Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s statement in Parliament, responding to reactions to his address before the start of daily business
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
I’m struggling with an embarrassment of riches. Let’s perhaps take the most important point first, as almost all the group leaders have spoken about Ukraine. For a long time I’ve been wondering why we can’t pull together on this Ukrainian issue, despite the fact that it’s so obvious to us what Hungary’s interests are on this, and why we should stand up for them. Therefore, although he’s presented me with an open goal, I won’t now give the answer that I wrote down while listening to the Jobbik leader’s thoughts. But wasn’t it your party leader who went to the referendum in Donetsk? Doesn’t that ring a bell? There was a referendum in Donetsk – in the Donbass, the Donbass. Everyone was cautious, kept their distance, kept their thoughts to themselves. There was only one person – only one serious, internationally renowned politician – who went there. Wasn’t that the man who’s your president now? After that, does he really want to attack us on the Russo-Ukrainian war? Are you sure that’s appropriate? Is it sensible? But let’s talk seriously about this issue! Now that I’ve heard you speaking here today, I think it’s become clear to me why we’re not pulling together – and I’m afraid we can also understand why we won’t in the future. You talk about Ukraine as if you were its avatar. You talk about Ukraine, drawing parallels with Hungary, as if you were talking about Hungary: 1989, the Russian withdrawal. You mentioned these events in the same breath as the current war. But then that was us Hungarians; now this isn’t us. Isn’t the problem that you don’t make a distinction between the two countries? Aren’t you putting Ukraine on the same level as Hungary? I think that’s the problem. One cannot think of Ukraine as Hungary, because that is Ukraine and this is Hungary. One cannot think of Ukrainians as one thinks of Hungarians. That’s very good! Because that’s the whole point: we respect the Ukrainians, we help the Ukrainians, and we give them everything we can; but one thing we cannot do is put them above ourselves. The interests of Ukraine must never take precedence over the interests of Hungary, and they must never take precedence over the interests of the Hungarian people. We shall not ruin ourselves in the interests of anyone. I understand all the moral considerations, I understand all that – they’re important and they need to be addressed. But let’s not cross this Rubicon: let’s never put them above us and before us! Hungary first! In international politics this is the only sound approach. Those who don’t stand on these foundations aren’t standing on national foundations: those who don’t stand on these foundations are standing on internationalist foundations. In that circumstance you make the mistake that I hear now from people on the Left, who – not with bad intentions, I assume – are talking about Ukraine and interests linked to Ukraine as if we were Ukraine. We feel sorry for them, we feel solidarity with them, we sympathise with them, we’ll go as far as we can and we’ll help them; but only up to that point, because from there on, we’re in a different world. So when we talk about the Russo-Ukrainian war I ask you to try to look at it through a Hungarian lens and from the viewpoint of the Hungarian national interest, of which Transcarpathia is a part. The latter isn’t what I want to talk about now, although it’s a very important issue. I’ll choose a different approach, Parliamentary Group Leader, because there’s a very slight hope that we’ll find some points on which we can even agree. Because, as I understand it, there are two things on which the Left and the national side in Hungary agree. One, as I understand it, is that we don’t want to live in the shadow of a Russian threat. So we want a European security order in which Russia doesn’t pose a threat to Hungary. I think we agree on that. If I’m not mistaken, we also agree that we don’t want Hungary to share a border with Russia. So we also agree that there has to be something – we call it a sovereign Ukraine – between Russia and Hungary, which is broad enough and deep enough to provide security for Hungary. If we agree on these two things, then we’ve agreed on two important things. How do we get to this goal? You say with war, while we say with a ceasefire. You say with a defeated Russia, while we say with a European security system. All of this can be discussed in a meaningful way if there’s national agreement in Hungary on the first two points: that Russia should not threaten Hungary’s security, and that there should always be a sufficiently deep and broad area between Russia and Hungary to provide security for Hungary. If we agree on this, the rest will perhaps be easier. Therefore, in answer to the question from the leader of the parliamentary group – I’m still talking about Jobbik – as to what the path to peace is, it’s this: a ceasefire. The first step is a ceasefire. Anyone who thinks that peace can be reached by having on the table a peace proposal that satisfies everyone’s interests well in advance, and that this will lead to a break in the war, is mistaken. This isn’t the nature of things: the nature of things is that there’s a ceasefire. This is what we want: a ceasefire! Provided we have a ceasefire, we can start peace negotiations; if we’re lucky, peace negotiations will bring a solution, and if we’re not lucky, fighting will start again. But the essence, the first step – and this is my answer to your question – is this: the path to peace leads through a ceasefire.
