Prime Minister of Hungary

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 2 October 1990

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to be able to address the Parliamentary Assembly here today. It is also a great pleasure, because the Assembly will today, before deciding on its position, be discussing the question of accession by the Republic of Hungary to the Council of Europe. For Hungary, and even for the whole of the region of Central and Eastern Europe, accession to the Council of Europe represents a historic step along the path which is bringing us back to Europe.

After forty years of Europe’s artificial division, from which Hungary has suffered so much, we now have the possibility of rejoining the political, economic and cultural life of our continent as well as its systems of values and of ideas. I say “rejoining” because for over a thousand years Hungary has been an organic part of Europe’s political, economic, cultural and religious development. Thanks to close human relationships, it has never ceased to draw on these values, perhaps it has even enriched them.

In the course of its development as a state, it has always taken into account the standards and traditions of Western European societies. At great risk to its national existence, even losing more than once its status as a state or integrity, it has frequently defended European Christian civilisation. All this constitutes a historic and moral basis for Hungary to rejoin the process of European co-operation.

After 1945, on two occasions, the Hungarian people attempted unsuccessfully, under the banner of European democratic values, to regain the place which rightfully belongs to it in the life of our continent. In 1947 it was prevented by a communist regime supported from outside and then, in 1956, it was armed intervention that put an end to the Hungarian people’s endeavours to achieve democratic fulfilment.

The path towards reintegration with Europe was opened up by the process of peaceful change initiated a year and a half ago under pressure from the then opposition, through the deliberations of the national Round Table. The main objective of these deliberations was the virtually impossible one of liquidating a totalitarian system by peaceful means and replacing it by a democracy in the European sense, a multipartite parliamentary system. The first free legislative elections in Hungary for forty-three years and the formation of my Government were salient events in the development leading to the achievement of that objective. From the political point of view, this process has now been completed by local government elections, which have enabled the conditions for democratic management to be created also at local level.

Obviously, a peaceful transition would not have been possible without a broad national consensus, without co-operating even with political adversaries who had recognised that the previous totalitarian system could not be reformed. Admittedly, it took forty years for this truth to be acknowledged. And now the government has at the same time to meet the challenge of the economic crisis, of overcoming that crisis, and the challenge of democratically transforming society. At the same time, the new government in Hungary is now working deliberately and determinedly to create a social market economy.

Hungary now has a President of the Republic, a government and local authorities freely and democratically elected, a multipartite parliament which functions and which, in recent months, has given the country a new constitution.

The foreign policy conducted in recent times by Hungary has been moving in the same direction. We have played and continue to play an active and constructive role in advancing the Helsinki process. This has provided a favourable basis for the establishment of increasingly close relations at an increasingly high level with the Council of Europe. We have recognised that the Council of Europe, which is now made up of twenty-three European democracies, is the driving force behind cultural co-operation and cultural identity in Europe.

At the same time, in the Council of Europe, it has been increasingly recognised that, in European culture as in other fields within the Council’s brief, co-operation could not be achieved without the participation of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary, since all these countries are undeniably part of Europe’s cultural heritage. Thanks to all that, over the most recent period, political relations have grown constantly more intense between our country and the Council of Europe; the invitations received from Strasbourg by the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister of the previous government are a striking proof of that.

Mr Anders Bjorck, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, and Mrs Catherine Lalumière, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, have themselves visited Budapest several times. Our interparliamentary relations have also been intensified. Several Parliamentary Assembly committee meetings and events have taken place in Budapest and, since June 1989, Hungary has enjoyed special guest status in your Assembly, where six Hungarian members of parliament sit.

We very much appreciate the fact that for some time our observers have been able to observe the activities of almost all the committees of experts. In several fields, specific programmes of co-operation have been adopted; meetings with specialists, exchanges of information, training programmes have been implemented.

