– Magyar Nemzet: Why was launching a national consultation an important step for the Government?
– Zoltán Kovács: The system of national consultations isn’t understood in Western Europe, where between elections they’re no longer accustomed to listening to citizens, whose opinions are considered less important. Compelling evidence of this was the comments on the war in Ukraine made by the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock. By contrast, even before it came to power in 2010, it was clear to Hungary’s civic government that if we wanted to pursue policy based on the national interest, it wouldn’t be enough to only get feedback from the people in elections every four years, but that their opinions would need to be sought on an ongoing basis – especially when it comes to fateful issues fundamentally influencing the country’s future. Previously there were national consultations on migration and family policy; and now the economic problems caused by the war and wartime sanctions are reason enough to ask Hungarians what they think – not only about the immediate effects of these, but also about their medium- and long-term effects. The change in energy policy isn’t simply about the fact that prices are currently skyrocketing as a result of the sanctions – contributing to record-breaking inflation not only in Hungary, but also throughout the whole European Union. This change is also about how Europe – and within it Hungary – envisages its future in a global economic and financial contest in which it’s cutting itself off from cheap and reliably available resources. This endangers competitiveness and a predictable future.
– What will the consequences be if in the national consultation Hungarians back the Government’s position?
– The point of the consultation is precisely to enable everyone to have their say. Nearly 700,000 people have already completed the consultation on sanctions, while an online platform for responses has been launched and full accessibility has been provided. Citizens can express agreement with what’s happening in the European Union in relation to energy sanctions, or they can make it clear that they agree with the Government’s standpoint. This confirmation also represents a mandate, which means that when the Government is dealing with certain issues and questions, it must enter into the debate with a mandate to represent the Hungarian people. There can be no argument when a prime minister sitting down at the negotiating table in the European Council is able to show how many people support his position. This is a factor that cannot be denied by any EU head of state or government.
– Like many of your fellow political colleagues, you’re taking part in the current tour of the country. What have you experienced?
– There are high turnouts for the events in the tour, and Hungarians understand that in relation to the sanctions the consequences we’re talking about aren’t beneficial for either Hungary or the EU. In every one of the venues I visit on the tour I say that politicians receive important feedback when they meet voters not only during an election campaign, but also during the consultations which occur from time to time. At these events audience members can ask astonishingly outspoken questions. We particularly like it when, after a topic has been presented, we see the emergence of a discussion – and possibly a debate – on the issues raised. In such situations it becomes clear how government measures affect people’s daily lives. An important lesson to be drawn from the past twelve years is that consultations have helped to ensure that the politics of commitment to the nation is also pragmatic. We frequently say that reality is on our side. Just think about how Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, represents Hungarian interests on the international stage, where he often comes up against completely different approaches to foreign policy: approaches which are driven by ideology. These need to be rebutted by using the reality of what we in Hungary already know through our representation of the national interest, and on which we receive constant feedback through the consultations.
– It’s worth noting that Brussels continues to insist on sanctions. Meanwhile Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has said that they never expected that sanctions would end the war.
– It’s clear that the EU has no real leadership, and the institutions aren’t functioning as envisaged by the founding fathers and the treaties. The European Parliament (EP) is extremely radical and ideologically driven, and the left of the EP has no interest in normal relations with the Hungarian or Polish governments and the conservative forces behind them. By its own admission, the European Commission has become a political body. Moreover, it doesn’t show unified leadership, but operates as a grouping of disparate officials. The rivalry between these two institutions is enough to prevent them having clear, consistent and pragmatic positions, and what they think at any given moment is influenced by ideologies and passing events. As for Borrell’s assertion, when the war broke out and we saw the emergence of speculation on whether stricter sanctions would bring Russia to its knees, everyone was convinced that successive packages of sanctions – adopted without any assessment of their impact – would end the war. Now it’s obvious that sanctions aren’t fit for this purpose. Facing up to their own mistakes has never been a strength of either the Commission or the EP; but the situation is worsened by the fact that past mistakes will generate new ones.
– The Left is hostile to the consultation, they support the sanctions, and they regularly accuse Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of having voted for the sanctions that the Government is now opposing.
– Since the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, in every forum the Prime Minister has argued that a policy of sanctions is not a suitable means to achieve military and political goals. He’s argued that, instead of this, other instruments should be used which can be effective and provide the EU with better negotiating positions. It’s worth stating Hungary’s standpoint: if the EU were to act in a united and effective manner, it could find a solution that would force the belligerents to make peace immediately. By contrast, the Hungarian left, who carry water for the European left, are singing the same tune as their comrades in the EP. They clearly don’t represent Hungarian interests.
– What do you think of the Left’s attempt to blackmail Hungary with EU money that’s due to our country?
