Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during the parliamentary debate on Ukraine

13 December 2023, Budapest

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

In view of the fact that we will be discussing this issue in the European Council today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, it is only right that the Government should also speak here in the plenary session after yesterday’s meeting of the European Integration Committee, its full committee meeting.

First of all, on behalf of the Government I would like to say that we are glad and consider it important that Ukraine’s accession to the European Union can be the subject of a major debate in the Hungarian parliament. We also believe that the stakes are high. Discussion of this, which will continue in parallel with this debate here and which will continue later in Brussels, will affect the future not only of Hungary, but also of the entire European Union. Yet I see that instead of a real debate being conducted on this question of European destiny, we in the European Union are running headlong into a brick wall. This fact increases the importance of the debate taking place here now.

I would like to inform, or remind, the House that Ukraine applied to join the European Union last year – on 28 February 2022. It was granted candidate status in June 2022, after a mere four months. Candidate status is not a title that can simply be gifted: it has conditions, fixed conditions. Despite not fulfilling these conditions, after four months Ukraine was granted candidate status, subject to some exceptions. 

As the parliamentary group leader has said, it is worth looking at how long it has taken other countries to go down a similar path. I can tell you that since the first enlargement in 1973, it has generally taken more than three years between the submission of an application and candidate status.

In the case of the enlargement related to Central and Eastern Europe, which included us, it took on average not four months, but four years. North Macedonia applied for accession in 2004, and had to wait a year and a half for candidate status. Accession negotiations formally started in 2020, over fourteen years later – but they are still not under way in any meaningful sense. Montenegro applied for membership in 2008, had to wait two years for candidate status – not four months – and needed to wait another year and a half to start accession negotiations. Serbia and Albania are particularly cautionary examples, having applied for accession in 2009. Serbia had to wait two years for candidate status and another year and a half to start negotiations. Albania had to wait five years for candidate status and another six years to start accession negotiations. Ukraine waited four months, a mere four months.

This shows blatant bias. Blatant bias in the European Union inevitably destroys the authority of the European Union’s institutions. This is when the role of national parliaments becomes more important – when we need national parliaments to substantively debate the question of whether or not it is a good idea to open accession negotiations with Ukraine. In other words, in the debate that is taking place here, we need to find an answer to the question of whether the opening of negotiations and Ukraine’s rapid accession to the European Union is of benefit to Hungary and of benefit to Europe. 

I would like to summarise the Government’s position in a statement of one sentence. The Government’s current position – although this debate may of course persuade us otherwise – is that Ukraine’s rapid accession to the European Union would have unforeseeable consequences, and that the fast-tracking of Ukraine’s accession would not serve the interests of either Hungary or the European Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After this I would like to say a few words about the European rules. I am convinced that Europe, the European Union institutions, must take their own rules seriously; because this is a special form of integration that is held together by these very rules. If these rules are not taken seriously by the European institutions, the European Union will simply cease to exist.

And, if perceptions are correct about what is in store for us in Brussels in the coming days, the European Union institutions will be asking us Member States – including Hungary – to ensure that, with the rapid accession of Ukraine, we also flout our own rules. The fact is that the European Commission imposed seven conditions on Ukraine in order for it to be granted candidate status. This in itself was a departure from all previous cases, in which the conditions for candidate status needed to be met before that status was granted. An exception has been made here, and we have started out in the wrong direction: candidate status was granted to Ukraine without it having fulfilled the conditions, and the Commission was content to have Ukraine fulfil them later. The European Commission has set out seven such conditions: reform of the selection of constitutional court judges; a review of the High Council of Justice; enhanced action against money laundering; the guaranteeing of media freedom; fighting corruption; tackling oligarchs; and ensuring the rights of national minorities.

If we look at Ukraine’s record in this respect, the biased Commission itself states that only four of these seven conditions have been met. So Ukraine should not even have been granted candidate status, let alone start negotiations. After all this, the question is this: Who can take any of the Commission’s proposals seriously? So, according to the Commission, three out of seven conditions have not been met. But if you look at the four that the Commission says have been met, you will see that in fact none of them have been met. 

The international analysis available to the Government says that there has in fact been backsliding in the four areas that the Commission has accepted. The situation is that the law on the reform of the selection of judges for the Constitutional Court has not been implemented, and the law on the procedure of the Constitutional Court has not been adopted. The criteria for the High Council of Justice and selection of judges are not clear and even the Commission believes that there is a case for further development of the judicial administration system on the basis of an external and independent audit. In the fight against money laundering, the necessary decisions have not been taken, and no one has been held accountable. The agreed legislation has simply not been implemented. I will not repeat the words of our parliamentary group leader, who quoted former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s remarks on Ukraine.

In the case of the condition on media and press freedom, which the Commission claims has been fulfilled, the true situation is that – despite formal guarantees – the Ukrainian government has, in practice, eliminated freedom of expression and freedom of the press, citing national security concerns. In my opinion, this is not actually objectionable in a country at war. I would like to reiterate: the Hungarian government’s position is that the elimination of freedom of expression and freedom of the press is not objectionable in a country at war. But this does not mean that we Europeans should make laughing stocks of ourselves by claiming that freedom of the press prevails in Ukraine. But this is what the Commission is claiming.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

And there are three areas in which even the Commission does not believe that the conditions have been met. These are corruption, action against oligarchs and the issue of national minorities. I agree with the previous speaker: we do not have a clear picture of the actual contents of the law that has just been passed in the Ukrainian parliament, which is supposed to be favourable to minorities; we are analysing it now. One thing I can tell you now, at this early stage of the analysis, is that in 2015 the rights that Hungarians and other national communities living in Ukraine enjoyed up until 2015 were taken away from them. Neither the Hungarians living in Ukraine nor we Hungarians living in Lesser Hungary want anything more than the restoration of the rights that the minorities living there enjoyed up until 2015. We are not asking for a new law, we are not asking for new solutions, we are not asking for new, complicated procedures: all we are asking for is restoration of the law which, up until 2015, guaranteed the rights and conditions of community life for Hungarians.

