Weekly newsletter

“Strong Europe”: Orbán, Cameron Eye EU Reforms To Strengthen Role Of National Parliaments

Tamás Székely 2016.01.08.

After talks in Budapest on Thursday with Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated that both leaders want a strong Europe. At their joint press conference, Viktor Orbán spoke about Hungarians working in Britain, pointing out that it is important that they should not be subject to any discrimination. At the same time he stressed that Hungary is open to all reasonable British proposals designed to put an end to abuses in the field of social benefits.

David Cameron said that the Hungarian economy has recently been enjoying a period of growth and low unemployment, and he further welcomed the fact that British investors are appreciated in Hungary. The British prime minister pointed out that in recent years the experience of cooperating with the Hungarian prime minister has been positive, and this brings with it the hope of a successful future and cooperation on other issues as well. Referring to the fact that the last British premier to visit Hungary was Tony Blair in 2005, he added that people will not have to wait another ten years before a British prime minister comes to Budapest.

Strong Europe

“We both want a strong Europe […] and a strong Europe must be a competitive Europe”, Mr. Orbán pointed out when speaking about Mr. Cameron’s four key demands on the European Union; of these four he said that “we fully support three as they stand”. He said that “There is spiritual and strategic accord between us”. The Hungarian prime minister stated that London and Budapest agree that the the role of national parliaments within the EU must be reconsidered, and that countries which do not form part of the eurozone must be treated equally within the EU’s institutional system. They also agreed, he continued, that abuses related to in-work benefits must be eliminated in every EU Member State.

Britain and Hungary have similar ideas about the EU and both want a Europe that works, British prime minister David Cameron said. The British prime minister highlighted the importance of subsidiarity and fair rules, so that Member States within the eurozone and outside it should be treated equally and that nation states should be respected. Mr. Cameron pointed out that it is important for Britain to remain within a reformed European Union; he said that the United Kingdom is equally important for Europe, as it has a strong economy. He said that a solution may be found by the time of the European Council’s meeting in February. He said that there may be countries which wish for greater integration, but his country does not want a European Union which takes certain things away from it. At the same time, the British prime minister also stressed the importance of the common market.

Hungarians in Britain

In this regard, Viktor Orbán stressed that the Hungarian government stands up for hard-working Hungarians making an honest contribution wherever they are. He therefore asked his British counterpart to ensure that, when formulating proposals, it is recognised that the vast majority of Hungarians living in Britain are hard-working people who contribute to Britain’s economy through their work and financial contributions. He added that if there is to be any change in this area, the Visegrád Four (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) would seek to discuss such a proposal and to come to a joint agreement; he said that he believes there is a good chance that they would be able to do so.

Viktor Orbán specifically dealt with this issue in answer to a question, pointing out that it is important that Hungarians working in Britain should not be subject to any discrimination. At the same time, he said, Hungary is open to all reasonable proposals designed to put an end to abuses in the field of in-work benefits as “we in Hungary do not tolerate them”. Orbán pointed out that “We are not migrants in the United Kingdom”, but EU nationals who are free to engage in employment anywhere in the European Union. Hungarians do not go to Britain to live off the British, he said: they do not want to take anything away from local people, but simply wish to work – and they work hard.

He added that, according to data from the UK’s office for statistics, some 55,000 people born in Hungary are in employment in Britain today. According to Hungary’s estimates, he added, when seen as a whole Hungarians working in Britain pay more taxes and contributions than they claim in benefits. Orbán said he is hopeful that, together with Mr. Cameron, it will be possible to find a solution which is both satisfactory for Hungarian workers and in line with the goals of the British government.

David Cameron told the press that the UK’s welfare system was also on the agenda. While he supports the free movement of people – as it is good, for instance, that Britons, may also work in other European countries – one should remember that this free movement puts pressure on the welfare system, and therefore this issue must be addressed. While there is not much time until the EU summit in February, if they work hard they may reach an agreement, he explained. He reiterated that a referendum will be held in Britain regarding the country’s EU membership by the end of 2017. With regard to the reform of in-work benefits, Mr. Cameron spoke about the option of non-UK nationals not being eligible for welfare benefits during their first four years in the country, but he pointed out that he is also open to other solutions.

Security, borders, migration

The Hungarian Prime Minister further reassured his British counterpart that, as a NATO partner, Hungary will continue to take part in international missions in Syria and Iraq in the future, with its contribution proportionate to the country’s size. Mr. Orbán described Hungarian-British bilateral relations as good, reiterating that Britain is the fifth largest investor in Hungary, where around 700 British businesses have operations, employing a total of more than 50,000 people. Regarding migration, the Hungarian prime minister said that common sense dictates that every responsible government should protect its own citizens. Hungary wants to preserve the Schengen Agreement, and to this end, it is necessary to protect the Schengen Area’s external borders, he said. The British prime minister added that an agreement must be reached on Syria, and Europe needs tight and strong external border protection. He also highlighted the importance of observing the Minsk Agreements. Both UK and Hungary are fully supportive members of NATO, he said.

Meeting with the President

After his talks with Viktor Orbán, the British prime minister was received by Hungary’s President in the Sándor Palace of the Buda castle. Implementing the Paris climate deal without compromises is in both Hungary’s and Britain’s interest, the president’s office said in a statement after a meeting between János Áder and David Cameron. The two politicians discussed that climate change affects Hungary and the UK at a rate above the European Union average, the statement said. The effects of climate change can already be felt in everyday life, as demonstrated by recent news about floods in the UK and draught in Hungary, it added. Áder and Cameron expressed their respective countries’ dedication to the implementation of the Paris climate deal.

Opposition reactions

The opposition Socialists said Viktor Orbán’s talks with David Cameron had been a “failure”. The Socialists expected Orbán to take a more courageous stand for the interests of Hungarians working in the UK, Socialist member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee Attila Mesterhazy said, adding that Orbán was only helping out Cameron, who was in Hungary as part of an international tour. “Orbán has failed to engage his more courageous self,” Mesterházy said. Cameron still views Hungarians working in Britain as migrants and he makes no distinction between EU citizens and migrants and refugees, he added.

The radical nationalist Jobbik party said that the Hungarian government had missed out on an “historic opportunity”. Márton Gyöngyösi, a Jobbik lawmaker, said Orbán had failed to put forward demands that are in the Hungarian interest. Orbán should have used Hungary’s alliance with the UK to advance Hungary’s interests in Europe, he added.

The green LMP opposition party said the government should create conditions for the 55,000 Hungarians living in Britain to return to Hungary. But if this proves beyond possibility then Orbán should stick up for the interests of Hungarians in the UK. The opposition Együtt party said Orbán had not stood up strongly enough for Hungarians working in Britain and had therefore turned his back on his own voters. The party said in a statement that Orbán had made a serious error at his joint press conference with Cameron by agreeing to the four points on which Cameron was seeking agreement with members of the bloc prior to the British EU membership referendum. Orbán’s statement went against the interests of Hungarians working in the UK, the party added.

The Hungarian Liberal Party said in a statement that Orbán was pursuing a hypocritical policy on migrants: while branding “economic migrants” arriving from the East “as criminals” he simultaneously demands that Hungarians in the UK, who are in Britain in the hope of gaining a better standard of living, should get special treatment.

via kormany.hu, MTI and hungarymatters.hu photo: Károly Árvai – MTI