Éva Kocsis: We have Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with us in the studio. Good morning.
Another domestic issue, but now in a European context: amending the Constitution. Listening to the politicians debating the issue, the average Hungarian might easily come to the conclusion that the current amendment to the Constitution is required because they are currently not sufficiently protected against a terrorist attack, for instance. Please help us understand the situation which makes this new constitutional amendment necessary.
What we are talking about here is a situation in which we have in our possession sufficient information indicating that the terrorist threat in Hungary has increased, and in which we have credible information that a terrorist attack is being planned against the people of Hungary – such as the attack in Paris not long ago, or as we have seen in reports from Brussels. And in such a situation the question is what the Government can do to prevent this. So we are not talking about the need to investigate an act of terrorism which has already occurred and the need to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice, but about what we can do in advance to protect people against such an attack taking place. This requires appropriate measures, and this is a European debate; it isn’t just going on in Hungary: similar proposals have just been put forward in France, and there is a strong argument in favour of something similar in Bavaria. What everyone is recommending is that we give our governments the measures, room for manoeuvre and procedures with which they can prevent a terrorist threat from becoming an act of terrorism. This is the debate which is taking place in Hungary – and, of course, a leopard doesn’t change its spots, and so everyone is behaving in character. Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party – whose way of thinking puts people’s safety first – would like the government of the day to have sufficient instruments and room for manoeuvre in order to be able to protect people. The pro-migrant left, on the other hand, doesn’t see the terrorist threat as being real to begin with – in fact they also claimed that migration was just an imaginary problem. When it emerged that large numbers of migrants were indeed on their way here and many are terrorists, then they said that the right thing to do is to let them in. So if today Hungary had a government of the left, then in this country we would see situations like those in Cologne, Paris or Brussels, because they would have let them in. We were the first to say that this would be a problem and that we must make it possible to protect the border; back then we were shouted down, but now everyone is doing just what we did. And then we said that, together with the migrants, terrorists have also been allowed to enter Western Europe, because secret services throughout Europe had indicated that we must be prepared for the terrorist threat. Again we were shouted down; and then came Paris. What I am saying is that we are facing a continued terrorist threat, and so I believe that as soon as possible the tools needed to prevent acts of terrorism should be made available in as many European countries as possible. All we would like are the same instruments and room for manoeuvre that other European countries have been given by their own parliaments.
So does this mean that the five emergency legal procedures already included in the Constitution do not provide enough instruments to achieve this?
Exactly, this is the situation, and I repeat: the terrorist threat to Europe is one of the new developments in the 21st century, and this is why every country must issue new legislation and amend their constitutions accordingly. But this is a technical issue – the important thing is that we give governments the instruments with which they can prevent acts of terrorism, and not just in Hungary, but throughout Europe.
And if I understood you correctly, you have information concerning specific attacks?
The question isn’t whether we have such information at our disposal, but that such information could emerge at any time. So Hungary isn’t among the countries most threatened by terrorism, and the reason for this is that we did not let the migrants in; if we had let them in then we would be seeing the same things as in Western Europe – from a reduction in public safety to acts of terrorism. In this regard I think that Hungary has done a good job of protecting itself, but that doesn’t mean that no such threat will arise in the future. And I repeat: in this context Europe must be seen as uniform; if we let someone enter Europe then we cannot tell where in Europe they might commit an act of terrorism, because once they’re in, it is very difficult to monitor their exact movements within Europe. These are difficult questions of procedure and we must undoubtedly tread carefully, because fundamental rights are important and must not be restricted more than is necessary. But I would like to make it clear that the safety of the public comes first: they must be protected.
When we spoke after the British prime minister’s visit here, you made it clear, for instance, that – like the other countries of the Visegrád Group – you cannot accept the British proposal for a so-called “emergency brake” mechanism, whereby workers from continental Europe would not be eligible to receive social benefits in the UK. Since then we have seen or heard that some kind of compromise solution is being developed – or at least this is what we can see from the proposals put forward by the President of the European Council. Is there a compromise proposal on the issue which the Visegrád Group is prepared to accept?
