Media Servis Meets Peter Szijjártó, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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December 5, 2018 – Media Servis is an information agency that began broadcasting radio information programs in 2003. Today, they specialize in producing radio programs, including informative, political, entertainment, sports, and other programs.

On Tuesday, Media Servis’ interview of the week hosted Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Mr. Peter Szijjártó.  The interview was held on Tuesday evening in the Residence of the Hungarian Ambassador in Zagreb before the gala dinner.

You can find the interview below in its entirety. 

On the occasion of the summit of the Central European Initiative, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó stayed in Croatia yesterday. On that occasion, he selected Media Service as the leading Croatian news agency for an exclusive interview. He commented on the bilateral meeting of premiers Andrej Plenković and Viktor Orban, relations between the two countries, the situation around INA and MOL, the return of Zsolt Hernadi to the Interpol arrest warrant, the LNG terminal and the migration crisis. Before the gala dinner with the Croatian state top, Andrea Barać interviewed Péter Szijjártó at the Hungarian Embassy.

I’m Andrea Barać and our guest is the minister of foreign affairs and trade of Hungary Mr. Peter Szijjártó. Welcome. 

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity.

Let’s start with the today’s meeting of our prime ministers Plenković and Orban. Orban’s last official visit was seven years ago. Are you satisfied with today’s meeting? Was it an opportunity to remove the splinters from under the nail as Orban said.

Look we’re happy that this meeting finally took place. We’re absolutely unsatisfied with the state of play of our relations. We’re neighboring countries to each other, we should be natural allies, that is determined by history, but for some reason, our relationship is much less developed than it could be and as it should be. So if prime ministers of neighboring countries do not pay official visits to each other’s countries for six, seven years that’s very telling. That’s why today’s meeting was very important, to break the ice in this regard. Everyone knows what is the elephant in the room. Everybody knows that our relationship regarding trade, regarding investments, regarding minorities, regarding people to people contacts are fine. But this energy issue, let’s call it like that, in a simplified way of course somehow acts as a shadow on the whole relationship and regardless of possible forward progress on some issues, on some areas of cooperation this shadow puts a bad feeling on the relationship. 

Are you also unhappy, like Orban, about this situation?

We’re unhappy with the situation because this relationship could bring a lot more benefit to both countries if this issue wasn’t there. Imagine, we have a trading volume around 2,3 billion euros annually. Last year there was an increase of 19 percent. Our people to people contacts are fine, if that wasn’t the case then Hungarian tourists wouldn’t come to this country in such a huge volume. Until September we’ve had 5 hundred and 75 thousand Hungarians visiting Croatia which is more than the entire year 2017. Hungarian people spent more than 3 million nights in Croatia until the end of September which is already more than the entire year of 2017. Our minorities are satisfied with their situations. We’ve had the representatives of Croatians living in Hungary in our delegation. Your prime minister had the representatives of Hungarians living in Croatia in his delegation, this is much more than telling. It assures us that the situation of the minorities is absolutely satisfied that was underlined by the two gentlemen during the plenary meeting today. When it comes to investments, OTP bank, the number one Hungarian bank is now becoming the fourth strongest player in your banking market. These things look good.

What about bad things?

Regarding energy. We could have a much quicker and much more efficient forward progress if there was more let’s say readiness or mutual understanding in this regard. You know Hungary is pretty much dependant on gas imported from Russia and we’re looking for certain opportunities to diversify our sources and roots.

When you mention gas. Orban said today that the main reason we should cooperate is the price of gas and if we build this LNG terminal in Krk which price would be acceptable for you to ensure cooperation?

If we take a look at the current price which was determined by the open season procedure regarding the hopefully established LNG port on the island of Krk than that price is 20 percent higher compared to the price of gas we’re buying from the Russian pipeline gas and 20 percent is too much. When we speak about the need for diversification we think about various scenarios. For example, American and Austrian companies are planning to exploit gas from the offshore gas fields in the Romanian territory in the Black Sea. We’re negotiating with Slovenia about building an interconnector between two countries through which LNG ports in Italy would be accessible. We have a pipeline connecting us to Slovakia through which certain northern gas sources are accessible as well. For us, this is an issue of diversification and this is a matter of price. We hope that we’ll find a satisfactory solution. Your prime minister authorized your minister of environmental protection and energy, mister Tomislav Ćorić, and I’m authorized by my prime minister to carry on these negotiations and I’m hoping we’ll find a solution, but price matters. You have to understand that when you spend the taxpayer’s money on supplying your country’s energy demand you have to care about the price pretty much.

