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CNBC interview with Hungary’s Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjártó

Following are excerpts from an interview with CNBC's Willem Marx and Hungary's Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjártó.

WM: Let's talk about migration first. Why does your government think the European Union doesn't take migration seriously?


PS: Because European Union does not consider the security aspect of migration, the approach of the European Union is very unbalanced and very irresponsible. We Hungarians do know the phenomenon of illegal migration not from reports but the reality. We had around 400,000 illegal migrants marching through the country violating all our regulations and our standards many times threatening the Hungarian people. So we know very well what kind of security aspect this kind of phenomenon does have. And what we should not deny is the correlation or direct contact between the threat of terror here in Europe and the phenomenon of illegal migration. I think no one should doubt that the huge and massive influx of illegal migrants opens up the opportunity for terrorist organizations to send their fighters, their activists, their terrorists in a much simpler way than according to normal circumstances to Europe.

WM: You talk there about the 400,000 that marched through Hungary. That was now a couple years ago. The most recent numbers from Eurostat back in December 2017 showed that first-time asylum applications to Hungary per month were just 120. In Germany they have more than 5,000. This is not the biggest threat to Hungary if you look at it in the comparison of other major European countries.

PS: If you look at it the most conservative analyses or predictions of both European Union and NATO and sometimes United Nations as well. There are around 30-35 million some evaluations say even more, living around Europe, mostly Middle East, North Africa and the Sub-Saharan region of course, can make a decision at any time to leave the road any time…

WM: This is not about the present this is about the future?

PS: The root causes have not been addressed unfortunately. We made it clear at the very beginning of this crisis that two issues must be addressed. Number one: to regain the ability to control and protect our borders. If Australia was able to protect its maritime border, the European Union should be able to as well. And number two: we have to tackle the root causes, we have to bring help where it is needed, we should not bring problems to where there are no problems.

WM: Your government has proposed legislation recently that would limit the ease with which foreign entities can fund civil society groups including migrants, why do you think there are foreign entities trying to fund these groups and why are you concerned about it?

PS: There is a general rule that says transparency is extremely important in relations with those organizations which have clear intentions to influence public opinion in Hungary. Parties do so. It's their intention to influence public opinion in Hungary, so there's a very legitimate expectation towards them to have you know transparent financial issues. I think this should apply we think this should apply to those NGOs that have a clear intention to do so as well, I mean influencing public opinion. I don't know why it's a problem for Transparency International, Amnesty International, to make all those others in Hungary to make it clear where they get funding. The only obligation they have now with this new regulation is that they have to publish this fact on their website that they are funded externally. There are many other countries in the world, let's talk about the United States, or even stricter regulations. I don't think that should be a problem. In Hungary there are (incomprehensible) NGOs all together, and you hear the voice of a very limited number of these NGOs who complain about it.

WM: My reading of the legislation that was brought before your Parliament wasn't just about transparency but imposing a 25% tax on those contributions, that's not just transparency, that's trying to discourage foreign funding or benefit Hungarian State Treasury. So I wonder if it's not just about transparency, why try and limit foreign involvement in these non-state actors, these civil society groups.


PS: So number one what I was speaking about so far is the already existing legislation which is in power. What you are speaking about is a draft legislation which will be dealt with by the next Parliament after elections. The next Parliament we have a chance to make a decision whether this draft legislation will be approved or not. Why it was tabled is that is a national security issue for Hungary that there's an external pressure on the government to give up its very strict policy on migration. We have to fight those who want to put that kind of influence on the government which is freely elected by the Hungarian people.

WM: Why call it stop Soros – why scapegoat George Soros in all of this?

PS: Well it's very obvious that those organizations fighting in the heaviest way or most active way against the government and migration policy of ours, are somehow belonging to our financed by himself Mr Soros or his affiliates or his associations. It's very clear, Mr Soros made it very open many times that he has a serious debate with the current government in Hungary, he would like to see this government fired, to be taken out of power. If you read on the internet his analyses his plans, the plans of the organizations he's funding, the migration map of Europe should be changed. This is clear, this is something we're clearly going against and we have a very strong dispute with.

WM: Let's talk about Brexit, another issue with British elements wanting British borders to be controlled. Hungary's relationship with Britain has been quite cooperative, more so than other European Union countries in terms of your support for the concept, even though you've said in the past obviously it's a disappointment for you as a European Union member. Do you think you'll continue to support the UK's hard stance against Russia if that stance includes sanctions.

PS: We regret a lot the decision of the British people. Although we respect the decision, the only people who have the right to make a decision about the future of the United Kingdom are clearly British although we regret this decision. This I a big lost for the European Union both politically and economically speaking. The European Union has been losing competitiveness in the last years and Brexit doesn't help in this regard either. With regards to these latest developments we are absolutely in solidarity with the UK and we are certain that all the relevant aspects of this killing or this hostile action on the territory of the UK should be investigated entirely and OPCW rules should be totally applied in this regard.