We are moving towards such a situation. Again, let’s go back to basics, if you don’t mind. According to British statistics from 2014 there are fifty-five thousand Hungarians working in Great Britain. Let us take this as our starting point; we could argue with it, it is now February 2016 and this is data from 2014, but the point is that there are tens of thousands of Hungarian families, or Hungarians, working there. In comparison, there are many more Germans living and working in the UK, so this does not just affect us here in Central Europe, it also affects Germans; this is not to mention the Poles, of whom there are some six, seven or eight hundred thousand over there. The first and most important thing is that we must protect what we all fought for, and what every political party in Hungary supported when we joined the European Union, and that is the freedom of Hungarians to travel and work anywhere within the European Union. This is a value. Today many people talk negatively about some young people trying their luck abroad. But I remember when we joined the European Union in 2004 everyone saw this as a great achievement, and we thought what a wonderful European right it was; and indeed, everyone who feels able to take on the risks and difficulties of making a living abroad must be allowed to do so. And so one of the most important elements in European civil rights is the freedom to work anywhere in Europe. And I believe that this is something which we must not undermine in any way. So the starting point of the debate is that no one – not even Great Britain – should be able to restrict the number of people working there; this is the starting point. The second question is whether it is acceptable to differentiate between the British and foreigners from the European Union who live there. To this I say that yes, it is of course possible to differentiate between them – the issue in question is the extent of such differentiation. And in my opinion no kind of differentiation should be made which would discriminate in favour of the British people living there and against people who have arrived in Britain from Central Europe or from outside the UK. The current debate concerns what constitutes discrimination, and what can be regarded as justifiable measures on the part of the British government. The British and the other European countries are now closer than they were, and the Visegrád Group is also making progress in harmonising their standpoints. We – the Czechs, Slovakians, Poles and ourselves – have decided that we must develop a joint standpoint and not represent our interests individually, but jointly. This is one of the reasons the Polish prime minister will be visiting Hungary next week and this is also why I will be in Prague on 15 February, where the prime ministers of the Visegrád Four will be discussing this issue; hopefully we will agree on a standpoint which we can all represent as a joint Central European standpoint at the prime ministers’ summit later that week in Brussels.
And the standpoints of the V4 and the British are very similar on many things – such as strengthening national sovereignty.
Yes, but I was replying to your question and focusing on the question of whether Great Britain should differentiate between its own citizens and Central Europeans working there. The issue you mention, whereby the British would in fact like to make much greater changes to the European Union and are pressing for comprehensive reforms – something I also support – is another question entirely. My view is that what the British are saying coincides with Hungary’s interests; what the British are saying is that in the 21st century the way the European Union currently operates does not stimulate competitiveness. We see that the European economy is faltering, that with the exception of Central Europe and Great Britain it is stagnating, that analysts are forecasting that other regions will grow much faster than us; all these are warning signs, and therefore the British say that Europe must be reformed – and we agree. We also agree on the direction of change. The British say that the European Union can only be strong if its Member States are strong; therefore all the rights and powers which have been taken away from Member States – who have been thus weakened – and which aren’t working properly at EU-level should be given back to Member States. In particular migration is one such issue, but I could list many others. So this is something we agree with. For instance, the role of Member States’ parliaments, which must have a greater say in decision-making processes within the European Union. Today the role of national parliaments is reduced to providing an opinion on certain issues, and the British say that this is not enough. And I believe this is also what the Hungarians say. We have greater confidence in our own national parliament, which we voted for ourselves, than in a jointly-elected European Parliament. We have confidence in that too, but it is of a different nature to the confidence citizens have in their own people and in their own Members of Parliament. So we would like national parliaments to at least have the right to veto legislation; if a national parliament does not agree with EU legislation which is being developed, it should have a way of blocking it. I agree with this. This is a British proposal, and there is a lot more in the British plan of action: competitiveness, reducing bureaucratic barriers, reducing bureaucracy in general, and so forth. So I believe that overall the British proposals will have a good effect on the future of Europe, as well as serving Hungary’s interests.
You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
05 February 2016
International Communications Office Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister