This has been the most difficult year since the fall of communism; yet, Hungary has rendered an extraordinary performance
Since the fall of communism, this has been Hungary’s most difficult year, the Prime Minister stated at an international press conference held as part of ‘Governmentinfo’ on Wednesday in Budapest.
Since the fall of communism, this has been Hungary’s most difficult year, the Prime Minister stated at an international press conference held as part of ‘Governmentinfo’ on Wednesday in Budapest.
Mr Orbán stressed that Hungary had nonetheless rendered an extraordinary performance.
Among the country’s extraordinary achievements, he mentioned the spring parliamentary elections, the fact that the country has managed to stay out of the war, the fact that the country “has stood its ground” against migration, the fact that we have managed to finance increased energy prices as well as the preservation of Hungary’s workfare society and the agreement reached with the European Union.
The Prime Minister highlighted that also in 2023 staying out of the war will be the most important priority for Hungary. The other important goal is to stay out of European recession, meaning that Hungary’s economic growth should remain in the plus range, rather than slipping into the minus range, the Prime Minister added.
In his words, the whole of the European continent with Hungary in it has entered a new era, an era of threats. He added that performance rendered in difficult years is always doubled in one’s estimation.
Regarding the spring parliamentary elections, the Prime Minister – who described the international press conference held at the end or at the beginning of the year as a constitutional custom – took the view that the Hungarians “said no to foreign intervention, said no to the ‘dollar’ Left, and I don’t think this would change anytime soon in Hungary”.
He added that the elections had been a genuine freedom fight; we had to defend the country’s independence and sovereignty because international actors became involved in the Hungarian parliamentary elections more emphatically than ever before. There were dollars worth some three billion forints up against three million voters, and the latter won, the Prime Minister said.
According to the Prime Minister, Hungarian electors created that which was the most important: a stable and predictable government that is fully capable of action, and this is the most precious commodity in difficult times.
Mr Orbán also highlighted that the tradition that started in 1990 and that sets Hungary apart from other European states continues: other than Hungary, there is no country in which early elections have not been held since 1990.
From the respect of stability and predictability, Hungary is in the number one spot in the whole of Europe, he said.
In his view, it adds to the election results that Brussels and the liberal world wanted a left-wing government.
He took the view that the agreements were not concluded with the European Union already in the summer of 2021 – despite the fact that it would have been possible to conclude them – because the EU wanted a change of government and did not want to give them money before the elections. He observed that the goal was the same in the case of Poland now where Brussels would also like to see a left-wing government.
Hungary must stay out of the war under any circumstances, Mr Orbán pointed out. Hungary must be left out of the war partly because in Ukraine many Hungarians live and partly because war is always bad, people die in a war and hundreds of Hungarians have already died, Hungarians conscripted into the Ukrainian army.
Mr Orbán stressed that the war taking place in our immediate vicinity only had losers so far. The two warring parties are losers, and so is the European economy.
We are enduring severe economic losses and are paying sanctions surcharges, the Prime Minister indicated, adding that for almost all European countries the year 2023 will bring about the challenge of whether or not they will be able to avoid an economic decline and recession that stem directly from the war as well as from Europe’s involvement in the war in the form of the sanctions.
He said in the Hungarian people’s minds if you want to avoid becoming involved in a war, you must not allow yourself to be dragged into it. According to the Prime Minister, however, most of Europe is already in the war, has been dragged into it.
Those who supply weapons are in the war at least up to the ankles; those who train the soldiers of one of the warring parties are in up to the knees, while those who also provide operational and management training are in the war up to the waist, he said.
At the same time, those who finance one of the warring parties entirely – not only its military expenditures, but also the functioning of its state – as the EU is now doing to the tune of 18 billion euros are in the war up to the chest. Mr Orbán expressed hope that Europe would not become involved “in the war all the way up to the neck”.
He said despite severe international pressure, Hungary has managed to maintain its position that we need an immediate ceasefire, immediate peace talks and peace.
At the same time, Hungary has honoured its humanitarian and Christian duty of helping those who are finding themselves in trouble, and at the time of the outbreak of the war, they launched the country’s biggest ever humanitarian campaign to help the Ukrainians, he explained.
Mr Orbán also mentioned the stopping of migration and the maintenance of the reduction of household energy bills among this year’s outstanding achievements. He said we are the only European country that is facing the pressure of migration from two directions at once as in addition to the southern direction, migrants in the millions have appeared from the direction of Ukraine.
