The Prime Minister offers his views on the European Union’s problems, the US election, exporting democracy, a new cold war, the V4, a corruption case, the 2006 riots, the political opposition and – of course, first and foremost – migrants and the referendum.
What will be the Hungarian referendum’s consequences in the European Union? What steps do you plan to take on the day after the referendum – on 3 October? This was mentioned in your most recent radio interview, and since then the press is full of speculation. What can you say about it?
If I had wanted to say what must be done after the referendum, I would have told you. I didn’t say because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to because it would be premature, since the referendum result will determine the direction in which we set out. We should not be thinking now about the post-referendum period, but be dealing with “first things first”, as they say. The referendum should come first. If it is decisive and convincing, then the steps which follow will be different from those which would have followed had it been feeble. Therefore speculation is meaningless now. But of course the referendum has – and will have – legal implications.
Are you referring to the amendment of the Treaty on European Union?
The Hungarian position on amending the Treaty on European Union is in line with that of the Visegrád Group [V4]. First we must decide how we want to reform the European Union. Once we know this, then we need to decide on the legal form. If, when we complete debate on EU reform in Rome next March, it emerges that we must change the Treaty, then that is what we shall propose. If it turns out that we can solve the problems without such a measure, then we shall say that it is unnecessary. So first the content must be determined, and only after that the legal instruments.
It is clear what kind of results you would be happy with, but what would you be disappointed with?
I am always likely to be a little disappointed if the turnout is less than one hundred per cent, because I believe that this is about the future of Hungary. It is not even just about our own personal future, but that of our children and grandchildren, on an issue of great importance. It is also a disappointment to me if I see just one person who is not interested in the fate of their own country. Therefore, of course I would be satisfied with a one hundred per cent turnout, but I am well aware that this is a long way from political reality. I mean it when I say that everyone is needed and we need everyone’s opinion. This is how I see referenda: I don’t see them as political battlegrounds, but as issues for the nation. And even if only one vote is missing, the national issue is not complete: it is a national issue minus one – or minus the number who did not vote.
The DK [Democratic Coalition] and Jobbik parties both assume that if the referendum is valid, the parliamentary majority will dissolve the National Assembly and there will be an early election. Can you imagine such a scenario?
In 2014, people voted and made a decision for four years, and put the matters of the country into the hands of the political powers that they supported. So we undertook this responsibility. A particularly serious external condition must arise for this responsibility to be set aside. So we have an agreement with the people, and we have agreed to do this job for four years: until the next general election. Moreover, early elections tend to be slippery things. If the reason is not clear, there must be something cunning in the background. People can sense it if the reason is no longer about them or their future, but some kind of political sleight of hand and trickery. People have an inbuilt radar, even if they do not follow the intricacies of political trends, and there is one thing which they sense keenly: if a given political action or move is motivated not by their interests, but by political self-interest. It is no accident that early elections tend to backfire. In Hungary this is clear in municipal elections, and it is also clear in European politics: this is how Schröder lost his position as Chancellor and the German SPD ended up in opposition. Early elections, therefore, must have a clear reason. I do not think that there is such a reason in Hungary, because Hungary is going in the right direction.
Following the EU summit, prime ministers Fico [Slovakia] and Szydło [Poland] were both optimistic on the migrant quota issue, but Mr. Juncker’s [President of the European Commission] spokesperson said that the mandatory quota is far from being dropped from the agenda. How do you see the issue of the quota within the European Union?
As a Hungarian it is difficult to understand it exactly, because in Hungary we are used to a system in which for a law to be passed a parliamentary decision is needed, and that is the end of the matter. What we are familiar with is the principle of “one law, one decision”. The EU is not such a simple system: for a binding regulation to be made, three decisions are necessary. There is one decision by the Commission, a second by the Parliament, and a third by the Council. The European Commission has already made its decision on this issue: it wants the mandatory quota, and it has already submitted it to the European Parliament. We know that the Parliament – even if it has not held a formal vote on it – supports this. And there is the Council, which is the council of prime ministers and ministers. This is where we are fighting to block it, and where I could force through a policy decision with the co-operation of a few prime ministers. As a result of this the two earlier decisions could be changed.
