In an interview with Daily Sabah, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said that Turkey must be supported on the refugee crisis through easing visa restrictions, opening several EU accession chapters and with financial aid. In response to the EU's criticism of Hungary due to its alleged abuse of migrants, he claimed that the EU suffers from hypocrisy and political correctness
The five-year civil war in Syria has displaced millions of people from their country and caused an unprecedented refugee crisis. Syria's neighboring countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, have accommodated millions of Syrian refugees, while Turkey has been the leading country, taking in more than 2.2 million. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been placed in camps in Turkey while millions of others have spilled into cities. At a time when several regional and international actors as well as radical groups are involved in the war, almost every part of Syria has become a battlefield with no safe place for its people. Syrians have started walking to reach prosperous and wealthy EU countries to establish new lives since a majority of them believe that even if the war ends, it will be decades before Syria becomes inhabitable again. Therefore, hundreds of thousands of people have knocked on the doors of the EU. Last week, the EU border agency, Frontex, announced that 710,000 refugees entered the EU in the first nine months of this year, compared to the 282,000 in 2014. But it also cautioned that many people were counted twice. The crisis has exposed deep divisions in the 28-nation European Union over how to distribute the new arrivals and how to stem the flow. Last month, the EU approved plans to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from the overstretched frontline states of Italy and Greece with a compulsory quota system that was fiercely opposed by some more hardline Eastern European members of the bloc. The proposal requires most of the 28 member states to accept a share of asylum seekers over two years.
A Daily Sabah team conducted an exclusive interview with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto during his visit to Turkey. He commented on the ongoing migrant crisis and Turkish-Hungarian relations.
Daily Sabah: Turkey and Hungary have had strong, friendly relations throughout history and have cooperated in many different areas. The world currently has an unprecedented refugee crisis. How do you think Turkey and Hungary can enhance their cooperation on the refugee crisis and what does Hungary propose to resolve it?
Peter Szijjarto: I want to say that the migration crisis is the most serious crisis the European Union has ever faced since its foundation. I want to be very precise. I do not say the migration crisis by accident. We think it is not a refugee crisis. It is a migration crisis. More than 400,000 migrants have entered our territories illegally this year. Most of them are economic migrants, not refugees. What we emphasize is that Turkey plays a key role. If Turkey had not taken care of millions of refugees, Europe would have faced unbearable challenges. We must thank Turkey a lot, and we, the Europeans, have to thank President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as Turkey hosts more than 2 million refugees. If these Syrian refugees came to Europe, it would be an unbearable pressure. Hungary encourages the EU to implement the EU-Turkey action plan as soon as possible. [Referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit] Sunday would have been the best time. We are already late to do so. We should accelerate the accession talks with Turkey. We support opening Chapters 15, 17, 23 and 24 this year, not later. We support accelerating the visa liberalization plan. President Erdoğan abolished visa restrictions for Hungarian citizens, and Hungary, under the Schengen rules, has done its best to ease visa restrictions for Turkish citizens. The EU should take over the expenses of refugee camps in Turkey entirely since we cannot expect Turkey to hold this burden alone. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan have been bearing the burden. We should not let it continue like this. The EU should decide to take over the entire financial expenses of the refugee camps.
D.S.: Although there are several nationalities among the refugees, the majority are Syrians fleeing the war. Turkey has suggested the establishment of a safe zone to keep Syrians inside Syria. Does Hungary support this idea?
Szijjarto: Our understanding is that without providing peace and stability in Syria, there would be no solution to the migrant issue. Our understanding is that a very wide and inclusive political dialogue must be launched to have a peaceful solution. We see that there are different approaches on whether to include the current regime in negotiations. The Hungarian perspective is a gradual one. Everything must go step by step. What we would like to avoid is blocking peace attempts due to disputes over Syrian President Bashar Assad's role in the future. Hungary's approach is that first the current problems have to be solved.
