Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (l) - Photo: PMO

Orbán: Ukraine’s EU membership ‘does not coincide with Hungary’s national interests’

Ukraine's European Union membership and the start of accession talks "currently do not coincide with Hungary's national interests", the bloc should first sign a strategic partnership agreement with the country, and support for Ukraine should be provided outside the EU budget, in a transparent way, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday.

Orbán said he had proposed that talks on Ukraine’s EU membership are not started at the upcoming meeting of EU leaders in two weeks’ time. He said it was a mistake to force the prime ministers to include the issue on the meeting’s agenda.

The European Commission must understand that it is their responsibility that the meeting is not well-prepared. The EC has proposed starting accession talks with Ukraine but this does not coincide with the interests of several member states, and “certainly not with Hungary’s,” he said.

“And we are in good enough condition to dare say this, no matter what type of pressure is placed on us,” he added.

Orbán said making preparations did not mean “putting something to paper that everyone will read”, but rather that the EU should talk to everyone and align their interests. “Once they managed to align the interests and there is a chance for consensus, then they make a proposal,” he added.

He said that a lack of consensus on Ukraine’s EU accession could be expected, “and then we break the European unity”. Unity can be preserved if the issues on which there is no consensus are not included on the agenda, he added.

He said the EU basic treaty did not use the word “veto” but it stated that in certain issues a decision could only be made if all member states agree.

“Hungary will not veto anything, Hungary will prevent some decisions,” he said.

“A decision cannot be made without us,” he said, adding that “we are the EU”. “The EU is not in Brussels where the bureaucrat are. The EU is in Budapest, and in Warsaw, and in Paris and Berlin,” he said.

“Hungary has every right to participate in making a decision only if it coincides with the Hungarian national interests,” he added.

Orbán said he would represent the position that the bloc should first sign a five to ten-year strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine, which will allow bringing Ukraine closer to the EU.

“Once we see that we can cooperate, then we can bring up the question of membership,” he said, adding that this would only be possible “many, many years from now”.

Orbán said the EU had committed a similar mistake in the past when it started talks with Turkey, promising them membership. “And it has been going on for 20-30 years, which makes everyone frustrated, and the whole issue is a failure,” he added.

He said there were several issues in the case of Ukraine that were uncertain, with the legal and political systems of a country at war functioning differently from a peaceful country’s, and it was therefore impossible to tell whether Ukraine met the rule-of-law conditions of EU membership.

He said it also could not be determined how big Ukraine’s territory was, arguing that parts of it were under Russian occupation despite being part of Ukraine in terms of the law, or how big the population was given that people were constantly fleeing the country. It was also unclear, he said, what effect the integration of Ukraine’s agriculture would have on the common market. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarian farmers would go out of business if Ukraine’s agriculture was part of the European system, he added.

It is also not known where the money would come from if Ukraine was to join, he said. If the money must be drawn from the existing funds, then countries in central and eastern Europe will lose certain financial resources, he added.

Hungary’s position is that support for Ukraine should be provided outside the European Union budget, in a transparent way, he said.

A separate fund should be set up with intergovernmental agreement for supporting Ukraine, with every country making payments to it.

“We have granted very much money, over 100 billion euros, to Ukraine, partly in the form of weapons and partly in cash,” he said. “If this money had been spent on Europe’s development, the European economy would be in much better shape.”

“Europe suffers from economic problems and at the same time, it is throwing money away, sending train-loads of weapons and money to Ukraine,” he said.

He added that instead of the war, a ceasefire was needed. “Instead of the war, a ceasefire should be financed, and then peace,” he said.

Meanwhile, Orbán said that at its core, every political debate was about sovereignty, and that only Hungarians could decide their own fate. He added, at the same time, that attempts were always being made to interfere in Hungary’s affairs, noting the case of the “dollar left and the dollar media”. He said the government needed the support of everyone who valued Hungary’s independence and sovereignty, asking the public to fill out the National Consultation survey.

He said one of the lessons of Hungarian history was that the country had always been surrounded by larger empires, “and though they wanted to take a bite out of us, we don’t have to be frightened by them because even those that are bigger than us have fallen and we’re still here”. “We move in a way so that we can be there at the funeral of every empire,” he said. Orbán said another lesson was that over the last 1,100 years Hungarians had shown how to arrange their own territory. “This is our world that we know how to best arrange,” he said, adding that Hungarians did not want to let others to interfere in their affars.

At the same time, Orbán said, “there are always those, even within Hungary, who think we should integrate into an empire instead”. “There are always those willing to sell out parts of the country or all of it for money.” He said the government of former socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany had “brought the IMF on us, introduced foreign currency-denominated lending which turned out to be good for the banks but not the people, and took people’s pensions and wages away”. In times when these kinds of governments are in power, their decisions don’t serve the interests of the Hungarian people and violate the country’s sovereignty, he added.

The prime minister said foreigners were trying to influence the decisions of countries of Hungary’s size, insisting that “the Americans, for example, are trying to press us into the Ukrainian war right now”. He said economic lobby interests also tended to come up, and during election campaigns, attempts were made to influence people not to choose a nationally minded government.

“This is what happened in the last parliamentary elections, when the left was backed with money from the West, Brussels and Washington,” the prime minister said. This, he noted, was against the law, but because loopholes had been found, drafting clear regulation was in the country’s interest.

“Let’s not allow a repeat of a situation in which . the Hungarian people find out after the election that attempts had been made to influence their decision through the left-wing parties,” Orbán said.

He said parliament needed to make some decisions in the interest of protecting Hungary’s sovereignty, and efforts to block attempts to interfere in the country’s affairs had to be taken more seriously in the coming years.

“This is Hungary, and we’ve been able to arrange it so far and will continue to run it,” he said.

Concerning the economy, Orbán said inflation, sanctions and the energy crisis had made 2023 “the most dangerous year in a long time”.

Hungarians this year “have been working so that things don’t get worse, so that they could protect their prior achievements”, he said.

But he said 2024 would be a “hopeful year”, emphasising that “this time we’ll be working so that things get better”.

He said there were already signs showing that this was “not just wishful thinking”, but something that could be achieved. He vowed that the government would “definitely raise pensions by 6 percent even if it turns out that inflation is only at 5 percent”. The increased 13th-month pension will be paid out in February, and economic players have decided to raise the minimum wage for skilled labourers and unskilled workers by 10-15 percent, he noted.

The prime minister said it was also an encouraging sign that the government had been able to roll out the expansion of its home creation scheme by increasing subsidies for the village CSOK programme, launching the revamped CSOK Plusz home purchase subsidy programme, and increasing the prenatal baby support loan.

He welcomed that the share of home owners among people under 40 had reached 75 percent.

Orbán said Hungary had a vested interest in establishing economic relations with the entire world. He said that though it was clear that “we are part of the West”, it was also “obvious that the fastest-growing part of the world right now is to our east”. Orbán said economic cooperation with Easterners was therefore in Hungary’s fundamental interest, and the government’s foreign policy needed to support this.

Orbán said the reason why he had recently travelled to Switzerland and Azerbaijan and was scheduled to visit Argentina next week before going to Brussels was to try to make more room for Hungarian economic players so that they could be as successful as possible abroad, and so that Hungary could benefit from that success.

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