A curious situation is beginning to emerge in France. The majority of migrants are in Paris, and the French government wants to distribute them around the whole country. Regions and cities are protesting against this, however, one by one. Do you think that the plan for European quotas would mean that if Hungary were involved, in essence most Hungarian towns and settlements would be affected?
There is a rule in politics: one mistake leads to another. If one makes a mistake and does not correct it, it will lead to further bad decisions and mistakes. The European Union has made a bad decision; the Commission and the Parliament made it together when they criticised Hungary for keeping people in closed camps after they had arrived in the country illegally. If France, for instance, could keep everyone who illegally entered the country in closed camps, they would have a couple of big closed camps. As this is not permitted, however, migrants are all over the country, and local governments are being forced to relocate them in cities, counties and settlements of various sizes. So if the EU were able to force the mandatory relocation quota on us, it would affect every Hungarian settlement. This is why I cannot stress strongly enough the fact that the mandatory relocation quota is a common issue for all 3200 Hungarian settlements. We will not just be deciding on the future of Hungary for generations to come, but on our own fate as well. If we do not reject the mandatory relocation quota, someone could one day find that a migrant family – or even more than one – has been relocated to a neighbouring house. We are all well aware of the consequences of such things. If there is a mandatory quota, there is relocation – which will affect every Hungarian settlement.
Can you imagine a European consensus emerging on the quotas? To put it in simple terms, Germany wants the quotas because that is where the migrants are now. Many countries, however, such as the Visegrád countries, do not want them. Is it possible to reach an agreement in a situation in which interests are so vastly different?
There could be a common European position, and I have suggested one myself, but this has not yet been accepted. What is the essence of the problem? The essence of the problem is that they let one and a half or two million people enter the territory of the EU illegally. We did not let them in because – with our fence – we did just the opposite. But Germany – with its policy of “We can do it” and “Welcome” – let them in. Until Germany imposes an upper limit on numbers, migrants will see the Germans’ attitude as an invitation into Europe. This is still the situation at present. What could German politicians tell their own voters – other than they would like to turn back the clock? Incidentally that would be a good idea – but the problem is that it’s impossible. They can say that they are going to solve their German problem by spreading the migrants around: “We can only alleviate the problem we have in Germany by transporting the migrants from here to the rest of the countries of Europe, under the banner of ‘solidarity’.” This response is flawed for several reasons, however. The first is that it is an inhumane proposal, because if someone is transported to some other place, they will have to be tied to a tree there, as otherwise they will simply go back to Germany. Another problem is that it runs counter to European solidarity for someone to unilaterally adopt a decision on admitting illegal immigrants at national level, and then seek to manage the resultant problem at international level. If they did not consult anyone before their decision to let the migrants in, on what basis can they expect others to bear the consequences of that decision? If we had been party to that decision, this response would be something we could talk about – but not otherwise. What do I propose? I think that those who entered illegally should be gathered together and removed. But they should not be taken to other EU countries: they should be taken outside the territory of the European Union. The question is one of where they should go. In our own action plan – called Schengen 2.0 – we suggest that EU funding should be used to set up large refugee camps outside EU territory, which would be guarded by armed EU security personnel. Everyone who has entered illegally would be required to go to the camps. They could submit their asylum requests there, and if a receiving country is found for a person, that person could then enter. Until then they would be required to stay in the large camps outside the European Union. This may be an island, or a coastal area somewhere in North Africa, but – in its own interest – the EU would need to guarantee the area’s security and provide care for those settled there.
How could these expulsions be implemented in practice? Le Figaro recently reported that 96 per cent of migrants officially expelled have stayed in France, while politicians believe that figure to be as high as 99 per cent. In other words, they are unable to send them home.
This is because the French government is not united in its will. If there is a united will among all European governments, this difficult task – which is not easy from a moral and humane point of view – can be accomplished. But if we do not remove them from the EU, they will stay here. And then there will be the request – or coercion – to distribute them, and so everyone will have the problem. There is only one solution which is good for everyone, both those of us who are not yet in trouble because we have protected ourselves, and countries such as Germany which are in trouble: we must take the migrants out of the territory of the EU.
Is this the general solution to the whole situation?
This would be the solution to all the problems we have had so far.
And then what would happen, in the long run?
We must not allow this to happen again. We must protect the external borders of the European Union, or else these problems will return.