– What the Hungarian left did in the European Parliament this week was a disgrace. With the active cooperation of the [Ferenc] Gyurcsány faction, a resolution was passed which states that Hungary should not receive any of the funds due to our country – even though we’ve fulfilled all our commitments. The past ten years’ intrigues in the European institutions, which the Left has taken hostage, are now bearing fruit. They’re using their monopoly to exert political pressure, to blackmail, to continually apply double standards, and to make relentless attempts to slaughter governments and political forces which don’t think in the way that Brussels tells them to think. With sanctions, we see that the EU institutions – and the Commission in particular – are trying to penetrate areas that fall within the competence of the Member States. What we’re seeing is a clear expansion of power and jurisdiction, which could have far-reaching consequences if we don’t stand our ground. The provision of these funds – whether the recovery fund or the seven-year budget – is not negotiable. On the seven-year budget, the treaties are very clear that the funding is ours without conditions. On the recovery fund, the situation is more serious, because there was a political and legal consensus that the EU would take out a joint loan, with no mention of any conditionality, but which prioritised the soonest possible access to these funds in order to support economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic. This was decided on two years ago. And while most EU Member States have already received the loans they’re entitled to, the Hungarian people have not yet seen a single penny. Almost a year before the Hungarian election, from the summer of 2021 onwards, there was only general political rhetoric about what the problem was, with specific points only being made in June this year. We then negotiated on these over the course of a month and a half. It’s absolutely clear that the only reasons for withholding funds are political. The EU leadership and the EU institutions must return to the foundations of the EU and to the politics of common sense.
– The new US Ambassador in Budapest has thrown himself into the job with great enthusiasm. Didn’t David Pressman go too far when he met two members of the National Judicial Council?
– Let’s start with the issue of the “rolling dollars”, because my favourite part of this is always when the Hungarian dollar-fuelled left pretends not to understand what happened. What has now been proven to have happened – in black and white, with transactions and data – is that 3 billion forints in dollars was paid into the Left’s campaign. To say that they didn’t even realise that so much money was going into their campaign account is such a blatant, outright lie that it raises new questions. Concerns have been raised that have justified the disclosure of the results of investigations that have been carried out, and what has come to light highlights why this is a matter of concern. Hungarian law prohibits the financing of political activities from abroad. And here we’re confronted with very clear attempts at influence by a movement, NGOs, or whatever they call themselves. The left-wing parties in Western Europe are constantly engaged in this activity, but the European Parliament, their reports and the committees of inquiry visiting our country are also clear evidence that we’re talking about a conspiracy against the civic government in Hungary. Investigating this and finding out the truth is in itself in our interest. As a government representative, I’ll be more polite when talking about what kind of ambassador a state sends, and how he or she behaves in the host country. We’ve always asked accredited ambassadors in our country to pursue their work on the basis of mutual respect. An ambassador’s job is to represent his or her own country, and not to engage with the domestic politics of the host country. An order exists for making contact with the judicial system. There’s no problem with meeting the heads of the institutions, but the statements that we’ve seen emerging from the judges in question and the fact that the judicial system wasn’t represented by the organisations in the structure set up by the Hungarian parliament that represent, but by the Judicial Council... This in itself raises the question as to the precise intention there might be behind using internal disputes that the judges themselves should be resolving. After all, there have been no changes in Hungarian judicial organisation since 2014 that would justify turning internal, jurisdictional, procedural issues into political disputes.
– The issue of the “dollar-fuelled Hungarian left” is also being discussed by Parliament’s national security committee, and two opposition members of the committee have actually backed declassification of the services’ investigation files. Perhaps they think they have nothing to fear?
– I get the feeling that they’re “toughing it out”, as if there’s nothing to be seen here. We’re looking at the biggest national security scandal of the period since the fall of communism. This is because something that until now we’d only assumed to be true – that there was an attempt from abroad to interfere in the Hungarian parliamentary election – is now being proved true with concrete evidence. The Hungarian left has been bought with US dollars.
– You recently launched a podcast in which you talk to public figures about current political issues. What prompted you to report in this way on what’s happening in Hungary?
– Communicating the Hungarian position and the values and directions it represents has been one of our most important tasks since 2010. At first we thought that this could be achieved through dialogue and persuasion, but the last few weeks and months – as well as the issues we talked about earlier – have shown that “on the other side” this is falling on deaf ears. This isn’t due to a lack of understanding, but a lack of willingness to understand. This is why the building process we’ve started over the past twelve years is being continued by us on our own platforms. In the podcasts, in most cases my interlocutors and I will present in English the standpoints on a given issue that are represented by the Government, Hungarian politics and the political parties. This platform will complement the existing communication channels. The guests will be experienced professionals and will represent viewpoints that are worth presenting directly to a Western European audience.
Read the original interview in Hungarian here.
Photo credit: Magyar Nemzet