Hungary has withdrawn the block on Croatian entry into the OECD. Why did you make that decision?

We’re interested in having a good relationship with all the neighboring countries. We understand that the better relationship we have with our neighbors the stronger we are and our situation is better. And in our interest is that our neighbor is successful as well, because more successful our neighbors are, the more successful we are. And we understood that your endeavors to enter OECD are very strong. For us, your economic success is of interest and that’s why we decided to support your entry into the OECD as we have made a similar decision regarding Romania as well. 

Your media reported that Hungary was really unsatisfied with our government’s stance regarding MOL and Zsolt Hernadi. What’s your point of view?  Were you angry at some point when Hernadi returned on Interpol’s red arrest warrant?

We consider this a legal issue, and we never interfere into legal issues. In order to be able to rebuild a good relationship, we have to separate political from legal issues. So jurisdiction has to do its own job without any kind of influence or interference from any government. On the other hand, when it comes to issuing of MOL and INA we consider it a corporate issue, as a company issue.

Do you agree with Orban that Croatia should redeem INA’s shares from MOL?

I generally agree with him of course and in this concrete issue I absolutely agree with him, he represents the position of the government. So we have to understand that this MOL INA relationship did not work out or hasn’t been working out so far very well. If it turns out, and it seems to me it has already turned out that there’s no way of successful cooperation between these two companies, which happens, that can happen. It can be considered a usual phenomenon in international business. When such things happen it’s better to divorce. In this regard, we as a Hungarian government are not part of the debate because this debate is going on basically between the Croatian government and the Hungarian company called MOL. We keep it at the corporate level and I think it’s much better for everyone.

Let’s continue now with the summit of Central European initiative. What do you expect from this summit and tomorrows plenary session and which subjects will be in Hungary’s focus?

Regarding CEI we think it’s a very important instrument to promote enlargement of the European Union. Because both Croatia and Hungary are very sensitive to the issues happening in the so-called Western Balkans region or the southern part of Central Europe let’s put it this way. We both, Croatians and Hungarians, understand very well the importance and impact of Western Balkans on Europe. And we both understand very well the difference between secure situation and calm situation in the Western Balkans and the contrary. We both understand very well that the integration of this part of the continent to the European Union is vital when it comes to economy and security, both. Unfortunately, we have to understand that there’s no such sensitivity in Western Europe, no such understanding. We, as Central Europeans have to push for the enlargement procedure to be accelerated. Because this is in our interest. We’d rather use the CEI as an instrument to promote enlargement of the European Union.

What about the migration crisis?

Migration crisis is definitely the most serious challenge European union ever had to face. And again, we living in this neighborhood understand it very well because we remember when 400 thousand illegal migrants marched through Hungary’s territory, violating our border, disrespecting our culture, our rules, our regulations, our way of life. Threatening people, behaving in a very undisciplined way, attacking our police. We don’t want to see these events repeated in Hungary again. We see pictures on television, hear the news on the radio about the situation at the border between Croatia and the Bosnia and Herzegovina. We respect you for protecting your external border and we think this is a crucial issue. So if Europe is not able to regain the ability to control its borders then Europe will be under an enormous security threat in the future. That’s why we’re happy to cooperate with all countries in the Western Balkans whether they’re in the EU or not to help them protect their external borders. Because this is the key. For example, Hungary considers it a matter of sovereignty that only we can make the decision who we allow to enter our territory and who we don’t allow. We want to maintain our right to make the decision with who we would like to live together on our own. Not to be influenced by others and the decision shouldn’t be made by anyone else, just us.

How did you react when the European Parliament voted for sanctions for Hungary because they claim you violated European values?

That report was basically revenged on behalf of the European Parliament. Revenge on our migratory policy since we proved that the basic principles of European migratory policies were based on lies. Bruxelles said that it’s impossible to stop migration we have proved that it’s possible to stop it. Bruxelles said that migration is by definition good and I think the time has proven that migration is extremely dangerous when it comes to terrorism and para societies. There’s a revenge against us this is number one. Number two this report is basically a collection of lies, qualified lies. 69 allegations have been put in this report against Hungary, out of which 13 have already been sorted out between the European Commission and the Hungarian government back in 2011 and 2012. There are 19 issues on which the discussion has been ongoing between the Commission and the Hungarian government as it is the normal way. There are 37 perceptions, lies, we know very well about my country. Like the lack of freedom of media which is a lie. Lack of freedom of speech which is a lie. It even says antisemitism is on the rise, and the Federation of Jewish organizations sent a letter saying it’s not true. We have to understand that if you go against the mainstream in the European Union if you go against the mainstream in order to preserve or maintain the security of your citizen than you’ll be attacked.