Hungary has already acceded to several conventions drawn up under the auspices of the Council of Europe, notably the European Cultural Convention. By signing the latter text we were declaring our belonging to the European cultural heritage. Our governmental experts are currently investigating possible accession to other agreements. When Hungary becomes a full member of the Council of Europe it intends to join the Social Development Fund, and we are also considering the prospects for our accession to the European Social Charter.

Over recent months we have been regularly invited to the sectorial ministerial meetings organised by the Council of Europe and other important events such as, most recently, the colloquy convened by the Secretary General. After our admission we would also heartily welcome sectorial ministerial meetings of other events in our own country. We would be very pleased if the European Youth Centre were to open an office in Budapest in accordance with the recommendation of the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Youth in Lisbon, and we believe that the Council of Europe might also usefully set out an information and documentation centre in our capital.

The developments and projects which I have just outlined demonstrate that Hungary has been doing its utmost to justify its application for membership. Our application is all the more legitimate since, simultaneously with our entry into the Council of Europe, we are intending to sign the European Convention on Human Rights, which according to our estimations could be ratified approximately one year later. That would mean that Hungary unreservedly submits to the Council of Europe’s machinery for protecting human rights.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Government of the Republic of Hungary attaches very great importance to our country’s accession to the Council of Europe. We consider that the Council of Europe really is destined to become a cornerstone of the architecture of tomorrow’s Europe. Once Hungary has attained full membership, we hope that in the near future Central and East European countries fulfilling the criteria for admission will also accede to the Organisation, reinforcing its pan-European character and mission. Such a development might also help new members to live together with respect for the European standards defined in the Council of Europe.

We believe that the Council of Europe may play an important role in the process of European security and co-operation, particularly in connection with the human dimension, because the Council of Europe’s machinery for supervising and enforcing respect for human rights may also be implemented at any time by the Thirty-five. The Council of Europe may also take on a key role in defending the rights of minorities, a problem which affects us very particularly and for whose solution we place great hopes in the activities of the Commission on Democracy through Law which sits in Venice. In common with other European countries and in accordance with the stance adopted at the last NATO summit, we consider that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will provide a solid foundation of a European Assembly of the thirty-five states.

Hungary is determined to make a constructive, exemplary contribution to settling the problems of minorities both inside and outside the country. We consider it necessary that the principles and frameworks be identified and approved at European level, but we are aware of the fact that given the specification of the various regions, countries and even the different minorities, a real solution cannot emerge until each practical case is considered in a very specific manner.

We consider that providing global safeguards on the rights of ethnic minorities is an integral part of democratic change. The aim of the law on minorities which is being prepared is, on the basis of man’s right to an identity, to guarantee the conditions which minorities living in Hungary need to safeguard their identities and cultures, organise themselves and enjoy autonomy. In pursuance of the same aims, we have set up the National and Ethnic Minorities Office, operating within the government, and have also introduced a Parliamentary Commissioner on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, whose post is in fact enshrined in the Constitution.

Five million Hungarians live outside our country, including 3 500 000 in our direct vicinity; we are responsible for their fate, just as we are for that of minorities living in our countries.

We would like them to be able, while remaining Hungarian, to be loyal citizens of the country in which they live and we are ready to do our utmost to help them achieve this, in accordance with international law.

The aims and means of our endeavours comply with the Council of Europe’s principles, ideas and legal solutions. We greatly appreciate the fact that, without providing overall protection for minorities, the Council of Europe, in its charters and conventions, puts forward major considerations for minorities, which are entirely applicable to the conditions specific to Central Europe. By voicing a desire to join the Council of Europe, we have undertaken to take account of all these considerations in our legislation, our international agreements and our everyday practices.

The Organisation is in a strong position for finding means of involving the Soviet Union in a suitable manner, and of expediting its rapprochement with the community of European peoples.

Our membership would bring us several direct advantages: the Council of Europe’s 135 conventions and the even more numerous recommendations could help our legislation to develop in accordance with European standards. The best example is the fact that our laws on local authorities and the election of their governing bodies have been drafted with respect for all the Council of Europe’s relevant conventions and expert’s recommendations.

