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CNBC interjú Davos WEF 2024.01.17.

CNBC interview with Katalin Novák

That I'm here for the first time, I experienced that it is, let's say, a constructive chaos, what we experience here, and also what the traffic is concerned, it's very difficult to get from one place to the other, but I have to assure you that the Swiss trains are on time. I took the train and it worked perfectly.

I came, I got the train as well.

That's good. But frankly and more sincerely, I think what is good about the WEF is that we have the chance to speak about our most important challenges also with Chatham House rules, which means that, I think, that many times if we are ready to be confronted with reality and with the challenges we face. Even if we don't all agree, we can share with each other our thoughts seriously and have a real exchange of views. And for me it is always very helpful if I understand the reasons behind the position of a given country. And also when we are in Davos, we are speaking, of course, also about the representatives of the economy and of the business sector, which is very important.

There's important messages that you want to convey here as well, as well as listening to what other people thought. If there was one issue that was really most important to you here that you want to just talk about and get a conversation going about what would that be?

Of course we spoke about the war in Ukraine. We are a direct neighbour to Ukraine, so I also participated in an interesting panel about the war in Ukraine, which is not an avoidable issue and it shouldn't be. But also what is the most important topic I would bring here. It is also a long-lasting problem and that is demography. Because I think if we talk about the potential of Europe or let's say the developed world, then we also have to face reality. Then in all of our countries we are facing demographic decline, we are facing fertility problems. And there is a huge fertility gap in our countries. So that means that young people would like to have families but they won't have at the end of the day. And I think that we have to understand the reasons behind and we have to support young people to be able to have a professional and a family life in the same time. And also being a woman leader, being the first woman president of my country, and being also a mother of three children, for me it is also an important message to spread that these two should not be necessarily confronted with each other.

What do you think the biggest challenge is on that front then? Is it a societal issue? Is it attitudes are changing or is it purely economic? As a lot of people probably think it is.

It is surely economic, partly because I'm an economist by profession, and it's maybe a little bit tough to say but it's true that in our welfare societies there is no economic reason for having children. Those who have children have economic disadvantage vis-a-vis those who don't have children. So what we would like to do, for example, in Hungary, is to decrease or eliminate this economic disadvantage of the families raising children, vis-a-vis those who decided not to have children. But also it's not only financial, it is I think also a cultural issue and it is a question if we are able to balance this family and professional life. So there are many methods with which we try to overcome this issue. For example, in Hungary, women with at least four children don't pay any personal income tax ever in their lives. But this is just one element of our pro-family policies.

And it's an incredibly important issue, and it's great you're bringing it to Davos as well. You also mentioned the importance of Ukraine and the huge role that Hungary has played as you say, as a neighbour as well. And I think all the countries close to Ukraine have either suffered or had to take on enormous challenges because of this devastating war of the last two years as well. Why do you think that Hungary, a magnificent nation, that has done so much to help the situation, help the Ukrainian people, sees itself at odds with perhaps some of its western allies, perhaps some of its EU allies, on so many issues regarding supporting Ukraine. Why is it that Prime Minister Orbán seems to be almost on a daily basis at loggerheads with perhaps some other members of the EU 27.

So first of all, I think that we have much more in common than there are controversies between the positions of Hungary and other EU member states, because our position vis-a-vis Ukraine and Russia is the same as that of the other 26 EU member states. So we condemn Russia's aggression against Ukraine from the first moment. We are very clear on that. We are trying our utmost in order to support Ukraine. And when we speak about the geographic setting of Hungary, which means that we are a direct neighbour to Ukraine, we also shouldn't forget that we have an ethnic minority of Hungarian ethnics living in the territory of Ukraine, 150,000 people, which is for us a decisive number. So we are not only indirectly hit by the war in Ukraine, but actually directly we are losing lives of Hungarians or the members of the Hungarian ethnic minority. So I think that when the substance is concerned, then our position is the same as that of the European Union. When it's about the methods, then the positions may differ. But I think that we should rather concentrate on what we have in common


than where we don't exactly share the same views.

And that's absolutely important to look at what is in common. But at the moment the Ukrainian delegation, and I was here for the NSA meeting on Sunday as well, is crying out for more support, both diplomatically and militarily, and of course economically as well. There is an accusation from some in Europe that it is Hungary that is holding up that financing as well. How can that gap be bridged between the view of Hungary and Prime Minister Orbán and that of the other EU members?

Ukraine needs support, that's for sure, and we have to further support Ukraine. I completely share that view personally and Hungary as a country as well. So that is the most important and I just very much hope that we will find the method how to further support Ukraine financially at the next EU Council.

Do you think that actually there will be some form of combination of views? I mean, Mr. Orbán on one side at the moment, the rest of the EU on the other. It's not a comfortable position for Hungary to be against all the friends and allies, is it?

Well, it's not about feeling comfortable or not feeling comfortable, even if I'm not in the shoes of the Prime Minister. But I think what we should again concentrate on is that we have to support Ukraine but I also have to say something or add something. I just had a good discussion with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine. I was in Kiev two times in the last year. I met President Zelensky several times. I completely understand their position. I completely understand that they are seeking support from everybody to the largest extent they can. Maybe that is exactly what I would do if I were in their shoes. So it's very difficult to imagine what we would do if we were Ukrainians. But also in the meantime, I am the President of Hungary, and we live still in a peaceful country and we still in Switzerland, we live in a peaceful country and that goes for Europe and that goes for the NATO countries as well. So what I just would like to emphasize is that we are not at war. The NATO countries, the EU countries are not at war. So even if we support and we keep further supporting Ukraine, we shouldn't get militarily involved in this war and we should avoid the escalation of the war, and we shouldn't find ourselves in a Third World War, and 2024 shouldn't be 1914. So it should be, 2024 should be the year of peace rather than the year of war.

I always have to wrap up this interview. I must ask you one more question. Do you see a route to peace at the moment? It's very difficult for many of us who have been observing this the last two years or the last ten years since Crimea was invaded. Very difficult to see the route either diplomatically or militarily. Do you see a way through this?

That is, I think now, the 1 million dollar question. And there I also have to say that it is crucial that we find the path towards peace. But it will be very difficult, or I would even say impossible to reach peace negotiations without involving both partners or all partners. So without even speaking to Russia or trying to seat Russia also to the negotiating table, I don't think it will happen. So I think that we have to find and figure out the way how we among ourselves reach a consensus and then how we can approach also either through China or through somebody else or directly Russia, to be able to negotiate with them, because peace talks, negotiations, cease fire, and that leads finally to peace which we all want.