UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held a joint press conference in Budapest on Thursday at 4pm. The press conference lasted 25 minutes and consisted of eight minutes of opening statements, during which the two heads of government referred to one another by their first names, followed by a 17-minute question-and-answer session.
Cameron’s 30-vehicle convoy pulled up to the Hungarian parliament building at 2.30pm, giving him just over an hour to confer with Orbán on a package of four reforms the United Kingdom would like the European Union to adopt as a condition for the UK remaining an EU member, namely: (1) Dropping the requirement that EU member states adopt the Euro, (2) less bureaucracy and fewer rules, (3) giving national parliaments a veto over legislation adopted by the European Parliament, and (4) denying certain UK social benefits to “migrants” until they have lived in the UK for at least four years, with child support only being paid after children who actually reside in the UK.
Orbán opened the press conference by noting that it had been a decade since a UK prime minister had visited Hungary. He pointed out that the United Kingdom is the fifth-largest investor in Hungary and British companies currently employ 50,000 Hungarians.
Orbán said both countries wanted a “strong, competitive Europe” and they agree that abuses of social systems within the EU should be eliminated. He said he felt an agreement on this issue could be reached among the Visegrád Four countries (V4: Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland).
Cameron said he, too, wanted a competitive Europe with fair rules. While England welcomed workers arriving from the European Union, there were too many of them and thus the UK intended to change the laws regulating who receives what social benefits.
The UK government has proposed that foreigners be required to live in the country for four years before qualifying to receive any social benefits.
In response to questions, Orbán said his visit to Poland the previous day was not entirely related to Cameron’s visit, but that the V4 countries wanted to act in a unified manner in as many areas as possible, including EU reforms.
He said there were some 55,000 Hungarian workers in England, and the taxes and payroll contributions they make exceed the cost to UK taxpayers of the social benefits they receive. He wanted to find a solution that was good for the British but did not discriminate against Hungarians who, as citizens of an EU member state, have the right to work anywhere within the EU.
Orbán said it was important that Hungarians living in the UK be treated with respect and not suffer discrimination. Hungary was open to suggestions that would end abuse of social support systems, but he would like the V4 countries to formulate such an agreement together.
“It is very important that we not be regarded as migrants. . . . We are not migrants but citizens of a country belonging to the EU. We do not go to Great Britain to live off the system. We don’t want to take anything away from those living there.“
Orbán said Cameron had made four proposals, of which three were acceptable to the Hungarian government in the present form, namely (1) completing the creation of the Common European market, (2) permitting certain EU countries to integrate more closely, (3) granting national parliaments the right to block EU legislation, where appropriate.
Orbán said Hungary owed Great Britain a debt of thanks because, being a small country, these are questions which Hungary cannot raise with sufficient gravity.
However, Cameron’s fourth proposal–the one about “migrants” and social benefits–was a more difficult matter.
On the subject of the European refugee crisis, both agreed that each country most protect its own citizens and efforts must be made to end the Syrian civil war.