“I would make the EU and Hungary stronger on the global scene”
Klára Dobrev believes that the EU currently cannot act swiftly and resolutely on the global scene, which could encourage authoritarian leaders to commit further legal abuses. We asked the prime ministerial candidate of the Democratic Coalition (DK) what she thinks about sanctions against Russia, Paks II, or if she would support the establishment of a joint EU Army – in case she was elected as Hungary’s new head of government in 2022. Interview series, part one.
Interviews with other candidates:
- András Fekete-Győr: “Huawei is such a large national security threat that is simply not offset by the low price of its 5G network”
- Péter Jakab: "The precondition of a common EU foreign policy is that each European citizen could identify themselves with it."
- József Pálinkás: "Today, not a single EU member state can represent its interests alone"
- Gergely Karácsony: "The first step should be the termination of the Paks contract."
The original responses in Hungarian can be found at the following links:
- Dobrev Klára: „Megerősíteném az EU és Magyarország világpolitikai súlyát”
- Fekete-Győr András: „A Huawei olyan nemzetbiztonsági kockázatot jelent, amit egyszerűen nem ellensúlyoz az általuk kiépített 5G-rendszer alacsony ára”
- Pálinkás József: „Ma egyetlen EU-tagállam sem elég erős ahhoz, hogy az érdekeit egyedül hatékonyan tudja képviselni”
- Jakab Péter: „A közös uniós külpolitika feltétele, hogy minden európai polgár ugyanolyan mértékben magáénak érezze”
- Márki-Zay Péter: „Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia már 1867-ben eljutott a közös külügy, hadügy, pénzügy koncepciójáig, elkeserítő, hogy 150 évvel később az európai integráció még nem tart itt"
- Karácsony Gergely: „Első lépésként a paksi szerződést kell felmondani”
Recent events have shown that the European Union (EU) often moved as a lame duck on the foreign policy scene, as unanimous decision-making in the field means a single member state’s rejection is enough to block an EU statement or policy decision. The European Parliament (EP) called for moving towards qualified majority voting in the field of foreign policy – at least in human rights cases – multiple times. Would your government support making EU foreign policy decisions with qualified majority voting?
I fully agree with the “lame duck” label. Let me start with a recent example. Russia, the US (the name of its president was Donald Trump at the time) and Turkey, three powers nowhere near friendly towards the EU, were invited to an international conference on ending the civil war in Syria. Neither the EU, nor any of its member states, including those who came under heavy pressure due to the war, were there. This unfortunate situation is the direct consequence of certain member states sticking with their own foreign policy. Neither the EU, nor the member states following their individual strategies can protect their interests, whether we talk about Europe-wide or national ones. We are all losers of the current construction, while a united foreign policy could make us all more successful.
Thus, Democratic Coalition has always advocated for a United States of Europe and our politicians are representing this stance both in Hungary and European institutions, such as the EP. Majority-based voting is necessary and unavoidable, it is more democratic, and it would much more effective. Unanimous votes allow member states to block the EU from playing a role equal to its weight in international affairs along their particular interests. As a result, my government would support all initiatives seeking to move away from unanimous decision-making towards majority-based decisions. This solution would considerably strengthen the EU’s weight in the world, including that of Hungary.
Is there actually a need for the Union to follow a united, strong foreign policy or is it preferable to allow all member states to choose their own strategies with minimal EU-level cooperation?
Yes, the EU’s lack of seat at the Syria peace conference or the pattern of the incumbent Hungarian government vetoing a long line of EU decisions in line with its maverick foreign policy to earn the favor of various dictators shows the drawbacks of the latter option. This erases European values and even interests from the scene of global politics. One of the key goals of foreign policy is influencing the world to move towards the direction favorable to us. To put it simply: I am talking about principles such as peace, freedom and other necessities of life. Even if all EU member states represented this, all would fail standing alone in a world dominated by global powers, so – in contrast – we European have to become a global power. This is exactly what a united and strong foreign policy will achieve.
Would your government support the EU strengthening, expanding sectoral economic sanctions against Russia? Why or why not?
It is sometimes hard to decide which legal abuse is the final red line. Let’s take Belarusian authorities’ decision to hijack a place, in which Russia only played an indirect role, but a very important one. President Lukashenko has committed state terrorism. Everyone can see that if the international community and the EU do not give a resolute answer, Lukashenko will conclude simply that countries opposing him can only be strong rhetorically, they are weak and paralyzed when it comes to taking real action. Terrorism must be stopped as decisively as possible, so I firmly believe that the EU was right to implement swift and resolute sanctions.
As for Russia, it is hard to doubt that if a state conquers and annexes a part of the territories of another sovereign state and forces another of its regions to be prepared for war for years, the international community cannot just stand by peacefully. As a consequence, I would support – as I always have – sanctions against Russia, which need to affect politicians making horrible decisions, not the general population.
