"The precondition of a common EU foreign policy is that each European citizen could identify themselves with it."
According to Péter Jakab, Hungary should use technology coming from its allies to construct its 5G network. This is not the only point on which he is critical against China: he supports sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations in Xinjiang. Although he sees the potential advantages of an EU-China investment agreement, he thinks that ‘trade cannot enjoy priority over commitments to the basic principles on which we build our political systems and societies.' Jobbik's prime ministerial candidate highlighted that a common EU foreign-, security-, and defense policy is necessary, but it requires constructing a more unified Europe every member state and citizen could identify themselves with. Interview series, part four.
Interviews with other candidates:
- Klára Dobrev: “I would make the EU and Hungary stronger on the global scene”
- András Fekete-Győr: “Huawei is such a large national security threat that is simply not offset by the low price of its 5G network”
- József Pálinkás: "Today, not a single EU member state can represent its interests alone"
- Péter Márki-Zay: "The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had common Foreign-, Defense- and Finance Ministries. It is frustrating that European integration is not there yet 150 years later."
- Gergely Karácsony: "The first step should be the termination of the Paks contract."
The original responses in Hungarian can be found at the following links:
- Dobrev Klára: „Megerősíteném az EU és Magyarország világpolitikai súlyát”
- Fekete-Győr András: „A Huawei olyan nemzetbiztonsági kockázatot jelent, amit egyszerűen nem ellensúlyoz az általuk kiépített 5G-rendszer alacsony ára”
- Pálinkás József: „Ma egyetlen EU-tagállam sem elég erős ahhoz, hogy az érdekeit egyedül hatékonyan tudja képviselni”
- Jakab Péter: „A közös uniós külpolitika feltétele, hogy minden európai polgár ugyanolyan mértékben magáénak érezze”
- Márki-Zay Péter: „Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia már 1867-ben eljutott a közös külügy, hadügy, pénzügy koncepciójáig, elkeserítő, hogy 150 évvel később az európai integráció még nem tart itt"
- Karácsony Gergely: „Első lépésként a paksi szerződést kell felmondani”
Recent events have shown that the European Union (EU) often moved as a lame duck on the foreign policy scene, as unanimous decision-making in the field means a single member state’s rejection is enough to block an EU statement or policy decision. The European Parliament (EP) called for moving towards qualified majority voting in the field of foreign policy – at least in human rights cases – multiple times. Would your government support making EU foreign policy decisions with qualified majority voting?
Yes, we would, even though I think it essential to add that there are reasons behind the EU's lame duck state on the international stage that go deeper than mere decision-making methods. Indeed, the unanimity requirement is an institutional problem that needs to be addressed. However, we also have to ask why it became so difficult to create unity in Europe and how we could restore it because, without it, we can only treat symptoms. Unfortunately, a common identity is still missing from the European community, just like economic and social policies ensuring that every member state and citizen could identify with Europe. Finding answers to these issues would be necessary to meet the challenge of anti-European populism, let alone the forthcoming global challenges that could be tackled only on a European level. What we need is a substantive change both on the institutional and the societal level. On the institutional level, we also think it important to create a common European armed force that could considerably broaden the common EU foreign policy’s room for maneuver.
Is there actually a need for the Union to follow a united, strong foreign policy or is it preferable to allow all member states to choose their own strategies with minimal EU-level cooperation?
It is becoming more and more evident that the EU needs a strong, united foreign policy if it wants to remain an actor in international politics and serve the interests of its citizens. This is not just about the global challenges of climate change or the pandemic situation that could hardly be addressed on the national level, but also about the reactions of other actors in world politics. We have seen many examples recently when other actors ‘tested' the strength and authority of EU leaders. This reminds us that we have to strengthen EU common foreign policy if we want to have our say when those issues determining the future of the world are being discussed.
