Márton Gyöngyösi: We have direct and indirect informal connections to the European People’s Party

Jobbik’s politicians have been implying that they could imagine their party joining the European People’s Party which has just recently suspended Fidesz’ membership. Is there really a connection between Jobbik and the European People’s Party? Would they join a party family where Fidesz would remain a member even after May 26? What kind of European Union does Jobbik envision? Sovereignism or federalism? What does the party think about the Europe of Nations concept which it had endorsed earlier? Alfahir asked these questions and got the answers, too. In-depth interview with Márton Gyöngyösi, the man heading Jobbik’s list of candidates for the European parliamentary elections.

Pedro López de Pablo. Does this name ring the bell?

Not right now.

Director of press and communications for the EPP’s parliamentary group.

It does now.

Do you remember what he said last year when Tamás Sneider talked about certain signs showing that Jobbik could join the European People’s Party?

I do remember.

Talking to daily Magyar Hírlap, he said: “I don’t know what they are smoking, but it seems really effective so even if it’s illegal, they should commercialise it because they would be more successful than in politics.”

I don’t think I need to comment on that. Such statements are made in European parliamentary campaigns and front lines tend to freeze. They haven’t even been able to handle Fidesz. It’s unusual to deprive parties of their membership during election campaigns, and it’s even more unusual to promise other parties potential cooperation after the elections. This is how this statement should be evaluated. There’s nothing more or less than that to Pedro López de Pablo’s statement. I wasn’t offended.

Was it a poetic exaggeration on Tamás Sneider’s part, or were there really signs that Jobbik and the EPP could get closer to each other?

There are many different interpretations of establishing contacts or whether there is a connection between two organizations. Official contacts have not been established but there are informal connections. There are certain signs in the press both ways. There’s a communication channel that allows EPP politicians to get an insight into our programme for the next five-year European parliamentary term. They see what course Jobbik has taken in the past six years and they know that there was a transition into a people’s party.

Let’s look at the details a bit. Recently you told daily Népszava that “informal contacts have been established through personal connections” with the European People’s Party. How does that happen? Are there discussions with the EPP’s MEPs?

Yes, and with people who have good contacts within the European People’s Party. This is what a direct and indirect flow of information means.

You gave an interview to Népszava after Fidesz’s EPP membership was suspended. Does this mean that the information flow has intensified since March 20?

We had begun establishing contacts long before Fidesz was suspended; at the peak of our Initiative for a European Wage Union about two years ago. This is a lobbying activity aimed at providing information about Jobbik and the Hungarian internal political situation so that they could see an image about us other than the one distorted by the media.

I guess Fidesz was mentioned during these discussions.

Of course.

What do your EPP contacts have to say about Fidesz communicating its suspension as a “self-suspension”?

We’ve not been able to discuss that yet. One week has passed since the meeting and the resolution of the EPP. As far as I can see, it was a pre-agreed strategy so that each side could use and interpret it the way it prefers. The thirteen EPP member parties that harshly criticized Fidesz can now lay back because Fidesz was sanctioned. Manfred Weber and Joseph Daul could play the tough guy even though it was an ambiguous compromise. Furthermore, they could preserve the unity of the EPP before a vital European parliamentary election. In other words, by threatening to issue sanctions, they could put off the decision until the neyt term after May 26. Such sanctions may or may not occur.

Fidesz has become isolated, that much is clear for everyone. No matter how they communicate it as a victory at home, it is a diplomatic failure for Fidesz in the European scene.

Why does Jobbik’s alliance policy focus on the EPP?

It does not. We expect formative changes in the European political arena after May 26. The Brexit complicates the matter even more: the key parties of a key member state are going to walk off the European political stage, which will have a major impact on party alliances controlled or influenced by the Brits. Then there is this Orbán phenomenon, which may split the EPP in the middle. And there are other ongoing processes in Europe, too. The chances of the populist parties create a new situation in the representative power of European political parties or party families. The existing status quo will be upset. It would be very difficult to name the formation which Jobbik would be willing to approach. Everything will change.

There will be major movements, and several groups may be considered – based on the values. In line with our own values, we want to approach centre-right, conservative formations that are based on Christian foundations.

ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists)? Their name already shows that they are conservative.

For example.

ENF (Europe of Nations and Freedom)?

We have no room there. ENF’s way of thinking is far from us.

At present, both groups include some parties...

... which might as well be close to us.

… which primarily sympathize with Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. ECR includes Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) while ENF has Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ). Isn’t that an obstacle?