Having said this, our accession to the Council of Europe would be an unequivocal symbol, for Hungarian and international public opinion, of how much has already been done to create a state based on the rule of law and would determine the direction we shall take, by offering us fresh opportunities for assimilating European values in these fields.

I should also like to stress that through the experiences of the Council of Europe it will be less difficult for us to take up the challenge that will confront us from 1992 with the creation of the European Community’s single market. Since all the member states of the European Community are also Council of Europe member states, our accession should also enable us to strengthen our ties with the European Community. You are no doubt aware that we believe that our relations with the European Community are one of the keys to our integration into Europe. The Hungarian Government must therefore, in all fields, develop its relations with the Community and do its utmost to bring about the signing, as soon as possible, of an association agreement with that organisation.

On the basis of the political resolution adopted at the European Community summit last April, the Hungarian Government, before signing such an association agreement, would wish to enter into the European political co-operation system to ensure that our foreign policy is in line with European aspirations.

This is why we were the first former communist country to associate ourselves with the sanctions imposed against Iraq by the United Nations Security Council.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the opinions expressed by the various Parliamentary Assembly committees of the Council of Europe – the Political Affairs Committee meeting in Warsaw, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights meeting in Budapest and the Committee on Relations with European Non Member Countries meeting in Paris – have convinced me that you have a realistic vision of problems that still exist concerning the democratic development of my country and that you nevertheless consider that Hungary has fulfilled the conditions required to become a full member of the Council of Europe.

As Hungary’s Prime Minister, I can assure you that my country shall, now and in the future, do its utmost to prove itself worthy of your trust. It is in the spirit, and having regard to the resolution recently adopted by the European Parliament, that I ask the Assembly to support the Hungarian Government’s application for membership and to help Hungary, a country bound by age-old ties to European civilisation, to regain its place among the free nations of our continent.

I thank you for your attention and shall be happy to answer your questions. (Applause)


Thank you, Prime Minister, for your interesting speech. On behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly, I welcome you to the Council of Europe. The formal decision on whether Hungary should join the Council will be taken soon by the Committee of Ministers, but, from the beginning, there has been a strong feeling in the Assembly that your country should become a full member of the Council of Europe as soon as possible. We hope that Hungary will be followed by other countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

We now come to oral questions. I remind the Assembly that, according to our rules, all oral questions should be limited to half a minute, as should supplementary questions. Three members of the Assembly have said that they wish to ask questions of Mr Antall.

I call first Mr Roman to put his question on privatisation and social protection. If we have time, other members of the Assembly may be able to ask questions of the Prime Minister before we suspend the sitting shortly before 1 o’clock.

Mr ROMAN (Spain) (interpretation)

congratulated Hungary on achieving economic and political liberalisation through peaceful change. He asked whether the Hungarian Government’s programme of privatisation entailed the threat of serious unemployment, and what plans the government had to cushion its effect.

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

confirmed that privatisation was an objective of the government. Its success would depend on efforts both within Hungary and abroad, notably the encouragement of investment.

It was obvious that economic restructuring did create a danger of social problems, and unemployment was likely. The Hungarian Government was seeking to address this problem by establishing a Ministry of Labour and a Ministry of Public Welfare; by attempting to agree a programme of change with the unions; and by drawing up another programme to establish the appropriate level of social protection.

He said at present the funding of such programmes was insufficient. The government had to deal with the legacy of the previous regime and the situation had recently become more difficult because, for example, of the very dry summer.

Mr ROMAN (interpretation)

asked how the Prime Minister explained the recent drop in participation at the local elections. He said that he was particularly interested as Spain had also experienced a high level of abstentions.

