Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (r) - Photo: PMO

Orbán: Hungarians should not bear costs of ‘bad decision’; decision-makers should

Hungary did not take part in the decision at the EU summit on starting Ukraine's EU accession process and vetoed 50 billion euros in financial aid for the country, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told public radio on Friday. In the interview recorded in Brussels, Orbán said that starting accession talks with Ukraine had been a "bad decision" and its potential drawbacks should not be paid by Hungarians.

He said he had tried to convince the other EU leaders not to put the issue of Ukraine’s accession negotiations on the agenda.

Orbán said the decision was not taken at the right time and he had tried to persuade EU leaders to return to the issue “when Ukraine is ready to negotiate”.

“I struggled for eight hours to explain to them that helping badly is worse than not helping at all,” he said.

“It was impossible to convince them,” he said. The EU leaders had “two serious arguments” that he had to take into account. “One is that there are 26 of them, and I’m alone, and they wanted to give Ukraine … encouragement to continue the war, and they asked me not to block them from doing so,” he said, adding that their decisive argument was that Hungary would not lose anything, given that the final word on Ukraine’s membership was up to national parliaments, including Hungary’s.

“If we don’t want Ukraine to become a member of the European Union, then the Hungarian parliament will vote against it,” he said.

The prime minister said a long process lay ahead before the issue would reach the parliaments and there were around 75 occasions when the Hungarian government could halt the process.

“If anything harms Hungary’s interests during the talks, I will stop it,” he added.

Noting that the other EU leaders were determined to allow accession negotations to begin, he said: “Hungary does not want to take part in this bad decision.” He said they could go it alone, “and that’s why I left the room”.

Meanwhile, Orbán said he had to veto 50 billion euros in aid for Ukraine, and an extraordinary summit was likely to be held at some point in February, when they would return to the issue.

The prime minister said that the EU wanted to give the money of member states, including the money of the Hungarians, to Ukraine, but he vetoed this. He noted that a unanimous decision was needed, which Hungary withheld.

“I had to veto the 50 billion … they had no choice other than to take note that Hungary vetoed it, so there is no money,” he said.

The decision to start Ukraine’s EU accession talks was a “bad” one with possible drawbacks, he said, adding that Hungary would “not pay the financial and economic costs”.

Orbán said the EU decision-makers “must bear the costs of this decision”.

EU member states, he said, wanted to “go in this direction quarreling” and Hungary had the chance to warn that “this is a bad decision”.

Orbán said Hungary could “stop this process later”, adding that the final decision on Ukraine’s membership would be made by the Hungarian parliament.

“If the interests of Hungarian farmers must be protected, then Hungary will apply the handbrake; let there be no doubt about that,” he said.

The prime minister said the EU was used to making bad decisions, and he listed the 2008 financial crisis, migration, and its decision over the war in Ukraine to go “towards war and sanctions” rather than in the direction of peace.

Orbán said Hungary had no interest in the EU managing itself by taking out loans to finance aid to Ukraine, adding that the bloc’s money was structured in a way that what was paid in to the budget was then spent.

“We made an exception once and came out of it badly,” he said, referring to joint borrowing for financing pandemic recovery. “Not everyone was allowed to access this money in the same way.” “This shouldn’t happen again,” Orbán said.

The prime minister called the situation in Ukraine “bad”, adding that the war should not be fed more money but stopped.

“A ceasefire and peace negotiations are needed,” he said. The start of Ukraine’s accession talks “in itself won’t harm Hungary’s interests for now”, but financing Ukraine with loans “is already an immediate harm to interests”.

Orbán said that change was needed in Brussels. “The fact that they were messing with Hungary this way showed that Brussels had the inclination to abuse its powers,” he said.

Also, EU money would have to be “handed over sooner or later no matter what”, he said. “Once all the money arrives, the Hungarian parliament will decide how much of it should go towards raising teachers’ wages, how much for supporting SMEs and how much for energy modernisation, and so on,” he added.

Orbán said that efforts to amend the EU’s seven-year budget offered an excellent opportunity for Hungary to receive the remainder of EU funds so far held back. “Not only a half, not only a quarter, but we must get all of it,” he said.

“We expect fair treatment and now chances are good to enforce that,” he added.

Commenting on the sovereignty protection law approved on Tuesday, he said it closed loopholes “to prevent dollars from rolling in to the left-wing’s cash register”.

Orbán said that a country’s “greatest treasure is its independence; its sovereignty”. “The constitutional system serves this,” he said.

The prime minister said the Hungarian system was “robust”, but the 2022 election campaign had revealed that there was still some room “for the dollars to roll in”.

Hungary’s constitutional system prohibits the influencing of the election with foreign money he said, adding that the left wing had nevertheless found a way to do it, partly with the help of left-leaning media and the support of NGOs working for them.

“The sovereignty protection law has been introduced so as to prevent this,” he added.

Recipients of foreign funding, “those that live from dollars rolling in”, are now protesting because the foreign political financing loopholes have been closed, he said.

Orbán said that those who “live off foreign money” were the ones protesting against the law. “This is a protest by mercenaries,” he added.

The prime minister said the law would “protect Hungary’s interests well”.

“Sovereignty does not mean that the country will isolate itself from the rest of the world, because being connected to world trade provides Hungary great opportunities,” he said.

“The reason we can live better than our size would otherwise allow is that we make products not only for a market of ten million people but to the whole world,” he added.

Commenting on the National Consultation public survey, he said the government’s task was not to shape public thinking but to understand what Hungarians were thinking.

People expressing their opinion, he said, would help the government when using its veto in Brussels, for example, to block “the attempt by 26 countries to hand out money”.

“Knowing the country’s public opinion, what the Hungarian people want, is the greatest resource for me,” he said.

He also said that, in this matter, the left wing acted “a lot like mercenaries; they do not follow national interests”. He said they belonged to a minority of the Hungarian nation, as reflected by the outcome of successive elections. “We also know their opinion, but majority opinion greatly differs from theirs,” he said.

“Instead of shaping public opinion, the government engages in a discourse with the people, which will result in a Hungarian position that I can represent,” he said.

“What’s most important is that the Hungarian parliament, the elected representatives of Hungarians, make the decisions on all important matters in Hungary,” he said. “It will be the case also in the issue of Ukraine’s EU accession,” he added.

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