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16th Feb 2019

Hungary open to UK deal if it avoids discrimination

  • Hungary's Orban (l) and UK's Cameron (r) in Brussels in December. "It is very important that we are not considered as migrants," Orban said. (Photo: 10 Downing Street)

Hungary could accept the UK’s proposed changes to the EU, if the curbing of in-work welfare benefits does not discriminate against Hungarians working and paying taxes in the UK, prime minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday (7 January).

Orban, who hosted UK prime minister David Cameron in Budapest, said Hungary could largely support the UK’s efforts to reform the EU.

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Hungary’s bellicose prime minister agrees with the idea of giving a bigger role to national parliaments, to have more competitiveness in the EU and to make sure that decisions made by the 19-member eurozone are not detrimental to those outside the currency union, like the UK and Hungary.

On the controversial issue of cutting in-work benefits for EU migrants in the UK, Orban added that any deal needed to be done in coordination with the Visegrad group of countries that along with Hungary include the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.

He said Hungary could support a compromise that stopped the abuse of the UK’s health care system.

Workers, not migrants

“We will find a solution that will be suitable both to the interests of Hungarians working in the UK, and that also serves the requirements of the government of David Cameron,” he stressed.

But he stressed Hungarian workers should not be labelled migrants and should not be discriminated against.

“For us it is very important that we are not considered as migrants. Words matter,” he said.

“We would like to make it quite clear that we are not migrants into the UK. We are European citizens who can take jobs anywhere freely within the EU. We are not going there to sponge off benefits, or take something away from them. We do not want to be parasites. We want to work there, and I think that Hungarians are working well. They should get respect and they should not suffer discrimination,” Orban said.

He cited official data saying that 55,000 Hungarians work in Britain, paying more in taxes than they claim in benefits.

'We can find solutions'

For his part, Cameron said his proposal of cutting in-work benefits for EU employees in their first four years in the UK remained on the table until a viable alternative emerged.

Cameron, who earlier spent the day in Germany campaigning for support for his reform ideas, said his proposal addressed the fact that the UK’s generous health care system provided an additional draw for people from the EU.

“I support the free movement of people,” Cameron stated with regards to Hungary’s concerns.

Cameron also said that despite the difficult questions, the reform issues were making progress across the EU, and that he was confident that a deal could be achieved at the February summit of EU leaders.

“With goodwill, with creative thinking, we can find solutions,” he added.

Orban said last month after the EU summit that the UK's plans were not radical enough, and that he would like a discussion on revamping the EU's structure. He also said he would support treaty changes.

The two prime ministers, who were the only leaders who voted against the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the EU Commission in 2014, agreed they both wanted a strong EU.

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