2019. 02. 01.
“We are in a better position than our opponents. We serve a good, clear, national cause and we protect a viewpoint that we believe in. This gives us strength.”
Kinga Gál, MEP of the Hungarian Party Fidesz, speaks to Mandiner about the upcoming European Parliamentary Elections, the chances of a Minority Safe Pack, and her 15-year long career in European Parliament.
Fidesz is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), which holds membership across the EU. Mrs Gál argues that there is an enormous pressure facing members of the European People’s Party outside of Hungary to stand in opposition to Fidesz.
You have been an MEP since 2004. The politics of Europe has changed a lot during those years. What do you consider the greatest difference between the politics of Europe now, and when you began your career?
The European Parliament (EP or Parliament) has changed a lot, particularly when you consider the debates of 15 years prior. MEPs used to broadly debate from ideological bases. Today, one issue alone divides European politics: immigration. It has always been the case that some member states would be disciplined when they did not wish to join in the ranks of states who are welcoming migrants. However, in recent times this issue has become much more pronounced and it has become increasingly obvious how divided the EP has become, a division that only gets clearer with the upcoming EP elections.
On one side are those who wish to welcome migrants and attack everyone who does not wish to live in an open, welcoming society. On the other side, there are those, like Hungary, who argue that immigration must be stopped because it will influence the whole of Europe in the long term. This goes beyond the question of whether or not we should help refugees. Immigration has become the issue that divides both sides of the greatest conflict of today, and the side that supports immigration has become very inpatient. They are debating in a very warlike tone just because we do not agree with their assessment of the best direction. In light of this, I am very glad that the elections are coming; maybe a new Parliament will change parliamentary debates back to normal.
Maybe the best answer to the question is this: I had a feeling during the plenary sessions that the representatives who are accusing us of the greatest falsehoods have no connection to reality at all. It is as if they are living in an imagined world and they would like to build this world. The EP has a loud majority – a majority that doesn’t represent the majority of European citizens – whose starting point is not reality anymore. They fail to recognize what the greatest problems are for European citizens and they do not know what is best for the future of Europe. They wish to dissolve the Europe that we all know and love. We cannot agree with this goal.
What do you think the Parliament is lacking the most right now?
There was the debate and vote recently on fundamental rights. This was held because the current criteria surrounding the “rule of law” is not defined in an exact or objective manner. There is also an intention to include the rights of immigrants within the “rule of law”, and to create a new mechanism for this.
You get the impression that if a member state does not support immigration then it is no longer a state governed by the rule of law. Everything that is happening in the EP generates this impression, as demonstrated by the Sargentini Report. She did not care about the reality that faces Hungary. The truth did not concern her in the slightest, and the majority of the liberal media spreads this fake news in abundance. The actions taken by the western media against Hungary totally embodies the phenomenon of “fake news”.
Do you think that the divisions caused by the Sargentini Report are noticeable within the everyday workings of the EPP, or has this topic ceased to affect debate?
I have observed that the trust shown towards us by the EPP remains intact, as shown by the party congress held in Helsinki. Simultaneously, our EPP colleagues continue to be subject to harsh attacks levelled at them by their own national media because of their involvement with us. This media refuses to forgive Hungary for holding a view in opposition to immigration. Our colleagues within the EPP need to hold their ground in these circumstances. When our fellow representatives within the EPP voted for the Sargentini Report, they were defending their positions at home. Their own domestic interests took priority over their solidarity towards our concerns. I do not wish to say that it’s okay this way, but rather, I would like to acknowledge the complex pressures that are acting upon our colleagues, through that we are being attacked.
Even in these conditions, many of our colleagues stood their ground. Eastern Europe united with us on this point, and they understood the issues at play. I believe that many of our Western colleagues do not realise the issues happening in the background that we face. The report had only one goal: to punish us because we openly present a view that is anti-immigration. History will show that our views on immigration are correct and legitimate, which explains why the attacks on us are growing more severe.
What is the atmosphere like within the EPP during the electoral campaign?
The EPP remains the largest political group in the European Parliament, and I assume this will continue to be the case after the elections because we cover a large area, and are welcoming to a broad range of viewpoints. On the one hand, the atmosphere is very hopeful that the EPP will stay in power. On the other hand, it is apparent that people are starting to accept the reality of the situation more. The EPP continues to be the family of parties that places security and migration at the centre of the debate within this election. Of course, some represent a more lenient immigration policy within their domestic politics. To say the least, they are acting in a more lenient manner than what we consider in our Middle European policy.