Some people spoke about the issue of inflation, and the group leader also said that the Government’s decisions don’t help small and medium-sized enterprises. You’re mistaken. I’ve tried to present these measures here, and I see that I haven’t succeeded, so now I’ll tell you that six of the ten economic measures directly assist small and medium-sized enterprises. We’re providing 220 billion forints to support energy-intensive small and medium-sized enterprises. In the Széchenyi Card Programme we’re giving 290 billion forints to small enterprises in a preferential loan programme, and they’re receiving loans at 5 per cent, while the central bank base rate is somewhere between 13 and 18 per cent. We’ve expanded the interest rate freeze to include small and medium-sized enterprises, affecting 60,000 businesses which would have gone bankrupt without it. This will make it easier to repay debt worth 2,000 billion forints. In the agricultural sector there’s a moratorium on loan repayments, with 7,500 agricultural businesses having debt worth 285 billion forints suspended for sixteen months. We’ve suspended the payment of development contributions to small and medium-sized enterprises in the world of tourism, and support for commuting to work will affect small and medium-sized enterprises as much as large ones. So after I say all that, you stand up and say that the Government is doing nothing for small and medium-sized enterprises. Unfortunately you’re making a mockery of our discussion. I feel that we’re not the ones responsible for that.
You’ve given us a warning and urged us to be more European and to behave better in negotiations. I understand that, but wasn’t it your party that used to burn the EU flag when it came together for its intimate gatherings? Yes, Gentlemen, I think it was! Gentlemen, Honourable Jobbik! Gentlemen! Honourable Jobbik, do you think it’s a proper and effective mode of political debate for a party that burns the EU flag to rebuke the Government for not negotiating in a sufficiently committed European way? Are you sure?
My fellow MP Bertalan Tóth is also unhappy with the Government. Let me respond with just one sentence. The President of the MSZP says that we’re adrift without a compass. Well, all I can say is that of course the MSZP…
The President of Momentum has given us the chance to listen to his reasoning on the ramifications of inflation. So that’s what you get when you write your response in advance. And so, unfortunately, what he said wasn’t related to what was said by the first speaker: by me. So I repeat, we’ll bring inflation down to single digits by the end of the year. The reason that inflation is higher in Hungary is that Hungary is a country with a high rate of industrialisation, we’re engaged in a great deal of industrial development, in the investment contest we’re in the top three in the European Union, and we’ll continue to make such investments. All this requires energy, while we have no energy of our own. And when energy prices go up in the world, then the highest inflation is always in those countries which have a lot of industrial development, a lot of industrial capacity, but which don’t have their own energy and have to import it. So that’s not surprising. This is inevitable, given the structure of Hungarian industry and the economic policy direction we’ve chosen.
The question is this: what can be done to reduce inflation, without abandoning our strategic objectives? To this end, in my address I put forward a twenty-point economic policy package; and, believe me, it will deliver results. Now we can talk about what will happen in the coming months, but we’ll get to the end of the year and then let’s see whether, at the end of 2023, as a result of our decisions we have the inflation we hope for in single digits – or whether it’s as you say, and we haven’t succeeded in reducing Hungarian inflation. If you’ll permit us, we won’t be cheering for you.
