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Orbán: Ukraine EU integration ‘untimely’

Ukraine's integration into the European Union "is extremely untimely", Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told the French weekly Le Point in an interview published on Friday. Orbán said accession was not being prepared adequately, and its structure did not ensure "it will bring in more than it costs", Orbán said in a wide-ranging interview covering migration, NATO's role, a joint European defence system and the EP elections.

Ukraine “is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and it is not ready for EU accession,” he said.

Hungary, as Ukraine’s neighbour, “knows exactly what’s going on there, no matter what they think in Paris, Brussels or the Hague,” Orbán said.

He rejected the charge that Hungary was vetoing EU initiatives. “Let’s just say we don’t consent to them.”

Ukraine’s EU membership would burden the other member states, which would have to pay more contributions, he said. France, he added, would have to contribute 3.5 billion euros more every year than they had done so far.

Folding in Ukrainian agriculture into the EU system would “ruin” the sector in other countries, he warned.

Orbán proposed establishing a strategic partnership with Ukraine, saying this would open possibilities to signing agreements on agriculture, tariffs and security.

“I agree with elevating cooperation, but not with membership,” he said.

Regarding the Hungarian minority in Europe, Orbán said minority rights were not up for negotiation. Ukraine must respect those rights, regardless of their accession plans, he said.

Also, the matter did not depend on whether the EU would pay the 10 billion euros it has been withholding from Hungary, Orbán said. “Technical issues such as finances must not be mixed up with historic challenges.”

He said more than two-thirds of Hungarians were opposed to starting accession talks with Ukraine – as was the country’s parliament.

Orbán noted he had never supported sanctions against Russia, “as it would be hard to find an example in European history when sanctions worked.”

He insisted Europeans had been “betrayed” on the issue of badly phrased, badly implemented” sanctions.

“How do you explain that although Russia is under sanctions, the US has doubled its purchases of nuclear fuels? When we talk about sanctions, others – especially the US – circumvent them and conclude successful business deals.”

Asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán said: “Russia is a different country in terms of its history, politics and geography . It can’t be compared with Europe . where freedom is one of the fundamental values.”

He said preserving unity, rather than freedom, was the key issue. “We can’t expect Russia to be like Europe,” he said.

“The question is whether our differences stop us from cooperating,” he said, adding that such logic would make cooperation impossible “with two-thirds of the planet”. “Russia is here and it’s strong,” he said.

Orbán said that as he grew up in a communist country he had experienced a “dichotomy” that put the West on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other. He said he wanted to avoid a resurgence of an approach of “us against the world”.

Concerning migration, the prime minister said: “Hungarians may not necessarily follow the examples of other countries such as France. We cannot be fully assured that mixing cultures will be any better than our traditional society,” he said.

Put to him that he could help the Italian government handle illegal migration, Orbán said he was “trying to be as helpful as possible” but the European Union’s new migration pact “simply went in the wrong direction”.

He said he was experienced on the issue of migration and was “proud” that “no migrants are in Hungary”. “Every now and then some will manage to get into the country, but sooner or later they are pushed back,” he said.

He said the Hungarian government was working to ensure that nobody could enter without a Hungarian permit, and this practice “should be copied by every European state”.

Asylum seekers are required to stay outside Hungary and wait for the Hungarian authorities to assess their request, he noted. “This is the only good formula for handling illegal migration.” He warned that if illegal migrants entered Europe before being granted legal entry, “they may never be sent back”.

Asked what he would do if Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, asked Hungary for a plane to take illegal migrants back to Africa, Orbán said: “I have made that proposition at least a hundred times.”

Concerning the EU’s migration policy, Orbán said if the European Commission declared a migration emergency, Hungary would be required to accommodate migrants or pay a fine. “I am willing to pay if the EU takes over at least 30 percent of our border control costs . we have spent over 2 billion euros,” he said.

Meanwhile, Orbán said several countries in Europe had a “democracy deficit”, with “people considering politics as something for the elite and . turning to movements outside the elite”. He said Europe was dominated by “two kinds of dynamics: one is centrist and the other focused on national sovereignty . when they are balanced the EU works well.” He added, however, that the equilibrium had been upended by Brexit and “London’s secession has weakened central Europe”, resulting in “a strengthening of sometimes extremist elements advocating national sovereignty”.

Concerning the rule of law, Orbán said the EU Treaties did not include a definition. “Rather than the states jointly coming up with a definition, the rule of law has become a weapon in the hands of those working to build a more centralised EU,” he said.

He noted that the EU had launched a rule-of-law mechanism against Hungary when ruling Fidesz quit the European People’s Party. “We are innocent but also vulnerable,” Orbán said, adding that the rule of law “should be taken more seriously and not used as a political weapon”.

Hungary’s constitution honours the separation of the branches of government as well as religious freedoms, Orbán noted.

On another subject, Orbán said his Fidesz party was in consultations with Meloni’s European Conservatives and Reformers group, and “Budapest would be glad to join either before or after next summer’s EP elections.”

He said the Identity and Democracy group of parties was also “close to Fidesz” and regretted that the two groups had not yet negotiated a cooperation deal. “Unless the non-traditional right-wing parties are willing to cooperate, we will never have a majority,” Orbán said.

He said the EP elections could bring about a turnaround because “the liberal elite, the Brussels bureaucrats, no longer represent the EU’s fundamental goals”. While the EU had been “a pledge of peace and welfare”, currently “there is no peace and life has not improved”. “The time has come for parties outside mainstream politics, the non-traditional right-wing parties, to take the reins and restore peace and security.” the prime minister said.

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