“We Aren’t Looking for a Party Group, We’re Looking for Allies” — Interview with PMO Head Gergely Gulyás
Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2019.05.02.
“As long as Fidesz is a member of the European People’s Party, we are concentrating on this group. In the EP elections we will run as a member of the EPP” — said Gergely Gulyás, Minister of Prime Minister’s Office, in an interview with Ungarn Heute. He believes those debating Fidesz’ membership during an election campaign are political amateurs. The German political conditions are deteriorating, and it seems that for Manfred Weber –currently aspiring for the European Commission’s presidency—it is more important to win over his political opponents’ recognition, than to stand in solidarity with his party group and the German government. We also asked the Minister if he believes Fidesz-KDNP could win elections without migration. Interview.
Before the national parliamentary elections, you stated you don’t want to be minister. It has been almost a year since your appointment—have you gotten used to it?
I accepted the honorable nomination, and thus the situation as well. My earlier statement that you quoted in your question was actually regarding a position at the Ministry of Justice.
You travel a lot as minister, and apparently you often need to go to Germany to “put out fires”. Have these trips become more frequent in the past year?
Since 2011 I have been travelling to Germany regularly and I’ve witnessed worsening political conditions, but I can say that we still have a lot of friends in Germany, though not all equally as brave. Our friends there –despite the narrowed and restricted German discourse– still clearly see the significance of Hungarian-German cooperation in daily life, as well as its role throughout the past decades.
Last year, right before your nomination, you participated in a cultural event in Berlin, organized by the Friends of Hungary Foundation. You and the German Parliament’s Vice President held the political talks in front of hundreds of German politicians. Can events like these, for example, help improve relations?
Of course, every event like this can be useful, but if we want to understand the German public sphere from our perspective then, while our side is holding a slingshot, the media propaganda, which hates the Hungarian government and even Hungary for the democratic authority it has given it, is shooting at us with cannons. Yet we can’t give up hope just because of this, even David can defeat Goliath.
PMO Head Gergely Gulyás at the Friends of Hungary Conference in Berlin. Photo by Zsolt Bézsenyi
If Fidesz leaves the European People’s Party, or the Party decides to expel them, do you expect relations with the German government to continue deteriorating?
At first glance, it could make discourse with the German government more difficult, but this issue is secondary to the legitimate political interest of Fidesz’ political party group membership. After all, our successes in the past years have not depended in any way on the European People’s Party, or on any other party group. The fact is, today the most successful and strongest party in the group is Fidesz. Based on these two assertions, the only logical deduction is that
the EPP has a greater need for us than we do for them.
Aside from this, the question is also secondary because the underlying differences don’t depend on whether or not we are members of the EPP. It is clear that the trenches between Central, Central-Eastern Europe and Western Europe are much deeper than we had thought after the regime changes. The majority of Western Europe –mostly the right political elite—have given up a lot of what we both called right, conservative, Christian-democratic politics in the 90s.
The Prime Minister still says that they will wait to see what direction the EPP’s politics go, and only then will Fidesz decide on its membership. What does the EPP have to do, or not do, to be acceptable for Fidesz?
The question is, what coalitions and agreements will form in the European Parliament during the next five years and what role the EPP will play in these affairs. Currently, all we see is that the EPP is headed by a nominee for president of the Commission, whose main priority is winning recognition from his political opponents, but meanwhile he doesn’t care at all to gain the sympathy of Central-European, Christian-conservative voters, his decisions even go against his own German government—demonstrated by the Nord Stream reversal.
You spoke of the next five years, but I assume the decision will be made earlier than that. According to the current conditions, will Fidesz be leaving?
Until the elections, the question is irrelevant. The European People’s Party is the largest faction in the European Parliament, and it can credit this to the fact that it embraces a wide spectrum of political views. If it is incapable of preserving this pluralism, then it won’t be the biggest party in Europe. A big part of the reason we value membership in the EPP is because our German sister-parties, CDU and CSU, belong to the party group.
The EPP has given up many basic, conservative values. If they don’t stay in solidarity with those who have not yet done this in Central Europe, then the coexistence will be formalized.
Gergely Gulyás with CSU representatives. Photo by gulyasgergely.hu
From the outside, the Fidesz-EPP relationship seems to resemble that of an estranged couple, stalling, because they don’t want to say they are divorcing, yet they probably will anyways.
I believe the timing of this argument over membership proves nothing more than that—if not useful idiots, because they will be offended by the term, and useful is too strong anyways but—political amateurs have a strong representation in the EPP. This doesn’t refer to many mandates, given that the 13-14 parties seeking to expel us barely have 30 representatives in the European Parliament. Oftentimes, they are struggling for the minimal electoral requirements in their home countries, few have actual governing responsibilities, and they mainly get invited as junior-partners in coalitions. We still stand in solidarity with the EPP, thus we do not want to debate potential clashing perspectives during our campaign. It would be best for everyone, from the German Spitzenkandidat (Commission President nominee Manfred Weber) to the senseless dwarf-parties, if we didn’t dispute these things now.
Manfred Weber previously gave the Prime Minister an ultimatum with concrete requests. Now they are talking in general terms, referring to rule of law, democracy, and freedom of media, research and education. Are there still concrete expectations? Does Fidesz know what they must do to avoid expulsion?
We don’t want to avoid anything. If we aren’t welcome somewhere, we don’t want to stay there.
In regards to rule of law, the parties –mainly left-liberal ones— meaninglessly criticizing important concepts like rule of law and democracy, are not actually committed to these categories and instead, either consciously or involuntarily, contribute to the discrediting and emptying of these concepts. The only thing that has come of the CEU situation is that if there exists a violation of rule of law in Hungary concerning higher education, then it is much worse in Bavaria. Because there, you can’t give out an American diploma if there is no campus in America or Germany. If this is the criteria for rule of law, then Bavaria does not meet these requirements. Also, even Manfred Weber himself said that the most important topic of the elections is migration.