I must briefly comment on the speech by my fellow MP Bence Tordai, because it contained factual errors. I’m not claiming that these are due to malice, but there are factual errors, and it wouldn’t be right for them to be left like that on record. Firstly, the matter of recession. In Hungary in 2022 economic growth was 4.6 per cent. Growth of 4.6 per cent isn’t called a recession – it’s called growth. This is especially true if, at the same time, economic growth in the European Union in 2022 was 3.6 per cent: 3.6 per cent there, and 4.6 per cent here. On that basis, is the Hungarian economy in recession? I can understand that the quarterly breakdowns may contain such technical figures, but the Hungarian government’s aim is to ensure that in 2023 – which will be more difficult than 2022 in this respect, and more dangerous – there is still economic growth in Hungary. The economic policy that we’re pursuing, the budget that we’ve submitted here and which sets the direction for our work, will in our view result in growth of over 1 per cent in 2023 – and we hope that it will be at least 1.5 per cent. And if there’s growth, there’s no recession, my Honourable Colleague.
What is green energy? Today the generally accepted European approach is that priority is given to green, renewable energy sources. But the EU has also accepted that, unfortunately, there won’t be enough of it, so it’s exempted nuclear energy from its previous negative status as a proscribed source, and has classified it as being neutral: it’s neither positive nor negative, so it isn’t contrary to green policy. Then the EU said that since we cannot do without hydrocarbon energy sources, it can temporarily accept – it won’t prohibit or penalise – Member States’ development of hydrocarbon-based energy capacities. Although it doesn’t concern us, it’s even been said – horribile dictu – that black coal is temporarily acceptable. I’d now like to once again stress that when all – or most – energy is green, we won’t be able to switch off fossil fuel energy sources completely, because weather-dependent energy sources introduce uncertainty into the system. And for as long as the energy isn’t delivered by telepathy but by wires, the voltage must be constant: that voltage has to be maintained, even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. So behind green energy there must always be reserve capacity that can produce the energy to be transmitted through the lines in the event of unfavourable weather. Therefore in some ways green energy is the most expensive form of energy; because whenever you develop a unit of green energy, you also have to develop a back-up of at least that amount, to ensure sustained voltage. These have to be developed. So this green issue is a little more complicated than one might think from listening to my fellow MP Mr. Tordai.
A longer discussion with my fellow MP Máté Kanász-Nagy would be necessary, because I think that what you said constitutes opposition to foreign investment in Hungary. In my opinion this is a serious issue, and it’s particularly important for Hungary, because – due to communism – here in 1990 we started out with an economy that was starved of capital. The serious question is how to get from a completely anti-capital economy to an acceptable level of competitiveness and a level of prosperity that can only be achieved amidst world economic competition that operates on the basis of capital. How to get there is a serious question. And our answer – because we’ve been facing this question for ten years or so – is that we need to strengthen our own national capital and we need foreign capital investment. Without foreign investment, we cannot raise – and certainly not technically – the standard of living in Hungary and the performance of the Hungarian economy to where we all want it to be. If we had 40, 50, 70 or 80 million people, like the Germans, then foreign capital investment – and even exports – could be a secondary consideration. But when that isn’t the case, how can we have a Hungarian economy that’s one of the best in the world, with a country of 10 million people and a deficit of capital? It will only happen if we match our own capital resources with foreign investment. So the question is where to channel foreign investment into which industries, and into which geographical parts of the country. So the approach that sees all this as inherently negative and talks about all foreign investment as something Hungary doesn’t need is not, in my view, based on Hungarian realities, and it’s very difficult to talk seriously on this basis. Well, I look around and I see a representative from Győr, so for a moment just imagine the city of Győr without foreign investment. Congratulations on that! Or imagine Kecskemét! Now I’m looking at representatives from Bács-Kiskun County. Imagine Bács-Kiskun County without foreign investment! Or maybe talk to the people of Esztergom. What would life look like there without Suzuki? And so on, and so forth. Are you sure that what you say can be taken seriously? I have my doubts. But I didn’t want to imply that, despite our clear disagreement, this issue cannot be discussed intelligently. Perhaps we should. I’ll add the following quietly, because these are difficult times, and it isn’t right to be boastful, but we hardly ever talk about this fact: according to international competitiveness research institutes, Hungary is one of the ten best countries in the world in terms of the complexity of economic systems. This is because if we only focused on one or two industries, foreign investment policy risks would be high, and the internal equilibrium of the Hungarian economy would be thrown completely out of balance. There are dominant industries now, but the rest are not disappearing or being eliminated. So in terms of economic complexity we’re among the top ten countries in the world. This is why we have a minister specifically responsible for innovation, and why we need to focus on the development of universities, in order to ensure maintenance of the complexity that provides the Hungarian economy with security against the storms of the global economy.