Manfred Weber, who is also supported by Fidesz, stated in December that he voted for the Sargentini Report, not in opposition to Fidesz, but rather, in opposition to the Hungarian people. He is now the “Spitzenkandidat” for the EPP.
When this vote was being carried out, Weber could have already known that he was to be the so-called “Spitzenkandidat” (the EPP’s nominee for president of the European Commission). In order to become the president of the commission, Weber will need support from multiple political factions across the parliament. I believe that he is playing chess to gain this support; however, I do not wish to defend Weber because his statement was very unfortunate.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge that the new parliament will face?
We are approaching what is likely to be one of the most important European elections in history. It is our job to remain strong, and to achieve the greatest influence possible over European politics. The greatest challenge that the new parliament will face will be the question of whether Europe can be preserved in the form that we inherited.
The legal proposals that sit on the table of the European Commission are heading in a direction that we do not approve of. If this continues, then in twenty or thirty years the traditional European viewpoint will be faced with a very sad state of affairs. In my opinion, the European parliamentary elections have never been this important. Now, more than ever, it is necessary that citizens make use of their right to vote. Luckily, this is apparent to many citizens all over Europe. The stakes are clear, and they concern the whole of Europe. This is the greatest challenge that we face.
You hold a highly esteemed position on the list of Fidesz’ parliamentary candidates. How do you view your future in light of this? Are you planning to continue to serve as an MEP for multiple cycles?
These past years have been about fighting. I am talking about not only the last five years but also the time before that. From the outset of my time in parliament, I have been a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). In 2011, we represented the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and were faced with a number of false accusations that we had to fight against. Our domestic opposition consistently attacked us because they were unable to comprehend the result of the democratic Hungarian parliamentary elections in 2010. Then came the Tavares Report among others. They were attacking everything. The basic point of contestation is that we would like to decide, as a country, with whom we are going to live. These debates were carried out within the LIBE committee because it is widely known that the left has a strong influence within LIBE.
For example, the debates surrounding the Sargentini report took place within LIBE. Throughout these debates, we attempted to put forward our point of view and assert the false nature of their accusations. Unfortunately, these attempts were in vain. My colleagues and I live through difficult and warlike times. However, as I tell my colleagues in my office, we are in a far better position than our opposition because we serve a good, clear, national cause, and we protect a viewpoint in which we believe. This gives us strength.
As a woman and mother, you were very active in forming Fidesz policy in the past few years.
The changes we have made to family policy in Hungary have been a huge success. The system that we have developed should be held as an example across Europe. I am very proud of it. Unfortunately, the family-centric approach is missing at the level of the EU. We had the opportunity to utilise the knowledge gained from the mistakes of the western European countries, which meant that we could solve our demographical problems with alternative solutions. There is a very stable, family-oriented system in place at home for this reason.
I believe that the value of the family will re-emerge. I also believe that within the family, the husband, the wife and the child are all equal. This is very important. If our families are strong, then we will be strong. For me, as a woman and as a mother, it is great challenge to work in the harsh conditions of Brussels, but it helps that I have four children. For them, and with them, I must keep my feet on the ground. Woman with children are in better position to see what is truly important, and to differentiate between that which is important and that which is unimportant.
Since the beginning of your career as an MEP, you have continuously worked for the Hungarian diaspora and for the European national minorities. What can you tell us about the Minority SafePack? Since the campaign of spring, it seems that this issue has become less widely discussed.
It was a huge success that the petition addressing the Minority SafePack received the required number of signatures: 1 128 385 people signed. The organisers have decided to wait until the arrival of the new Commission before presenting it. This is mainly because the sitting Commission gave the organisers a very hostile reception. This was particularly true of the vice president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans. The organisers were afraid that the bureaucracy of the Commission would weigh down the petition, and that it would not get the attention that it required. When more than one million people across Europe have signed a petition, it should receive a considerable amount of attention.
In light of this, the petition will be presented before the new Commission. The issue has not been forgotten about. Discussion is silent at present only because the organisers are waiting for the right time to present the petition. The huge support that is behind this case is much valuable than the handling that it would currently receive in Brussels.
There are fierce debates currently happening about Brexit in the European Parliament. What do you think about the current situation?
I think that even the British Prime Minister would be unable to give you a meaningful answer to that question currently. In my opinion, Britain decided to leave the EU because the latter did not listen to their concerns. I am sure that the issue of immigration also contributed to the decision.
From a Hungarian point of view, what is your outlook on the decision of the Brits to leave the EU?
From our point of view, the need to preserve the rights of Hungarians living and working in the UK is the most important issue. The government has assured those living abroad that they will not suffer any disadvantage even if Brexit does occur. Our negotiations with the EU and the British government have assured us of this.