Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - Photo: PMO

Orbán: Europe ‘has lost ability to govern itself’

Europe "has lost its ability to govern itself", failing to set itself goals or recognise the means to achieve them, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a speech at an event celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Swiss weekly Weltwoche in Zurich on Wednesday. Europe's share of world economic output is falling, Orbán said, adding that by 2030 Germany would be the last European country to remain among the top ten economic powers, in tenth place.
22. November 2023 17:55

The European Union is holding elections next year, and the new power relations will also have an effect on Switzerland in issues such as its role in the EU’s common market, Orbán said.

Hungary, which will take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2024, will also be able to shape the EU’s agenda, he added.

Europe, he added, had failed to handle its own enlargement as well as regional conflicts in Ukraine and the Western Balkans.

Orbán said it was important for Europe to maintain its strategic sovereignty. “Europe’s fate is linked to the US”, he said: “If Washington loses space, we will lose out, and that is the ruling tendency today.”

After winning the Cold War, western Europe saw it useful to partner with another Christian entity, the United States, he said. That had changed because the progressive liberals were in power in the US, spreading their principles forcefully. “The US’s cowboy capitalism is foreign to Europe.”

Meanwhile, Europe has also lost “politicians of great stature”, Orbán said. With the exit of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac, “Europe lost its ability to have leaders able to take forceful action.”

The place of strong politicians had been taken over by bureaucrats, he said. Former EC President Jean-Claude Juncker “declared the EC to have become a political body.” But the change necessary in the EU can only be introduced by politicians, and its political leadership should be taken over by the European Council, the body comprising heads of member states and governments, he said.

Meanwhile, central institutions are determined by the “progressive liberalism imported from the US,” he said.

Central Europe has a particular responsibility in this situation, “especially Hungary where there is no liberal hegemony, no coalition fighting, migration or street fights”, Orbán said.

Hungary is building a labour-based society that leads to prosperity, not one rooted in welfare, he said.

Orbán said the family was at the heart of Hungarian policymaking, which in turn was based on low taxes and attracting investments from both East and West, as well as suppressing migration.

Demographic challenges must be handled with family policy in place of open immigration, he said, adding that instead of supporting gender policy, the Hungarian government backed family values.

“Hungary is not the black sheep in the EU, but the first swallow,” he said.

Responding to questions, Orbán said Hungary’s standpoint had always been that the risks associated with illegal migration were “too high”, and action must be taken to combat it.

Orbán said that since 2015 Hungary had consistently rejected the “Western argument” that migration helped alleviate labour problems and led to a more liberal society.

Hungary always argued that accepting migrants would create parallel societies in Europe, as it would mean integrating non-Christians into a Christian community, he added.

Meanwhile, Christian culture must also be promoted, “as the one allowing for the most humane and freest world,” he said.

Orbán said Hungary had been forced to take it upon itself to protect the entire Schengen zone from illegal migration, and the EU had not supported its efforts. Thanks to their determination, Hungarian border officers stopped 270,000 illegal migrants at the borders last year, he said.

The Hungarian system is also effective because it has “zero appeal” for migrants, he said.

He added he was in favour of the strictly regulated employment of guest workers.

Regarding Hungary’s economic performance, Orbán said the country held the “record in the EU” regarding investments, employment and exports last year. Relative to its population, Hungary has a “prominent position” among exporters, he added.

Meanwhile, Hungary is also suffering under “EU sanctions, as financial resources, some 3-4 billion euros annually, are withheld unlawfully,” he said.

Among economic measures, Orbán mentioned Hungary’s low flat-rate personal income tax, the absence of an inheritance tax, the corporate tax rate being less than 10 percent and the government’s preferential support for foreign investment. Hungary, he added, aimed to be a meeting point for the Eastern and Western businesses with the best strategies.

Orbán said that instead of progressive liberal hegemony, there was pluralism in Hungary, adding that “the representation of a sovereignist stance was working”. Noting that he has been active in politics for 33 years, Orbán said he had been in government for 17 of those, making him the most experienced leader in the EU.

The prime minister also touched on the situation in Ukraine, saying Europe must be ready that if there was a political turnaround in the US that would leave the bloc on its own in handling “the huge geopolitical conflict” and finding a political solution to an “almost insoluble case”, while bearing the costs. But Europe, he added, was “getting poorer” and did not have the money to deal with such a “big crisis”.

He said there was no question that Russia’s attack on Ukraine had been an act of aggression and a violation of international law. But, he added, Europe had not given the correct response because the conflict should have been localised, but had since been globalised. The West’s strategy, he said, had been for Russia to lose on the battlefield because of the Western assistance to Ukraine, leading to a change in leadership in Russia. But now, Orbán said, it was obvious that Ukraine would not achieve victory on the battlefield, and realistically there would be no change in Moscow, either.

He said a “plan B” was needed because there was no point in the West just continuing to fund Ukraine. Europe, however, has no such plan in place yet, the prime minister added. He also pointed out the West’s “hypocrisy”, arguing that the US, for instance, was buying significant volumes of nuclear fuel from Russia.

Hungary’s leadership also sees the extent to which Ukrainians are suffering, he said, noting that many of the ethnic Hungarians from western Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region were dying in the war. That was why, he said, Hungary wanted the fighting to end as soon as possible. The most important consideration is achieving a ceasefire, and then talks on a long-term peace agreement can begin, Orbán said.

Asked about his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán said it was important to understand Russians in order to know how to deal with them. Moscow has a different system in place, he said, noting that whereas in the West freedom was the main guiding principle, in Russia it was security, because that was what was needed to keep a country of that size together.

Concerning China, the prime minister said he believed the country presented a major opportunity for Hungary and it was important to cooperate with Beijing. He said he disagreed with the view that economic ties between China and Europe should be severed.

A podium discussion was held after the prime minister’s speech, moderated by Swiss People’s Party lawmaker Roger Koeppel and featuring Hungarian Nobel Prize winning scientist Ferenc Krausz and former Czech prime minister Vaclav Klaus, among others.

Fielding questions about Swiss-Hungarian ties, Orbán emphasised the friendship between Switzerland and Hungary. He expressed thanks for Switzerland having taken in Hungarian refugees in 1956, and thanked the refugees for earning the respect of the Alpine country.

More than 30,000 families in Hungary earn an income from the 900 Swiss companies doing business in the country, Orbán said.

He said Hungary liked neutral countries but given its geographical position “doesn’t have the luxury” of being neutral itself.

Orbán said Europe would be poorer without Weltwoche. He said that while it was a general tendency to go in the direction of progressive liberalism, it was “reassuring” that there were still places in Europe where it was permitted to speak freely, like in Switzerland. Orbán said Weltwoche was not like mainstream media and he himself was not like a mainstream politician.

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