Judit Varga interview with Il Giornale
Judit Varga is one of the most influential women in Hungarian politics. After a long career in the European Parliament, in spring 2018 she was appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as Secretary of State for relations with the European Union and then, in the summer of 2019, Minister of Justice, a position she still holds today. Below is an English version of Il Giornale’s exclusive interview.
In the weeks preceding the approval of the EU’s Covid Recovery fund there was a clash between Hungary and Poland with the EU about the rule of law. A proceeding had already been launched against Hungary in 2018, was this because the Hungarian government was not in agreement with the European Union on this issue?
The answer would require a whole day but to be short: in December last year, our government stated that it wanted to exercise its right of veto on the approval of the recovery fund due to legal and factual uncertainties with the regulation proposed by the European Commission. We were of the opinion that any new conditionality mechanism that would penalize alleged shortcomings in the rule of law and would circumvent the Treaties and infringe upon legal certainty. Without a precise definition of the rule of law and guarantees of a fair, impartial and objective procedure, a sanctioning mechanism cannot comply with the rule of law. Therefore, Hungary and Poland sought to annul the regulation.
A veto is an ultimate, legal tool to protect the interest of your nation. In this debate our sovereignty and the legality of the whole functioning of the EU was at stake. It was no secret that some liberal politicians said that they could then force the Member States to “toe the line” in issues such as migration, family policy or on gender with this tool. We prevented it, however, with a political agreement. I tend to refer to this veto as a bomb that has been deactivated. The agreement reached allows for no nation to be blackmailed in the name of the rule of law. But we achieved far more.
In fact, Hungary achieved all its goals. We have preserved our sovereignty: no one can blackmail us on a political basis, no one can force migrants or gender ideology on us. We have kept our resources: no one can take the money due to Hungary and the Hungarian people from us. We have maintained our credibility: we have prevented the application of rules that are contrary to the EU Treaties. And last but not least, we have maintained European solidarity: we have allowed aid to reach the most deprived Member States too.
So in your opinion, as Minister of Justice, is the rule of law respected in Hungary?
The whole functioning of the Hungarian democracy is based on the respect of the rule of law. We always – whenever we have a legal debate – comply with the judgements in order to be in harmony with European legislation. However, let’s ask the question, what does it mean to infringe the rule of law? An infringement needs to be precise in order to sanction it. Take for example the Criminal Code, which is not simply one sentence that says, “Be a good man!”; it contains hundreds of pages that precisely define such things. This should apply to the rule of law issue as well: we need clear and precise terms.
The other problem is that the concept of the rule of law has been politicized and is no longer a legal issue but a political one. You may recall when Hungary challenged the resolution of the European Parliament on the Article 7 procedure. It took three years for the Court of the European Union to come to a conclusion, and now compare that with the case concerning the legality of the conditionality regulation. It is undoubtedly one of the most complex legal issues the Court has ever faced. Still, the Court just agreed to decide on this case in an accelerated procedure. This is further proof of the extent to which the rule of law is politicised in Europe.
Today, Hungary carries out conservative politics, while in Western Europe, due to political correctness and cancel culture, an attempt is underway to erase our identities and traditions. Can the West rediscover its roots in the coming years?
I worked in the European Parliament for almost ten years, so I have first-hand experience of what the political situation in Europe looks like, however, it is not my job to predict which political culture societies in Western Europe will follow. Being a middle-sized country, we in Hungary know what position and power we have in Europe, however, we don’t like it when some other government wants to lecture us on policy issues. We believe that everything comes from democracy, thus from the decision of the citizens. So, if Hungarian citizens opted for a conservative government three consecutive times since 2010, with no compromise towards liberal values, then their decision should be respected. What we see, however, is that there is a hegemony of liberal opinion, especially in the media, which tries to discredit conservative governments’ policies on a daily basis because they think that the default must be liberal. I truly believe that citizens in Italy and Western Europe still believe in what they see. And if they see that migration has an adverse effect, that parallel societies are not working, that family must be a priority and the key to our nations’ survival, then they will realize that today’s so-called liberal policy or ideology is travelling in the wrong direction.
What are the main results obtained by the Orbàn governments in recent years and from your activity as Minister for Justice?
