We did not raise our children so that they would contribute to other countries’ GDP
Alfahír.hu: Why did you find it important that the Slovenian citizens could join the Wage Union initiative? What kind of challenges does Slovenia have that give a reason for this step?
Andrej Čuš: With the Wage Union initiative, Slovenia wants to raise awareness that living standards vary across Europe and that the citizens of 16 countries live below the EU-27 standards. We want to be one of the member states that will carry the initiative of a better and fairer Europe. We cannot utilize freedom of movement of people if we do not try to address the wage gap that is forcing our Slovenian youth to emigrate. By not doing this, we are losing the knowledge, skills and know-how. And what is even more important – we are losing the perspective.
Do you think that the Initiative could really bring an internal reform in the EU, as Gábor Vona, the president of Jobbik, has stated several times? Is a reform necessary in the EU?
I am convinced that the EU needs an internal reform as we want to have a common army, common foreign and security policy, but we do not really try to pave the way for common social projects that would help our citizens. In 2015, 118.7 million people, or 23,7 % of the population in the EU-28 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. By raising awareness about the possible harmonization of the payment policy on the EU level we could prevent social dumping and strive for the balanced regional development. We did not raise our children so that they would contribute to other countries’ gross domestic product.
As an independent MP, how will you be able to help collecting signatures for the Wage Union?
I believe that we will collect 6.000 signatures in order to be one of the countries that actually want to reform the organization that lacks democratic legitimacy. I am happy that we have the institute of European initiative – it is a crucial mechanism that prevents the bureaucratic machinery to march their own way.
How much chance do you estimate for the success of the project? How much is the Slovenian public interested in the topic, do Slovenian people find the issue of wages important?
In Slovenia, almost 700.000 people receive less wage, pension or social relief, than the legal minimum wage (614 euros). I will also propose a new Law on Fundamental Labor Rights because of this phenomenon this Tuesday. We should all know that payment policy is the most important development policy for the country.
The initiators of Wage Union have many times stressed that even if this collection of signatures would not result in the expected outcome, our common mission can lead to a broader regional cooperation, offering a new dimension in the representation of the interests of Central Europe in the EU. In your opinion, would such cooperation be desirable? Would Slovenia have a place in such an alliance?
Absolutely, I believe in regional cooperation. By forming a block that fights for the right to receive salary that allows for a decent life, we could tackle the most prominent issue of our region. We need to show the EU that we do not agree with the multi-speed Europe. We will not let that the so-called ‘’core countries’’ (France, Germany) dictate the tempo of other 25 countries.
Realization of the Wage Union only gives a solution for the current problems of the region on the long-run. What kind of other steps do you think are necessary for Central Europe to tackle problems, like corruption that steps over borders?
I think that the next step should be a closer regional cooperation. In order to be successful on the EU level, we should form a wider and coherent block that would prevent the dictates from mother Merkel and father Macron. We don’t want a United States of Europe, because the latter does not have the power to tackle our common problems. Those problems are youth unemployment, low pensions, housing problems, emigration, low salaries and massive migrations from Africa.
The Hungarian government uses several methods to discourage Wage Union, among others they are frightening voters, that if Wage Union would be realized, Central Europe would be flooded by migrants. Is it something that might really happen?
How could the realization of the Wage Union bring migrants to Central Europe? By not achieving the harmonization of the payment policies on the EU level, we are producing migrants, who are massively leaving our countries. We are losing millions and millions of people, who are, along with themselves, also taking the youth, skills, knowledge and perspective. We should also think about our social models – how are we going to sustain our pension and transfer systems if we don’t have the youth working and contributing to the national budget?
What is your message for the supporters of the Initiative as well as for those who oppose Wage Union for political or any other reason?
The future of our countries and our citizens is in our hands – in the hands of the generations who are not burdened with the past. Who will fight for our countries and our citizens if not us? The electoral abstinence is high because our politicians think that politics is about drinking tea and eating expensive canapés. The whole political program and key policies should be build around the people – then the people will leave their homes on Sunday and circle your name. Otherwise, even the cheapest lemonades are more important then politics.
Fidesz even goes as far as to attempt character assassinations against the initiators of Wage Union: Croatian Frano Čirko was accused to be a Neo-Nazi by the Hungarian governmental media, while Romanian Dragos Tirnoveanu was called a Russian secret agent by them. Are you not afraid to find yourself in the cross-hairs of the propaganda machine of Viktor Orbán?
I was already a target of smear campaigns by the Slovenian propaganda machine when I left the biggest opposition party. Nova24TV wanted to politically liquidate me but it backfired – I came out stronger. However, one of my core mottos is: Truth always prevails. If you do good, the good will come back to you.
If we are talking about the media of Fidesz, a rumor has been recently started to be spread, claiming that the advisor of the Hungarian PM, media tycoon Árpád Habony bought a share in the company that owns Nova24 TV, that is known to be the most important media of your former party, the SDS. What do you think about that?
Ripost, modern Media Group and Ridikul Magazin became 45 % owners of Nova24 TV. Ripost also became the preponderant owner of weekly magazine Demokracija (Democracy). Even though Nova24 TV was capitalized by three Hungarian companies, Peter Schatz, the owner of Ripost, was the only one who acted as the representative when the subscription of the shares were made.
Turning back to corruption across borders, there have been several news recently about suspicious mergers, starting with the secret negotiations on the renovation of the Koper-Divača railroad, to the new president of the Nafta1903 of Lendava, who happens to be Gábor Végh, director of Pharos 95 Ltd that is tied to Lőrinc Mészáros, strawman of Viktor Orbán or the recent party funding scandal,, which has a Hungarian connection. In your opinion,how do these phenomena affect the bilateral relations of Hungary and Slovenia and what consequences could they have for Slovenia?
As you may know, I was the one to try and prevent the renovation of the Koper-Divača railroad with the conditions which were set by the current government. I am still skeptical because of the Hungarian involvement in our railroad system since this should be our strategic interest. It is on us to set the future vision of our railroad system. As you already know, Hungary gave 200 million euros for the part in the 2TDK company – we could give the 200 million euros by ourselves. However, now that the Hungarian involvement is reality, we should work with it. It can, as you already suggested, pave the way for a better bilateral relationship with Hungary. The biggest consequence of the deal is evident – we are losing our sovereignty regarding the management of our railroad system.
In the last months it was claimed several times that the Visegrad Group has gained importance on the European political scene and a possible enlargement has also been mentioned on more occasions. Can closer ties or even an accession to the V4 be a perspective for Slovenia?
In my opinion, we should be a part of the V4 group, alongside with Austria. This block could potentially be seen as a counter-weight to the Franco-German train. We are closer to the V4 group than Western Europe – that is an undisputable fact. New generations should strive for the closer ties with the V4 Group in order to have a bargaining chip on the supranational level.