All this requires that member states and citizens identify with the EU and that the EU channels the interests and views of the member states into its foreign policy. As regards Hungary, we still lag behind because we have not improved our capabilities to represent Hungarian interests in the EU. However, the situation even deteriorated due to the Orbán government's anti-EU politics. It would be my government's priority to turn the direction of these unfavorable processes around and show a more constructive attitude, perhaps even together with V4 states that currently do not feel at home in this regional cooperation. Hungary should be led back to Europe, which Hungary has moved away from under Orbán’s hybrid regime.
Would your government support the EU strengthening, expanding sectoral economic sanctions against Russia? Why or why not?
In my opinion, the purpose of foreign policy is to enhance mutual benefits and solve conflicts. Sanctions are always drastic means that should be used only as a last resort. In the present situation, unfortunately, it seems that sanctions remained the only means to express dissatisfaction with Moscow's certain practices, so I support sanctions.
Nevertheless, we should not forget that the purpose of the sanctions is to bring the other party to the negotiating table. When we deploy sanctions against Russia, we need to keep this in mind because it would be a mistake to erode the institution of sanctions or to make the impression that we exclude the possibility of a peaceful solution to our debates. Then, we would miss the very aim of the sanctions; namely, that we want to change the behavior of Russia.
Do you believe that Hungary should expel Russian diplomats to offer its solidarity to Czechia because of the explosion in Vrbetice? If not expelling diplomats, what would be the right “answer”?
The Vrbetice explosion is a severe issue that understandably burdened the Czech-Russian bilateral relations and the relationship between the EU and Russia. Russian intelligence services crossed a red line here, and it cannot be tolerated. Prague's reaction is understandable, and if there is a perfect occasion for a joint European response, it is this. In my view, banning diplomats after an intelligence operation that caused the death of civilians is a strong answer only if each member state shows solidarity with Czechia and act as a community. If this harmony exists, then it has to apply to everyone, even to Hungary.
Would your government stop the construction of the two new nuclear blocks in Paks? How would you replace the energy production of these blocks?
I’ll answer in two parts. The first big question concerns the contract and its circumstances. When we are in government, we will evaluate the contracts, feasibility studies, and financial plans because we do not know enough about these at the moment. We have good reason to believe that the financial background of the expansion is problematic. But, first, we need to take a look at the documents.
The second question concerns energy production, and it is a technical one. Jobbik, as a people’s party, supports the EU's environmental goals, the content of the EU Green Deal, the Paris Agreement, and the recently adopted hydrogen strategy, and we would like Hungary to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. However, we still have a lot of work to do on the integration of energy systems and new technologies. Therefore, at the moment, we currently do not see any viable alternative to Paks.
What are the solutions for Hungary’s heavy dependence on Russian energy?
With the abovementioned solutions and following the EU's policy goals. The plans are very ambitious, and I think they offer Hungary great opportunities even besides the environmental issues. In renewable energy research, we could build on the knowledge of Hungarian researchers, foster R&D and innovation, and we, Hungarians, are really good at these.
Let me add something: our previous proposal for a wage union also aimed at the very same thing: our economy should not be based on cheap labor, but knowledge and new technologies with significant added value, just like in Western European countries.
Would your government support EU sanctions against further Chinese officials for their role in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs or anti-democratic actions in Hong Kong? Why or why not?
The EU is built on respect for human rights and the idea of democracy. Probably it could not even have come into existence without these principles, but it certainly could not have been so successful. Therefore we, Europeans, firmly believe in these values, and I consider it essential that we represent them in the world. China had agreed to respect Hong King's political system, and we have to stand up for the rule of law and compliance with contractual obligations. We owe this to ourselves as well as to the people of Hong Kong. Moreover, I take cultural diversity and the support of native ethnic minorities to be critical European values. It might sound like an understatement if I say that the news about Chinese measures against Uyghurs is alarming. The EU cannot stay silent on this.
With all this in mind, I see the sanctions against Chinese officials as justified. But like in Russia, here it is also important to highlight that the sanctions are just policy means, not the actual goal. We should not assuage ourselves by saying that we deployed harsh measures while we achieved nothing concerning the situation of Hong Kong or the Uyghurs. The aim of the EU should be to make the Chinese comply with what they agreed to regarding Hong Kong, and improve the situation of the city and that of the Uyghurs substantially. This should be the goal that the sanctions should aim at.
