The value of central Europe is on the rise, with the focus of growth in the European Union shifting to the east, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Cirkovce-Pince power line in eastern Slovenia on Wednesday.
When the value of a region is increasing, large and strong countries try to gain influence there and the affected countries and regions become the location for geopolitical games, Orbán said.
“Our region has become such a location”, he added.
Orbán said the geopolitical games were natural developments and signs that the region had become important.
He said the power line link was the largest Hungarian-Slovenian project of recent decades, a “flagship” endeavour in further building trust and friendship between the two countries.
The prime minister said books he had read at the beginning of the previous decade about what the 2010s would be like had failed to predict the rise of Donald Trump to the White House, Brexit, the migration crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.
“This goes to show that we have to be careful when trying to predict the historical significance of something,” he said.
Orbán said the power line would make it into the history books written about the decade between 2020 and 2030, arguing that it represented “the establishment of a link between two important countries at an important moment in time”.
The EU has long been about more than just the German-French axis, he said, arguing that the relationship between western and central European countries was now equally as important as the relationship between Germany and France.
The central European region as a whole is growing in significance, he said, adding that when a region became more important it also became a target for influence on the part of more powerful countries. “This is what’s happened to our region,” he said.
Orbán said central Europe’s rise in importance had made it a location of geopolitical competition. “This should be considered natural,” he said. “This isn’t a problem, but rather a sign that this region has become important.”
The prime minister said energy policy played a key role in the “geopolitical games” being played in Europe. When Hungary and Slovenia connect their electricity grids they will be strengthening their positions in these “games”, he said. Agreements on connecting the two countries’ gas pipeline and railway networks would also be geopolitically significant moves, he added.
The power network link will strengthen Hungary and Slovenia’s independence and sovereignty as well as the region itself, making it better protected from “geopolitical games” and allowing them to enforce their interests, Orbán said.
“When a nation decides to establish a connection with another country, that requires a level of trust,” he said. “Especially if they are linking something as crucial as their power supplies.”
Orbán said that over the course of its history, Hungary had to work hard to establish trust with its neighbours. Those efforts have yielded varying degrees of success, he said, pointing out that Hungary now had “excellent” relations with some of its neighbours.
But Slovenia and Hungary, he said, had catching up to do in terms of their ties, noting that the two countries “tried to live their lives without disturbing the other over the past 20-30 years”.
Orbán said living this way was a “luxury”, arguing that if two nations could have a trusting relationship and link their resources, it moved both of them forward. He added, at the same time, that it would take years of hard work to establish a level of trust between the two nations for a strategic investment like the connection of the two countries’ power grids to generate further strategic projects.
He said the power grid link was the biggest Slovenian-Hungarian project of the past several decades and the “flagship” of the developing friendship and trust between the two countries.
Orbán said that hopefully the project would help Hungary and Slovenia realise that they were “closer than they think”.
Concerning the pandemic, Orbán said he and his Slovenian counterpart held regular consultations and shared information with each other. Slovenia has been among the most successful countries in Europe in terms of slowing the spread of the virus and so far Hungary, too has been among the more successful ones, he added.
Hungary and Slovenia will have more success in ensuring that their countries function if they cooperate, he said.
“Slovenia could always count on Hungary and we, too have always counted on Slovenia.”