Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Press Conference with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić

Respected Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to tell you that I have expressed my sympathy in the name of the people of Hungary to the Prime Minister and to the Serbian people with regard to the flood damage that occurred recently as a result of the heavy rainfall. I recalled that one year ago, when Hungary was in trouble because of the Danube flood, then what we experienced was that Serbia was ready to provide us with help and support. These two consecutive years reinforce the feeling in the Hungarians that if there is trouble, we can count on each other.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This joint cabinet meeting was held during a period in which all of Europe is experiencing difficult times, and anyone who thinks and has the eyes to see can notice the signs of these difficulties, especially within economic life. The nature of such times is that things never take a turn for the better by themselves. To change this situation requires great perseverance and great deeds. And great perseverance and great deeds require governments that are capable of action. Accordingly, Hungary welcomes the fact that Serbia once again has an especially strong government. Hungary welcomes the stability that has been established in Serbia, and Hungary has great hopes with relation to successful cooperation with your government.

We established the following important facts and concluded the following agreements. I can confirm that it is a question of principle for Hungary that we support Serbia’s accession to the European Union. I have assured the Prime Minister that there can be no political conflicts and there can arise no such difficulties – and such things always occur in life – that can override Hungary’s commitment to supporting Serbia’s accession to the European Union, providing the people of Serbia also support it. This is a moral duty on our part. This is a policy that stems from the common historical fate of the Hungarian and Serbian people, and which Hungary will not lose sight of. Including now, when the idea of enlargement is far from popular within the European Union. Hungary will do everything it can within the European Union to increase the EU’s willingness to welcome Serbia into the union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have expressed my accordance to the Prime Minister with regard to the fact that we should continue work on the South Stream gas pipeline. Hungary’s standpoint is that nobody can deny us the right to ensure the security of our energy supply. If anyone wanted to deny us this right, they would have to provide a security guarantee in return. Those who are opposed to the South Stream today only want to take away our right to energy supply security, but without doing anything in exchange. And accordingly we must stand by our decision to construct the South Stream pipeline, and I have assured the Prime Minister that this is precisely what we shall do. I suggested to the Prime Minister that we should connect our electricity markets. Hungary has experience within this field. The interconnection of the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian markets has already been realised, the electricity exchange is operational, and that means both greater security and lower prices. We are ready to establish a similar interconnection with Serbia.

We have agreed with the Prime Minister that we regard the Belgrade-Budapest railway line as a flagship project. It is after all a surprising fact that we are living in the 21st century and yet it takes seven-eight hours to travel by train from Budapest to Belgrade and vice-versa. I would venture to say that it was perhaps possible to travel this distance more quickly a hundred years ago. It is time that we declared this state of affairs to be unacceptable. The capital cities of two countries that are striving to achieve long-term cooperation cannot be separated from each other to such an extent, and accordingly we will be doing everything possible to speed up the modernisation of this railway line, and Hungary will be assuring all of the required conditions to achieve this on its part. Our objective is to reduce the travel time by at least 50 percent. At least fifty percent.

We also agreed that we will be opening new border crossing points. Ladies and Gentlemen, the way we are living today is a Central European disgrace. In Western Europe, there is a border crossing point between member states every five to six kilometres. In comparison, here in the Carpathian Basin the average distance is thirty to forty kilometres. All we can set as our goal today is that if we realise our plans, then we will be able to reduce the distance between Serbian-Hungarian border crossing points from today’s average distance of some fifty-five kilometres to perhaps twenty or so kilometres. This is still not Europe; the situation will be much better than it is now, but it will still be far from what the Hungarians and the Serbians feel would be a European way of living next door to each other. And so we will continue to press for the opening of new border crossing points. We support the Prime Minister’s suggestion that we should modernise the Szeged-Subotica [Szabadka], Subotica-Baja railway line, on which today it takes two hours to make the 55 kilometre trip, and bring it up to European standards. And I also mentioned to the Prime Minister that we would be happy to welcome students, Serbian students, in Budapest and would like to send Hungarian students to study here in Serbia.

The fact is that we also held long and detailed talks on the situation of the Hungarians in Vojvodina, and I welcome the good will and friendship that was embodied by the words of the Prime Minster of Serbia and which recognises and supports the Hungarian community, who are striving to live as good citizens here in Serbia while continuing to be a part of the Hungarian nation and retaining their identity. There remains only one question, which we would like to put to the Prime Minister over lunch today, and this is why I am mentioning it now, namely that we should get rid of the currently extremely bureaucratic system of naturalising Hungarian diplomas in Serbia and Serbian diplomas in Hungary, and should sign a treaty on mutually accepting these diplomas in each other’s countries.

These were the great plans with which I arrived here in Serbia. I feel that we have succeeded in coming to an agreement with regard to all of these plans. I feel that I have had the opportunity of negotiating with a strong partner who is prepared to act, and this allows us to harbour great hopes for giving further impetus to Serbian-Hungarian relations. On a personal note, if you will allow me, this is something that I have already begun on one occasion. I signed an agreement with you fondly remembered Prime Minister Đinđić when both he and I were prime ministers in the past, and we concluded a multi-point agreement that would have been capable of creating a relationship of trust between the Serbs and the Hungarians, but which we were unable to realise for reasons that you are all aware of. This is the second time that I personally am attempting something of this kind, and I very much hope that in the person of your current Prime Minister I will find a partner during the upcoming many years, who provides us with the opportunity to fully realise the agreements between Hungary and Serbia that we have concluded today.

Thank you Mister Prime Minister for having given me the opportunity to conduct such valuable and exhaustive negotiations with you.

[Question form the Serbian press with relation to the construction of the Belgrade-Budapest railway line.]

We have taken a significant step forward, because it has transpired that there are only financial issues left to solve. And this means we are justified in hoping that there will be a Serbian-Hungarian Economic Joint Committee meeting here in Belgrade this autumn, perhaps in September, and we agreed with the Prime Minister that we would both formulate our positions on all remaining economic and financial issues prior to that meeting. And I rarely have the chance to take part in negotiations during which the level of commitment and willingness to act exceeds even my own, but I was very happy to hear what the Prime Minister said, that in fact it depends only on our resolve how quickly we will be able to complete this programme. I think that we will achieve a breakthrough in September and construction work will begin soon after.

[Question from the press with regard to the South Stream gas pipeline.]

I will repeat what I said about the South Stream: nobody can strip a country of its right to a secure energy supply. Hungary will construct the South Stream gas pipeline because it will improve the security of our energy supply. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation in which Hungary’s gas supply is dependent on what happens in Ukraine. Our solidarity with Ukraine should not be expressed while stripping our own people of a secure energy supply. We support Ukraine and we are showing solidarity towards Ukraine, but in the meantime we have a responsibility to supply Hungary with energy. This is why we do not accept those international opinions that are opposed to the construction of the South Steam pipeline, and which want to strip Hungary of this right. Those who do not want the South Stream pipeline to be constructed must make another proposal as to how, then, we should live if we don’t have access to energy and what they can give us apart from their apologies, because we can’t make a living from apologies. Making a living occurs through living, and that requires energy, so we will construct the South Stream pipeline.

(Prime Minister’s Office)