WM: There's a difference with halting an investigation and agreeing that sanctions are a good idea. I wonder whether the Hungarian government as a member of the EU would support the UK if they proposed them.


PS: So far I can speak about the already existing rules and regulations and the already existing dialogue. Now we just had on this point on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting we approved a tax about this unfortunate development let's put it this way. There was a united understanding and a total agreement of the 28 on what to have on a common European position now.

WM: What about actions rather than words, I wonder whether the Hungarian government, if it turns out to be proven that Russia is behind this action in Salisbury in the UK, would the Hungarian government support further action against Russia?

PS: If this is the case in the future, if there's an initiative for further actions you have put forward here, we are absolutely ready to negotiate, and are happy to negotiate as we are members of the European Union.

WM: Do you think the EU has sufficient influence Russia, more broadly?

PS: You know there's an ongoing debate about that we usually push for an opportunity to make assessment, valuation, whether the policy of ours, EU, has proven to be successful or not, that sanctions have been successful or not.

WM: Has it?

PS: …or to push Russia on its knees, either politically or economically, if you come back to the two goals which are attached for the European Union by sections, you have to say that neither are completed, as it comes to political issues, Minsk agreement has not been absolutely completed yet. Not a single forward staff basically we can say in last few years. Economically speaking, I think European economies have lost more than Russia in this regard. We always push for an opportunity to have an open honest straight-forward dialogue without stigmatization without emotion just on the basis of common sense. So far we have not had this debate, we hope we will have this debate in the future.

WM: If you have that debate would the Hungarian government say maybe easing sanctions, since they haven't worked in your words, would be the better option?

PS: It's a matter of debate. What we know is that European countries have lost a lot when it comes to economy, when it comes to trade. Today one of our fellow ministers raised this issue on the foreign affairs council that he would like to see the trade data between Russia and the given EU member states. If you have a look at the cooperation on energy between some Western European countries and Russia, you can see that some Western European countries are very loud, vocal against Russia, some under the surface some others not under the surface, they have a very strong and effective cooperation when it comes to energy. When you raise this issue with them they say oh it's a business issue it's not a matter of state. If we have this dispute it has to be with avoiding double standards.

WM: You're talking about Germany by the sounds of things?

PS: I want to make it very clear when it comes to Nord Stream for example, it's not central and Eastern European countries to prepare this project with Gazprom together, this is a project prepared by big Western European energy companies, having headquarters in big EU member states. When it comes to actions and words you rightly pointed out, there's sometimes a very unbalanced relationship between these two phenomenon.

WM: A lot of business leaders and investors watch closely the relationship between Hungary and Brussels. Not so long ago one of your counterparts, another Foreign Minister described your Prime Minister as a dictator. You responded by calling him an idiot –

PS: In Hungarian, it doesn't sound like that. But it was harsh for sure from my side no question.

WM: The question I have for you is where do you see the relationship between Budapest and Brussels?

PS: Hungary is a member of the European Union country that is interested in having a strong European Union. We have a debate in Brussels on how we have a stronger European Union. In Brussels there is a main approach about how a United States of Europe should be established. So like weaker the member states are the stronger the European Union can be. Our approach is totally different it's a more (incomprehensible) approach saying the European Union can only be strong if the member states are strong. This is a constant debate, we are not alone on our side. When you look at the position of the central European countries you'll see many similarities in this regard. Of course migration has been a constant debate, so unfortunately we got used to some kind of harsh criticism which is unfair our governments have been elected on free and fair democratically elections in our countries.

WM: I want to address a specific issue to do with Budapest and Brussels and whether Budapest would honor a request from Brussels. In its 2016 report, OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud office said there were around 850 million euros of European funds that have been given to Hungary that had in its words been QUOTE "defrauded or irregularly misspent". That office suggested that it should ask Hungary to repay what amounts to about 4% of all European funds in that period. If Brussels made that request, if the Commission made that request, would you honor it?

PS: This is not a complete investigation number one. Number two it's very strange that parts of some ongoing, prepared investigation is being leaked out. All this happens in the final phase of the election campaign in Hungary. We have unfortunately experienced many external attempts to influence our domestic issues in the last years. I consider this one, one of them.

WM: OLAF releases its reports quite a long time after the end of the year. The 2016 report, these numbers are not particularly fresh, you're talking about specific reporting about how this money has been used inside Hungary. I'm not even addressing that, I'm asking you if the European Union asked Budapest to repay money, would you comply?

PS: Such kind of thing has not happened and I'm pretty sure we've utilized all funds according to all Hungarian regulations and of course we are ready to protect and defend our position in this regard. Once again such kinds of leaks happening during the Hungarian elections is an utter attempt to interfere in our domestic issues which we always rejected.

WM: And you think the Commission has leaked that?

PS: They are leaked. It's basically your job to find this out.

WM: Final question and just to get this on the record you are saying so far, the EU has not made any formal request to repay that money?

PS: I don't know anything about that.

ENDS

For more information contact Jonathan Millman, EMEA Communications Executive:

  • Jonathan.Millman@CNBC.com

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