Cardinal Parolin and Viktor Orban talk migration ahead of papal trip to Hungary

Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Viktor Orbán take part in a discussion at the Bled Strategic Forum Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Viktor Orbán take part in a discussion at the Bled Strategic Forum, Slovenia, Sept. 1, 2021. | Screenshots from Bled Strategic Forum YouTube channel.

The Vatican Secretary of State and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán expressed diverging views on immigration at the Bled Strategic Forum this week ahead of the pope’s trip to Budapest.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Orbán sat on the same stage in Slovenia on Sept. 1 to speak at a panel that included prime ministers from Greece, Slovakia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, responding to questions about the European Union and migration.

“I think that we are well aware of the difficult issue of migration,” the Vatican’s top diplomat said at the panel.

“It’s not an easy task, but I think that we share the view that migration is a common problem … and should be tackled together. No nation and no state, no government, should be left alone to face this problem, but it has to be a common policy of the European Union,” he said.

Parolin’s call for a common EU policy on migration contrasted sharply with Orbán’s comments on the same panel.

Orbán said that the only way to prevent the dispute on migration from destroying the unity of the EU was “to give all the rights back to the nation states in relation to migration.”

“If we invite others from outside Europe, that will change the cultural identity of Europe. There are some countries who accept it. Hungary is not among the countries,” Hungary’s prime minister said.

Hungary has received international criticism for its strict immigration policies. The U.N.’s human rights chief said that its 2018 law criminalizing the assistance of asylum seekers was “blatantly xenophobic.”

As of early 2018, the U.N.’s refugee agency said Hungary was only admitting around two asylum seekers per day through its transit zones.

Orbán defended Hungary’s policies at the Bled Strategic Forum, saying that he believed migration posed social and security challenges that Europe was not prepared for.

“We don’t accept migration as a solution to the demographic politics, or demographic challenges. We only believe that the family policy, the traditional Christian family policy, can help us out of that demographic crisis,” he said.

Orbán’s administration has pushed a seven-point plan with incentives for marriage and children, which came into force in 2019.

Women who marry before their 40th birthday are eligible for a subsidized interest-free loan of around $37,000 from the state. A third of the loan can be forgiven if the couple has two children, and the entire loan can be forgiven if they have three or more children.

Women with four or more children are exempted from income tax for life. Families with at least three children are eligible for a grant to purchase a car that seats seven or more people.

Housing assistance is also a central part of the platform. Families with two children are eligible for mortgage loan reduction that could be increased if they have a third child.

Every EU country has a sub-replacement level birth rate. According to U.N. data, Eastern and Western Europe have estimated total fertility rates of 1.657 and 1.683 live births per woman respectively for the years 2015 to 2020 -- well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Cardinal Parolin also expressed support for family policies in his comments at the international forum, but he did not specify what type of policies.

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“I think that the European Union should make very, very strong policies in favor of families. I think that is one, one concrete point, which can be taken into account as soon as possible,” Parolin said.

But he underlined that the Holy See would like countries to take a positive approach to migration focused on fraternity, rather than a negative one with a “materialistic and pragmatic” focus.

The discussion on migration took place the week before Pope Francis’ trip to Budapest to attend the International Eucharistic Congress taking place Sept. 5-12.

According to his official schedule, Pope Francis will meet with Orbán as soon as he arrives in Budapest on the morning of Sept. 12 for his seven-hour visit to Hungary.

Yet the pope cast doubt on this meeting in a radio interview broadcast this week on Sept. 1.

When asked what he would like to say to Orbán during their scheduled meeting, the pope replied: “I don’t know if I am going to meet him.”

The pope added: “And one of the things I do is not follow a script; when I am in front of a person, I look him in the eyes and let things come out.”

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