This will be the first election with a truly enormous, communal political debate concerning all European voters. This isn’t merely a security or social question, but rather one of basic values.
It’s about what kind of Europe we want in the future. The question is, what position will the EPP take: will they side with pro-migration politics, or will they stay true to their original virtues on which they were established. We are not going to receive a single vote in Hungary because of the fact we are part of the European Peoples Party. Actually, in the current EP elections, the question is, will voters excuse us for this. Yet still, as Europe’s largest governing party, we must pay attention to any possibilities when making decisions to effectively advancing our national interests on the European scope.
Photo by Tibor Illyés/MTI
If Fidesz can’t settle with the EPP, will they join Matteo Salvini’s party group, along with the German AfD and Le Pen’s National Rally?
While we are members of the EPP, we aren’t looking for alternatives. If Europe’s political elite didn’t entirely lose their connection to reality, then nobody would be outraged when the Prime Minister meets with the deputy prime minister of Italy, a country of 60 million. This gesture is the minimum of diplomatic respect. The opposite would have been outrageous. In addition, as Minister of the Interior, Salvini achieved quite a lot in the restriction of migration. Just as Hungary provides a good example of border defense on dry land, so does the new Italian government on the sea.
Though you said you aren’t looking for alternatives, it seems that Central-European countries and the Visegrad Group are forming a bloc. The commonality isn’t necessarily right-wing politics, but rather an antimigration stance. Is this a potential alternative?
We aren’t looking for a party group, we’re looking for allies. Cooperation between the Visegrad countries has been one of the biggest successes of Hungarian foreign policy in the past five years. It’s no accident that, though the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Four all represent parties with different priorities, we can still work together seamlessly and effectively. In the past years we have always been able to form a shared position in the most important European political questions. This also demonstrates that geographical differences within a continent are much more decisive than membership of a party group.
The difference between a Swedish socialist and a Slovakian socialist is much greater than the difference between a Slovakian socialist and a Hungarian Christian democrat.
This exemplifies Europe’s divisions and also shows a promising future of cooperation for the Central-European countries, or in other words the V4.
You mentioned that the main theme, or issue at stake, in the European elections is migration. Even before the parliamentary elections in Hungary, the governing parties were exclusively campaigning on this platform, more specifically, utilizing posters with George Soros’ image. Do they really believe that a single individual, George Soros, is steering migration towards Europe? Or is he merely a political product too?
We never claimed that George Soros alone is responsible for migration. However, George Soros is an active supporter of immigration, just as the dozens of Soros-funded, self-proclaimed NGOs are in Hungary. This is true outside of the borders of Hungary as well. True to the extent that if you read an Italian public prosecutor’s statements, you’ll see that these organizations and activists have been investigated for their involvement in illegally helping immigrants cross the border. On the basis of the Treaty of Lisbon, we always emphasize: decisions concerning immigration must remain within national competence of member states. Absolutely no stealthy expansions of Brussels’ powers are acceptable. Moreover, Hungarian voters have repeatedly and clearly made a decision on this issue, and the existing Hungarian government must represent these wishes.
The commission, on multiple occasions, has refuted and rejected that there would be no national competence. In fact, they say that Hungary, amongst other antimigration countries, is preventing the establishment of an effective, common Frontex border control.
The European Commission preaches water but drinks wine. The reality is, up until now, border defense responsibilities could be violated without consequence. No member states had to face any sanctions at all. At the same time, the Commission is trying to implement a quota system whose subjects would not be refugees, but rather those who apply for refugee status—which we know this is the first self-explanatory step for any immigrant to take when trying to get into Europe. The sad truth is, the gap between the European Commission’s actions and words is insurmountable.
If the migration crisis were solved, or was at least properly handled by the European Union from the perspective of the Hungarian government, what other burning, imperative problems need to be dealt with?
It’s an illusion that the migration crisis will be solved because by 2030 more Africans will be born than the amount of people living in the European Union. The differences between quality of life however, will not reduce at the same rate.
Given that multiple countries within the European Union believe that we should accept migrants, we will never be able to form a common standpoint. The common standpoint is recognizing that we don’t agree: the decision should be of national competence.
There are countless other outstanding and important decisions awaiting a solution for Europe: for example, America’s new approach to foreign policy, which would force Europe to build up their military defense capacity. While in world economics the European Union is a significant player, they have not been able to reach the same status in world politics because of their lack of military capacity. Aside from this, within a year we must approve the EU’s budget for the next seven years. The commission has created a recommendation which essentially pits Central and Southern Europe against each other—either because of incompetence, or on purpose. It praises the affected heads of state for not reacting to the provocation. In addition, Chinese and Russian relations should be addressed, as well as the threat of American customs penalties. So, there would be room for the advancement of Europe as a whole, if we weren’t weakening ourselves with unnecessary and redundant disputes.
Without migration, would the government have any campaign topics? Would they be able to win elections without it?
Migration here has only been the topic of recent to the same extent observable in other EU member states. We’ve made countless important decisions in the past year, for instance the family protection plan and the Hungarian Village Program. There is not a single EU member state that devotes such a large portion of the budget to the support of families as does Hungary. Also, everyone can see the important developments happening in our capital within the past few years. Today, no one can question that Budapest is one of the fastest developing European capitals. There is plenty of work to do and the government mainly deals with these– we don’t control the European political agenda.
The original interview was published by our sister site, Ungarn Heute. Translation by Katrina Hier. Featured photo by Péter Csákvári/Ungarn Heute-Hungary Today