Do you believe that Hungary should expel Russian diplomats to offer its solidarity to Czechia because of the explosion in Vrbetice? If not expelling diplomats, what would be the right “answer”?
I must ask: How could we expect solidarity when we, Hungarians, are in trouble if we do not offer it to others? The explosion in Czechia did not affect Hungary, but if Europe does not stop this sort of state terrorism resolutely, who knows what would happen when Hungary is in a similar situation? As a result, solidarity towards Czechia and our own strategic interests dictates that all EU member states should view the explosion in Vrbetice as if it happened in their own territory and they should take the same steps. Moscow is seeking to divide us and our strategic interest is not letting it happen. Your question, thus, takes us back to the previous one. There would be no such dilemma if there was a untied EU foreign policy, so we could actually react decisively to these kinds of attacks and threats.
Would your government stop the construction of the two new nuclear blocks in Paks? How would you replace the energy production of these blocks?
We would completely withdraw from the Paks Treaty and we have multiple reasons for this. First, DK has consistently supported socially and ecologically sustainable development and climate neutrality. This fact was noticed and supported by environmental protection CSOs and our voters. This is one of the key issues for me and EP voting records clearly show that I firmly stand for a just transition towards a sustainable economy. Second, the price of energy coming from Paks is already much higher than what the market would dictate, so the lost energy could be replaced by cheaper sources. Stopping the construction is thus not only a question of environmental protection but an economic and social one as well. We would secure Hungary’s energy supply in the frameworks of the European Energy Union, making it accessible to all.
What are the solutions for Hungary’s heavy dependence on Russian energy?
After the democratic transition, we really did depend on Russian energy, but not anymore. Do not forget, Russia is also depending on its customers. What would they do with the energy they produced if they could not sell it? In today’s world, energy has a large market, we can buy it from multiple vendors. And to make it safe and reliable, I am supporting the European Energy Union. We could ensure that Hungary’s energy needs are fulfilled from sustainable, renewable sources swiftly and effectively in cooperation with EU states. We must develop new technologies together, allowing Hungarian companies and experts to play a role as well. We need to develop electric networks suitable for transferring energy and a sustainable hydrogen economy further along a common strategy. We must further improve energy efficiency in all areas of line together. We can renovate European buildings and Hungarian ones together – which is also a key social question. We can develop intelligent, energy efficient transport with zero local emissions together. We can fight energy poverty, which will become a more and more important problem in the future, together. The European Green Deal offers a solution to this, which is an effort and opportunity that Hungary, standing alone, could not even dream of. It is impossible to do this alone, even if Viktor Orbán talks about national sovereignty all the time while looking for the favor of Putin and his associates. We will oversee a fundamental transition in environmental- and energy policies. What we cannot do alone, we will do together with the EU.
Would your government support EU sanctions against further Chinese officials for their role in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs or anti-democratic actions in Hong Kong? Why or why not?
All democratic leaders face the dilemma that it is impossible to react strongly to all human rights abuses. However, there are exceptions and European history teaches us that the repression of a group of people on ethnic or religious grounds is, first, the source of serious suffering and, second, could even plant the seeds of armed conflict, stopping which is in the interest of the whole world. Naturally, the results of sanctions policies are often dissatisfactory, so the main task for the foreign policy minds of the democratic world is to develop and implement more effective and better targeted sanctions.
Do you believe that Chinese companies, like Huawei, should be banned from the development of Hungary’s 5G network even if it would raise construction costs?
Endangering our safety would have much higher social costs than the additional price of the construction. Consequently, I would ban all companies that can be used by their native countries to exert influence over the host state.
Would your government put an end to the renovation of the Budapest-Belgrade railway and the construction of the Fudan University campus in Budapest? What would you spend the money allocated to these projects on?
When I currently speak of labors of love instead of a political program, one of the key topics is a range of social measures from a one-time compensation for pensioners to raising the family benefit, which are ethical necessities after the Orbán government’s decade-long, harmful social policies supplemented by a lot of talk about social issues. In this case, they usually ask me how I would cover the expenses of these measures, which is why I am happy about this question. We will withdraw from the bilateral contract on the Budapest-Belgrade railway because it primarily benefits Chinese companies and Orbán’s subcontracting oligarchs. This is the answer to the question. My government will primarily invest in people living here because the main prerequisite of competitiveness is well-trained and healthy people who do not need to worry about whether they can pay the bills and what they can put on the table at the end of the month. This is the project we would spend the money allocated to these on.
