Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s closing speech at the conference held to mark the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Fundamental Law of Hungary on 25 April 2016, in Budapest

Good day to you all, Ladies and Gentlemen, President, Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, Your Eminence, Prominent representatives from the Hungarian judiciary.

 

According to conventional thinking, a closing speech – which you have asked me to deliver – is taken to mean the summary of a discussion. In my defence I should say that I did not seek this role, but my name was simply inserted at the end of the list. And therefore the fact that I am speaking here in summary at the end does not mean that I see myself as fit to perform such a summing up.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

József Szájer encouraged us to smile. In his words this smile should be European and polite. This means that our smile can be neither malevolent nor derisive. So I ask everyone to supress any such desire – even though it may well arise, bearing in mind the fact that the Constitution was not conceived in academic debate, but in battle. And it was a mighty political battle at that; and like every political battle, this, too, has its winners and losers. We who are sitting here today are the winners. We won this battle – and if we hadn’t, Hungary would not have a constitution today.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is true that the winners are here, but we must also answer the important question of who benefited – because the nature of political struggles is that the winners are not completely the same as those who actually benefit in the end. This is particularly true if one side in the battle – in this case us – does not enter the fray to fight for its own victory, but wants to win for the benefit of others, and for something which it sees as higher or more important than itself. The result of our victory is that Hungary and the citizens of Hungary have benefited; and if I rightly understand the period since then, we can say that through our victory Hungary and the citizens of Hungary have gained firm foundations for their daily lives – firm foundations upon which a great, prosperous period can be built. Some of us are inclined to be optimistic by disposition, while others tend to be pessimistic; equally, some of us are already observing the clear signs of this prosperous period. I would like to remind us all that the Hungarian people did not remain mere passive observers of this constitutional struggle. It has not been mentioned yet today, but the process of constitutional legislation was preceded by a series of consultations about the most important questions for the Constitution, and in the Constitution, in the Fundamental Law, we incorporated, without exception, all the majority views which were voiced during the course of those consultations. This did not always make me happy, because we also had to accept viewpoints which I personally disagreed with, but the position of the Hungarian people was expressed with overwhelming clarity – for instance on the issue of whether we should confer votes to children, which their parents would have the right to cast until they reach voting age. I thought this was a reasonable proposition – particularly for our ageing European societies – and saw it as a possible way of reaching a political balance. But driven by different motivations – which it does not take much effort to guess at – the Hungarian people rejected this idea, and it was therefore left out of the Hungarian Constitution.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

After this, but still on the subject of our struggle, allow me to say a few words about the extent of the task we embarked on; this was given that – as President Schmitt has just recalled – we were at the same time required to fulfil certain European tasks. There was much temptation, and the sirens sang loudly to dissuade us from pressing on with this constitutional process, especially at the beginning of our term, which began in 2010, because this might adversely affect our upcoming EU presidency. I would like to thank everyone who resisted the siren songs, and who understood that in our in our profession, in politics, timing is at least as important as the underlying content. Even if one gets the content right in a historic manner, if the timing of implementation is wrong, the greatest ideas can come to nothing. So I would like to thank those – and here I should primarily mention the parliamentary groups at that time of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party – who gave their support in deciding that we could do these two jobs at once. We were able to carry out our European task without wasting a single day, and decided to get down to this enormous task as long for as we had the strength – because at the beginning of one’s term one feels strong, and is surprised later on at the end of the term if one still feels strong. But there is no way of knowing this in advance.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

