Viktor Orbán: My plan is not to leave Brussels, but to take it

December 13. 2023. – 02:37 PM


Viktor Orbán: My plan is not to leave Brussels, but to take it
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán giving the opening remarks in Parliament on 13 December 2023 – Photo: Szilárd Koszticsák / MTI


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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gave an exclusive interview in the podcast of the government-friendly Mandiner, and on Wednesday, he gave the opening remarks at Parliament in a debate on Ukraine’s EU accession. Below is a summary of the most important points he made.

At the beginning of the interview, the reporters cited the Politico article which claimed that Hungary was planning on using a veto to secure the EU funds which had been frozen over rule of law concerns. Orbán responded by saying that there had never been a single case where Hungary's position had been determined by whether or not it received EU funds. "There are financial issues and financial deals (...), and there are matters of serious policy or principle. The two should never be confused," Orbán said. According to him, all sorts of things have been said about the arrival of EU funds, but "we'll believe it when we see it". The Prime Minister said that there was nothing Hungary had to do to receive EU funds, “because these funds are rightfully ours”.

According to the Prime Minister, the European Union would be making a terrible mistake if it allowed Ukraine to join the EU. Ukraine's accession would be initiated for political reasons, because of the war, whereas up to now the countries wishing to join have had to comply with strict conditions. In his opinion, instead of accession, a strategic partnership would be sufficient to deliver the necessary aid.

Ukraine is losing the war

The Prime Minister had a brief conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday at the inauguration ceremony of Argentina's new president. The Hungarian leader said they had only exchanged a few words and he had mostly answered questions raised by Zelensky, but he did not give any further details.

Orbán said that in his opinion, Ukraine is losing the war. He said there was no doubt that Russia had attacked a sovereign state and that the war currently being waged was as bloody as the First and Second World Wars were. This is why the EU's plan was to provide Ukraine with financial support and the weaponry needed to defeat Russia on the front line, so this victory would trigger an internal political crisis in Russia, which would result in the appointment of a new leader in Moscow, with whom peace could be made.

“But as it turned out, this plan is not working.”

– Orbán said. He added that now everyone but Hungary is busy shifting the blame for this, because Hungary said in advance that this strategy was too risky. Is meeting with Vladimir Putin permissible at this time, and do you plan on meeting with him again? – the reporter asked Orbán. The Prime Minister’s response was that the only way to end the current conflict was through meetings and negotiations.

Macron, sovereignty protection, elections

The Ukrainian President wasn't the only leader Orbán met with recently, having also held a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. When describing their talks, the Prime Minister said:

“I am not able to negotiate with Macron as a negotiating partner of equal weight, but we have a shared love for Europe.”

He said their negotiations are always exciting, even if they are not successful. While Macron envisions a progressive, liberal Europe, Orbán believes in a Christian renewal.

During the interview, the Sovereignty Protection Bill, which was passed in parliament on Tuesday, was also discussed. Orbán considers sovereignty an absolute value that must be safeguarded from everyone. He said that the law was necessary because there are loopholes in the legal system which allowed millions of dollars to get into the country during the 2022 parliamentary elections. “This could have swayed the will of the Hungarian people towards a leftist path serving foreign interests.”

In 2024, on the same day as the EP elections, Hungary will also be holding municipal elections. According to Orbán, in the EU elections, instead of coming to an agreement with the left, the moderate right will have to come to an agreement with them, the right-wingers. While Ursula von der Leyen was elected on a non-partisan basis, they would not support her re-election. "Ursula von der Leyen is not a happy marriage, but we could have chosen a worse partner too" he said.

As for the municipal elections, the Prime Minister said that since Fidesz-KDNP is the biggest political force in Budapest as well, it would be morally unacceptable if they didn't take the elections seriously in the capital. (The Hungarian capital's current mayor, Gergely Karácsony is a member of the opposition party Párbeszéd – a Zöldek Pártja – TN) "We will always fight for Budapest, and that includes this election too." The decision on the governing parties' candidate for mayor will be made by the beginning of March, which is also when the name of their candidate will be announced, he said.

Another reason why 2024 promises to be a defining year in Hungarian foreign and domestic policy is that Hungary is set to take over the rotating presidency of the EU Council for the second half of the year. On this, Orbán said that he does not intend to lead the country out of the EU, but to take it further in.

“My plan is not to leave Brussels, but to take it.”

The objective, he said, is to convince as many countries as possible of the Hungarian ideas.

Ukraine’s EU accession is absurd, ridiculous and frivolous

The Fidesz-KDNP governing coalition suggested that the Parliament adopt a special resolution stating that Ukraine is not ready to join the EU. For this reason, Hungarian MPs have been holding a debate on Ukraine’s EU accession on Wednesday, with the opening remarks given by Viktor Orbán.

The Prime Minister began his remarks by saying: "We are pleased and consider it important that a substantive debate on this matter can be held in the Hungarian parliament. We also believe that there is much at stake". According to Orbán, Ukraine was granted candidate status a mere four months after submitting its application for accession at the beginning of 2022. He then listed a number of countries which did not wait four months for this status, but had to wait several years.

"This is blatant bias", Orbán concluded.

According to the Hungarian Prime Minister, what needs to be considered is whether Ukraine's accession to the EU is beneficial for the EU and Hungary, and the government's position is that this would have "unforeseeable consequences" and would also upset the EU's own internal rules. Even the fact that Ukraine was not required to fulfill the necessary conditions (such as tackling corruption and oligarchs, or enforcing the rights of ethnic minorities) prior to being granted candidate status, but afterwards, was a bad move on the part of the European Commission. Orbán believes that Ukraine should not even have been granted candidate status.

He then proceeded by saying that they are currently analyzing the content of the recently adopted Ukrainian law, which restores the language rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians. But all he can say at this early stage of the analysis is that the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine were taken away in 2015, and the Hungarian government wants nothing more than to have the law which until 2015 guaranteed Hungarians the conditions for community life, restored.

“Ukraine is a world away from starting negotiations for EU membership”,

Orbán concluded.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the budgetary implications of Ukraine's accession, estimating that it would cost tens and hundreds of billions of euros, given that as a member, the country would be eligible for EU funds. One of the things Orbán pointed out was that Ukraine would receive much more EU money for the agricultural sector than Hungary. According to the Prime Minister, if Brussels is serious about Ukraine joining the EU now, the idea is "absurd, ridiculous and frivolous. The Hungarian government has no intention of supporting this. There is an appointed time for everything, and the time for Ukraine's membership in the European Union has not arrived yet".

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