While the EU is using all its diplomatic resources to get Hungary to support a ban on Russian oil imports, including an express visit to Budapest on Monday by Ursula von der Leyen, Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister Péter Szijjártó is unflinchingly insisting that his country not will vote yes if Brussels does not offer it a “solution” to the costs required to achieve energy independence. Szijjarto (Komaron, 43) denies that his veto is protecting the interests of Russia, his historical ally: “We are used to it; we are always presented as friends of Russians and spies [Vladímir] Insert”.
Seen at home as a possible successor to ultra-conservative populist Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian chancellor despises a process spearheaded by the European Commission to freeze European funds in his country over a deteriorating rule of law, which he calls “blackmail.” . “They can’t stomach the fact that we are a right-wing, successful and patriotic government,” he said Tuesday at his country’s consulate in Malaga after attending an international conference on terrorism.
Ask. How are the talks on the Russian oil embargo going?
Answer. The heads of state and government of the EU reached an agreement at Versailles that makes it clear that we Europeans want to diversify energy sources and supplies in order to get rid of such a high level of dependence on Russian energy. But this must be done taking into account the very different energy structures of the countries. Hungary is landlocked, and due to the historical conditioning of infrastructure, we are dependent on Russian oil and gas. This proposal of the Commission poses a huge problem for us. Our refinery is designed for Russian oil. To finalize the other, we would have to invest between 500 and 550 million euros, which would take about four years. To replace the oil pipeline from Russia, it is necessary to expand the capacity of what comes from the Adriatic, which is 200 million euros and no one knows how long. The increase in gas prices in Hungary will be 55%. On Monday we told the President of the Commission that her proposal created a problem for us. We can’t vote yes until we’re offered a solution.
P. What solution are you looking for?
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R. To finance a technology change at refineries to increase pipeline capacity in Croatia, someone has to pay. And we also have to pay for the process of modernizing the entire energy system in order to avoid a 55% price increase that is unbearable for the population. So far no such plan has been presented. It would be rational if the ban on the import of Russian oil was placed on sea supplies. But pipeline supplies must be released.
P. On the money side, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell warned that any attempt to link the embargo to a recovery fund would be unacceptable. Was there any connection?
R. Absolutely none. In the event of a ban on oil, our energy system would have to be completely rebuilt, and this would cost money. But this has nothing to do with other problems.
P. Are you concerned that their failure to approve the sanctions plan could present them as a Putin supporter in the EU?
R. This proposal would do us much more damage than the Russians. For us, this is a Hungarian issue, not a Russian one. We are used to the fact that no matter what we do, no matter what we say, even if others feel the same, but do not say it out loud, we are always presented as friends of the Russians and Putin’s spies.
P. What is your relationship with Putin now?
R. We used to have a pragmatic relationship. With the outbreak of war, the prime minister [Viktor Orbán] had a conversation with President Putin on the initiative of this [tras la victoria electoral de Fidesz, el partido mayoritario en Hungría, el 3 de abril]. And basically, that’s all. The Prime Minister invited Budapest to host any peace talks. This war poses a serious threat to the security of Hungary. We condemned the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. We are for Ukraine, without a doubt. And now we are conducting the largest humanitarian operation in history: we are a country with a population of less than 10 million people, but the number of refugees who have arrived from Ukraine has so far reached 700,000.
P. But most leave later. How much is left?
R. After some time, one part leaves, the other remains. [Los segundos] They are in the range of 100,000.
P. Did the recent terrorist attacks in Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region, home to a significant Hungarian minority, cause you to reconsider your decision not to send arms?
R. We do not want the Hungarian-Ukrainian border to be an arena for the supply of weapons. These attacks were on highways and gun shops. We will not send or allow the transit of weapons through Hungary.
P. How are your relations with Ukraine developing? A few days ago, a senior Ukrainian official suggested that Putin gave Orban advance warning of the invasion, before his country’s prime minister said President Volodymyr Zelensky was an adversary.
R. Before the war, we did not have very good relations due to the constant violation of the rights of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. But right after it broke, we put all those questions in brackets. It was, to put it mildly, not pleasant that they tried to interfere in our election campaign. And such provocations as the last one, which you mentioned that we knew about it in advance and wanted to occupy part of their territory, are stupid. Why are we being criticized? Because we don’t supply weapons. This seems unfair to us, because in the meantime we welcome all your refugees and do not want to be thanked. We are a Christian nation, so it is natural to welcome people fleeing war.
P. In this case, yes, but fleeing from Syria was not welcomed.
R. These are completely different questions. There are at least seven safe countries between Syria and Hungary. And those people who attacked our border had no right to come to Hungary.
Peter Szijjártó during an interview at the Hungarian consulate in Malaga on Tuesday.Garcia Santos
P. Brussels initiated the procedure for withholding EU funds for the first time due to concerns about the rule of law in Hungary. What will be your next step?
R. It’s a bit suspicious that we won the elections by a landslide – the fourth consecutive with a two-thirds majority and 55% of the vote – and two days later the Commission launched this procedure.
P. The commission said that in order not to interfere with the campaign, it would wait until after the elections.
R. All these statements and accusations against us are purely political in nature. They should not blackmail us with such a legal procedure. They cannot digest that we are a right-wing, successful and patriotic government. We are going against the liberal current on many issues, and we have the support of the people. We understand that democracy is when the will of the people is fulfilled. Brussels understands that this is when liberals rule. On specific issues, we are always ready to argue, but on opinions it is pointless.
P. The Commission’s concerns are very specific: corruption, the independence of judges and the effectiveness of the prosecutor’s office.
R. We have record growth. If there is systematic corruption in the country, record growth cannot be achieved. There is no systematic corruption in Hungary. The judicial system is free.
P. As for the future of Europe, what do you think about the reform of treaties and the end of unanimity in certain decisions that are being discussed?
R. The EU can be strong if the member states themselves are strong. We do not believe in the United States of Europe, but in the European Union of member states. The correct way to make decisions is by consensus, so as not to violate or harm the interests of any state. Once you move to a majority system, the strongest countries with the most influence will be able to decide everything. Unanimity must be maintained.
P. Poland has distanced itself from you because it considers your position to be a pro-Putin and Visegrad group [V-4: ambos países, más Eslovaquia y República Checa] is on hold. Are you worried about isolation and weakening in the European Union?
R. There is no friendship between Hungary and Poland, there is brotherhood. There are many more issues on which we agree. The strength of the V-4 is that we cooperate on issues where we have consensus, and where we don’t, we respect it and put it aside. With the war in the spotlight, everything becomes more spectacular, more visible. We will survive.
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