We embarked on an enormous project, but at first perhaps we could not even see its entire outline. This is because we find it difficult to appreciate the vast change which has taken place between the mid-1990s and the beginning of the 2010s in our wider homeland: in the European Union – or, I could say, in Western civilisation. In the mid-1990s, when, during the period following the fall of communism, the other Central European countries embarked on the drafting and adoption of their new constitutions, these effectively generated no international response. Perhaps one reason was that at that time these states were outside the European Union – but this explanation might not be enough. Europe remained completely unmoved when the Poles and the Czechs – and then everyone else – created their own new constitutions in the mid-1990s. If we had also created a new constitution at that time we would have encountered the same response. Indeed after 1994 such an opportunity emerged in Hungary, and the political preconditions were also in place, as the Free Democrats and the Hungarian Socialist Party had a two-thirds parliamentary majority, and they could have passed a new constitution. Retrospectively, of course, we can now thank God that the governing parties of the time did not appear to be fit for such a job. But if they had taken this step back then, whatever the content of that constitution would have been (even if it had been, horribile dictu, the same as ours), no one in the European Union would have cared. The world changed a great deal, however, in the twenty years that followed. In this debate we argued in vain that if some are upset by the fact that the Hungarian constitution now begins with the first line of the Hungarian national anthem, then they should take a look at the Greek constitution, because at the beginning of that there is a theological disquisition on the nature of the Holy Trinity. This clearly troubled no one, but a reference to God in a single sentence in the new Hungarian constitution became a European scandal. So we embarked on an enormous task, and I would like to take this opportunity to inform those who did not take part in this task that we knew precisely what attacks we would have to reckon with. Perhaps its level of ferocity surprised us, but we could foresee the nature of the attacks precisely, and that they would go for the throat. Those who did not see this at the time clearly suffered from the disease of political naivety. So we knew precisely what was in store; we were aware of the kind of attacks we could expect.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

For this reason, perhaps this is the right time to express our heartfelt thanks to President Schmitt, because he also knew precisely the consequences of his signing of the Fundamental Law – and I can tell you here that if he had not known it independently, he would have been told by me. At the time I also said that for this external and foreign forces will never forgive him or us – but mostly him, because it was his signature. This is important, and it imposes an obligation on us, because if they never forgive him, we can never forget what he did. Thank you, Mr. President.

 

Speaker of the House László Kövér said that the embers remain, the smoke has gone, and the flames, too, may have flickered out. But the embers – the embers of the political dispute which manifested themselves during the creation of the Constitution – have remained. I would like to respond first to this thought. I think that in the world of politics there will always be hostility towards great things; in fact, perhaps they attract the most hostility. Among the elite there will always be debate surrounding the Constitution. This is inevitable. It would be inevitable in any country in the world. But this is particularly the case in Hungary, because we are a country with an advanced culture. This country has elites, entire strata of intellectuals, who always generate more thoughts than can be used. These debates will therefore stay with us for a long time. If the fact is that the debates on the Constitution can never settle down, there is the question of whether it even possible to have a solid constitution. This is an important question, and my answer is that it is not only internal logic and pure structure which makes for a stable constitution, a fundamental law, but primarily its capacity to lay the foundations for a period of prosperity. However disheartening it may be for us who find the abstract, theoretical framework of constitutions attractive, the longevity of a constitution is determined by its tangible political and economic achievements. If it is followed by a prosperous period of growth, constitutional order will be firm. No matter how flawless the logic of a constitution, if it is followed by an unsuccessful period of decline, it is only a question of time before the foundations of that constitution are shaken. So if we are to make the Fundamental Law a firm constitution we need success, and we have to present achievements in every dimension: in demography, in culture, and in every facet of the economy.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The Honourable Speaker also said that the ideas, the intellectual trends, the opposing concepts which exist in connection with the Constitution are mutually exclusive. I do not believe I can argue with this. The question is rather whether it is possible to coexist with this: whether it is possible to live together in peace, in observance of the constitution of the day, whilst our intellectual concepts relating to the foundations of the Constitution are mutually exclusive. I think it is possible, and it is a question of will. I think it is possible to live together in peace if we acquire a single virtue, which is perhaps the most important virtue of modern democracy. This virtue is called the culture of peaceful disagreement. Democracy provides the necessary framework for this, as in a democracy opposing parties do not cut off heads, but count them, thereby making it possible for those who hold different views to peacefully coexist. This is also true of constitutional debates.

 

Minister Trócsányi mentioned that it is his duty as Minister of Justice to protect the Hungarian Constitution. In this respect he made a valuable contribution, and presented the position of the Government, for which I am grateful. One thing which we cannot be satisfied with – though this is not related to the activities of the Justice Ministry under his supervision, but to the operation of the whole of Hungarian state administration – is that the principles laid down in the Constitution are being only slowly incorporated into lower-level legislation, including laws and decrees, and are emerging even more slowly in public administration and judicial rulings. Just to mention one painful example, the Constitution defines the institution of care and maintenance of parents more emphatically than ever before. Yet we have seen very little in terms of practical implementation. And I think it would not be too difficult to find quite a few other relevant examples.

