At a plenary session of the European Parliament, one of the main topics of which was the state of fundamental rights in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the Hungarian government has in recent years sought to resolve conflicts through dialogue and negotiations, and will also strive for this outcome on the issues currently on the agenda.
The Prime Minister highlighted that in the past few years his government has succeeded in resolving a number of disputes with the European Union, on issues such as media regulation, the new Hungarian Constitution, the independence of the judiciary and the Paks Nuclear Plant enlargement project.
Accusations regarding closure of Central European University are unfounded
Mr. Orbán described accusations regarding the closure of Central European University (CEU) as unfounded, adding that the legislative amendment simply standardises the rules applying to all institutions of higher education operating in Hungary.He underlined that the Hungarian law eliminates the possibility of speculation and abuse, demands transparency, and ends special privileges not enjoyed by European universities.
He pointed out that as the leader of an EU Member State it is his duty to ensure that European and Hungarian universities are not at a disadvantage compared to their competitors outside the EU.
Speaking about the planned tightening of regulations on non-governmental organisations, he said that a number of EU Member States are considering how to make the operations of organisations which seek to influence democratic decision-making transparent to everyone. All that the Hungarian government is seeking to do is see that people are provided with information about the funding and interests behind non-governmental organisations.
In his speech the Prime Minister highlighted that the Hungarian government’s commitment to the European Union cannot be questioned, but “in many respects we are dissatisfied with the functioning of the European Union”. He said that his government criticises the European Union because it wants to correct existing mistakes and reform the EU.He added that the Member State in which the popularity of the European Union is the highest is Hungary, but people will only support the Union if it is fair and built on open debate. He said that the trust of citizens can only be regained if we make every effort to rectify mistakes. In order to do so, however, we first of all need to clearly identify the problems.
Mr. Orbán called upon Members of the European Parliament to be critical of any prejudice against Hungary, and to always avoid double standards. He added that his government realises that membership not only involves rights, but also obligations.
Responding to remarks from MEPs, the Prime Minister first spoke about the migration crisis, pointing out that Hungary is observing the provisions of the Dublin Regulation – for which it deserves recognition, rather than attacks. He added that, by observing these international commitments, the Government is primarily protecting Germany, Austria and Sweden, as migrants only want to travel through Hungary and not to it.
The Hungarian position on the issue of migration is perfectly clear, he said: illegal immigration must be stopped, and refugees and economic migrants should be separated from each other outside the territory of the European Union. Assistance must be taken to people in trouble where the trouble is, he said, adding that the policy of relocations based on mandatory quotas has failed, as not even those states not opposed to the EU policy are not implementing it. It has proved to be a bad idea and a different solution must be found, the Prime Minister stated.
What Hungary receives from the European Union is not a charitable donation
He further pointed out that what Hungary receives from the European Union is not a charitable donation. Every Member State benefits from the cohesion policy, and so Hungary cannot be asked “to keep our mouths shut”. He highlighted that the net contributor Member States are also beneficiaries of the cohesion policy: “We have eliminated our customs tariffs. We have opened our markets and permitted the free flow of capital – while after communism we lacked capital and were as poor as church mice […] You cannot ask us, Ladies and Gentlemen, to keep our mouths shut, and you cannot speak to us as if you were giving us some gift, and as if we should be grateful because you have bought us and now we are in debt to you.”
Regarding the accusations made against the Hungarian government, he said that “it is unjust and unfair” to mention authoritarian countries when talking about Hungary.
In response to comments about the fact that Mr. Orbán himself once studied abroad with a scholarship from the Soros Foundation, the Prime Minister said: “I have quite a few thoughts about George Soros, but I certainly don’t think that he ever gave anyone a scholarship because he thought that by doing so he was buying that person’s opinions for the rest of their life.”
Mr. Orbán also objected to the view in Europe today that there is no democracy in a country if the liberals do not win or are not part of the government. He said he believes that there can still be democracy without this. “Illiberal democracy is when someone other than the liberals have won”, he said.
Agenda items for the Wednesday session included amendment of the Hungarian legislation on higher education, the planned tightening of regulations on non-governmental organisations, the automatic detention of asylum seekers, the issue of media pluralism, and independence of the judiciary.
(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI, photo: Balázs Szecsődi)