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

said that no political party in Hungary had been happy with the low turn-out at the local elections. He did not consider, however, that the turn-out had been particularly low when compared with similar elections elsewhere. The low turn-out might be explained by the number of elections – two referenda, two parliamentary elections and two ballots for the local elections – that had taken place within a year. He did not think that people in Hungary had become disinterested in political developments, but they may have been disappointed that their unrealistic hopes of quick economic change had not been met. The turnout in towns with fewer than 10 000 inhabitants had been generally satisfactory and there were only around a hundred municipalities where the turn-out had been disappointing. Those candidates who had been re-elected had been given a new legitimacy.

Mr MORRIS (United Kingdom)

A key dimension of any democracy is an independent judiciary. Once the honeymoon is over, the time will come when individuals or organisations challenge the state in the law courts.

When I asked about this in Budapest as a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, I was given to understand that most of your judges were judges under the former communist regime. Are you entirely confident that your judges will be strong enough and independent enough to find against the state if necessary?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

said that the judges could be considered independent as the judiciary now benefited from the autonomy given to them under the new constitution. Under the communist regime, not only had judges been appointed by the Party, but they had also received instructions. This was no longer possible. Given the ages of certain judges, a number would shortly be retiring and would therefore be replaced. He did not however see the need to replace judges immediately.


Is there an age at which judges must retire?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

said that in Hungary the general retirement age was 60 for men and 55 for women. While judges could opt to retire at these ages, these did not represent absolute limits. He said that at present the number of judges in Hungary was inadequate.

Sir Russell JOHNSTON (United Kingdom). – May I tell the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Liberal Group of the Council of Europe, how pleased we are to welcome Hungary to her rightful place among us.

In his speech, the Prime Minister referred to easing the way of the Soviet Union. The situation in the Soviet Union is much less stable than that in Central and Eastern Europe, and could affect Central and Eastern Europe again. What is the Hungarian view on giving major economic aid to the Soviet Union on a “Marshall Plan” scale?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

said that the Soviet Union should not be excluded from the reconstruction of Europe. It was difficult to assess recent developments in the Soviet Union but the demands for autonomy from its constituent republics were likely to continue. The economic and social situation in the Soviet Union was deteriorating and the consequences could be acute. He felt that economic aid should be firmly linked to improvements in human and minority rights in the Soviet Union.

Sir Russell JOHNSTON

I shall be brief. Given what the Prime Minister said, especially about Hungary, what, in the very best of circumstances, would he like the West to do in terms of technical assistance and economic aid?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

asked Sir Russell to repeat his question.

Sir Russell JOHNSTON

I was not asking what you intended to do, Prime Minister. Politicians are strong on rhetoric, but one cannot live on that. If the West were to give the best that it could, what would that mean in terms of technical assistance and economic aid to Hungary? What would you like from us?


I am sure that the Prime Minister has some views on that – perhaps a short list of wishes?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

said that what Hungary needed above all was a climate of business confidence. The accession of Hungary to the Council of Europe would, be hoped, send a signal which would reassure investors, since a country with political stability could guarantee economic stability. Technical training in Hungary had developed in isolation; the example of the banking sector showed the lack of expertise and technical facilities. In the long term, training for young people would be crucial.

Mrs GJORV (Norway)

I and my colleagues welcome you, Prime Minister, and your country to this Assembly. I admire your country’s development towards democracy. In my country, about half of the government are women and there is a high percentage of female representation in local and national assemblies. I am concerned about the consequences of your election for female representation in Hungary. Do you think, as I do, that a democracy in which men and women are not equally represented is not a full democracy? Will you do your utmost to improve women’s representation in elected bodies in the years to come?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

agreed that the situation would have to change and that women’s representation on elected bodies must increase. There were more women voters than men and he hoped that with the developing maturity of society, women would make more of a contribution. He was against token appointments of women, preferring a change in the general climate to the extent that women would be more willing to stand for office. The proportion of women in the Hungarian Parliament was lower than the proportion in the government.


The Prime Minister gave a most interesting answer. I think that the Nordic countries have some experience that we should like to share with him, and I hope that we may meet again to discuss this question.