All in all, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have to say that Ukraine is as far away from the conditions for EU candidacy and the opening of negotiations as the [Hungarian village of] Makó is from Jerusalem. 

This is how things look from the perspective of Ukraine. But there is another, broader, context. I would perhaps put it in terms of what Ukraine’s membership would mean for the European Union and for Hungary. First of all, let’s take a serious look at ourselves and admit that no one today can predict this exactly. The reason that no one can make exact predictions is that Ukraine is currently at war, and we cannot see the end of the war. There is no precedent for the European Union taking on a country – or even starting negotiations with a country – while it is at war, with all the inevitable accompanying uncertainties. 

Our parliamentary group leader Mr. Kocsis is right: there is no way of knowing what Ukraine’s borders will be: Will the occupied territories join the EU or not? We do not even know what the population of Ukraine is; yet – in addition to the gross national product – the basis for calculating all financial, agricultural and other aid is population. Apart from the battlefield losses, we know – at least according to estimates – that a minimum of six million people have left Ukraine. It is not clear whether they will return. Should they be counted as part of Ukraine when it enters, or not? In other words, I want to tell to you that Brussels wants us to agree to something without either Brussels or us being able to assess exactly what it means for us.

We do have some experience of the economic impact, however, as the Commission has carried out the partial opening of its market towards Ukraine. We already have such experience in two areas: agriculture and freight transport. In both areas the Hungarian government has seen that intervention at nation-state level – defensive intervention – has been necessary in order to prevent permanent and irreparable damage in the agriculture and freight transport sectors. So this is about only two areas and not Ukraine’s full accession, but we can already see the disruption that threatens to destroy tens of thousands – perhaps even hundreds of thousands – of Hungarian livelihoods as a result of this move. And the whole Central European context is another question.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Even if not we cannot be certain, there are estimates and calculations of the budgetary impact that Ukraine’s membership would have. In essence we work on the basis of calculations by German institutes, and our Hungarian institutes also use them as a basis. German economic researchers provide the following figures for those interested in the matter. In the event of Ukraine’s full membership, the extra expenditure of 190 billion euros – or 70,000 billion forints – would have to be allocated from the seven-year budget. So 190 billion euros would have to be paid out from the European Union budget over a period of seven years. To give you an idea of the proportions, this would represent 17 per cent of the total budget for the current seven-year period of 2021–27 – all absorbed by a single country.

We also have calculations for agricultural subsidies. Ukrainian farmers would be able to claim 93 billion euros in agricultural subsidies over the seven-year budget cycle. To locate this in a sea of figures, I can tell you, by way of comparison, that currently the biggest beneficiary of EU agricultural policy is France – which currently receives 65 billion euros. Ukraine would get 93 billion euros! To put this in a Hungarian context, the amount Ukraine would be entitled to would be ten times as much as Hungary is currently entitled to. 

I don’t want to reroute this debate, but I think it is important to note that a significant part of this money would actually end up in the pockets of the Americans, because the Americans have been buying up the Ukrainian agricultural sector like there’s no tomorrow. Recently the United States Secretary of State has made no secret of his views, openly stating that 90 per cent of all the money that goes from America to Ukraine returns to the United States, and that it will create jobs and growth. The US Secretary of State declared this to be a “win-win” situation. This, of course, is an American opinion and an American calculation, but I think that the figures in the European context would show a different situation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In other words, Ukraine’s membership, which they want to start negotiating now, would mean that all EU Member States except Ukraine would become net contributors, or that 20 per cent of agricultural subsidies would have to be taken away from everyone else. Let’s ask the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture about that option! If we are done with agriculture and move on to the area of cohesion funds, I have to say that, if Ukraine were to become a member, 87 billion euros in cohesion funds would have to be given to it. That is three times as much as Hungary is entitled to on paper. 

Let’s take seriously the idea that negotiations would really be about granting membership, and that we would not be trying to make a political gesture – because that is not what membership is for. Starting from the premise that anyone really takes this membership seriously, and taking into account the numbers and analysing the economic context, then I have to say that currently this idea is absurd, ridiculous and frivolous, and that the Hungarian government has no intention of supporting it. 

I would like to ask Members of Parliament, including those on the left, not to see Ukraine’s membership of the European Union as a party issue. I would ask the Left – and, of course, the national side – to consider this as a national issue, one which concerns the entire nation. Ukraine’s membership of the European Union in this form is in direct opposition to Hungary’s interests. Ukraine can and must be helped. But no one should want us to destroy Hungary in the process. 

In brief summary, I can tell you that Hungary is under pressure, but we must not shy away from remaining the voice of European common sense. We have an interest in a peaceful and prosperous Ukraine, but this requires the establishment of peace as quickly as possible and a well-considered deepening of the strategic partnership. This could even lead to Ukraine’s membership of the European Union one day – after a few years, when the time is actually right. There is a time for everything, but the time for Ukraine’s membership of the European Union has not yet come.

Thank you for your kind attention.