Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - Photo: PMO

Orbán: Europe should be doing more for peace

Peace will not happen by itself, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told public radio in an interview on Friday. "Peace will come when someone makes it," he said in connection with the war in Ukraine.

Orbán said that Hungary, as the holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, did not have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the European Union. “This never occurred to me,” he said.

He said his task was to demonstrate how the situation has unfolded in respect of how far each party could go, and once this had been revealed the leaders of the 27 EU member states may come to a decision. Henceforth, those authorised to negotiate “will do so”.

“But this is still very far off,” the prime minister said. “We can only take the first steps on the road to peace.”

Orbán said that Europe should hold the compass of peace and humanity, humane thinking, and pursue a humane foreign policy, and it was likely that it could do more to move towards peace.

Commenting on his recent meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the prime minister said that Hungary knew its place and “the big countries” would handle the big peace negotiations, but in a vacuum of dialogue it was “very hard to imagine how to move in the direction of peace without it”.

Orbán said his job was to make the facts clear by going to the places where there was a threat of war that may have an impact on Europe and Hungary.

The prime minister said he had asked Zelensky several questions to gauge where his red lines were and how far he could go for the sake of peace.

He said Hungary could be useful for those who strove for peace. “The positions are far apart, but Hungary can get the parties off to a start along the long road ahead, with a ceasefire and peace negotiations at the end.”

Zelensky, he said, was unhappy about the idea of peace talks or a ceasefire as “the other side” may take advantage of the latter by redeploying forces.

But it would be possible to overcome such a standoff “with some perspective and knowing that peace negotiations are only a few weeks or months off,” he added.

The prime minister said there were “all sorts of surveys” after Europe had decided to “get involved in the war on Ukraine’s side”. Discussions and surveys about the war, he added, were also part of the war, meaning that they were “manipulated” or “hard to believe”.

Orbán mentioned his recent visits to Berlin, Rome and Paris in preparation for Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, along with his visit to Kyiv this week, where he said he had spoken to not just politicians and decision-makers but also “the average people”.

During his trips, he said he saw a kind of “moral pressure” for Europe to do more to “ease the tension of war” when conflict broke out in its neighbourhood that should not have.

There was also a feeling, he added, expectations were too weighted towards waiting for America to act instead of taking more pro-active steps today.

Also, people were worried about the impact of the war on Europe’s economy, he said, citing cost-of-living worries in Western Europe and “war inflation everywhere”.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said that France’s parliamentary election would not only influence the number of groups or representatives in the European Parliament but the future of the whole of Europe.

Orbán said it was unprecedented in France for a right-wing party to make a breakthrough in a domestic election. The right, he added, had been cordoned off and excluded from French politics in recent decades, deemed unfit for cooperation by other parties.

But they had broken through this cordon, Orbán said, “and if I’m right, not by a small but by a big margin — if we’re interpreting the first round correctly.”

Such a momentous development in France would precipitate change “that will immediately affect the entire continent”, he said, adding that this would also influence ties between Hungary and France.

In one possible scenario, the right wing in France may win to an extent that it can form a government, but a confused situation may also emerge if its victory did not turn out to be decisive, and this could also affect European politics, he said.

Marine Le Pen’s party, he added, was “the biggest national group in the European Parliament … so it isn’t a matter of indifference how they decide their fate.”

Regarding the Patriots for Europe group, Orbán said a founding meeting will take place on Monday. Parties will gather that have already decided to join but have not yet announced their intention to do so, he added.

Orbán reiterated that the force could possibly end up being the second largest grouping in the EP.

Meanwhile, Orbán slammed the recent series of flight delays and cancellations a “unacceptable”, saying it was “impossible not to be outraged” by what was happening in the sector.

“It’s not about whether or not air travel is well-organised, but that there’s not even the bare minimum of humanity,” Orbán said. He added that most passengers had been working throughout the entire year to be able to use their savings to go on holiday, and this was “one of the important events of the year” for most Hungarian families.

Orbán said passengers were not being shown “any humanity” by airlines when they were not kept informed about the situation and the long delays.

He said what was happening at Liszt Ferenc International Airport was a consequence of the period before the state had re-acquired it, adding that he trusted that the situation would improve “when the actual physical takeover happens”. He said it was not just the airport’s operator that needed to do a better job, but also air traffic control and the ground crew.

Orbán said the government expected staff and crew that interacted with Hungarians and tourists to show “more understanding and humanity”, adding that he had instructed his ministers to enforce those expectations.

On the topic of vehicle fuel prices, the prime minister said the government would not tolerate Hungarians having to pay more for fuel than the average price in neighbouring countries. Hungary’s vehicle fuel companies must honour the agreement they signed with the government, he said.

“We can’t have prices keeping to the regional average for a while only to then slip out of that range,” Orbán said, adding that “this is what’s happening now”.

He said that for now, the government was asking fuel companies “verbally” to keep to the agreement. “But we won’t say it twice. We have an agreement and it must be honoured. We tolerate Hungarians being made to pay more for fuel than what is the average price in neighbouring countries. And if this polite message doesn’t work, we’ll take steps.”

On another subject, Orbán criticised the EU’s tariffs on China’s biggest electric vehicle manufacturers as “bad and ill-thought-out”, warning that the measure could trigger a trade war.

Orbán said the “biggest aim and the strongest hope” was that the tariffs would only be temporary and would be lifted after four months.

He said the European Commission had justified the introduction of the tariffs with the need to protect the interests of European manufacturers, adding, at the same time, that the leaders of the major carmakers he had spoken to ahead of the start of Hungary’s EU presidency had strongly opposed the measure.

“These kinds of bad and ill-though-out decisions can push economic life towards a trade war”, the prime minister warned, saying this “decision by the bureaucrats” could trigger counter-measures from the East.

Hungary’s interests, he said, lay in averting a trade war, because “we make our living by being able to sell what we produce in Hungary all over the world”. “But if there’s going to be a trade war then we won’t be able to sell the products produced in Hungary, and this could eventually threaten jobs,” he added.

Turning to the economy, Orbán said there were encouraging signs which should neither be overestimated nor underestimated. He underlined the importance of the tourism sector, noting that the money spent by tourists in Hungary made its way into the Hungarian economy.

He said the government was trying to reach an agreement with Hungarian employers that would result in good wages, as this was “the most important tool in the fight against inflation”.

“We’re burning the candle at both ends … in the interest of easing the cost of living,” he said, adding that 60 percent of bookings in the tourism sector were from domestic and 40 percent form foreign travellers, which indicated that “there’s something Hungarians can afford here at home”.

Orbán said that in addition to the government’s housing programmes that have helped 250,000 families the home renovation subsidy scheme would help 20,000-30,000 families.

He said employment data and the state of the construction sector — where a bigger slowdown had been expected — were both encouraging, but it would not be until the US presidential election in the autumn and when the outcome of the war became clearer that it would be known whether a general improvement in the situation could be expected.

“We have a lot of work to do before then,” Orbán said.

Leave a Reply