Updated: 22-Oct-2004 NATO Speeches


22 Oct. 2004

Press point

with NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
and the Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsány

21/10/2004 - NATO
Hungarian Prime Minister to visit NATO HQ
22/10/2004 - NATO
Audio file of the press point (.MP3/6079Kb)

de Hoop Scheffer: Thank you.
First of all, a very warm welcome indeed to the Hungarian Prime Minister Gyurcsany. I have practised a lot on your name, Prime Minister. It will not be entirely correct.

Gyurcsany: You're pronunciation is fantastic.

de Hoop Scheffer: Is it? Well, that's a good start.

A warm welcome for your first visit to NATO. Congratulations with your appointment to Prime Minister.

We have had a good discussion… and, when I say a good discussion, I mean a good discussion… first of all about the transformation processes NATO is involved in, the political transformation, the importance of partnerships, the military transformation of course as important. If I look back to the Informal Defence Ministers Meeting NATO had in Poiana Brasov in Romania a short while ago, you know that the topic there was, How are we further going to restructure the armed forces of the NATO Allies so they can be more useable? In other words, how can they be effective and efficient in NATO's peacekeeping operations? How can they easily be transported from A to B; deployability and sustainability? How can you, in Afghanistan, Kosovo, sustain operations for a longer time? For that, as you know, we don't need big armies on paper, but we need restructuring of defence forces.

That's the first point I would like to mention. In this respect, I can say the Prime Minister and I have had a very open and frank discussion about the worry I have about the Hungarian defence spending and the decisions which have been made by the Hungarian government. I think Hungary runs the risk of having big trouble of keeping up the level of investment in defence, runs the risk of keeping in danger… putting into danger, I should say, the important restructuring process Hungary has embarked upon as far as its defence forces are concerned.

So, I have made no secret of my worries about this. I had already, as you might know, received a letter of the Prime Minister in this respect, and I say again what I've said many times: There are different degrees of happiness in the life of a Secretary General, and there is a less degree of happiness… or lesser degree of happiness if he is confronted with cuts in defence spending, because nations had agreed to go for two percent GDP, and I'm afraid that Hungary is far away from that level on the basis of current defence spending.

That having said, the Prime Minister has assured me… and, again, it was an open and frank discussion… that Hungary will do its utmost to fulfil its commitments, despite the cuts, as far as its participation… its commendable participation in peacekeeping operations is concerned in Afghanistan, in Kosovo. I'm glad with that, I'm happy with that, because I think, when you look at NATO's peacekeeping operations, it is not only Hungary's credibility which is involved but it's NATO's credibility.

So, the Prime Minister has told me that, despite the decisions he has had to make in defence spending and the cuts, he will see to it that, as much as possible, Hungary can fulfil its international obligations, for which I commend Hungary and for which I have commended the Prime Minister, because the Hungarian soldiers are doing very good work indeed in Afghanistan, in Kosovo. I can add Iraq; not a NATO operation, but Hungary is playing a role, of course, as a staunch ally in Iraq.

And I think, to end on a positive note, Hungary should be commended and applauded for what Hungary is doing, and I would sincerely hope that Hungary… and I'm reassured by the Prime Minister that Hungary will be able to continue.

Prime Minister, once again, very welcome indeed, and I would like to end my introductory statement here. Thank you.

Gyurcsany (through interpreter): So thank you very much for the kind words of the Secretary General. Also thank you very much for this opportunity to meet after just three weeks of my taking office. All of the governments have to respond to three requirements; to improve the competitiveness of a country, to invest into the economy, to increase social cohesion, and to increase the capabilities of a country to protect its citizens and maintain security. All prime ministers must face the challenge to satisfy all of these three needs at the same time.

So, I informed the Secretary General that the social measures introduced over the past period of time have been such a burden on the Hungarian budget over these past three years that the deficit this year will still be about five percent, so that Hungary has simply no other choice than to keep on that same track with the budget that allows us to introduce the euro in 2010. This requires some contained behaviour both in defence spending and also in other areas.

Now, we want to conduct a policy where we keep what we promise, and we only want to promise what we can keep, and in this regard I was indeed very frank and straightforward with the Secretary General. Now, this year defence spending will be 1.28 percent… next year the defence spending will be 1.28 percent of the GDP. That is somewhat higher than the spending this year. Now, our objective is to reach 1.4 percent within the next three years, but, beyond that, what is important is to sustain the capability, the ability of the Hungarian defence forces to deliver, to meet all of its commitments made so far.