The Hungarian government is working to defend our culture and Christian roots. In 2015, Hungary was the first nation to defend its borders by building a fence. We said since the beginning that Europe must be able to defend its own borders. We have to protect the EU and the Schengen area by deciding who we’re letting in. At that time, everyone criticized us but six years later countries somehow realized that migration cannot be the solution to all labour-market challenges. Another achievement of the Orbán government is the decision to base our economy on the respect for labour. This means that if you work, you get benefits, and if you work while raising a family, you benefit even more. That’s why we always value work and have our own economic policy. This is a four-pillar social model based on demography, labour, economic and identity policy. It has been proved to work, since in almost 10 years we have doubled the minimum wage, we sustainably brought thousands of people out of poverty, and our unemployment ratio is one of the lowest in Europe. True, the direction of the flow of EU resources is from West to East, but the GDP of such Western countries is also increasing thanks to their investments in Central and Eastern Europe. So we do believe that this is a win-win situation and that strong nations can make Europe stronger.
You recently stated that “the Conference on the Future of Europe represents an opportunity for everyone to have their say in the processes that govern the EU” and that “The debate cannot be complete without the views of the Hungarian people”. What will be the proposals of the Hungarian government at the Conference on the future of Europe?
Our Prime Minister already presented its theses on 19 June as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe. With the Ministry of Justice, we also organize a lot of conferences to engage Hungarian citizens in the process. We will be very active: civic circles, citizens and students will be heard in order to represent and raise the voices of Hungarians. As regards some of our concrete proposals, we need to protect the status quo, which means that in the cases in which the Treaty requires unanimity – such as the questions on budget or foreign policy – unanimity must be preserved, since there are true and genuine national interests at stake. We need to focus more on subsidiarity, so we only need EU-level legislation when there is really an added value in not regulating a certain issue at national level. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to everything. My message is that we need a smarter Europe, not necessarily more Europe. We should deepen the integration only in those competences where there is added value, with the aim to make Europe a strong global player.
The European Parliament in recent times has proved to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Therefore, its role should also be reviewed and national parliaments should have a bigger say in whom to delegate to the EP. We also advocate that a so-called red card procedure needs to be introduced in which national parliaments could veto a Commission proposal if it affects their national interest in a negative way. Integration should not be a goal for its own sake, but rather a means to defend national interests and traditional values. Because Europe has a lot of traditional values, this is what unites us in diversity: our tradition, our history.
I would recommend, therefore, that Western Europeans learn more about Central European history. Usually when I have entered a debate, I have known a lot about our counterparts, but they didn’t seem to know much about my country. And still they do not stop lecturing us. We need to be open towards each other and we should declare that there is no need for a United States of Europe. The term “ever closer union” should be removed from the Treaties. We must have an alliance to preserve peace and acknowledge that we have different cultural backgrounds. That’s a point we are going to emphasize throughout the Conference.
After Fidesz’s exit from the EPP, there is much debate on what the party’s position in the European Parliament will be. In Italy, there was a discussion on whether Fidesz will join the ECR chaired by Giorgia Meloni or if it will create with the League and Matteo Salvini a new European group, what is your opinion?
At the European level, we must try to provide many millions of citizens with a strong and effective political representation. What we see at the EPP is that they have basically entered a competition to prove who is more liberal than the liberals themselves. They are in a leadership crisis, a value crisis, so the question was never about where Fidesz belongs, but where the EPP has gone? Why they are no longer faithful to their values? Let me conclude with a comparison. If I met a CDU-member we would have so many things in common, but while in Hungary I can dare to say that I’m a true conservative who goes to church, they are not in the position in Germany to say the same, since they may hurt others. We should just stop this wheel of hiding personal political opinions!
In recent days there have been numerous polemics from the European Union due to the new law approved in Hungary on the issue of gender education in schools, can you explain better what the law says? Why do you think so many Western European governments like the Netherlands have attacked Hungary?
The law has been adopted to protect children and guarantee parents’ rights, which is in line with the European Union Charter for Fundamental Rights, most explicitly Article 14 Paragraph 3. It is the parents’ right to ensure that education and teaching conforms with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions. We do believe that raising children is a task that definitely belongs to the parents. This law does not apply to adults, this law is actually there to protect our children, and it’s very shameful that there is this unfounded, quite unprecedented concerted attack against our country. If you check the declaration of the Member States, the text quoted there from our law is actually missing essential elements and we think that in the EU this declaration is a shame, since it is based on biased political opinion without any prior impartial inquiry.
Regarding the statement of the Dutch PM: Mr. Rutte took an old and arrogant colonial tone when saying that he wants to bring Hungary to its knees! As long as I live, I will make every effort to ensure that Hungarians never have to kneel before Rutte or any other coloniser. With this sentence, the leader of the Netherlands shut himself off from civilised society!