Hungary ready to fight European Commission
No refugees, new regulations and more sovereignty? How long will Viktor Orban's government keep playing the bad boy in Brussels? Tim Sebastian meets international government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.
"If we have to fight it we're going to go for it," the Hungarian government spokesperson told DW on the country's ongoing disputes with the EU.
Asked whether Viktor Orban’s government was prepared for a major rift with Brussels, Zoltan Kovacs said one lesson the government learned over the past years was that "it was worth taking the fight because at the end of the day turned out that we were right and though we don't like to be vindicated."
The European Commission had launched legal proceedings against Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in June 2017 over their handling of the refugee crisis. It accused all three of breaching their legal obligations and showing disregard to Greece, Italy and other member states, as they failed to relocate migrants from Italy and Greece in 2015.
But it's not just the refugee issue: the Commission has also criticized legal reforms on foreign-funded NGOs: "The new law could prevent NGOs from raising funds and would restrict their ability to carry out their work," the Commission said.
Charges are 'nothing new'
Confronted with these charges, Kovacs said: "We've seen so many topics, so many charges rather, against Hungary for the past seven years that again, this is nothing new." In 2015, Hungary went to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to complain about mandatory quota for refugees. The ECJ turned it down. Kovacs told Conflict Zone his government acknowledged this decision, however reiterated: "We are not going to accept the quota, that's right."
Peter Szijjarto, Hungarian foreign minister went one step further and said in September 2017: "This decision jeopardizes the security and future of all of Europe… Politics has raped European law and values."
'There are red lines'
"There are limits, there are red lines we've drawn around our constitution," the government spokesperson said when DW's Tim Sebastian asked: "You didn't read the small print, did you, when you joined the EU?"
Referring to Hungary’s sovereignty which will "is never going to be given up", Kovacs said: "Brexit should be a lesson actually to Brussels' bureaucracy because it's not a cause, it's an outcome of problems regarding the relationship of Brussels vis-à-vis London."
In or out?
So will Hungary follow the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the bloc, given it feels increasingly disadvantaged? A speech by Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban seems to point in that direction. "Twenty-seven years ago here in Central Europe we believed that Europe was our future; today we feel that we are the future of Europe," he said during a speech at a university in Romania in July 2017.
Orban also called for a revolution against what he called "the alliance of the bureaucrats of Brussels, the liberal media and the insatiable financiers." This is part of a bigger push towards illiberalism and sovereignty. Orban's party Fidesz won a landslide victory in 2010 and Orban became prime minister for the second time. He amended the constitution and loosened democratic checks on his power, allowed the "new elite" to buy independent media outlets and limited journalists’ ability to report critically.
Brussels and the economy
Orban also increased state control of the economy: he started heavily regulating the service sector, cut down on competition and nationalized citizen’s retirement savings. In all his criticism towards the EU however, Orban ignored the fact that Hungary’s economy wouldn’t be where it is without funds from Brussels.
Tim Sebastian asked Kovacs: "If it's all so rotten in Brussels and the financiers are so insatiable, why keep on taking their money?" Kovacs responded: "What is coming from the European budget to Hungary (…) is not a gift. It is to ensure that equal access to the markets, competitiveness, and other issues can be achieved."
"The Hungarian population's support for the European idea, values, it's unquestionable. So it's a false argument, it's a false narrative that is being used against us. We're not going to play that game," he added.
Shutting doors to migrants: Is Hungary really protecting Christian values?
Confronted with the disconnect between Hungary’s official line of protecting "Christian values" and then shutting doors to refugees and migrants, Kovacs said: "The religious commands and the politics sometimes are in conflict because your first responsibility, when it's about taking care of those who are in need, goes for your own people."
Tim Sebastian: "And the same time your authorities are accused of illegal action including denying entry to arresting, summarily rejecting and returning refugees, using disproportionate force on migrants and refugees, as well as reportedly assaulting journalists. And yet, there you are standing up claiming Christian values."
Zoltan Kovacs: "As I see, we do have here a serious linguistic problem as well because you stick to the word refugees, and we stick to the reality that this is not a refugee crisis we are facing."
Sebastian: "Refugees and migrants then."
Kovacs: "These are migrants, asylum seekers who are part of a larger intercontinental mass migration wave. And we stand here unprepared, I mean by we, we mean not only Hungary but the European Union and the recognition is missing that you have to cope with what we see at the borders of Europe Union in a different manner. Our old tools and methods are not working. And as a matter of fact, we are defenseless in face of what has happening."