 

We wish to thank Constitutional Court judge Tamás Sulyok for his address on the relationship between Community law and Member State law. We wish to thank him for having drawn our attention to the dangers to the Hungary’s sovereignty inherent in the rigid interpretation of the doctrine of supremacy of EU law. I take the view, Your Honour, that sooner or later there will be a lawsuit in the European Court related to the definition of constitutional identity; something tells me that the dispute on migration is likely to be the first issue to take us to the European Court, where we shall discuss this issue and see it resolved with a court ruling. We must also point out, as Mr. Sulyok himself said, that this is not simply a legal issue. Sovereignty is not only a legal issue, and this is why it is important that before the court case the Hungarian people should also make clear in a robust referendum result that for us this is not just a constitutional matter, but an elementary matter of sovereignty.

 

 

We also wish to thank Péter Darák, the President of the Curia, for his words. I am glad that the main topic of the conference is not the subject you have just expanded on: the relationship between the Constitutional Court and the Curia in a historical perspective. I will not now detail the debates surrounding the wording of the Constitution. I will not elaborate on debates on the role – and in particular the future – of the Curia in the context of the new definition of the powers and competence of the Constitutional Court laid down in our Fundamental Law, and whether it is even worth keeping the Constitutional Court and the Curia separate. The President’s words clearly show that this debate is now in abeyance. This does not mean that it is over, and his words also clearly show that there will be interpretative debates – as he put it – regarding the division of constitutional responsibilities. We wish to thank you for having mentioned the problem of freedom of assembly, which gives us a lot of headaches, and for which we believe new legislation would be timely. Thank you for your pledge that the Curia will gather together the experiences of the Constitution’s practical functioning, and will present them for public debate.

 

József Szájer MEP reminded us, with reference to former socialist MP Pál Vastagh, that there was a time – when our party was in opposition, and in a small minority – when the left still argued that after our accession to the EU we need not give up our sovereignty, but that we should exercise certain powers related to our sovereignty together with Europe’s other nations. In my view it was to the great credit of the Hungarian left that they accepted this approach, and this is not diminished by the fact that not all their representatives understood exactly what this entailed. I think that this decision was due far more to the heroic educational efforts made by our fellow MP Mr. Szájer – an achievement which I salute.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

President Schmitt recalled his audience with the Pope. This is a suitable opportunity to reveal the historic secret that, in addition to Ferenc Kölcsey, we should be thank József Szájer for the first line of the Constitution. It was his idea to quote the National Anthem in the text of the new constitution. In doing so he cut the Gordian knot of how to represent in the Constitution the relationship of our community with God, beyond mere reference to the roots of Christianity, and without contradicting modern European approaches to freedom of religion. He succeeded in resolving this dilemma by suggesting that the first line of our National Anthem – our national prayer – should be the first line of the Constitution. As a result, we can demonstrate this relationship in the strongest possible terms: just as in the National Anthem, the first words of the Fundamental Law of Hungary are “God bless the Hungarians”. So he resolved this dilemma elegantly and, as he has said, with a European and polite smile.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Beyond summarising the thoughts of others, it is perhaps also the duty of the person delivering a closing speech to entertain his audience with a few final thoughts. I shall now do so, even though time is limited. I would like to draw your attention to the worrying contradiction which is currently burdening the European Union. The European Union has no solutions – and not even any potentially workable proposals – to a number of issues of the utmost importance: the financial crisis, the growth crisis, the migration crisis and the terrorism crisis, to mention just a few. Meanwhile Hungary and the other Central European countries are always coming up with something new, something novel – even after 2010. Today Central Europe is full of vitality and is eager to take action.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is perhaps not entirely unjustified to say this in a Central European context, as Central Europe’s economic performance is far in excess of the western half of Europe in terms of its economic growth. National cultures are also thriving, as is best displayed by the recent Budapest international book festival, in which as many as seventy publications showcased the talents of the foremost representatives of Slovak literature. This clearly demonstrates the kind of intellectual revival which we ourselves are experiencing, because this book fair was attended by more people than ever before; and this is not just a Hungarian phenomenon, but it can also be seen in a Central European context. What is the difference? Why is it that, while there are no solutions over there, we are continually coming up with new proposals? I think the answer lies in the fact that Hungary has a modern Fundamental Law, while the European Union has no such document – and, due to its nature, it cannot have such a document. In consequence, the Hungarians – unlike Europe – are able to define where they come from, where they are and where they are heading. By contrast, Europe denies where it came from and is reluctant to admit where it is heading, and its time horizon is so short that it does not even seek the answer to the question as to where the policy it is pursuing is leading.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