Finally, Mi Hazánk [“Our Homeland Movement”]. Several important issues have been raised here. There’s the question of NATO membership. As I understand it, Our Homeland’s plan is to oppose this. I ask you to consider this. I’d also ask you to reconsider your position. We have two arguments for this. The first is that the present situation – which I believe will continue for several decades – is that Hungary’s military security cannot be guaranteed without NATO. NATO won’t replace our own defence capability, because NATO won’t defend you if you don’t have your own defence capability: we won’t receive help in a war in which our soldiers don’t risk their lives but the soldiers of other countries do. Therefore it’s a mistake to put Ukraine on the same level as Hungary. Everyone’s concerned first and foremost with their own soldiers. So if we have the ability and the will to defend ourselves, NATO will be with us, and then our security can be guaranteed. So I think that for Hungary NATO is a national strategic issue. Believe me, few people at NATO summits listen to proceedings more critically than I do. I don’t claim to be enthusiastic about everything that happens there and about everything that’s said there – and I even find some of the decisions there worrying. But this shouldn’t take us to the limit, or beyond the limit, of Hungary’s membership of NATO. Secondly, the question of Ukraine’s membership of NATO will come up, and this will be a serious issue: a serious and weighty matter. It’s not that far away, as EU membership – in the form of candidate status – is already on the table. The current legal position on NATO membership is that a country at war can never be admitted – although that’s also a man-made rule, so we shall see. Regardless of that, what is certain is that we’ll have to think ten thousand times about further NATO enlargement to the east: because of the common defence policy, would we find ourselves vulnerable to a border conflict involving NATO members on the eastern front dragging Hungary into a war? So this question will come up in connection with Ukraine. But I don’t think it’s a relevant issue in relation to Sweden and Finland. So I think that the inclusion of Finland and Sweden doesn’t pose a security risk for Hungary. We do have something to talk about with them! I’m sure that our representatives will undergo a learning experience when they go to talk to them as part of a parliamentary delegation, but I don’t think that the inclusion of these two countries will increase Hungary’s security risks.
And then finally, one issue on which I agree with the Honourable Member is the issue of family support. I don’t agree with you when you describe the changes that have taken place as reductions: I’d describe them as part of a holding pattern. But please understand that 2023 isn’t a year of expanding social services and isn’t a year of expanding the family support system; because there’s a war, there’s inflation, energy prices are sky-high, and we must also fight to replace recession with growth. We’re not talking about a situation in which there’s growth of 4, 5 or 6 per cent, and in which we can think about how to distribute the surplus income generated between debt reduction, wage increases, family support, pension increases or other goals. This year won’t be like that. Therefore, while I agree with your assessment of the situation, I disagree with your criticism of the Government on its economic policy for 2023. I think that’s unfair. There’s no more this year. I think it’s a tremendous achievement that we’ve managed to add at least one family policy measure to our family policy system. I also agree that as soon as the Hungarian economy has more breathing space, the first priority should be to further expand family policy. And I agree with what you said about the need to prioritise preservation of the value of the family policy support elements that were established earlier; because they were a breakthrough at the time, and in the meantime their value has been eroded – especially because of high inflation. So they need to be renewed, and energy needs to be put into them in order to achieve the effect that we wanted.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’d like to thank you for your attention; I’d like to thank all those who have spoken at this prime ministerial briefing – even those voicing criticisms. I’d like to ask you to understand that one’s usual expectations from the Government and from economic policy in the social and economic fields must be brought into line with reality. This four-year electoral cycle we are now in will comprise two different periods. There was 2022, and there will be 2023, when we’ll have some very difficult tasks to solve; and hopefully there will be an easier 2024 and 2025, when – if we don’t fall into recession in 2023 and we have at least 1.5 per cent growth – the Minister of Finance can set much more significant economic growth and resource growth targets. That’s when we can talk again about the issue of sharing resources between the major targets. This year – 2023 – will not be such a year.
Thank you very much for your attention.