Do you believe that Chinese companies, like Huawei, should be banned from the development of Hungary’s 5G network even if it would raise construction costs?
In my opinion, data security and the construction of the 5G network are such crucial issues for national security and strategy that financial considerations should not dominate them. Financial questions matter, but they should not enjoy priority over security. We should use technology over which we have control, and that does not make us vulnerable. Consequently, I would prefer our own technology or technology coming from our allies; and we should not forget to mention that China has acquired a dubious reputation on this issue.
Would your government put an end to the renovation of the Budapest-Belgrade railway and the construction of the Fudan University campus in Budapest? What would you spend the money allocated to these projects on?
We think strengthening economic relations with China is important if the foundation cooperation is built on provides mutual benefits. Recently, however, we saw that Fidesz, which became increasingly marginalized in the EU, tried to use Chinese relations to reinforce their own grip on power in hopes of domestic political advantages even at the cost of becoming more and more vulnerable to Beijing in ways that are extremely harmful to national sovereignty and Hungarian national interests. Both the Budapest – Belgrade railway and the Fudan Hungary campus reasonably raise suspicions that they one-sidedly favor China, while for Hungary, they will probably be unprofitable.
Therefore, we would suspend both projects to revise their financial conditions. If the review confirms that these deals are unfavorable to Hungary or disproportionally favor the Chinese party (which is probably the case), we would stop both for good.
The money spared should be spent on, at least in my opinion, projects that could increase Hungarian wages in the long run: R&D, production of goods with significant added value, as well as subsidizing Hungarian SMEs.
China and the EU agreed on an investment agreement in December 2020, which could help European companies on the Chinese market. This needs to be ratified by the EP, but it has not done so due to Chinese counter-sanctions against some MEPs and human rights concerns. Do you believe that the ratification of this treaty is in Hungary’s interest? Do you think that the human rights situation needs to be taken into account when developing the EU’s relationship with China? If yes, can you explain how?
I think that economic cooperation between the EU and China is essential and that it benefits us all if European firms acquire new opportunities on the Chinese market. As I mentioned earlier, however, Europe has to respect its own values and remind others of the importance of these values. Commerce and economic cooperation are important, but they should not prioritize those basic principles on which we build our political systems and societies. The EU cannot tolerate the exploitation of people or forced labor. It would be cynical if we did not demand respect for all this from our partners or allowed for anyone to bypass European regulations with the help of third parties. This is a vital issue for the relationship between the EU and China. It has an aspect that concerns the rights of European people who rightly expect that the products they buy comply with European consumer protection regulations both quality- and production-wise. In my view, the EU has ample room for maneuver here, and it should use that room. European consumers hardly want to buy Chinese products that do not meet our standards, either in terms of quality or ethical considerations.
Do you believe that disinformation – especially the manipulative rhetoric spread by Moscow and Beijing – constitutes a national security threat? What steps would your government take on the national and EU level to fight disinformation?
As a first step, I would support a change of government because it was evident that in Hungary nowadays, the most prominent disseminator of Russian or Chinese propaganda is the Orbán government and the government-aligned media. This is unprecedented in Europe, and it does not only have a devastating effect on Hungarian public life and society, but it is also more and more visible on the European level.
That is why we committed ourselves to create a European public media in our 2019 European Parliament electoral manifesto, and this pledge is still an essential element of our politics. We need to strengthen European identity; we have to present European values to the people. Unfortunately, the EU lags far behind in this field. Consequently, politicians in certain eastern member states can openly question either European values or the advantages of our membership in the EU. This is not the people's fault. Simply, the benefits of EU membership are always transparent for a German, a French, or a Dutch citizen. They have information about these advantages. A Hungarian, a Czech, or a Bulgarian citizen is hardly ever addressed about or presented with the benefits of EU membership in an accessible form.
A European public media, using the languages of member states but speaking from a common perspective could objectively inform European citizens and do a lot against the Russian or Chinese disinformation machineries.
