Speech by Viktor Orbán at a summit of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA)

24 November 2023, Baku (Bakı)

Honourable President Aliyev, Presidents and Dear Colleagues,

First of all, we thank President Aliyev for the invitation. It is always a pleasure to visit you in the great city of Baku. I bring Hungary’s respect and good wishes to you, and congratulations on the revival of the SPECA initiative. I am in the position – perhaps I should say the fortunate position – of having been in international politics for thirty-three years, and so I am able to share with you my experience that the last ten years have been very different from the previous twenty. We have had a financial crisis that has spilled over into the real economy, we have had an immigration crisis in Europe for eight years, we have had a pandemic, we have had war in Ukraine, and now we have a security crisis in the Middle East.

Dear Colleagues,

As I see it, we have to be prepared to continue to find solutions for the development of our countries in turbulent circumstances. In this situation I believe that the revival of SPECA can be of great assistance. As you know, Hungary is a member of the European Union, and so I will speak from a European perspective. Europe is at the forefront of the challenges mentioned here. There is war in Europe, the competitiveness of the continent is deteriorating, we cannot call a halt to illegal immigration, there are parallel societies in ever more European countries, and the threat of terrorism is constantly increasing. Over the last three decades Europe’s economic growth has been built on solid foundations. The idea was simple but ingenious: combine advanced Western technology with easily and cheaply available Eastern energy resources – mainly Russian. And the combination strengthened our weight and our role in the world economy. Because of the war and the response to it, however, this cooperation has fallen apart – and fallen apart without any new ideas or new strategies being developed. We have not built the foundations for European economic growth, we have not replaced one strategy with another, but we have thrown away what we had and we are now looking for something new.

Honourable President Aliyev,

This is why there is a great debate in Europe about how to connect Europe with the world to the east of us, of which the leaders sitting here are a part. You are obviously familiar with the European debates on this. We have two schools of thought: one is “decoupling”, which is more about breaking connections; and the other is “connectivity”, which is about making connections. This is the debate taking place now, and in it there is a lot at stake – I think for you also. But it is also a serious debate for the European economy, because the backbone of the European economy is the automotive industry; and now, when we need to move into the green era, the big Western manufacturers are all dependent on Eastern suppliers. Personally, I myself lived twenty-six years in a world in which the global economy was split in two and there were separated blocs; and our country – and the whole of Central Europe – lost a great deal as a result of that system of blocs. So I would like to assure you that we want the global economic era that is now taking shape to be defined by interconnections and cooperation based on mutual respect. We cannot endure energy prices in Europe that are several times higher than those in the United States, while we have to compete with each other. I am convinced that we cannot create a new, successful European economic strategy without connecting Central Asia and Europe. Therefore, from a European perspective, your role – and the role of Central Asia – has increased significantly. To have interconnections and civilised East-West cooperation in the coming period we need intermediaries, and from Europe we see Central Asia as an area that connects transport, trade and digital routes between Europe and the East.

I would also like to tell you that the existence of safe, predictable, modern transport routes between East and West, between Europe and Asia, is also in the fundamental interests of the Hungarian national economy. We have all sorts of disputes with the EU, and I will not bore you with them here, but our national economic strategy is based on making Hungary a meeting point for the most advanced companies and economies in the East and the West. In Hungary the proportion of Asian investment is the highest, it is increasing at a tremendous rate, and in the running of our economy the role of energy resources from Central Asia is growing. In the future we want to strengthen this process, and so we support all initiatives that strengthen Central Asia and promote cooperation between the countries of the region. I think this is a great initiative, and I am glad that we are breathing life into it again, because it shows that this region – your region – has a fantastic opportunity in Europe. This is why Hungary not only supported but also co-authored the UN resolution commending this cooperation; and on Monday, when the UN adopted it, Hungary was represented there by the Foreign Minister.

If you will allow me, I will present Hungarian-Azeri relations to you as a good example. Our friendship is not a “gas friendship”. We are building a brotherly friendship with the countries of Central Asia, including Azerbaijan. We are brotherly nations, but there is no doubt that recently we have succeeded in establishing strong energy cooperation between our two countries. We greatly appreciate the extraordinary development path on which President Aliyev has set Azerbaijan, which has earned him the recognition of the whole world. Azerbaijani-Hungarian trade is at a record high this year, and ever more Hungarian companies are coming here to invest. And I can report to you the unprecedented news that the first shipments of natural gas from Azerbaijan have arrived in Hungary.

Honourable President Aliyev,

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for your personal efforts, not only in the region but also in international politics, in ensuring that cooperation between countries is based on respect. I would like to assure you, Mr. President, that Hungary will continue to be happy to participate in all forms of work which develop economic cooperation between the countries of Central Asia.

On behalf of Hungary, thank you once again for inviting us here.