A community which has a constitution is similar to the wise man in the Bible who did not build his house on sand, but on rock. Our constitution says the following: “We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian state on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago”. Here I would like to quote Lajos Kossuth, who once said in a debate on freedom that we not only want to be free, but we want to be free Hungarians.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The emerging contrast between a Central Europe which is full of vitality and energy and the rest of Europe is particularly clear when we think back to the debates around our new constitution. It is also surprising. If we just look at the statistics this should not be the case, as the population of the European Union is still higher than those of the United States and Russia combined. We have, after all, the biggest market in the world; we still account for 17–18 per cent of world trade; 27 of the world’s top one hundred universities are still in Europe; and our creative sectors are among the best in the world, contributing to the gross European domestic product by more than 7 per cent. In other words, based on the statistics, the European Union should be the world’s leading power. Instead of a leading role, however, Europe only has the energy for self-reproach, which is clearly shown in the attacks against Hungary, and more recently against Poland, which are often constitutional in nature. In Poland these attacks have centred on the Constitutional Court, while in Hungary they centred on the Constitution. In all probability we must reaffirm the fact that the Founding Treaty lays down with sufficient clarity that the European Union comprises Member States, and it is the mission of the European institutions to serve the cooperation of the Member States. This also imposes a duty on the actors of Hungarian politics. The current practice is quite the opposite: one gets the impression that the European Union comprises European institutions, and the Member States are required to facilitate the operation of these institutions. I believe that this is why a population, a market and a creative force with the potential to lead the world is unable to exploit its inherent opportunities, and why it directs its energies against its own Member States instead of fighting the fights of the future. In this context I would merely point out that Europe is still in possession of all the capabilities with which it can restore its former glory.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

All constitutional debates necessarily raise the question of the relationship between political reality and philosophical precepts. A constitutional order must always be founded on an existing community – a community of flesh-and-blood people with a history, who are aware of their own identity – and never on abstract principles. Abstract principles help to define a community’s shared standards in everyday life and its common interests, but they cannot substitute for them. If we were to ignore this fact and adopt this approach, we would encounter something which President Darák has described here as the problem of compliance with the law. A European thinker once said that philosophical considerations are too refined and abstract to play a part in everyday life or to extinguish any feeling, just as the air above the clouds is too thin for us to breathe. This clearly illustrates the task for politicians in the process of constitutional legislation, as they are the ones who seek to represent the needs of the flesh-and-blood community and its reality. Working in parallel with constitutional judges and law professors, who are fully conversant with abstract principles, it is the job of responsible politicians to remind the authors of a constitution that at the end of the day it must serve the practical, everyday principles and interests of the flesh-and-blood community.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