Fourteen EU member states are proposing to create a 5000-man-strong, well-equipped quick response military force. Hungary, based on media information, is not among the fourteen. Would you support creating such a force and potentially deploying it even to conflict zones? Do you believe that the deployment should take place after a unanimous agreement or would qualified majority voting be enough?
Yes, we would support creating a joint EU military force and its deployment by a qualified majority. The same applies to this as what I emphasized in my previous answers: institutional and procedural reforms are essential, but the real issue is that the EU and its goals should be understandable to everyone and that everyone could identify with them, especially if the deployment of a military force is at stake.
It was revealed recently that Hungary is not planning to withdraw the HUF 3300 billion allocated to it in preferential loans in the frames of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, although it could access it any time until 2023. Would your government take these loans? If yes, would you use the entire credit line? What would you spend these resources on?
We would definitely accept the loan and draw the entire amount because there does not exist any loan with more favorable conditions at the moment. Any other constructions are much worse than this, let alone the requirements of the Chinese and other loans that the Orbán government pursues.
As to the use of the credit, first, we would most certainly like to give help to sectors that were hit the worst by the pandemic: to support people who lost their jobs and any initiatives that can provide people with new jobs. It is SMEs who found themselves in a critical situation on a massive scale. Of course, we cannot stop there because the country needs longer-term perspectives as well. It cannot be overstated that Hungary's future and the key to its development are that we should not base our economy not on supplying a cheap and vulnerable workforce but in providing high-quality education, knowledge, and, accordingly, producing goods with considerable added value.
The EU took loans for the first time with joint member state responsibility for the debt. Some are on the opinion that this should become more than a one-time scheme, which is supported – for instance – by the Greek and Spanish prime ministers. Northern member states and Germany reject this idea. Which side should Hungary be on in this debate?
Let me clarify: the money will be drawn by the EU under the joint guarantee of all the 27 member states, but after distributing the money, each member state will be responsible for the amount they received. This is an essential point because it goes against the logic of federal states, for instance, the model of US T-Bills. We support the joint responsibility because it is the most advantageous to us.
Which policy areas are the ones where you believe closer EU integration is necessary and what are those where member stated should hold the competencies?
I do not think it a mere incident that I was interviewed about precisely these issues and not others. Broadly speaking, these are the questions about which it is worthwhile to think in European terms. Foreign policy climate change, economic relations with other world powers, or European identity are all issues that can be best addressed on a European level. Obviously, and it follows from the logic of today's politics, we are facing more and more challenges European nation states are simply not big enough to meet by themselves. Even Germany or France cannot fight the negative consequences of climate change by themselves or sit down to negotiate with China as an equal partner. One of the reasons for creating the EU to ‘elevate' its member states and create opportunities even for smaller countries. Therefore, these are the questions where closer cooperation is inevitable. But it is a precondition that the inequalities among EU member states are remedied, and a more solidary and socially more coherent community is created. There is a place for closer cooperation on these issues because they constitute a common interest on which we should work together. To put it simply, the citizens of eastern member states would like a higher standard of living. It is vital for the citizens of the western member states that frenzied populists do not take over eastern ones because of social tensions in these lagging regions, especially if these populists explode the EU while stealing the money of not just their subjects but also citizens of Western European countries. There is an essential function here for the EU, too.
But there are questions in which even the smallest member state is ‘significant' enough: the cultivation of national culture or education. Here, enormous freedom should be granted to those most competent in these fields: the nations themselves.
Our interview with Péter Jakab is the fourth in the series. We sent our questions to all prime ministerial candidates partaking in the opposition primaries to know more about their foreign policy views, especially in the European dimension. We are publishing the answers in the order of receiving then after minimal editing.
This is the English translation of the original, Hungarian-language interview.
Political Capital and its partners from Bulgaria, Czechia, Poland, Austria, Slovakia and Romania are researching value-based foreign policy preferences and the prevalence of authoritarian influence in the EU institutional system with the support of National Endowment for Democracy.