China and the EU agreed on an investment agreement in December 2020, which could help European companies on the Chinese market. This needs to be ratified by the EP, but it has not done so due to Chinese counter-sanctions against some MEPs and human rights concerns. Do you believe that the ratification of this treaty is in Hungary’s interest? Do you think that the human rights situation needs to be taken into account when developing the EU’s relationship with China? If yes, can you explain how?
In politics – as in civilian life – we often find ourselves in situations where all decisions carry benefits and disadvantages. We must decide what measure would the more disadvantageous: if we fail to strike a few deals or if serious human rights abuses are committed in a country. In terms of human rights abuses, there are cases – such as the ethnic repression of Uyghurs – when it is not a question that human rights must take precedent. In the world I believe in, this repression would be fought not only by the EU but by the wider international community as well. I know there are limits to what can be achieved against China, but I am also certain that the measures could be more effective if we conducted our sanctions policies in cooperation with – at least – the United States of America.
Do you believe that disinformation – especially the manipulative rhetoric spread by Moscow and Beijing – constitutes a national security threat? What steps would your government take on the national and EU level to fight disinformation?
Disinformation, especially state-sponsored disinformation is one of the most dangerous weapons nowadays. Once again, measures against it would be more efficient if they were taken on the EU level, which is impossible today because there is a member state – sadly it is Hungary – that deliberately offers a platform to those disseminating disinformation because the government thinks it would help cement its power. After a change of government, the Hungarian cabinet will be an active player in stepping up against the phenomenon.
Fourteen EU member states are proposing to create a 5000-man-strong, well-equipped quick response military force. Hungary, based on media information, is not among the fourteen. Would you support creating such a force and potentially deploying it even to conflict zones? Do you believe that the deployment should take place after a unanimous agreement or would qualified majority voting be enough?
I fully support the creation of an EU Army. I do would not theoretically reject deploying it to conflict zones but such a decision can only be made after careful deliberations. All in all, these decisions should also be made on the principles of majority voting, not unanimity.
It was revealed recently that Hungary is not planning to withdraw the HUF 3300 billion allocated to it in preferential loans in the frames of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, although it could access it any time until 2023. Would your government take these loans? If yes, would you use the entire credit line? What would you spend these resources on?
There probably is not a single government that does not take loans from time to time. The incumbent Hungarian government is not any different and it is hard to understand why a cabinet would choose the more expensive loans with higher interest rates instead of the cheaper option. Naturally, we know the answer: the Hungarian government does not like EU loans because these organizations want to monitor how that money is spent. This is why the Orbán government does not want these loans, it would rather take loans from financial markets with a higher interest rate because then nobody will ask how the money is spent. The new Hungarian government will change this and choose the more beneficial loans, and the money will be spent on municipalities, SMEs spending it rationally instead of oligarchs, so the loans would serve the development of a wide layer of Hungarian society.
The EU took loans for the first time with joint member state responsibility for the debt. Some are on the opinion that this should become more than a one-time scheme, which is supported – for instance – by the Greek and Spanish prime ministers. Northern member states and Germany reject this idea. Which side should Hungary be on in this debate?
Hungary will agree with those who support taking loans with joint responsibility more than once. The simple reason for this is that these loans are always cheaper. But there is a strategic consideration as well. In the line of measures helping the creation of the United States of Europe (USE), joint debt is especially important. When the USE is established, this question will not even be an issue, as joint money will be managed by a European Ministry of Finance and the creation of this body, which cannot be avoided for other reasons either, would in itself create the opportunity to move jointly in financial markets.
Which policy areas are the ones where you believe closer EU integration is necessary and what are those where member stated should hold the competencies?
It would be good if we got used to the thought that sovereignty is not an emotional question, not a holy cow, but an answer to practical problems. If we want a successful foreign or security policy, strong currency, if we want to protect the Earth from hazards, protect citizens from a pandemic, answers must be found on the European level, which is our own interest as well. If we want to discuss the curvature of cucumbers – I mean the almost symbolic but, in fact, not real example – or other actually important issues, these can be left to member states or even lower levels.
The task of member states is, first, to represent the views of their citizens in common decision-making and, second, to fulfill the needs of their citizens in the frames of the joint legal framework, with EU support and in cooperation with municipalities, the economic sector and CSOs. Both in Budapest and Brussels.
Our interview with Klára Dobrev is the first in the series. We sent our questions to all prime ministerial candidates partaking in the opposition primaries to know more about their foreign policy views, especially in the European dimension. We are publishing the answers in the order of receiving then after minimal editing.
This is the English translation of the original, Hungarian-language interview.
Political Capital and its partners from Bulgaria, Czechia, Poland, Austria, Slovakia and Romania are researching value-based foreign policy preferences and the prevalence of authoritarian influence in the EU institutional system with the support of National Endowment for Democracy.