Read the speech of Hungarian President Pál Schmitt delivered at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University on December 2, 2011, titled "Why A Europe Whole and Free Still Matters: A Central European Perspective".

Distinguished Guests, Excellencies, Friends of Hungary,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First let me thank my hosts, SAIS Johns Hopkins University and especially Ambassador Kurt Volker, a great friend of Hungary and a strong advocate of the transatlantic alliance. SAIS has been at the center stage of strategic thinking about transatlantic relations and it is my honor to be here to speak about the present state and prospects of the strongest value-based relationship in the world.

I feel that it is both timely and important to revisit the foundations of this relationship - especially from a Central and Eastern European perspective – because our region is a strong bastion of this alliance which has its historical roots and obvious reasons. Hungarian-born Edward Teller, who became world-famous in the United States, characterized his equally famous fellow Hungarian-American scientist, Leo Szilárd, the following way: „ he valued truth more than tact, and truth be told, this did not help improve his popularity.”

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I do not know how popular I will be after our meeting today, but I can honestly tell you that I am going to speak only about the truth, because I myself also value it greatly.

As a former Olympic athlete, I have experienced that the path leading to the truth and to results is long and winding. It is not enough to know the objective; a wrongly chosen track may easily lead to trouble. The majority of the issues that I would like to speak about today are to do with the paths that Europe and, in it, Hungary chose in the past and more recently. Of course, I would also like to talk about the progress we are making in reaching our objectives.

I think that our point of departure could be the nature of the European Union. Because everything that is good in this union, which has made it worth creating and preserving throughout all the changes, has been there from the outset. Despite all the changes, some things have remained: solidarity as well as its values-based on Greek philosophy, Roman law and Judeo-Christian heritage. What impact did the major rounds of enlargement of the past ten years have on it? How is the crisis affecting it?

It is reassuring to know that, aside from the economic interests and the financial arm-wrestling, this cooperation is still rooted in very solid values. As a former member of the European Parliament, I know how important principles are in the Union. Hans-Gert Pöttering, the European People’s Party politician, the former president of the European Parliament, once admitted that little did he believe in 1979, when he first became a member of the house, that representatives of countries freshly liberated from oppression would receive their mandates and sit in one group with him during his lifetime. Never say never.

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which had suffered Soviet oppression for decades, appreciated the open doors of the Union. Central and Eastern Europeans always thought of themselves as Europeans and, for their part, never ceased to be Europeans even under the communist experiment. It was however clear that in accepting these countries - with more than 100 million citizens – as members, the EU made an important political decision – one based on principle, which ensured their fastest possible accession to the community.

The role of the United States was essential in ensuring that the Euro-Atlantic community was open to enlargement. The US not only presented to us the ethos of freedom and democracy, but also provided tangible assistance to us in creating it. It is also worth noting therefore that these countries all joined the ranks of NATO before becoming members of the Union. The world tends to consider Hungarians to be a nation with a fighting spirit, when in fact all they desire is peace. They say we have the spirit of revolution in our blood, when in fact all we did was struggle for our freedom.

The United States is a symbol of liberty. We Hungarians – especially during the period of communism - drew a lot of strength from the fact that we could look to America as a country that had not only achieved liberty, but could also cherish and maintain it. Gaining freedom can be bloody and toilsome, although in a historic perspective it is but a moment. To have liberty however brings with it an obligation to preserve it, to treasure it, to wisely apply it. America gave us the most - by placing its trust in us.

Proving that it is serious about its global role and is aware of the responsibility that comes with it. Also providing proof that in international politics, it is possible to be pragmatic and pursue justice - at the same time. That economic interests are not everything. Please make no mistake: Hungary earned and deserved her successes in Euro-Atlantic integration. But we brought with us an inherent and overwhelming desire for freedom – the spirit of the 1956 revolution – and a sacred commitment to stand our ground as the world changes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Union values the reconciliation of interests through negotiation. Member states are on an equal footing. This is a principle that we do not wish to give up on. What may seem to be complicated and sluggish decision making is in reality a process that respects the democratic self-government of the member states, which we should not surrender under any circumstances.

When the number of member states increased substantially because of subsequent rounds of enlargement, there were some who predicted a two-speed Europe. Most recently, the idea of differentiation between member states (the so-called “two-speed Europe”) was raised again in connection with the problems of the common European currency. But experience points to something different.

The Central Eastern European members, which were initially treated with caution, have brought with them new knowledge, freshness, openness and substantial economic potential. These countries established market economies capable of growth from a base of virtually zero, emerging from a system of central planning. The Union today still needs the dynamism of countries with substantial reserves for development. Which means that these countries are far from being the weakest links. In comparison to other member states, Hungary has shown outstanding results this year in consolidating and reducing indebtedness.

It was thanks to the work of the Hungarian EU presidency earlier this year that the 27 countries resolved to adhere to new, closer fiscal policy cooperation, and decided to introduce greater and better supervised budget discipline. It is much cheaper to prevent problems than to step in after the worst has happened. However, the greater level of harmonization cannot come at the expense of member states’ sovereignty. A strong Europe can only be composed of strong states.

