“We should not lose sight of the fact that the UK is here to stay in the immediate neighbourhood of the EU. Whatever development in the next couple of weeks and months will unfold, our old continent needs a strong UK as much as the UK needs a strong EU so that Europe could remain relevant on the global scale, both politically and economically.”
The word BREXIT has become one of the most used terms globally in international political discourse since the referendum held in the United Kingdom in 2016. The reason is not surprising since we talk about an unprecedented political and legal development in the history of European integration when one of the member states of the European Union decided to leave the bloc. It is a particularly significant move as the UK is one of the most powerful member states of the Union with its political and economic weight and with its remarkable historical and cultural impact on the entire world. A country which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a nuclear power that has greatly contributed to the security of the globe through all her efforts in international peacekeeping operations, through her participation in the joint fight against terrorism and more generally in trying to tackle global challenges using all her international connections. A country which is the fifth largest economy of the world where thousands of international business companies and financial institutions have planted the centre of their activities, enjoying Britain’s place in global networks and, as importantly as that, its belonging to one of the most lucrative economic powerhouses of the world, the single market of the EU.
In the context of all these BREXIT definitely means something to everybody regardless whether the impact is small or big. The impact is there and will remain to be there. However, at the same time it means something different to different stakeholders, be it the political elite in the UK, the brexiteer or the remainer segments of British society, Ireland or Scotland, the federalist Brussels bubble or the more sovereignist member states of the EU, students enjoying an ERASMUS program at Exeter University, a Japanese car maker or an Eastern European bartender in one of the bars in the Soho. It is therefore no surprise that it has a particular meaning to Hungary, as well.
As much as the Hungarian Government is concerned, we have been trying to be as transparent and as clear as possible all through the way. It was the Government and the Prime Minister of Hungary who was the only one issuing a paid full-page advertisement in one of the British newspaper on referendum day back in 2016 saying that “the decision is yours, but we would like you to know that Hungary is proud to stand with you as a member of the EU”. If we look back at Hungarian history we can easily see that it was very rare that Hungary and the UK was in the same formal alliance of any kind. However, it has changed significantly subsequent to the political changes in East Central Europe at the end of the 1980s. It is just recently that we commemorated and celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, in which Hungary has also played a remarkable role thus contributing to the unification of Europe. Hungary’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999 and then to the EU in 2004 both placed us in the same alliance with the UK. Our approach to European and global security is very similar if not identical with that of the UK. One specific, however, crucial element or example of this policy is our common vision about the future of the Western Balkans region. Both London and Budapest believe that only the EU and NATO accession of the Western Balkans countries will guarantee the peace, economic growth and social stability of the region we all wish for. It is no surprise that both Hungary and the UK belong to the most committed contributors to the EU’s EUFOR Althea CSDP mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just to name an important example.
As significantly as that, over the years the UK’s philosophy about how European integration should work has been identical with the Hungarian Government view of how the EU can serve the founding vision of the Founding Fathers of the European Community. It is, by the way, not insignificant that each of them, Schumann, Adenauer and De Gasperi were Christian Democrat politicians. They believed that the European integration will work only, and only if the member states and the Brussels-based institutions mutually respect each other. The small member states respect the big ones, and in return they can also enjoy the respect of larger and politically and economically more powerful peer members. Respect for the history, culture, constitutional identity and dedicated national interests of each other. As part of it, respect for the role national parliaments can and should play and contribute to decision-making in the EU.
Nevertheless, it does not mean that we were Eurosceptic; it only means that we are more of a sovereignist rather than a federalist character. However, we are truly and genuinely committed to the success of the EU and the global strength and relevance of the European single market. I believe that Hungary and the UK are like that. We mutually showed respect to each other and both worked also for very strong bilateral cooperation in security, economic, investment and trade areas. Not as independent actors, but as members of the EU. I am convinced that the UK has always been and remains to be an inevitable partner in our endeavours to reform the European integration and turn it back from the over-federalist path it has been moving in an especially unprecedented and aggressive way since 2014. We have strong hopes that the new institutions in the EU will bring more respectful cooperation with the member states, big or small. Considering the above, politically speaking it is Hungary’s interest that the UK should not leave the European Union, but remain there and help us to induce all those changes that would bring back mutual trust and respect we all have a strong interest in.
Yet, in the end, a decision was made by a national referendum back in 2016 and we have always respected whatever democratic outcome it brought along regardless whether we were happy or less happy about it. It is true for the referendum result or any democratic decision of subsequent British governments or different resolutions of the House of Commons in Westminster. We were also neutral in the sense that we did not join the chorus of those who attempted to punish the UK for their democratic decision, but at the same time we were also a reliable and cooperative member of the EU27 and supported the highly responsible and correct efforts of the negotiation team on behalf of the EU.
As we speak now, in early September 2019, quite unusual developments are following one another almost on a daily basis in British domestic politics. We are also very excited about the outcome of each one of them, with full respect and patience. Some in the European continent, in the UK or beyond are frustrated about the continuous changes, delays and uncertainty. Their frustration might be regarded with a certain undestanding as it would definitely be good to know what the ultimate outcome will be. However, in a country of long democratic traditions, we can, and maybe also should look at it as a democratic political fight between parliament and government, between brexiteers and remainers. The options are still wide open, and now that the time is more and more ticking away the tension is running a bit higher and higher for the bartender in the Soho, for the European student in Exeter, for the CEO of the car maker in Tokyo, for the banker at Canary Wharf, for the Irish farmer – who in his tractor on his farm passes across the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland ten times a day. Likewise, for politicians and for everyday people in the UK or on the Continent.
However, we should keep one thing in mind: while all acquired rights of our citizens must be protected, while we are all interested in a very comprehensive trade arrangement for the future and an intensive security cooperation to face global challenges, most importantly we should never forget that we are all Europeans on both sides of the Channel. We should not lose sight of the fact that the UK is here to stay in the immediate neighbourhood of the EU. Whatever development in the next couple of weeks and months will unfold, our old continent needs a strong UK as much as the UK needs a strong EU so that Europe could remain relevant on the global scale, both politically and economically.
As the world is closely watching we must responsibly live up to the challenge to respect national sovereignty, to respect the joint interests to maintain the economic relevance of both the European Single Market and that of the UK, to respect the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement and make a secure and prosperous future for ourselves, Europeans in order to help not only ourselves but also the rest of the world. With all the technological achievements we have reached, with all the democratic traditions, historical experience and cultural roots I believe I can frankly say that if there is a will, there is a way. The Hungarian Government will always be striving for that.