Looking at the refugee crisis from a global perspective – as it is not just a European problem, though Europe is the most affected – what would be the solution?
I do not think that this is a refugee crisis, but we are observing the consequences of a civilisational phenomenon in which the world has become a huge global village. Even people living in the remotest parts of the world know about one another, and are familiar with the living conditions and opportunities which exist on the other side of the world. And they think that if this is a village, they would like to move – just as if they were moving from one small community to the neighbouring one. Many believe that they have the right to do so, and a great many international organisations – which see movement across state borders as a kind of human right – also claim that people can simply choose where they want to live. We disagree with this. The nature of the world is that it is divided among countries and nations. Sovereignty, and the organisation of the lives of communities, must be taken care of within the limits of state borders. This is the basis of international law and the development of humankind down the millennia to the present. Borders must not be abolished. Borders must be used, because they provide protection. There are some who envisage a world without borders: this is exactly the concept which George Soros and his civil society organisations seek to popularise. This notion is at best well-intentioned and naive, and at worst it is based on a calculated assessment of processes leading to the end of traditional civilisations, ways of life, cultures and nations. I, however, am among those who do not want the world’s civilisational structure to change, and in particular I would not like to see a change in the culture of this piece of land we call Hungary. I love this country. It has some flaws and we Hungarians are not perfect, but our virtues are greater and more numerous than our faults and weaknesses. I love this country just the way it is, and I do not want to see anyone change it under orders from outside. If the Hungarians living here want to change it, I must accept that, because I am one of them. We are holding the referendum so that the Hungarian people can tell us whether they want to see change in some utopian direction, or whether they want to remain Hungarian – as they have managed to remain through the centuries, with much sacrifice. On the surface we are deciding on powers, and about immigrants and migrants, but in fact we are deciding on what we Hungarians think about the world, and how we want to remain Hungarian in this world. This referendum is about the most important and most fundamental question imaginable.
Returning to the subject of the EU, what kind of European Union do you imagine in five years’ time: will the European Union in its current form even exist?
The European Union is made up of two parts, and accordingly in future we must look at it through two different lenses. There is the eurozone – which is not the same as the European Union. The eurozone is the core area where the communities and their states have given up the modern market economy’s most important economic policy instrument: valuation of a currency in either direction, which determines the value of their money. Instead they have linked their fates. This process was moving forward promisingly and had well-developed intellectual foundations: it had a programme. The process has now come to a standstill, however, and I cannot see how they will begin moving things forward again from their current position; how, after the common currency, they will move on towards a common economic policy. Because a monetary union cannot be maintained unless there is a common economic policy and a common budgetary policy behind it, and unless there is a commitment to joint responsibility for the budget deficits and government debt which has accumulated in various countries. This is a step that the countries of the eurozone are clearly unable or unwilling to take. Accordingly, the greatest problem today with regard to the future of the European Union is the fact that further development of the eurozone is bogged down. In this matter we are innocent: we are outside the eurozone and cannot help in finding a solution. This is an opportunity and responsibility for the countries which are members of the eurozone. There also exists a non-eurozone part of the European Union, which is fine as it is, thank you very much. Interestingly, those outside the zone are more successful. Although Germany, France and Spain are rich countries, the most dynamically developing countries are now not inside the eurozone but outside it. And they don’t particularly want to be inside, because what would be the point of exchanging dynamic economic growth for stagnation within the eurozone? This is why the eurozone ceased to be attractive to states outside it. The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania are countries which are developing nicely. So today the European Union comprises two parts, and whether it will remain so is mainly dependent on whether the eurozone is capable of solving its own problems.
You have stated that the European Union should set up a joint military force. Would this, in a certain sense, be a step towards a United States of Europe?
I don’t want a United States of Europe, but I am an advocate of European co-operation. In my view the instrument of convergence that our leaders devised earlier – creation of the eurozone – is no longer enough. This is a hoop which is increasingly unable to keep the staves of the EU barrel together. We need new hoops. I view the setting up of a joint military force as a proposal made in the interests of the EU, because it could form a strong bond between the countries participating in it. But I would not like all this to lead to some kind of United States of Europe.
On the subject of united states, there will be a presidential election in the US in November. We don’t know who is most likely to win. Do you still maintain that it would be better for Hungary if Trump won?
