Times change, and so do we, the Romans said, but it is not at all sure that those two changes take place at the same rate and balance each other out. Some people were “ahead of their time”, but more changed slower than the period they lived in. Anyway, the key to a successful (foreign) policy is to see and understand changes and to take pace with them, or even to anticipate them.
The world is full of large-scale changes: there are three well-known and interrelated factors in mutual conflict. In a major economic and political realignment, Asia is gaining weight and significance, while the West is losing its overall dominance, even if international institutions are too slow realising it, whether in terms of the UN reforms, the composition of the Security Council, or of the International Monetary Fund. There is still a yawning gap between the global nature of challenges and threats, and the fractured political system of a world made up of nation states, despite a recent increase in attempts to establish global governance and regulation, not the least due to global threats (e.g. climate change) and particularly to the economic and financial crisis. The third factor is that (causal) processes are now faster than ever, mainly due to scientific and technological advances. This results in a higher level of unpredictability and the inability to identify and assess correlations, which would be necessary to eliminate or mitigate increasing global risks. (While the “butterfly effect” has been known throughout history, its consequences were never as unexpected and brutal as they are today, e.g. a tsunami or the collapse of Lehman Brothers.)
All these antagonisms and unpredictability itself make our lives highly uncertain. Uncertainty entails a lack of security and its feeling both for countries and governments and for their citizens, who basically need security and freedom. In this situation, foreign policy is bound to reduce uncertainty and the security deficit as a priority. If the processes in the world are uncertain and endanger our security, an obvious need arises to protect ourselves from those risks. The first and easiest way to do this is to create our internal security, make a clear picture of the world, assess the threats, and to develop actions and policies to eliminate, or at least mitigate, such threats. In other words, we need internal security to fight external insecurity. This can take various forms.
First of all, internal security can be strengthened by nationwide unity and the establishment of the much needed foreign policy consensus. Therefore, we must identify a set of basic national targets that are acceptable to all and can prepare the ground for a national agreement and a foreign policy of national cooperation. Another important requirement is to strengthen national unity with Hungarians both in the Carpathian Basin and around the world.
However, protection against external uncertainty calls for more than just the intensification of unity within the country and the nation. We not only need to secure our own homes but also the neighbourhood as the relative security of this region may enable us to take successful action against external threats that may gain momentum. The simplest example is that in villages hit by a flood or an avalanche no distinction is made and indeed none should be made between a good and a bad neighbour. When people are in trouble, there are only good neighbours who help you at once, save and dig out your home, and rightly expect the same help from other members of the community. This is one of the reasons why we need to develop a neighbourhood policy that makes everyone aware that whatever disputes we have, today’s world is heading for interdependence, and all our controversies, however serious and acute they may seem, are actually secondary to the amount of risk we have to face. Consequently, we need to establish an active and offensive neighbourhood policy, one that does not conceal or sweep under the carpet our controversies, which are partly historically rooted, and partly result from the different interpretation of a situation or from different interests. We wish to resolve such issues in consideration of our shared interests, through hard and persistent negotiations in a way that all citizens of each neighbouring country can feel completely secure and experience their linguistic, cultural and national identities as a natural liberty.
Therefore, we identified regional foreign policy and, particularly, neighbourhood policy as the most important areas for us, in addition to the most urgent, immediate tasks of Hungarian foreign policy (economy, country image, EU presidency). We want to grant security and freedom to all citizens of the country. Our slogan “Do not hurt the Hungarians” expresses our intention to guarantee the same to all Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin, as well as to provide security and freedom to all citizens of all countries in the region. This is why we had to strike a balance between our most urgent and most important national policy measure, namely the adoption of the act on acquiring Hungarian citizenship and a kind of neighbourhood policy that promotes mutual understanding and the feeling of security in the entire region. It is not by chance that our first destinations were, already before the new government took office, in neighbouring countries, carrying two principal messages. First, we wanted to provide each neighbour an in-depth explanation of the background, motives and actual circumstances of the modification of our citizenship act; second, we expressed our intention to conduct a Central Europe policy that is a lot more dynamic, more powerful and more offensive than before, seeking joint solutions to facilitate the enforcement of this policy in the region, in the institutions of the European Union, and globally.
The success of this policy came as a surprise to many. The overwhelming majority of our neighbours acknowledged and accepted the amendment of our citizenship act, on the understanding, of course, that we will always be open to resolving minor issues and technical problems. The neighbouring country that objected to our act using what we feel to be harsh and exaggerated language (“violation of territorial integrity”), now has a new government, and the atmosphere has fundamentally changed, although controversies in basic questions still persist. In this situation, the parties will seek mutually acceptable solutions rather than conflicts, even if such solutions will not always be easy to find. It is far from being a mere coincidence that two of our most important neighbours, Romania and Austria, invited the Hungarian foreign minister to speak at their annual ambassadors’ meetings, allowing us to present our foreign policy plans not only in the context of developments within the EU and, especially, the Hungarian presidency, but also in connection with Central Europe and the region. Reactions in both countries were very favourable, and today, after a few months in government, we can conclude that our regional policy had a very promising start both in Central Europe and on a wider scale.