It’s a problem. It complicates Jobbik’s situation further because we have no place in a parliamentary group that includes Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

Theoretically speaking, if Fidesz stays in the EPP after the European parliamentary elections but Jobbik is invited to join, would you turn it down?

That’s a serious dilemma. I don’t expect such a scenario where Viktor Orbán could stay in the EPP, even if the People’s Party eventually splits into two. Viktor Orbán’s person has become so polarizing and his policy is so unpredictable that all self-respecting party families will be reluctant to sit in the same alliance or parliamentary group with him after May 26. On the other hand, the parties that exclusively base their policies on anti-immigration sentiments and Islamophobia consider Viktor Orbán as a hero. He enjoys particular attention within this group, he may become the big fish in a small pond there. I think he’s had enough of being in the second or the third line; he wants to become a factor on the European scene. If such a group provides him with this opportunity, I am almost completely certain he will choose this alternative.

Migration is indeed in the focal point of Viktor Orbán’s policy, and he looks for allies accordingly. Is migration no longer an issue for Jobbik?

Migration is a very important issue but Viktor Orbán is no longer credible in this matter.

According to Viktor Orbán, all Hungarian parties other than Fidesz are pro-immigration.

However, there’s no party more pro-immigration than Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Europe today.

Why? Isn’t this statement an exaggeration?

While talking about an anti-immigration stance and allowing this issue to dominate Hungarian internal affairs for four years, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz has done whatever it could to accommodate 86 thousand migrants in this country. They advertise the border fence, claiming that they protected Hungary and the European civilization from migration, but it’s simply not true. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the latest statistical report released by the Austrian immigration office. The data clearly show how many illegal migrants entered Austria’s territory in 2016 and 2017, and from which direction, too. Over 15 thousand illegal migrants crossed the Austria-Hungary border in the analyzed period. This figure clearly demonstrates that Hungary, albeit a transit country, is still exposed to illegal migration. If the southern border fence could really protect Hungary, then the 15 thousand migrants could not have crossed the country.

Viktor Orbán’s luck lies in the fact that this country is among the poorest EU member states, so if illegal migrants manage to get in, they keep fleeing towards the neighbouring countries because nobody wants to stay here. Six hundred thousand Hungarian youth left the country so far, and another 400 thousand are getting ready to leave. Even Bangladeshi migrants refuse to stay here: they go on to Western Europe where there are better opportunities and higher wages.

You question the credibility and efficiency of Fidesz’ migration policy, but what does Jobbik say? “Neither rich nor poor migrants”?

Jobbik consistently represents the concept that Hungary must be protected from all forms of illegal migration. We have to get rid of this hypocrisy which talks about migration on the one hand while, on the other hand, settles over 20 thousand people in Hungary, despite their often questionable background, through the residency bond scheme which provides them a potential access to EU citizenship. The prime examples of this machination are the Pharaon affair and the affair of the recently captured ISIS warrior. These cases show how Hungary and the Hungarian secret services are unable to exercise their key functions. What we say is that neither rich nor poor migrants should be allowed to come to Hungary. Actions and words must be in line.

Let me also note that the migration crisis is a global one, which none of the member states can handle on its own. The national state strategy must also include cooperation with Europe in such programmes where the EU is taking major steps ahead. Compared to 2015, when Werner Faymann and Angela Merkel as well as other ultra-liberal politicians dominated the European discourse on migration, there are perhaps no pro-migration governments in Europe any more. The position of the member states has changed. If there’s anyone who helped solve the migration crisis it’s Italy and Germany, not Viktor Orbán. Germany made an agreement with Turkey not to let migrants into the Balkans. As far as Italy is concerned, under the leftist government preceding that of the Five Star Movement and the League, the country adopted a legislation which, almost overnight, prevented migrants from being carried over from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea.

In a recent migration conference in Budapest, Viktor Orbán stated that he needed the support of a major Western European country that has the same position on migration as Hungary, otherwise the cause was bound to be defeated. He mentioned Italy as a potential ally. Did you listen to his speech?

Yes, and I have bad news for Viktor Orbán. I do understand the reasons for this great cuddling with Salvini during the campaign but Orbán will have a hard time handling him in terms of the migrant allocation quota. While Orbán rejects the quota, Salvini has a vested interest in it, which he never fails to voice, either. Italy’s position is quite different from Hungary’s. Italy has an enormous number of migrants and immigrants, so they want to spread them across Europe based on a quota. So Orbán will have a tough conflict with his “closest ally” right in the first issue: the quota.

How does Jobbik’s policy relate to the debate on the future of the European Union being defined by the souvereignists or the federalists?