D.S.: Hungary has been criticized by the EU, especially Germany, and the U.N. for its policies on the refugee influx. However, Hungary, as a gateway to other EU countries has remained between the EU and the humanitarian catastrophe. Do you think that the EU's efforts are enough to tackle the crisis and that the EU's support for Hungary is sufficient?
The European Union has been suffering from hypocrisy and from political correctness, which prevent us from naming challenges as they are. If you are not able to name a challenge as it is, you will not find a proper answer as to how to overcome the problem. We have a very clear answer to this migration crisis. First, Europe has to take control of its borders. It is not a normal situation. People just go from one point to another illegally. In Turkey, Greece, Serbia and Croatia nobody has to run to save his or her life. These people have an economic motivation. They want to have a better life in terms of economy, which is legitimate. If this is the case, then call it how it is. Do not call these people refugees because, according to regulations, refugees must be treated in a totally different way than economic migrants. Whoever would like to go to Austria and Germany is not a refugee, as there is no reason to do so. Secondly, the EU is unable to accept hundreds of thousands or millions of economic migrants. Thirdly, we have common European laws. Common European laws oblige us to defend the borders. Currently, Greece cannot defend its borders due to the heavy influx. But it could actually defend them if an EU joint force is established. A joint force must be established with the participation of the 28 EU countries. For some reason, the EU does not want to make this decision. We, Central European countries, have decided to have a second-ring defense plan. In line with the European regulations, we protect the southern border of Hungary, which is also the external border of the Schengen zone. The Schengen agreement obliges member states whose borders are the Schengen zone's external borders like Hungary's to ensure that crossing the border is only possible at certain points and only during open hours. This is the obligation. The EU, on the one hand, says this obligation is still valid. On the other hand, it criticizes the method of abiding by the obligation. It is very unfair. We asked what the alternative was to abiding by the obligation and not to be criticized. The response we received was: "We do not know." By the way, we have not sealed off the border with Croatia, but sealed off the green border. We have put up obstacles to prevent illegal border crossings.
D.S.: Turkey accommodates millions of refugees. All parts of Syria have become battlefields and there are no safe towns anymore. So many groups are fighting with each other. These people have to go somewhere. These people cannot simply be kept in refugee camps as I, during my visits, observed that they feel like they are trapped and in an open prison since they want to work and maintain their lives. What is the ultimate solution?
There is one solution under which two sub-solutions are present. The right approach to this crisis is to keep these people close to their homeland. The end objective should be creating peace and stability in Syria. If this is the ultimate goal, these people should stay close to Syria. If they go far away, they will never return. If Syria loses half of its population and even if peace and stability are achieved, it will be no different from the current situation. The first sub-solution is that the EU should support Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan to be able to treat the refugees or migrants in a way that enables their lives to be affordable until the war in Syria comes to an end. The second sub-solution is that there should be a world quota system. The current conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are caused by bad international policies and mismanagement. It was not only Europe, absolutely not Turkey, which has been involved in these policies. It would be unfair to expect the EU and Turkey to bear this burden on their own. Some other big political players involved in these decision that led to instability in MENA are not bearing the burden.
D.S.: I see. For instance, the U.S. wants to take only 10,000 refugees. Another question is that Hungarian officials, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, have underlined the significance of Christian culture in Europe and said in this context that they consider the refugee influx a threat. Why do you think he needed to make such a statement?
We respect the Muslim faith and culture a lot. We consider the Muslim faith and culture a significant achievement of humanity. We really respect how Muslims treat life and family. We have a lot to learn. We have Muslim citizens, and they are very successful members of society. We have many students coming from Muslim countries, and we encourage them. We have no problem with Islam and Muslims at all. But I have to say that firstly we totally reject the EU's approach to the labor force that is designed by migration. We think that the labor force problem can be solved by unemployed EU citizens and that demographic change can be solved by family policies. We should encourage families to raise more children like Muslims do. Another issue I want to stress is that all nations have the right to make a decision concerning whether to share their lives with a significant minority from another culture or religion. For instance, France and Germany made the decision to share their lives with a significant number of Muslims. Hungary has not made such a decision. As we respect the Muslim faith and France and Germany's decision, we expect everyone to respect our decision. This has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. This is a social issue. However, as part of our opening to the Middle East, we want to improve our relations with Muslim countries. And some statements by our prime minister are misinterpreted in the Muslim world. Actually, there is a defamation campaign against Hungary in the international media.