Today, 1,126 Hungarian troops participate in peacekeeping missions, so I confirmed the commitment of the Hungarian government to sustain the 1,000 troops level on long term, so we will stay put in the Balkans, also in Afghanistan, and if necessary, and after analysis and decisions, we will also take a decision about our role to be undertaken in Iraq. Now, this decision will be taken in November.

Hungary wants to share in the joint responsibility of global security and stability, so I will work towards making sure that, if Hungary has a useable and deployable army, then there is sufficient social support to be able to really use that army. It is just unreasonable to sustain defence forces if there is insufficient support to deploy and use them, but the real answer to that is not to eliminate our defence forces but, rather, to obtain the social and public support for using them, and this is going to be my objective. Thank you.

Questions and answers

Q: Paul Haines from the Associated Press. Secretary General, you've made similar criticism recently when the Czech prime minister was visiting, too, about defence spending. Given that these countries and others that recently joined the European Union and NATO are struggling to meet the criteria for joining the euro, would you perhaps like to see those criteria relaxed, perhaps by excluding defence spending, so that the countries can maintain their military spending while continuing their drive to join the euro?

de Hoop Scheffer: I do not see, first of all, if the opinion of a NATO Secretary General would have a great impact on the criteria the European Union is applying for joining the euro, and I can't see that these criteria will be changed, so I think we should not start exercises or discussions about excluding certain parts of the budget from, in this case, Hungary's understandable drive to join the euro at a certain… in a certain year. I think, if we start that, we do not know where we end, because I could imagine a health minister in whatever country saying, "Let's exclude health as well," and then you're quickly reaching the end of the road, that there will be no euro after all. So, let's not do that.

Q: (inaudible) from Hungarian Modyar Ramsa(?), which is being boycotted by the present government.

Secretary General, how would you compare the performance of the present government in terms of fulfilling its NATO obligations to those shown by the previous coalition, the Orban government, which has been criticized quite often as well? Thank you very much.

de Hoop Scheffer: Thank you. You'll very well know that a NATO Secretary General never, ever will give answers which might only give the slightest impression that he would be involved in the national politics of a certain country. I have spoken to the Hungarian… the Hungarian Prime Minister leading the Hungarian government, and I've had an open and frank discussion with the Hungarian prime minister on Hungarian defence spending, and it's absolutely irrelevant to me what is further behind your question, because Hungary, to the best of my knowledge, has only one prime minister and one government.

Q: Augustin Parloca(?) from Qua Detora(?) I have one question for the Secretary General about elections in Kosovo. The Serbs are saying that they cannot participate because of the lack of security. Do you think that there are the necessary conditions for the Serbs to participate in those elections?

And, for the Prime Minister of Hungary, since your country is a new NATO member, what kind of role your government will play in resolving the remaining problems in territory of former Yugoslavia, particularly with regard of the position of Hungarian minority in Vojvodina?

Gyurcsany (through interpreter): First and foremost, as far as the Balkans are concerned, we are going to look into achieving a development policy that can make sure that the economy comes to a stage of development which can make sure any further social development as well, because that is the very basis of achieving any progress in this field.

As far as the foreign policy of Hungary of the coming years is concerned, we are going to turn more and more decisively towards the Balkans. Now, the focus of that policy will be the joint creation of such a development policy that I was referring to. We will also continually maintain our current level of presence in peacekeeping missions, and, as a gateway of the European Union to the Balkans, we want to make sure that we have a more stronger say in, a more stronger voice in shaping the policy of the European Union and also of NATO towards this region.

Now, as far as minority issues are concerned, I consider this a major achievement of Hungarian foreign policy that we could lead or steer the attention of the international community to this issue and we could make the international community aware of the fact that maintaining the security of every single citizen is a prime responsibility of the national government, and that responsibility cannot be derogated. So, I truly hope that, after the elections, there will be a much calmer and much more responsible social atmosphere also in Vojvodina.

de Hoop Scheffer: I would call on the Kosovo Serbs to fully participate in the coming elections. I think it's essential that they do, and I think KFOR is doing everything it can… and it has been considerably strengthened… everything it can to see that all the people of Kosovo, all the people of the province can have free and fair elections. And I think it's essential that the Kosovo Serbs participate, essential for the political future of the province, and I would make a strong plea that they participate. I think it's good for Kosovo, it's good for the Serbs… Kosovo Serbs themselves, it's good for the Kosovo Albanian majority as well, so I would like to make a strong plea that they participate. And, as far as NATO is concerned, KFOR is there and KFOR will do everything in its capability to see that the elections can be free and fair, that as many people as possible participate.

This is what elections are all about. Everywhere in the world and certainly in Kosovo.

Thank you very much.

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