That’s a very important debate on a public law affair. Jobbik’s firm position is that federalism is an unfit, infeasible and counter-productive construct in such a diverse and complex continent as Europe. Just like De Gaulle’s idea based on the “Europe of Nations” concept...

Jobbik used to campaign for the Europe of Nations concept, though.

Yes, but we had to realize that the world had become so open and globalized where the “Europe of Nations” concept, which is based on the protection of sovereignty in the narrow sense of the word, must be exceeded in some way. Perhaps a confederation could solve this issue...

At the moment, there are two extreme, conflicting views on this matter but neither of them is truly realistic in the current conditions of the 21st century. Federalism is impossible in the first place because all federal constructs have a fundamental precondition. The precondition is that we need to define an identity-forming element; a common identity that could be the basis for a federal structure. Just like it was defined when Bismarck was working on the unification of Germany, but there are other examples, such as Italy’s Garibaldi or the founding fathers of the United States. First, they needed to declare the common identity.

Carrying this idea further, am I correct to assume that you think the European identity should be defined?

Absolutely. Before conducting this public law debate, we should define what the European Union is, what Europe’s identity is and what could connect all of us. It must not be an abstract notion. It cannot be Beethoven’s Ode to Joy; that’s a matter of aesthetics and taste. People either like Beethoven or not. It can neither be Conchita Wurst nor the Eurovision Song Contest, which is kitschy and superficial.

We must think about core values, something that the Irish, the Portuguese, the Estonian and the Hungarian could agree on. I have good news: there is such a core value but in order for it to be accepted, certain obstacles need to be torn down or dismantled.

What do you mean?

Christianity. I mean the Christian culture, identity, religion. The famous British historian Toynbee said that each civilization was based on religion and I fully agree with that. If you look at the Hindu, Confucian and Muslim civilizations, their identities are always formed by religion. Of course, there are many other things layered on top later on. As far as Europe is concerned, you could say that humanism, the rule of law rooted in Roman law as well as human rights can all be listed as values but they are not in the least in conflict with the Christian culture and identity.

Can this still work in the 21st century when they say churches are empty in Europe? Christianity appears to have lost the power that made it a connective substance for centuries in Europe.

Just like Confucianism lost its significance in China for a while yet it lingered on in the visceral instincts of the Chinese people. Confucius’ teachings have remained as the foundations of the Chinese state today, too.

How could the European Union, as an institution, contribute to Christianity becoming a formative value across Europe?

The EU has to declare Christianity as such a value. The European Union has made several attempts to define its core values. Where we are right now is that Europe, i.e., the European identity is built on diversity.

However, you cannot build an identity and/or large structures on diversity or the approach that we agree to disagree on everything.

The cornerstones of Fidesz’ EU policy are migration and George Soros. What topics will Jobbik focus on during the campaign period before the EP elections?

We have three plus one topics. First of all, I want to point out that we identified each topic as a strategic national cause. They are not ideological issues. They are causes which could serve as the basis of making alliances in Hungary, in foreign countries and globally, too. One such topic is migration, which I already talked about. This is a global challenge crying for a global solution. Unlike Viktor Orbán, we want to be partners in this debate.

Perhaps even more important than immigration, Hungary is affected by emigration; the brain and hand drain. Let me remind you of our initiative for a European wage union, which proved us right. In the past thirty years, Hungary witnessed the agony and death of the neoliberal economic policy which is based on wage slavery, low wages, weak labour law and weak unions. In the meantime however, this policy has driven away and will keep driving away hundreds of thousands of Hungarian people who are replaced by strangers being settled here as a cheap labour force. Instead, Jobbik offers a new cohesion policy and a new economic policy coupled with the relentless persecution of corruption, which is the greatest obstacle in terms of Hungary’s competitiveness. That’s why we urge Hungary to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. We attribute great significance to the matter of autonomy, which is about self-governance and granting collective rights to native minorities. The additional topic is the protection of public service.

Hungary’s public service media is unable to fulfill its original function; it has fallen victim to Fidesz’ authoritarian efforts. We expect Europe to identify the benchmarks and guidelines that could serve as the basis for the operation of public services. All citizens have the right for objective, balanced and independent information.

How many representatives do you expect to send to the European Parliament?

As a minimal goal, I expect us to be able to repeat our 2014 result and obtain three seats. Considering the fact that three polling think-tanks that are completely independent from us have forecasted four seats for Jobbik, I will be happy if we could increase the number of our MEPs and it seems to be a realistic goal.

Tamás Nótin - Alfahír.hu - Jobbik.com