Hungary today has more friends and allies than ever before, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told a meeting of the Permanent Hungarian Conference (MÁÉRT) in Budapest on Friday. The kind of government in potential partner countries determines the opportunities for cooperation with Hungary’s Christian nationalist government, Orbán said. Hungary, its government, and Hungarians living across the borders “always have it easier when similar governments based on nationalist Christian foundations are in the majority, or at least present in Europe,” he said. The latest political developments have made that easier, he said.
The prime minister noted that MÁÉRT last met in person in 2019, adding that they had all become stronger since then. The key question of 2019 was whether ethnically unified Hungarian representation should move in the direction of ethnically mixed Hungarian representation, he said. Now it is clear that all Hungarian communities want political structures to be ethnically uniform, he added. Also in 2019, he argued that central Europe would become Europe’s economic engine, and this had indeed become the case, Orbán said.
There was also broad agreement then that the Balkans would be key to European security. Whereas the current war has eclipsed the issue, today the Balkans are witnessing serious power rivalries, he said, adding that countries of the western Balkans, especially Serbia, must accede to the EU as soon as possible to ensure security in the region.
Commenting on the Visegrád Group, the prime minister said its importance had been highlighted in 2019, but while it was still important today, the situation had changed, and he referred to “uncertainties” surrounding Czechia and Slovakia and their foreign policies.
“Neither is cooperation with the Poles straightforward,” Orbán said, noting tensions over the war in Ukraine, even though both Hungary and Poland shared the view that “Russia should not threaten the region”, and a sovereign state as a buffer between Russia and central Europe was needed.
Orbán said that whereas Hungary concurred with Poland on the ultimate aims, they disagreed on the means, with Hungary backing a ceasefire and peace negotiations allowing Russia a designated place in Europe’s security structure which is “not disadvantageous or dangerous for us”.
Orbán said “the plan … to organise central Europe to enable it to represent a significant force in Europe, rather than being defined by their relations to larger states, now has less of a chance of becoming reality.”
But new kinds of cooperation are emerging, he said, noting as an example Serbian-Austrian-Hungarian cooperation which would hopefully be long-lasting.
The prime minister said the war was part of a process whereby the world’s power relations were upended, and this was also part of a larger trend which encompassed the financial crisis and the migration crisis. Goods, resources and profits produced in the world are now distributed proportionally at variance to the status quo ante, and these changes are accelerating fast, he said. It was questionable, he added, whether this process could happen free of wars or whether conflict was a feature of it.
“If war is being waged in your neighbourhood, you are not out of harm’s way either,” Orbán said, adding that restoring peace in Hungary’s neighbourhood as soon as possible was a strategic issue for the country. War claims lives and has economic consequences, too, Orbán said, calling it important that what happened in Poland three days ago, namely the missile incident which claimed three lives, should not become part of everyday experience.
It is not a rewarding role to be the only one to speak about the importance of ceasefire and peace talks in Europe, but this is what lies in Hungary’s strategic interests, he said. Orbán said that the 2014 conflict in Crimea, when Russia occupied the peninsula, did not spread because “the German-French axis successfully contained” it. In 2022, the countries with an interest in keeping the conflict local were not strong enough, he said.
“Botched” sanctions policies have resulted in skyrocketing energy prices, creating a 10 billion euro annual deficit in Hungary’s economy, he said. The economy will “swallow” some 6 billion of that deficit, and the budget will be left with a 4 billion euro hole, he said. That sum will be missing from social spending, wage hikes and tax cuts, he added. “From that point of view, Hungary’s policy demanding a review of the sanctions does not seem at all over the top,” he said. Energy prices could even halve if the pro-sanctions policy changed, he added. The original aim of introducing sanctions was to undermine Russian military power, he said. But the situation has escalated more than ever since then, prolonging the war, and so “Hungary does not trust sanctions,” he said.
Orbán insisted the beneficiaries of the war were “not necessarily those who started it”, but rather the US and China. “We are among the losers because Europe has no leadership,” he said. “Europe cannot assert its interests because we don’t know who the defining forces and players are,” he said.
Orbán said that in this situation, Hungary should “refrain from adopting the European post-nationalist approach” and remain firmly on a national footing. Hungarians “stood together in peril” during the financial, migration and coronavirus crises, and have even successfully mended some “faulty systems”, he said, pointing to energy policy, which he said was on the verge of an overhaul.
Putting national interests first is an asset, Orbán said. Hungary condemns Russian aggression and is helping Ukraine, but will not put the latter’s interests before its own, he said.
The prime minister emphasised that Hungary will not endorse the policy of European Union member states raising joint loans to aid Ukraine. Instead, EU member states should work out how much money is needed for Ukraine to run its state and distribute the costs proportionately and fairly, Orbán said. Accordingly, Hungary would provide 60-70 billion forints (EUR 146-170m) annually from the national budget as part of a bilateral agreement concluded with Ukraine, he added. The sums involved would not harm basic Hungarian national interests even if this amount would be missing from the Hungarian budget, he added. If Hungary allows the EU to take out a joint loan, the bloc will irreversibly transform itself into a “loan union”, he insisted.
The crisis at hand is also an opportunity, Orbán said. “If Hungary positions itself well, it will advance on competitiveness rankings,” and that is why the government is unwilling to give up Russian connections, he said. Ties with neighbouring countries should also be tightened, he said.
Regarding EU funding, Orbán noted that the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) set up to counter the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic was a joint loan rather than an accumulation of member state payments. Its distribution had been decided in advance, so the money “will have to be disbursed; it can only be delayed”, he said.
Hungary is the only country with whom the EU has not signed the agreement on the RRF yet, he noted. That could be accomplished in the coming days, he added.
Orbán said Hungary was on the cusp of concluding an agreement on EU funding for the 2021-2027 financial cycle, “although even if we sign it, it is uncertain whether it will be paid, and which parts of it would be suspended.” The funding would run to 800 billion forints, with the country’s GDP around 62,000 billion forints, he added.
Orbán said “political games” may well be played out but the EU should not resort to using funding as a tool of blackmail. “We won’t be backed into a corner,” he said, adding that such a negotiating strategy would never reach its goal. He called the process “insolent and ruinous”, adding that without EU funding Hungary would turn to the world market and China for loans to finance the greening of Hungary’s economy.
The prime minister said the government would not abandon its national strategic goals even amid the current crisis. Family support will be expanded and jobs retained, while the government will continue pursuing the goal of national unification, he added.
Orbán vowed to the leaders of Hungarian communities across the border that discussions about investments by Hungary would focus on what can be achieved rather than what is not possible in the current environment, though, he cautioned, for the next couple of years no new large-scale investments were on the horizon.