You mentioned problems with illegal migrations. Can you tell me what you find problematic in the UN’s Global compact of regular migrations? Our government is supporting it.

I know. You know I was the only foreign minister to take part in all four intergovernmental meetings in New York preparing the Global compact on migration. All other countries were represented by the permanent representative in New York or some other diplomats working in New York embassies. I was the only one so I read all the versions of the text from the very beginning to the very end and I have to tell you that this Global compact will repeat the similar kind of mistake that the European Union committed with its migratory policy. This Global compact on migration portrays migration as a fundamental human right which is not true, which is a lie. This Global compact on migration portrays migration in a very unbalanced and biased way saying that this is basically the best thing that could happen to humanity and says nothing about the security risks. Says nothing about the right of the people to have a safe and secure life in their homes. It encourages further migratory flaws as it says there should be training carried out for those who want to leave their homes. It says we should carry out campaigns “Why migration is positive”. It says that all migrants should be provided with similar kind of services just like local citizens. It says that data gathered during social service to this people must not be shared with the immigration authorities. This Global compact on migration says that there shouldn’t be any legal differentiation between migrants, legal and illegal. This is terrible from the European perspective and as time goes by you’ll see more and more countries deciding against this Compact. I think it’s parallel with more and more people reading it. We’ve said from the beginning that this is a really dangerous document and the impact of that will be even bigger than the impact of a forced and failed migratory policy of the European Union because this is a global thing.

What if something happens to Hungary and your people want to migrate somewhere in the future and if some other country has the same point of view as you. Would it be a problem for you?

What kind of scenario do you mean?

Hypothetically something happens, war for instance and your people want to migrate somewhere else.

I would rather avoid speaking about these kinds of scenarios which hopefully will never happen. But what I can tell you is the following because I think I understand the principle of your question. So our policy is that we have to make sure that everybody who has to flee or escape from his or her home because of war, for example, should be treated in a proper way in the nearest place to their home. That’s why we’re pushing for more European Union support for Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, even Turkey because these countries are located around war-torn areas. These countries took care of refugees, of people who had to escape from their homes. We think that we have to make sure that people who had to escape should be helped and stay as close to their homes as possible so that when the conflicts that forced them to flee is over they can return. But we don’t agree or accept any kind of policies which help people to cross six, seven, eight peaceful countries violating those borders just because they have the intention to get to Germany. For example, people from Serbia arrived in Hungary during 2015, or Croatia. Then we raise the question what’s the reason for anyone to violate a border between Serbia and Hungary or Croatia and Hungary. Is there a war in Croatia? Thank God no. Is there a war in Serbia? Thank God no. Is anyone’s life in danger in either of these countries? Thank God no. So then the question is why should we allow them to cross the border between two peaceful countries in an illegal way. That’s why we have a program called Hungary helps. With this program, we bring help to communities to stay close to their home or stay at home and get stronger. We assist Christian communities in the Middle East so they’re able to stay at home because their leaders come to us and ask us not to encourage their people to leave their homes because that way we basically help the terrorist organization that has goals to eliminate these communities. Instead of encouraging them to leave their homes let’s help them so they’re able to stay at home. This is our policy. Don’t bring problems where there are no problems and bring help where it’s needed. That’s the basic principle.

We should finish soon. Can you tell me about Vichegard 4, V4. What’s the present status and future of V4?

I can tell you that this is now the tightest and the most effective alliance within the European Union with the very deep, let’s say historic basis. So this is a cooperation that’s not institutionalized and maybe the effectiveness is the consequence of that. All four countries know that if we say something together it’s much louder and much stronger than if four of us spoke one by one. I don’t think Vichegard was ever as strong as it is currently and migration was definitely an issue where we worked together closely. Now economic cooperation is picking up and we are working closely together on the next multiannual financial framework, and we’re happy with the external cooperation. We have this formats like Vichegard 4 plus and in this format, we worked together with Croatia as well.

And the so-called Three seas initiative. What’s Hungary’s current position?

We’re supportive of the initiative but we think it would be important to have a direct outcome, some concrete outcome of this cooperation. I think infrastructural developments would be key here. Our region is very poor on the north to south infrastructure due to historic reasons. Here pipelines, electricity grids, highways, railroads usually run from east to west because this is the outcome of history. I think if Three seas initiative can boost or accelerate north to south infrastructural developments that would be great and we’re supportive of that. 

Mr. Szijjártó thank you for this conversation.

I appreciate the opportunity, thank you.

To learn more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page here


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