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Viktor Orban in Die Zeit: We were told in 2015 that those who do not admit migrants should not get money

In an interview with the German liberal daily Die Zeit, Hungary's prime minister spoke about political divisions in the EU, the bloc's long-term budget and the issue of migration.

In the interview published on Wednesday, Viktor Orban emphasized that Hungarians had "done a lot historically for  three decades" to implement the rule of law in the region east of the former Iron Curtain, "but along objective criteria."

"There was a dictatorship here thirty years ago, Hungary belonged to Soviet Union's sphere of interest, my companions and I sacrificed years of our lives to bring about change," he said.

"We are the street fighters and revolutionaries of the rule of law (...) This is not a political programme; this is our life. How could I leave my life behind?" he said in response to the question whether he has considered the idea of pulling Hungary out of the EU. 

He said that Otto Graf Lambsdorff was his political mentor in Western European politics and later Helmut Kohl became a colleague and a friend. "I learnt democracy from them. I learnt about political competition and market economy."

He said that Kohl's and Lambsdorff's mindset could be characterised by "an equilibrium between national sovereignty, one's own culture, and the United States of Europe." Thus, "at the time, we thought that Western Europe was good and it didn't even occur to us that something could go wrong", but by now "we have learnt that Europe can be both good and bad; it can be an ecologically responsible social market economy (…) or brazen, greedy casino capitalism."

"When did the division in the EU become so deep? This is the key question," Viktor Orban pointed out.

He said the answer was 2015 and the issue of migration.

"All of a sudden we had to face that someone wanted to determine who could stay in Hungary ... moreover, we are finally told that countries admitting migrants are states where the rule of law prevails, and countries that do not take in migrants fail to comply with the rule of law" and "those who do not admit migrants should not receive money."

"Is this the idea of equality?" he raised the question.

He also pointed out that Hungary "provides the greatest assistance to Muslim states living in difficult conditions."

"We do not have anti-Muslim sentiments. We only have a vision how we want to live," Viktor Orban said, pointing out that Arabs, Muslims and the Christian world perhaps get along well in the Mediterranean, but we, Hungarians, live in the northern frontier of this region and this is why history is so important to us. In our view, what is happening in Western Europe today is quite similar to what has been averted before. It is Muslims besieging Vienna and advancing even further."

He added that "Hungarians see multi-cultural society as self-denial, and the protection of Judeo-Christian culture as survival."  

Speaking about George Soros, he said: "I admit that I might criticise everyone when it comes to political views, even those who are Jewish. Who cares that some people say that we are anti-Semitic? We are not. We don't care whether George Soros is Jewish or not. Soros wants something that is bad for Hungary. He was the first to suggest punishing those who do not allow migrants into the country by denying them EU funding."

"This is purely a political debate with George Soros," the PM explained.

He added, "Soros has significant merits in helping to overthrow communism in Hungary. He supported anti-communist opposition groups in the second half of the 1980s. Political differences of opinion always existed, but here, too, there was a turning point - when the nature of things fundamentally changed. That was in 2015 with none other than the migration issue. He wanted to tell us what to do," the prime minister explained.

Regarding the impasse centred on the proposed mechanism linking use of EU funds to the rule of law, he said there was a "solution."

PM Orban argued, "If a situation is complicated, we need to go back to the underlying intentions. Countries in need want the money quickly – let us give it to them. Others want new rule-of-law regulations – let's talk about it. The first needs to be done right away, the second can wait."

"The rule of law is doing very well, thank you, and a rewriting of the regulations governing it can wait a few more months," the prime minister said.

In response to the suggestion that vetoing the budget if the recovery fund (designed to mitigate the adverse economic effects of the pandemic) is made contingent on the rule of law mechanism is a political nuclear bomb, Orban said, "If the Germans do something like that, it is a nuclear bomb-drop; if we do it, it is only a hand grenade."

He explained, "We have a difference of interpretation. A new rule of law mechanism could be formulated, but in that case, the Treaty [of Lisbon] should be amended. What is happening now is what we call a creeping modification of the contract; a renegotiation in which those concerned are not consulted. This is an ugly affair and itself runs counter to the rule of law."

He added, "My little hand grenade is not sufficient, but the Germans could easily separate crisis management relief from the rule of law debate."

When asked what would happen if his proposal were not accepted, he reiterated, "Germany must solve the problem (...) which is kind of 'Mission Impossible', but since the Germans currently hold the rotating presidency, they are responsible."

PM Orban clarified, "We are not receiving a handout from the European Union; this is compensatory money for the profits other member states make in Hungary. This is why we are unaffected by being threatened by a withholding of money."

"There is an unequal playing field because we come from a long period of communist dictatorship, while countries like Germany experienced capitalism and freedom."

Therefore, "... neither the Germans nor Brussels can consider EU funds to Hungary as a gift because they are merely partial compensation for their unfair comparative advantage," stressed Viktor Orban..

Hungary receives a net 4.1 billion euros from the EU, but the companies, mostly based in Germany, take 6 billion euros a year from the country, the Hungarian prime minister added.

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