Current US policies include two elements which are particularly damaging and detrimental to Hungary. The first is its wrong-headed policy of “exporting democracy”. Currently, American foreign policy believes that Western, democratic structures can – or must – be established and democracy must be “exported”, so to speak, to countries which have totally different cultural backgrounds and traditions. To a significant extent the destabilisation of the Middle East is the result of attempts to construct American democracy in places where it cannot be achieved at such a pace – and possibly not at all. The fact that such efforts were not in line with the will of local people is absolutely certain, because absurd situations arose, whereby democratic instruments such as free elections led to the formation of governments – the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance – which made the democracy-exporting Americans’ hair stand on end. They repeatedly failed to develop mechanisms which could correct the decisions of the people. These are complicated situations which clearly show that a foreign policy which seeks to export democracy does not work. And as they have destabilised the Middle East – which is a region in our immediate neighbourhood – this also poses a danger to us. Had they not destabilised that region, the migration crisis would not have developed; and today Europe would not be suffering from this mass migration, which is also endangering the continent’s cultural identity. The other mistake is migration and immigration itself, because American foreign policy today continuously acts in favour of the migrants. It supports their free movement through non-governmental organisations and its Department of State, and this is also what the President of the United States himself is doing. This is extremely unfavourable for Europe. We Hungarians and Europeans have an interest in an American foreign policy which does not seek to export democracy, does not destabilise regions and which unequivocally calls for the reinstatement of nation states’ sovereignty with regard to migration. This is what Mr. Trump is talking about, while Mrs. Clinton talks about continuing what we are now suffering from in Europe.
In your view, how would the world change if Trump became President of the United States?
It would require great courage for someone to claim to reliably predict the consequences. We don’t know. The US presidential election is always an extraordinary event. It is difficult for Europeans to understand American politics. It is the only democracy in which the president is also the prime minister and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This represents a fantastic amount of power, a huge responsibility and a major risk. Being president of the United States is the hardest job in the world. It requires attributes which very few people in the world have. We have always trusted in the essence of the American presidential election campaign. There is of course a confrontational campaign which often includes exaggerations – both in atmosphere and emotions. Nevertheless, in Europe we have always believed that the actual mechanism of the presidential election – the fact that one has to fight so many battles and come out on top in so many difficult situations – results in the person who is eventually elected being capable of becoming a good president. Nobody thought Ronald Reagan was capable of becoming a good president, but he ended up being an outstanding president. Therefore, having a European mind-set, I am cautious about making value judgements on who is good and who isn’t. Whoever wins in America, it is no accident that they have reached the situation of “last one standing”.
American-Russian relations are perhaps worse now than at any point over the past 25 years. In Syria for instance, the latest ceasefire lasted just one week, and the Americans and Russians blamed each other. Can we state that in practice we are in a new cold war or it that an exaggeration? If not, what is Hungary’s place in it?
Here we are talking about one of the most important issues – and also the greatest mystery – in world politics. Because in reality there was no reason for the West and Russia to suddenly find themselves in a relationship as bad as the one they now find themselves in. This bad relationship didn’t begin with the Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, but much earlier. That was just a phase in a larger process – although of course an especially important one, as, after all, the Russians violated the sovereignty of a state which was guaranteed by international law. But even before that it could be seen that the relationship between the West and Russia was slowly deteriorating. And we can certainly state that this is not in the interests of the peoples who live here. We have an interest in there being a lessening of global political tensions, because then we can trade, then we can develop a sovereign foreign policy, and then we can trade with the Russians and trade with the Americans. So a balanced – and in fact friendly – relationship between Russia and the United States is important for our trade and economic interests. The unfavourable nature of the current situation is also visible in the figures for Hungary’s foreign trade balance. It is a major success, however, that the involvement of Asia has allowed Hungarian foreign trade to break records every year – despite the fact that Russian trade opportunities have shrunk because of the sanctions.
Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico has stated that if negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom result in a decision restricting Slovakians’ rights to work in the UK, then they will veto the withdrawal agreement. Is Hungary also thinking about such a veto?
We believe that the V4 should act together, and Prime Minister Fico’s standpoint has support within the V4.
Let’s talk about domestic politics. Parliament has stripped Roland Mengyi of his immunity; what is your opinion about the case and the allegations of corruption?
