Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, speaking at a conference on migration on Saturday, called for swift action to be taken on migration and border protection and he also called for European unity.
Addressing the Budapest Migration Conference organised by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, Orbán said, “We need to act now”.
If European policymakers fail to make decisions immediately, then it will be impossible to stop later what has already begun.
The prime minister cited UN data indicating that the population of Africa will rise by half a billion people in 13 years and the gap between the quality of life in Africa and Europe will widen.
Orbán urged help to be given to Africans in their home countries rather than in Europe.
The approach to migration by the eastern and western parts of Europe must be reconciled now because later this would become impossible to achieve, he said.
Current EU leaders and structures are not up to the task of resolving the problem of migration, Orban said, adding that he agreed with Nicolas Sárközy, the former French president, who argued that the European Commission should be stripped of its powers over migration policymaking and border protection and a body of Schengen area interior ministers should be established to address the issue.
“If, at least, we achieve this after the European elections, it will have been worth holding them,” he said.
For western Europe, managing the coexistence of indigenous citizens with other peoples is of key importance, but for central Europe “there aren’t any such masses and all efforts must go towards making sure there aren’t any in future either”.
Orbán said Hungarians had the moral upper hand because, unlike western attitudes, they do not want to force their own approach on the West.
Hungary’s current outsized role in the debate is a function of its geography and history, he said, noting that when migrants choose to come to Europe overland, they must arrive at the southern borders of Hungary.
“Neither Hungary nor its political leaders, including me, want to play a leading role in Europe,” he said, adding, however, that ordinary Hungarians never again wanted to experience hundreds of thousands of military-age men traversing the country.
“This is why a fence was built and why the government has stood up to mainstream Europe,” he said.
The prime minister also said Europe should be led by institutions. It was not designed for individuals and strong political figures, he said, adding that the European political concept of maintaining strong institutions was right, Orbán said.
He said European “soft power” was 85 percent dominated by think-tanks, NGOs, universities and the media of the left-liberal wing which acted in concert. “This is the reason why, when a western European thinks like a Hungarian and says what he thinks, the 85 percent shreds it to pieces by the next morning,” he said. But in central Europe “the proportion is 50-50 or even moving in a slightly more conservative direction.”
“Here in central Europe, I can survive this but not in the West.”
Orbán said that whereas the Hungarian government was right, its reputation in Western Europe and his own reputation as prime minister had never been as bad as it is now. So the key issue for Hungary, he said, is whether there will be a major European country that says what Hungarians think. This, he added, was likely to be Italy, precisely because it is a country of borders, with a maritime one. “Our energies are finite,” Orbán said. “We need a big country from western Europe that finally says the same as us.”
Sárközy told the conference that Europe was synonymous with the idea of joining forces and forging compromises.
“Never before have we needed Europe as much as we need it today but never before has Europe been as divided as it is today,” he said.
“Many turn away from Europe today because they believe Europe is weak, which is the result of division,” he added.
European member states must join forces, even if they greatly differ from each other, because Europe cannot work without compromise, he said.
“Different identities must be respected but Europe cannot win if we do not demonstrate a willingness for compromise,” he said.
He described Hungary as the “country of my father”, a brave nation with a great history, “a thoroughly European country thanks to its values, culture and history, and also a democratic country.”
Referring to ruling Fidesz’s election victory in 2010, 2014 and 2018, he said “if somebody wins the election three times in a row in an unstable world, they deserve respect.”
Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus said mass migration was the greatest challenge of the current era. It is important to differentiate between individual migration and mass migration, he said.
However, when the European “political elite” talks about mass migration, their arguments for supporting should only be applied to individual migration, he said.
Countries have a relatively high ability to receive individual migrants but mass migration endangers social cohesion and results in cultural, social and political conflict, he added. European political leaders pretend not to see this, he said.
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