One tangible basis for any constitutional legislation is the security of the community. This takes priority over everything else, and this is what I would like to say a few final words about. The Fundamental Law clearly and concisely states that Hungary shall protect its citizens: in Article G, Section 2. This means that, according to the Fundamental Law, it is our duty to protect the citizens of Hungary. Today this represents a duty on two levels. The first level is inside our borders, because we must fulfil our obligation in the Constitution within our borders. This is the subject of the recently initiated constitutional amendment on counter-terrorism, supplementing the Fundamental Law with rules relating to special legal situations. But there is another level, too: as we are part of the European Union, and also belong to the more limited club of the Schengen countries, it is obvious that the lack of security experienced by European citizens will, sooner or later, also bring trouble to Hungary. Therefore, in order to protect the security of the Hungarian people, the Hungarian government of the day must to the best of its abilities seek to avert not only threats emerging within the territory of Hungary, but must also do its utmost to identify situations in Europe which could pose a threat to Hungarian nationals. Consequently, in tabling a ten-point action plan for Europe entitled Schengen 2.0, the Hungarian government has fulfilled a constitutional obligation: its constitutional obligation to ensure the security of Hungarian citizens. We must therefore make clear that the external borders must be protected, and everyone who with us forms part of the Schengen Area must likewise act accordingly. If a country is unable to do this, the task of border control must be taken from that country. If they refuse to allow this task to be taken over by others – which they have the sovereign right to do – they must be excluded from the Schengen Area, or their Schengen membership must be suspended.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is likewise our constitutional obligation to make it clear that procedures related to those wishing to come here must be conducted outside the territory of the European Union, in sealed and guarded conditions. This is one of the preconditions for the Hungarian people’s security. Similarly, we have every right to expect the Hungarian government – also on constitutional grounds – to act to ensure that illegal migrants are immediately sent back either to their country of origin if it is safe, or to a safe transit country. It is also the present Hungarian government’s constitutional obligation to make it clear that favourable development and visa policies may only be enacted with respect to countries which observe the rules which are essential for the safety of our voters, our Hungarian citizens. In other words, with regard to countries outside Europe, we should not enact unconditional development and visa policies. And finally, we must make it clear that the answers to any demographic and labour market challenges must be sovereign decisions for Member States. It is on this score that Hungarian constitutionality is facing the greatest challenge.

 

If you read the proposals published by the European Commission, you can find passages which explicitly claim that Europe’s demographic and economic problems can be resolved through immigration, and therefore immigration must be turned into a common European policy. In other words, in addressing a European problem with a common European policy, they are misappropriating – or stealing – the competence to make immigration policy, which has to date belonged to nation states. This takes us back to where Judge Sulyok led us. The question we are faced with is whether part of the Member States’ constitutional identity lies in their ability to decide for themselves on whether they wish to respond to their demographic and economic challenges by using resources within Europe, or by resorting to resources originating from outside Europe. The question is not which solution is correct, but whether the Member States have the right to decide which one they choose. And history will then decide whether the answers given were reasonable, successful or unsuccessful. So the question is not which demographic and economic crisis management policy is good, but whether we have the right to decide to rely solely on internal, national and European resources in order to solve our problems.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

However, it seems that if we want to fulfil our constitutional obligation to defend Hungary’s citizens, then we must know who it is that wants to come to us and why: we have the right to choose, to choose who we want to live together with and who we do not want to live together with. This does not contravene the universal principle of protection for refugees, as Section 3 of Article 14 of the Hungarian Constitution states that “Hungary shall, upon request, grant asylum to non-Hungarian citizens being persecuted or having a well-founded fear of persecution in their native country or in the country of their usual residence for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a particular social group, religious or political belief, if they do not receive protection from their country of origin or from any other country”.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

From this it follows that, while we accept the universal protection due to refugees, we make it clear that terrorists have no place among us, and also that we have the right to choose the means with which to manage the demographic crisis. This is especially true when we consider the notion stated in the National Avowal: “We commit to promoting and safeguarding our heritage, our unique language, Hungarian culture, the languages and cultures of nationalities living in Hungary, along with all man-made and natural assets of the Carpathian Basin. We bear responsibility for our descendants; therefore we shall protect the living conditions of future generations by making prudent use of our material, intellectual and natural resources. We believe that our national culture is a rich contribution to the diversity of European unity”. Translating this into the language of political action, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Hungarian government is not in a position to support mass movements of population which would result in a situation conflicting with the passage I have just quoted. Neither the legislature nor the executive may constitutionally enact such a policy. To be clear and unequivocal, I can say that in Hungary Islamisation is subject to a constitutional ban.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Finally, I would like to once again thank all those whose steadfast work brought this great national structure to completion five years ago, and I would especially like to thank those Hungarians who shared their views with us during the national consultation on the Constitution, and accepted a share in the responsibility for creating the Constitution.

 

Thank you for your attention.