We will preserve and further develop the spirit of Visegrád. There is no doubt and the world has also realized that the ability of Visegrád countries and in general Central European countries to enforce their interests, and, accordingly, the self-esteem and self-confidence of these countries is significantly increasing. This is true even if the general reaction is not always happiness and appreciation. Earlier we were blamed for not properly cooperating with one another, now we seem to be criticized for too much cooperation. We must emphasize in agreement with the governments of all Visegrád countries that the basic objectives of the Visegrád cooperation may never collide with any objective and policy of the European Union. Quite on the contrary, the Visegrád cooperation is aimed at accelerating the convergence of these countries, thereby strengthening social, economic and regional cohesion within the European Union, and, consequently, making one of the most important policies of the European Union more efficient. Overall, this fosters the kind of European competitiveness that is currently the most important endeavour of the whole European Union in the global scene.
Central European cooperation itself is not limited to Visegrád. As has been pointed out several times, this cooperation is flexible and multi-directional, and can take various forms. In the future, as a result of the European Union’s much-hoped-for enlargement progress, its southern dimension will be made more powerful. This is the idea of the “Wider Central Europe”, which covers all directions seen from the central position of Hungary: north (Visegrád), south (complete integration of the West Balkans, reinforcement of Romanian and Bulgarian relations), east (Eastern Partnership) and west (Danube Region Strategy).
Besides national cooperation, cross-border national unity, and successful, consistent and honest neighbourhood and regional policy, our security is primarily protected by our membership in the European Union, the only operable integration appearing in many ways as an independent entity in the international scene and possessing the strongest economy in the world. We have a clear and focused vision of Europe. We are well aware that the future of Europe does not actually and primarily depend on economic or institutional issues, but on the Europeans’ ability to find their real selves, the European soul, which has always been around, but disappeared from time to time. No matter what institutions we create, and how successful (or unsuccessful) we are in the coordination of the economic and budgetary policies of the individual countries, we need to agree on basic values, and realize that the key problem in a rapidly shrinking society is the demographic challenge, and that there can be no progress in a disintegrating society without strengthening solidarity and cohesion; furthermore, we need to accept that equal treatment is a requirement in both minor and major issues, whether in agricultural support or the consideration of budgetary resources contributed to private pension funds.
The Hungarian presidency will focus on making Europe operate and with success. This in itself is a huge challenge as the history of European integration is in for an immense change. The success of important decisions to be made until the end of the year will largely depend on ourselves. Approval has already been granted for the Europe 2020 program, though its actual launch will only take place on 1 January. Work on the reinforcement of economic governance and a more focused coordination of economic policy has not yet been closed, and we are not sure whether this process can be completed in October, and a new system can be launched which will give rise to several difficulties in its operational phase as well. Be that as it may, we are interested in putting this system in place, of course after all its institutional, organizational, legal and economic aspects have been fully clarified. Because, for example, if the legal basis for the imposition of sanctions is not clear and understandable, the system will fail to operate smoothly from the outset, and all related tasks may be the responsibility of the country holding the presidency. We share the objectives; we are interested in a stronger and deeper Europe, and our presidency will primarily focus on the success of Europe - in general and during our presidency. We know that our responsibilities will be determined by the tasks of the European Union to a large extent, but we are aware that the proper and decent completion of these tasks mainly depends on us.
As far as specific EU policies are concerned, a deeper and stronger Europe in these areas also involves the enforcement of Hungarian interests. There must be greater focus on the principle of solidarity, and we need to fight back all attempts to impair the current integrated cohesion policy, to attach priority to certain elements (e.g. European Social Fund), or to delegate such elements to member states. It is impossible to make Europe more competitive without increasing cohesion. Also, we need to defend the common agricultural policy because it is becoming more and more apparent that this policy is more than simply the protection of certain member states interested in agricultural production, or even the interests of the whole European Union; instead, it supports a global interest related to one of the most important global challenges: the security of food supply. Europe does have a global responsibility in this respect, and Hungarian agriculture also has to take its share. To achieve that, of course, the necessary conditions and equal treatment must be ensured.
As a general idea, the necessity to build a common European energy policy is already widely accepted. Now it is obvious that this cannot be accomplished without establishing a uniform internal European energy market, which calls for the fulfilment of certain basic requirements related to infrastructure (transmission lines, gas and oil pipelines, electric grid, storage capacities, etc.), economic and legal conditions. In terms of economic and legal conditions, we will need to address the unbelievable price imbalances and the extreme price movements. No wonder that several member states and the Commission have repeatedly proposed the necessity to create the relevant regulations, which could also contribute to the security and well-being of EU citizens. This is related to the fact that the state cannot ignore the abnormalities arising from the independent operation of the market, and does have a responsibility, at both national and European level, for keeping extreme imbalances and resulting threats under control.