It is in the interest of the world and of our strategic partner, the United States, to have Europe stand strong. It has been proven that the market in itself is not omnipotent – that it is possible to abuse economic freedom. Also, it is impossible to maintain a system in the long run which creates no value in the real economy. People have lived beyond their means. According to an old Hungarian saying, older than any market philosophy: “Stretch yourself only as far as your blanket reaches.”

So it is no wonder that public anger is directed nowadays towards banks: there are many who feel that financial institutions have benefited excessively, while shouldering a significantly lower share of the problems and responsibility. Hungary nowadays is getting substantial – in my view unfair and strongly exaggerated criticism, because we want to change all this. Without questioning the role of the financial world in keeping the wheels of the economy in motion, we need to establish a new kind of partnership.

One that brings growth, maybe slower than before, but one that better ensures prosperity. Instead of taking the easy but wrong path, we should like to take the one that is longer but leads to enduring prosperity. As President, it is my duty to represent the Hungarian people at large. This includes calling attention to the social and welfare impacts of the crisis that started as financial, but eventually turned into an economic one. This crisis can no longer be simply described by numbers. This crisis has faces attached to it: the faces of the many people who have lost their jobs, their homes and their hopes.

These problems have no ready-made, off-the-shelf solutions to them. These are times when creativity, the search for out-of-the-box solutions is an asset. We now have to reform a series of badly functioning systems, which up until now had been considered to be untouchable.

You, who are in the privileged position to have been able to construct your community on values that have remained unchanged for centuries, you may understand what it means if evident points of reference are lost and need to be found again. The new fundamental law of Hungary, which will enter into force on January 1, 2012, marks a new beginning in economic terms as well. It contains very strong constitutional provisions to reduce the national debt.

It prohibits the further increase of public debt, and aims to maximize it at fifty percent of the GDP. I believe that this strong legislative limitation will make Hungarians’ future more predictable. Ladies and Gentlemen, It is time now to speak about trans-Atlantic relations, and the future of the Atlantic Alliance. A person you might know, a former US ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, wrote that “both sides of the Atlantic need to take ownership of the Alliance” because the “Alliance is hollowing out from within.” I have to agree with him.

The US has made enormous sacrifices for Europe’s security and well-being – driven by its enlightened self-interest but motivated by its values. Now, Europe must play its part outside the continent to promote freedom and democracy, based on its own enlightened self-interest.

That is why we are there, for example, in Afghanistan, side by side with our American allies. We work hard on renewing NATO so that we can continue to address a wide range of global security challenges together - from regional instability and terrorism to missile proliferation and cyber attacks. NATO we also make a commitment to Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability so that country will not again become a safe haven for global terrorism. And European Allies in particular are working to develop effective multinational solutions under the concept of “Smart Defense”, so we can preserve and strengthen our military capabilities in a period of economic hardship. In Chicago next May, we will make decisions that will further strengthen the security of all Allies.

As demonstrated by Hungary’s sustained engagement in Afghanistan, we are fully committed to helping NATO’s missions succeed. We also play our part in modernizing the Alliance and developing much-needed new capabilities – such as the multinational initiative called Strategic Airlift Capability in the Hungarian city of Pápa. As you see every day, world events are continuously testing our ability and agility to respond. We have now rightly turned our attention to the revolutions in the Arab world.

The Alliance succeeded in Libya, and Hungary is proud of the work we have accomplished as one of the few EU embassies to remain open in the Libyan capital, where we simultaneously represented the United States and the EU under very difficult circumstances.

Hungary was instrumental in freeing American journalists from Libya. Europe has much value to add in promoting, supporting and solidifying democratic gains in the region. We will continue to provide assistance to the countries in transition, as our historically recent experience with regime change can be of particular relevance. But more fundamentally, the historic upheaval in the greater Middle East serves to highlight yet again the universal validity of our values. This is why we also trust that the Lisbon Treaty will make Europe a stronger, more unified partner for the United States.

Ladies, and Gentlemen,
As for our bilateral relations, the three waves of Hungarian immigrants who arrived to the United States and became valued citizens in their new country are an important element in this relationship. They have been given a chance to start again. The 1.5 million Hungarian-Americans are attached to their chosen country, but the majority of them also continue to be attached to their Hungarian origins.

Thus they constitute an important link between the two countries. The presence of American capital is strong in Hungary, and our trade relations are also substantial. US investment reaches up to 9 billion US dollars with 600 registered companies. This summer, within the space of a few days, we gave countless signs of our trans-Atlantic commitment. We unveiled a statue of President Reagan in Budapest. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, together with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, inaugurated the Tom Lantos Institute, named after the Hungarian-born former US Congressman. The Institute will conduct research on minorities, human rights and Central European reconciliation. We also hosted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who attended the First Annual Freedom Dinner in Budapest.

From the hills of Afghanistan to the streets of Kosovo – from the shores of Tripoli to Tahrir square in Egypt, Hungary and the U.S. are standing together because of a deep conviction we share – that democracy is our best chance for the dignity of the person, and for the good of the community, to triumph. Ladies and Gentlemen, I promised you truthfulness and the truth is the following: the Western value-based alliance has arrived at a critical turning point. We must emerge from this crisis with a renewed sense of self-confidence and trust in the strength of our values.

As a former Olympian, I vote for perseverance and endurance. We will prove the pessimists wrong. We will show that America and Europe is indeed the winning team, the gold medal team.
Thank you for your attention.