The reassuring lesson from the Mengyi case is that not a single penny left the state treasury unlawfully. Public monies have not been lost, because there is a supervising system which stops payments as soon as it notices any suspicion or uncertainty. Therefore, although a Fidesz MP has been accused of wrongdoing, in fact there was no outflow of money, because the state did not provide funds for tenders which it felt were problematic. It seems to me that the state system’s self-defence mechanisms are working. As for the Member of Parliament in question, he must stand up for himself; he must provide the law enforcement authorities with a clear and coherent response to the accusations against him.
Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Balatonőszöd speech was leaked to the media ten years ago. At the time we were awash with demonstrations, and street fighting and police violence in Budapest. You have been in government for six years, and clearly you have had the opportunity to investigate retrospectively, and uncover the truth with the help of intelligence service techniques. Do you know what happened – how the speech was leaked? The political parties have accused each other of releasing the recording.
The intelligence services are not allowed to deal with party affairs. The Balatonőszöd speech was given at a party event of the MSZP [Hungarian Socialist Party], and I think it is better if the state agencies of the day distance themselves from the question of who recorded it and where they sent it.
And the events on the streets? The actions of the police? Why were the police at times passive and at other time too active? Who was overseeing operations?
Parliamentary investigation committees focused on these questions after the 2010 election and we do not know any more than what they concluded.
Returning to the referendum for a while: what do you think of the opposition parties’ positions? One party – the Liberals – are campaigning for a “yes” vote, the MSZP are not officially campaigning for a boycott, but there are Socialist politicians who will vote “no”. The DK and Együtt [Together] are consistently calling for a boycott. Jobbik are campaigning for a “no” vote. On this issue, how much do you think voters will be swayed by party allegiance?
We’re talking about an issue which far outstrips party loyalty. I think that people understand and feel that this is something which will decide the fate of Hungary, and also perhaps Europe. A change of civilization is like the apocryphal frog being slowly cooked alive in water which is gradually being heated to boiling point. In day-to-day life, people do not feel these deep processes, since they have enough problems with their children’s schooling, with parents’ health, with work and so on: life’s daily activities occupy people’s attention. Thinking with a historical perspective does not form a part of people’s daily lives. But sometimes there are exceptional moments, and I think that the migrant crisis is one such moment. People have suddenly looked up from the daily bustle of their lives and have seen other issues surrounding them. They see the numbers: how many Muslims there were 15 or 20 years ago in Paris, Rome and Germany. People see news coverage of terrorist acts, and they do not want the type of world which they now see emerging to the west of us. And if we do not want that, we must protect ourselves against terrorism, against crime, and against migrants who ruin our social system, who present an economic burden, who are from alien cultures, and who are unable to assimilate. The decisions which are existentially important for us must be made by ourselves alone, and we cannot afford to allow others elsewhere to make those decisions affecting us. People across Europe who have never been interested in these issues and who are not historians, philosophers or politicians, have somehow sensed that this is in fact about their country. So the behaviour of the Hungarian left is a disappointment to me. It is of course understandable that a political party wants to gain power. And I can also understand that they do not really like the Government, the governing parties and – since their defeat can be associated with my person as well – that they don’t like me. Yet this should not lead to them to link everything to their own interests. This is the second time in which the Hungarian left has been unable to rise above self-interest – because I think that the earlier referendum on dual citizenship was also an issue of national interest. On that occasion they also had the chance to act responsibly; but then, as now, on the scales of national interest they turned out to be lightweights.
Briefly, what is at stake in the referendum?
What will be decided in the referendum is how strong a sword we can forge for our battles with the Brussels bureaucrats. The referendum will decide whether we can stop Brussels from making a decision which forces us Hungarians to admit refugees and distribute them among our cities and villages.
Will the Prime Minister himself also be campaigning?
I live under constant scrutiny. “Prime minister mode” is hardly any different from “campaign mode”. Recently the interests of the country have required me to take part in a number of foreign negotiations. I have completed these with one exception: on Saturday I will be travelling to Vienna at the invitation of the leaders of the Balkan countries, and we will again be discussing immigration. After that I will be trying to reach the people through as many channels as possible, to encourage them to put aside their party loyalties, so that jointly – together – we can decide on what the future of Hungary should be.
The above are excerpts from an interview with the news portal Origo (originally published on September 22).