Again, the coincidence of Hungarian, Central European and even global interests is apparent in the field of energy policy. We need secure energy supply and energy security in the widest sense. This is in the interest of all countries in our region as currently we are the most energy-dependent states, which have to rely on a single source, or at least on a very limited number of sources. There are obvious economic and security policy-related arguments supporting the need to put the consumer, rather than the producer, in a decision-making position. To do this, certain conditions must be satisfied, and competition must be created among producers, and even routes.
Another key question, at both European and global level, is the protection of water, the potable water supplies for future generations. This is all closely related to major environmental issues, all the enormous challenges posed by global warming, and of course our willingness in Hungary, Central Europe and Europe to participate in the elimination or mitigation of such global threats.
Consequently, the question arises whether all the above considerations have been mentioned in support of the priorities of the Hungarian presidency or to address the most important and most acute global problems. The truth lies in between. The reinforcement of the EU’s competitiveness by increasing cohesion and solidarity is a Hungarian priority because this is the way the European Union can become part of the global system from both an economic and a political perspective. The agricultural policy must be maintained because this represents a fundamental interest of Hungarian rural areas and Hungarian agriculture, but, at the same time, it is also a European interest and that of billions of people hit by malnutrition. The treatment, administration, utilization and protection of water are a Hungarian priority as well as important Central European and pan-European topics, not to mention that the life of future generations in many parts of the world will depend on the presence of water supplies.
So these are the Hungarian priorities, to mention but a few. The European Union is facing large-scale changes in the field of foreign relations as well. The basic question is whether or not the economic giant is able to get itself accepted as one of the key players in world politics. The Lisbon Treaty and the establishment of new institutions, namely the European External Action Service, create better conditions for the accomplishment of these objectives. In addition to a number of organizational and personal requirements, the key question is whether or not Europe wants and is able to contribute something special to global trends. Does it have a vision of the world based on its specific history, diversity, creativity and values? Is it able to work out a strategy for a common foreign policy? This strategy and foreign policy cannot go without a peculiar relationship, which is an alliance rather than a simple strategic relationship or partnership. This relationship exists between the European Union and two countries beyond the Atlantic, the United States and Canada, and must grow far beyond security considerations. The two sides of the Atlantic are interwoven by a dense network of cultural, historical, commercial, financial and economic links, which need to be reinforced in the interest of both parties.
As far as Hungarian priorities are concerned, we will make all endeavours to promote Croatia’s accession, and do our best to close the corresponding negotiations during the period of Hungarian presidency. We will carry on the enlargement process because the European integration of the West Balkans is in our fundamental interest, removing Hungary from the periphery, and reinstating it in the middle of Europe, where it used to be. We wish to fill the Eastern Partnership (i.e. relations between the European Union and Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia) with content and specific projects; geopolitically, we are essentially interested in approximating these countries to the process of European integration. We pin our hopes for the strategy of the Danube Region, which will also be approved during our presidency, and which symbolizes the willingness of our region’s countries to harmonize various aspects of energy policy, development, environment and transport.
In his speech to the European Parliament, President Barroso said that borders should be ignored in terms of gas pipelines and electric networks. We entirely agree with that proposal. However, we think borders in the European Union need to be ignored not only for gas pipelines and electric lines but also for people, ideas, languages, cultures, and the corresponding communities. Diversity cannot exist without preserving the language and cultural identity of each community. This has always represented a special strength of Europe, and this diversity has been a breeding ground for our special creativity, moving forward European history for thousands of years, and the primary source Central European inventiveness and intellectual richness. We hope these intellectual resources will not cease to exist.
We can only feel secure and free, and we can only enjoy abundance if we are respected members of the global community, and if we can take a role in improving life not only in our own country, but also in neighbouring countries, in the region, and all over the world. This is not only, and perhaps not primarily, dependent on policies or governments. Our reputation and position in the world largely depend on the global evaluation of the performance of Hungarians, and how successful we Hungarians are in communicating our achievements, ideas and problems to the world. We are at a linguistic disadvantage as most of what is said or written down in Hungary will remain unheard in other parts of the world. Therefore, we need to improve our worldwide communication on domestic and regional matters. No doubt this is closely related to the question of country image, or, to be more specific, to the fact that the reputation of Hungary and Hungarians has not improved in recent years, to say the least. Such negative trends, of course, do not only hit one or the other political party; whoever is described negatively, the one that suffers is the whole country or the entire nation. Therefore, one of the key tasks of the Hungarian government and civilian Hungarian foreign policy in its broadest sense is to improve country image. I would never have thought that any country could question the role of its diplomatic corps to make efforts to take care of the country’s image and take action against false allegations, first of all by mobilizing intellectual and spiritual circles that are able to explain reality to the receiving country in the most credible manner. Whoever is unable or unwilling to perform this task is unsuitable to represent this country, Hungary, in any part of the world or in any organization in the world. This is all about the country and the nation, rather than a government or a party, and false allegations remain false even if they are repeated over and over again. The only possibility is to disprove such allegations immediately and efficiently, with all available means.
János Martonyi, Minister of Foreign Affairs