Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said he is hopeful of finding a solution to the UK’s in-work benefits issue with his British counterpart David Cameron that is acceptable to Hungarian workers while serving the British government’s aims.
After meeting Cameron in Budapest on January 7 Orbán told a joint news conference that they agreed abuses of the benefits system must be eliminated in all European Union member states. But the vast majority of Hungarians in the United Kingdom are “working honestly” and contribute to Britain’s economy, he said.
It is important that Hungarians working there should not suffer discrimination or disadvantages in any form, but Hungary is open to all reasonable proposals to end abuses of social services, Orbán added. Hungarians were not migrants in the UK but EU citizens who could freely work throughout the union.
Orbán added that he and Cameron shared the view that the role of national parliaments in the EU should be reconsidered and countries outside the eurozone should receive equal treatment in EU institutions.
Cameron told the press conference that Britain and Hungary have similar ideas about the EU. They both want a well-functioning EU, he said, emphasising the importance of subsidiarity, rules of fair play and equal treatment for member states inside and outside the eurozone.
On other matters, Orbán assured Cameron that Hungary, as a NATO partner, is committed to further taking part in international actions in Syria and Iraq. Orbán said Hungary-UK relations are fine and the UK is the fifth-biggest investor in Hungary, with 700 British companies present employing 50,000 people.
On migration, he said a sober mind dictated that every responsible government should protect its own citizens. Hungary wanted to uphold the Schengen agreement and in doing so it must protect the Schengen borders.
The ruling Fidesz party said Cameron had agreed with Hungary’s position that protecting Europe’s borders is paramount. The two leaders had made it clear that they see the future of Europe as strong nation states in a strong Europe, Fidesz said.
Europe and its external borders need to be protected because migration already threatens European citizens’ safety, free movement and their freedom on the labour market, the party added. “Hungary therefore supports British efforts to start a European debate about the foundations of the EU’s operation and the role of nation states in making Europe stronger.”
The opposition Socialists said Orbán’s talks with Cameron had been a failure. The party expected Orbán to take a more courageous stand for the interests of Hungarians working in the UK, Attila Mesterházy, a Socialist member of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said, adding that Orbán was only helping out Cameron, who was in Hungary as part of an international tour.
“Orbán has failed to engage his more courageous self,” Mesterházy said. Cameron still viewed Hungarians working in Britain as migrants and he made no distinction between EU citizens and migrants and refugees.
Radical nationalist Jobbik said the Hungarian government had missed out on a “historic opportunity”. Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi said Orbán had failed to put forward demands that are in the Hungarian interest. Orbán should have used Hungary’s alliance with the UK to advance Hungary’s interests in Europe, he added.
The opposition Democratic Coalition said Orbán had failed to protect Hungarians’ interests at his meeting with Cameron. Deputy party leader Peter Niedermüller said Orbán had agreed with Cameron on diluting EU unity despite the risk that doing so may not only end up curbing the rights of Hungarians working in the UK, but also further weaken Hungary’s position in the EU.