given up, and we’re taking one decision after another that will pull inflation down. And we’re making progress – not as fast as I’d like, because it would be nice if we were past that; but now we can see that the measures we’ve taken are bringing down inflation, are pushing it down, and there’s a good chance that in the middle of the year – early in the second half of the year, in July and August – we’ll see wages rising higher than prices. We’ve had a very difficult six or seven months, because in the first half of the year wages have grown at a slower rate than prices. But now that wages are going up and we’re pulling prices down, that will turn around, and in the second half of the year wages will grow more than prices are growing, and we’ll continue to pull prices down. And by the end of the year we may get to a point at which people haven’t suffered a loss over the entire year. We’ll see if we can do that. It would be a huge feat, because in most European countries it hasn’t worked, it’s hardly worked for anyone. And next year I’d like to see the economy picking up as a result of these measures, and the situation for families being much easier than it is now. The mandatory price curbs that we’ve devised are an important instrument taking us forward on the road to success. It’s clearly begun, and retailers are being forced to use it, with the price of some products falling dramatically. We’ve introduced a requirement that products that were earlier subject to the price freeze must be included in the list of products subject to price curbs. We’ve increased the obligation on the level of discount that must be provided on certain groups of products. I believe that this will give a further boost to the fight against inflation, and that we’ll achieve the target that we’ve set; and after these difficult seven or eight months I hope that families will finally see an improvement in their situation again.
The Government has also introduced an economic action plan, which has elements affecting businesses and families. Apart from inflation, what’s the problem that needs to be solved, the most important problem to be solved, which this action plan must address? Because we must also pay attention to economic growth and to the preservation of jobs.
What we have to pay attention to most of all is protecting jobs. If there is work, there is everything. In Hungary we’ve built a work-based economy. This is why ten or twelve years ago unemployment was somewhere between 10 and 12 per cent, but now it’s practically impossible to find workers. So protecting jobs is the key to everything. If people are in work, then there will be a solution to every problem. Then they’ll have the opportunity in their hands to control their own lives. This is why this is the most important thing. The second most important thing is not to forget about those who are no longer working. They are retired. So the value of pensions must be protected. It’s no coincidence that when high inflationary conditions emerge, as has happened in Hungary, pensions must be increased by at least as much as the rate of inflation. What’s more, there’s the thirteenth month’s pension. Everyone said that it was fine to introduce it before the election, but it couldn’t be maintained; but we’re fighting to maintain the thirteenth month’s pension – and even to continuously increase it in line with inflation. So, as well as jobs, pensioners and the value of pensions must be protected. Thirdly, the value of family allowances must be preserved. Here, too, all kinds of changes have had to be devised, because it turns out that some work and some don’t. For example, the village family home creation allowance has worked very well, but interest in the urban version of it has dropped – it’s plummeted. So we have to come up with something new to replace the old form of support. As far as the baby loan is concerned, we’d also like to see support for those under 30 years of age: they’d receive support if they promised to have children. Those over 30 years of age would also receive support, but only if they can prove that they’re actually expecting a child. Moreover, in the case of both the village family home creation allowance and the baby loan, we’re increasing the amount of support at a time when everyone can see the difficulties that the entire European economy is suffering. So, of course, this year we’re suffering; but we’ll come out of it stronger than we went in.
Here at the Public Media Centre in Brussels, in the last half hour I’ve been asking Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the EU summit, support for Ukraine, migration and economic issues.