Thank you, Mrs Gjorv. Mr Prime Minister, I think that you can expect a crusade of Scandinavian women, led by Mrs Gjorv, to come to Hungary to assist you in your task. We shall support them, I assure you.

I have two other speakers on my list, after which, unfortunately, we must close the debate. The first is Mr Valleix and the second Mr Jung. I call Mr Valleix.

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

Prime Minister, I in turn would very much like to express our joy at the vote in favour of Hungary’s accession to the Council of Europe, especially as it was unanimous.

On 18, 19 and 20 May last, you received us at an East-West interparliamentary colloquy when you were still only Prime Minister designate, because you were not confirmed in office until the week afterwards.

Since then you have helped your country to take giant strides towards democracy and a market economy. But you had already brought in an Act, which came into force in 1989, concerning the formation of industrial companies. I would like to know if this legislation satisfies you and how you assess it in the light of experience. Moreover, as our colloquy was described as a challenge to the whole of central and Eastern Europe and also to Western Europe, do you think that it is leading to the East-West co-operation that we so ardently want?

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

asked Mr Valleix to clarify his question.

Mr VALLEIX (translation)

I am alluding to the Act on industrial companies, that is to say the Act defining the different kinds of private companies such as limited liability companies or limited partnerships. I would like to know whether the procedure you adopted is working well and satisfies you.

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

replied that if Mr Valleix referred to the bill that allowed economic entities to change, this bill had been passed by the previous parliament and twice modified and amended. It was successful in that privatisation was now easier. The government had set up an agency to ensure that the necessary decisions to make privatisation easier were taken. None the less, the government intended to table other bills on the subject, and the new parliament had passed a bill that would enable the rapid privatisation of small companies. Some twenty large companies would also be privatised and a list of them had been published.

Mr JUNG (France) (translation)

Prime Minister, may I compliment you on your magnificent speech. I am a happy man, as today marks the admission of your country to the Council of Europe.

During our various talks in Budapest, we broached a very serious subject which had been left in abeyance owing to the situation in Europe at that juncture: that of environmental protection and measures to combat air and water pollution. As a former President of this Assembly, I think I am speaking for everybody when I stress that this is one of the aspects that worries us with regard to the whole of Eastern Europe.

I would like to know what Hungary could do to improve measures to prevent air and water pollution. Rivers are very often international and their conservation calls for co-operation. I personally believe that your country has a major role to play in this field and I would like to hear your opinion.

Mr Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary (interpretation)

agreed that the protection of the environment was one of the new government’s most important tasks and a high priority in its programme. Formerly socialist countries had great problems since the previous regimes had done little to protect the environment. These problems had been caused by economic weakness and lack of appropriate technology. For example, Hungary lacked instruments to measure air and water pollution. A programme to deal with air pollution had been set up in Budapest, and the Ministry for Environmental Protection was also drawing up a global programme to which funds would be allocated. However, Hungary could not act on its own and, indeed, as neighbouring countries shared rivers, no country could do so. Pollution knew no boundaries. He thought the Council of Europe should have a role in helping countries solve these regional problems.


Thank you, Prime Minister. That concludes the questions to Mr Antall. One of my first living memories and impressions of the world outside my own country was the Budapest uprising in 1956. You, Mr Prime Minister, took part in that uprising. On the day that Hungary is joining the Council of Europe and the Assembly has adopted a resolution on that development, and now that Hungary is a free and democratic nation, we should not forget the people who were killed in the uprising. People lost their lives for freedom, democracy and human rights.

Today, you, Mr Prime Minister, can be very proud of your country. Let us not forget that there are still countries in the world where people are suffering because of the absence of democracy and human rights. We should remember those who gave their lives in your country, Mr Prime Minister, many years ago, so that you and others from Hungary and from other countries could be here today. On behalf of the Assembly, I again thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for your interesting statement and for the way in which you answered all the questions that were put to you. I extend a warm welcome to you from all members of the Council of Europe.