At a press conference after a two-day EU summit in Brussels, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that the so-called Visegrád 4 countries of Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland had defended the most important European principle: that no EU citizen should be treated disadvantageously versus another, and Hungarians working in the UK would continue to receive full social benefits.
On the subject of reforms proposed by the United Kingdom, Orbán said the British are merely asking the EU to change its policies on a number of matters.
“The British wanted a stronger European Union,” said the head of government, adding that this would lead to an increase in competitiveness. Orbán announced that the British had succeeded in making the EU capable of taking greater initiative on the level of the world economy, which he said was an important perspective, even in a Europe without the United Kingdom.
On the subject of social benefits for migrant workers (an expression that makes Orbán wince when applied to Hungarians working in the UK), he announced that the Visegrád 4 countries had achieved their objective of ensuring EU citizens continue to have the right to work anywhere in the bloc without obstruction. He offered as proof of success the fact that Hungarians working in other EU countries would have access to social services “without discrimination.” Thanks to the results achieved at the summit, Hungarians working abroad would “continue to receive what they paid for to date”, in other words, there would be no roll-back in benefits for Hungarians already working in the UK.
Orbán said that in the case of families with children working in Great Britain, it was agreed that the level of social support they receive would be adjusted to reflect disparities in the cost of living in the case of those foreign workers whose children are living in another country. He said families living in the UK with their children would continue to receive the same benefits as British families with children.
“We did everything we could possibly do. The decision is now in the hands of the British,” he said, referring to British plans to hold a referendum on EU membership this summer.
Orbán did not say that Hungarians seeking work in the UK in the future would enjoy the same level of benefits as those working there do now. Nor did he mention that all of this was subject to the European Parliament approving the many changes to EU law required to accommodate the UK’s requests.
On the subject of Europe’s external borders, he said the European leaders agreed these needed to be defended, that the hordes of migrants had to be stopped, and that the Schengen agreement needed to be observed in its entirety by everyone. He said that for the first time the European Union had accepted the Hungarian solution. On the question of migration, the Hungarian point of view had always been clear: control, identification, stopping, returning. This was a difficult and costly task, but from the point of view of defending Hungary it was a successful policy.
“Europe is now at the point where it should have been a year ago,” Orbán said. “The countries lying along the Balkan route took the road of commonsense, because what these states are doing is the Hungarian solution; they are building fences, they are stopping them and they are turning them back.”
He said the defense of Europe’s southern borders was only possible if the V4 countries agreed beforehand on a common policy which they then presented to the rest of Europe.
Orbán said that in the West the situation is deteriorating, and many continue to maintain that the migrants should be admitted to the EU and distributed among member states employing legal means. He called “exceptionally strong” the tone of those representing this point of view at the summit. Defending Hungary from this would be the main task in the weeks to come, and this would be the subject of a top-level EU summit in March.