Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Monday that he would nominate ambassador Olivér Várhelyi, the head of Hungary’s permanent representative office in Brussels, as Hungary’s candidate for European commissioner.

The European Parliament’s legal affairs committee confirmed earlier on Monday that it had rejected Hungary’s initial commissioner designate László Trócsányi on the grounds that there were conflicts of interest between the post and the activities of legal firm Nagy es Trócsányi.

At a joint press conference held with Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, Orbán said in response to a question that President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen had asked him to propose a new candidate.

Orbán said he was in a “special situation” considering that Trócsányi used to be justice minister and he headed ruling Fidesz’s list at the European parliamentary elections and he was told that he would be needed as commissioner designate.

The Fidesz list received 53 percent support from voters and “we thought that this would represent a strong democratic legitimacy which would make it easy for the EC president and the EP to make a decision,” he added. However, it happened differently, Orbán said.

“I did not reject the president’s request but I could not allow others, such as the EP, to make their pick among Hungarian politicians instead of the Hungarian people,” he said. This is the reason why a technocrat has now been proposed for the post instead of a political delegate, he added.

He said there has been no change as regards the portfolio to be overseen by Hungary.

In response to a question about the principle of the rule of law, the prime minister said Hungarians had not been as “lucky” as the Finns “because after the second world war, we were invaded and there was a dictatorship here for more than forty years”.

He said that in Hungary, the issue of the state of the rule of law was not a legal one, but rather one of honour.

“Whenever someone questions us or the state of the rule of law in Hungary, they’re stepping on our honour and I would advise them to think this over carefully,” Orbán said. International relations are not built on the idea that “one country can insult the other”, but rather on mutual respect, Orbán added.

“I don’t recommend getting to the point in Europe where a prime minister or one of their officials visits another country in the bloc to give them an earbashing on the issue of the rule of law, because that’ll lead to a lot of things, but not European unity,” the prime minister said.

Orbán said

democracy, press freedom and constitutionality were not a “political game” in central Europe, but rather “a matter of honour”.

“We take it seriously and we would like others to take it seriously as well and not use it as a political weapon against Hungary,” the prime minister said.

“But, of course, if necessary, we will fight, because one fights for their honour,” he added.

Asked about the idea of tying receipt of EU funds to compliance with standards regarding the rule of law, Orbán said there was already a mechanism in the EU budget by which the European Commission can halt the transfer of funds to a country deemed to not be using them properly.

Now, Orbán said, there were proposals to create another mechanism. The prime minister said this required a “mature” proposal that answers the most important legal questions. He added, however, that he does not yet see such a proposal. Today, the matter of making the receipt of EU funds conditional on complying with the standards regarding the rule of law “is more of a political slogan” and not a written proposal, he said. Hungary does not see such a proposal as necessary, Orbán said, adding, at the same time, that he would consider any concrete proposals on the matter.

On the topic of Hungarian-Finnish relations, Orbán said that though everything was in place for the two countries’ economic ties to be as good as their cultural and political ties, there was still work to be done regarding the volume and quality of economic cooperation. Orban said he and Rinne had agreed that they will look for ways to boost their economic and trade relations in the coming period.

In energy matters the Finnish prime minister essentially thinks the same about his country’s future as Hungary, Orbán said.

“We also believe that the future should be built on nuclear energy next to renewable energy,” he said.

Energy targets cannot be fulfilled without nuclear energy, he added.

“In line with Hungary’s energy programme, 90 percent of the emission from the energy we produce will be carbon-free by 2030,” he said.

Commenting on European issues, Orbán said they were in agreement that in the case of new European institutions currently being set up it was “necessary to focus more on what we agree on rather than what we disagree on”.

The new heads of European institutions currently entering office will be expected to manage a more successful five years than what is behind them, he said. The number of conflicts will hopefully be reduced, Orbán said, adding that he was hoping to develop deeper relations also with the Finnish prime minister.

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