D.S.: I think it is a very sensitive time.
Yes, exactly. That is why our prime minister speaks very specifically. We never have trouble if someone reads his entire statements. But in the world of Twitter, some sentences are taken and misinterpreted.
D.S.: Several regional and international actors are involved in the war. Recently, Russia started pounding several targets in Syria, most of which are Western-backed rebels. How do you see Russia's intervention, and how do you think it will affect the refugee crisis?
I am pretty sure that there is no solution in Syria unless there is dialogue, cooperation and agreement between the U.S. and Russia. If these two superpowers cannot make an agreement, there will be a deeper crisis. As a result, more refugees will come to Turkey, and more migrants will flee to Europe.
D.S.: Apart from the refugee crisis, how do you see Turkish-Hungarian relations? In which areas do you think the two countries have potential to develop?
Our bilateral cooperation is a strategic one. President Erdoğan, when he was prime minister, and Viktor Orbán, our prime minister, said the trade budget must be $5 billion. We try to reach this goal. We should strengthen our relations through increasing the trade budget. Our relations are very good in the automotive and electronics industries. We have to improve trade in food and agriculture. Our constitution bans genetically modified foods. So we can offer delicious food to Turkey. There will be more cooperation in terms of banking to improve business. Energy cooperation is very important. Energy security and supply is still a hot potato in Central Europe, and Turkey can play a key role. But the situation is very uncertain. Also, cultural cooperation is very active. We have been restoring many buildings from the Ottoman-era in Hungary. Almost 1,000 Turkish students study in Hungarian universities. Our exports to Turkey have increased 2 percent in seven months of this year in dollars. There is still potential to improve relations. We want Turkish companies to invest in Hungary. Turkey wants to be among the top-10 economies by 2023 at the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, and Hungary is there to help fulfil this goal.
D.S.: Some experts claim that Turkey does not need the EU anymore. Do you agree with this idea, and how do you see the relations?
No, I disagree. What we see is global trade and economic integration. For instance, the U.S. just signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other countries. Russia organizes the Eurasian Economic Union. China and Arab countries cooperate in Africa. European countries, including Turkey, should not be lagging behind. The more strategic cooperation is built between the EU and Turkey, the more successful we will be in global trade. I urge both the EU and Turkey to cooperate much more. We are very supportive of Turkey's EU membership.
WHO IS PETER SZIJJARTO?
Peter Szijjarto was born Oct. 30, 1978, in Komarom. He is an economist who earned a degree in international relations from Budapest University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration in 2002. He joined Fidesz in 1998. He was elected as a member of the municipal government the same year in the city of Gyor, and then he obtained a mandate from 2006 to 2010. In 2005, he was elected president of Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. He occupied this position until 2009.
He first became a member of parliament in 2002. He received mandates in 2006, 2010 and 2014 and currently is serving his fourth term as a member of parliament. He served as communications director and Fidesz spokesman between 2006 and 2010, and he was chief of staff of the party's president from 2009 to 2010. During his parliamentary work, he was deputy faction leader of Fidesz and chairman of parliament's budget committee. He served as the prime minister's spokesman from June 2010 to June 2012 and headed the prime minister's staff in charge of press, international and organizational affairs.
In June 2012 he was appointed as state secretary for foreign affairs and external economic relations in the prime minister's office. He served as government commissioner for Hungarian-Russian relations and Hungarian-Chinese bilateral relations from March 2013. In June 2014 he was appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs and trade, and parliamentary state secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Since September 2014 he has served as minister of foreign affairs and trade.
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