German economic cooperation of recent years has proved that it is a part of Hungary’s present and future, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Monday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Budapest. The two agreed on how to approach the Ukrainian conflict but had their differences when it came to liberalism.
At a joint press conference after the talks Orbán referred to Hungary’s 22-year record employment rate, saying that 6,000 German-owned businesses had added 300,000 jobs. In the past four years, German businesses have invested EUR 6 billion in Hungary, Orbán noted. “Danke Deutschland,” he said.
The chancellor hailed Hungary’s macro-economic development and the German economy’s contribution to it. She called bilateral trade very intensive, adding that Germany’s economic players highly prized a stable framework. Once these are in place, German companies are loyal investors, she added.
Concerning Hungary’s energy dependence, Merkel highlighted the importance of diversifying energy resources, adding that efforts must be made for predictable and reliable energy supplies. She also argued for the importance of social dialogue, saying that while the Hungarian government has a strong majority it is also important to appreciate the role of the opposition, civil society and the media.
Orbán voiced support for Germany’s plans targeting Eurasian cooperation. Looking at Europe’s strategic and historical horizon, he said he could not imagine an EU that did not incorporate Russian energy resources and raw materials. So Hungary considered the chancellor’s position sensible in the context of Europe-Asia cooperation.
On the topic of energy affairs, Orbán noted that Hungarian industry and households primarily used gas, and the country’s exposure to gas is of a higher order than Germany’s. This year Hungary’s long-term gas supply contract is expiring, and Hungary needs a serious quantity of natural gas from Russia, he said. “This is the problem” that had to be solved in the first half of the year, because otherwise Hungary’s households and industry would not function.
Both leaders said that neither Germany nor Hungary would supply Ukraine with weapons. Merkel said she does not believe in an armed resolution to the Ukraine conflict. She added that her country would do everything to resolve the conflict through negotiations, and a resolution should be based on the Minsk agreement.
On illiberalism, Orbán said that not every democracy is necessarily a liberal one. “If someone wants to say that democracy is necessarily liberal, they require a privilege for a system of ideas that we cannot allow,” he said. Merkel, answering a question about illiberal democracy, said she could not interpret the word illiberal in the context of democracy.
Pluralism, peace and freedom constitute the foundations of Europe, the Chancellor said in a lecture held in the Andrássy Gyula German-language University. “These are values that European nations should take a stand for in the Ukraine conflict. It is on the basis of these values that European countries should jointly fight against the discrimination of minorities. These are the values that are reflected by civil organisations and the independent media, too.”
Concerning the crisis in Ukraine, Merkel said Russia, with its actions, had countered those ideals and tried to show that might is right instead of recognising the might of the law. Referring to the recent bloodshed in Paris, she said Europe cannot bow its head before the logic of terror. Europe should fulfil its promises concerning peace, welfare and freedom. Instead of sowing social division there is a need for cohesion; a political system in which the opposition is not an enemy but a partner, Merkel said.
Hungary’s political parties were quick to react to the leaders’ statements, with ruling party Fidesz hailing ties and the opposition parties suggesting that Orbán was pursuing policies at odds with European policy in a number of key areas.
Fidesz said the Merkel meeting with Orbán had contributed not only to strengthening bilateral relations but to building an even stronger Europe. Radical nationalist Jobbik said Orbán had rightly declared at their joint press conference that Europe needs trade relations with Russia. Yet the Hungarian government recently lent its support for sanctions against Russia, Jobbik MP Tibor Bana said. However, he welcomed Orbán’s statement for a full commitment to a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine-Russia conflict as well as Hungary’s related neutrality.
The opposition Socialists welcomed the German chancellor standing by social, Christian and liberal values. It is clear that Merkel and Hungary’s democratic opposition think along the same line as regards democracy, “whereas Viktor Orbán again said ‘no’ to a system built on human freedoms”, party leader József Tóbiás said.
The opposition green LMP said Orbán should accept Merkel’s advice and diversify energy supplies, as well as treat NGOs as partners. Orbán should also realise that his concept for illiberal democracy has not met with wide- ranging support within his own party group in Europe, Bernadett Szél, the party co-leader, said.
The Együtt (Together) party said Orbán had continued to steer Hungary away from Europe by having failed to state a full commitment to European values. Nóra Hajdu called on Orbán to take the Chancellor’s advice and accept that the opposition, civil society and the media are important players in a democracy.
The leftist opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) branded Orbán’s “form” at the press conference with Merkel as “pathetic” and accused him of telling “lies”. Merkel had, with her usual politeness and reserve, “not loudly but very clearly” condemned the performance of the Hungarian government, DK insisted.
Dialogue for Hungary said it had become clear that the two leaders had been unable to settle the conflicts and divergences of opinion that had existed between the two countries for “many years”. Benedek Jávor, an MEP representing the party, said it was clear Orbán was swinging his weight behind Russia, because he prized a good relationship with the Russian president far more than committing himself to Europe’s unified energy and foreign policies.
Diplomat: German firms re-invest 50% of profits in Hungary
German companies reinvest over 50% of the profits on their operations in Hungary, German Ambassador Lieselore Cyrus has said in an interview published in business daily Napi Gazdaság. The ambassador noted that the 6,000 German firms active in Hungary have invested some EUR 20 billion in the country in the past 25 years and created 300,000 jobs. Hungary is Germany’s 16th-largest trade partner, German exports to Hungary amounting to an annual EUR 18.6 billion, while Hungary’s exports amount to EUR 21 billion, the ambassador said, adding that the figures demonstrate that German investments have contributed to stability in the Hungarian economy and boosted economic growth. Referring to complaints by German companies, Cyrus said these mostly concerned changes such as the introduction of a road freight control system, the advertisement tax or a significant increase in the food quality control fee weighing on those businesses. “Companies prefer an environment where they can plan for years ahead, where legal safety is stable and business players have a certain kind of confidence in each other,” Napi Gazdaság quoted the ambassador as saying.
German business leaders brief Merkel
German business leaders in Hungary held a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Budapest to discuss bilateral economic relations. Merkel expressed “great interest in hearing about the situation and expectations of German companies operating in Hungary,” managing director of the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Trade Gabriel Brennauer said. The leaders briefed her about conditions in Hungary that influence their operations, Brennauer said. They had said constructive coordination talks should be held on key economic regulations in a timely manner with all affected sides to help further strengthen bilateral economic ties in the long term.
Survey shows Germany as key ally
Hungarians consider Germany as Hungary’s most important ally and support close political and economic cooperation between the two countries, a survey by think-tank Nézőpont Institute has found. The survey prepared ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Hungary showed that 32% of respondents said Germany was Hungary’s number one ally, 7% named Russia and 6% the US. Poland and Austria were named by 2% each. As many as 52% of the respondents said they support even closer political ties between Germany and Hungary. Some 27% said no changes were needed in current relations and 4% said they should be less close.