Mr Orbán said it is a fantastic achievement that this year Hungary has managed to foil more than a quarter of a million illegal border crossing attempts.
Another outstanding achievement is, he said, that Hungary has been able to finance increased energy prices, pointing out that for the same quantity of energy, this year we had to pay 17 billion euros instead of 7 billion last year. He stressed that the country had raised this amount whilst effectively preserving the system of the protection of household energy bills, and this had also been taken care of for 2023.
We have managed to preserve workfare society, never before had as many people had jobs in Hungary as this year, the Prime Minister pointed out.
Mr Orbán said employment is at a thirty-year high, 74.6 per cent of people have jobs.
While 2022 was an election year, we managed to reduce the deficit of the budget which is very rare in European politics, but not unprecedented in Hungary as this was the case in 2018 as well. In the meantime, the elderly have been given back the 13th monthly pension, families have been refunded a considerable part of their taxes and income tax exemption has been introduced for the under 25s, he recalled.
The Prime Minister described the fact that – successfully fighting against the ‘Hungarophobia’ prevalent in the liberal world – we managed to reach an agreement with the EU as another extraordinary achievement. He said, it is to be hoped, that the agreements will be signed in the next day or two.
Regarding the goals for 2023, Mr Orbán said we will keep defending ourselves, but will not surrender our overarching goals.
He said the government would like to reduce inflation to a single digit by the end of next year. At the same time, at the Wednesday cabinet meeting the government will probably decide on raising the income tax exemption of the under 25s to 30 years in the case of women committing to having children, he said.
“Sovereignty, freedom, full employment and family support. We will not surrender these overarching goals in 2023 even amidst the expected difficult circumstances,” Mr Orbán said.
In answer to a question about the corruption scandal involving members of the European Parliament, he said Hungary, too, is a part of the EU, and so we cannot look upon the incident as outsiders. Luckily, no Hungarians are involved, but this is bad news for all EU Member States, he laid down.
He said we have disputes with the European institutions which we would like to change, but the fact that they are losing their credibility is compromising the strength of the community that Hungary itself belongs to.
In his view, the case justifies the decision adopted by the Hungarian Parliament in connection with the future of the EU; according to this, the EP should be abolished in its present form and should consist of deputies delegated by national parliaments. In justification, Mr Orbán said national parliaments have much more stringent monitoring and controlling mechanisms in relation to their members. He also pointed out that national parliaments delegating members to the EP is not an unprecedented practice; it would make sense to return to this arrangement.
There is only one cure for preventing the spread of a swamp: the swamp must be drained, he said summing up his political position.
One cannot say that the practice of funds being accepted illegally and political services being rendered in return only exists on the left side of the political spectrum, he said with reference to the fact that ever more People’s Party politicians are being found to be involved in the European Parliament’s corruption scandal. He added that this was a threat to democratic politics everywhere against which we must defend ourselves. The question is that as everyone knows that this did not start in Brussels yesterday, why there were no defence mechanisms in place, he asked.
Regarding the fact that education falls within the remit of the Ministry of the Interior, Mr Orbán said leaders must be good at leading, while on professional issues they can rely on the experts; they must integrate knowledge into the area led by them in the appropriate organisational form. The government’s intention was to consult with the trade unions about demands of a financial nature and with the corps of teachers about professional issues, the Prime Minister explained.
He observed that in 2007 Fidesz’s Members of Parliament dismantled the cordons in Kossuth tér in protest against “the police government” that evidently violated freedoms and the law on assembly.
In the context of the teacher protests, he said every state worker has lawful forms of protest at their disposal which must be observed; otherwise, they may harm people who do not deserve that. In the state sector, it is doubly important to base judgement not on political considerations, but to uphold the law exclusively, he pointed out.
Regarding the state of public education, Mr Orbán said on this matter it is best to listen to the parties concerned, rather than to the prime minister’s own judgement. Parents, students and teachers are best-equipped to make that judgement, while the knowledge that young people possess in their first jobs is also important.
He said the physical and spiritual health of young people is the top priority; this is why they adopted decisions earlier about physical education and religious education in schools.
Mr Orbán pointed out that he was on the teachers’ side on the pay rise issue, and then recalled that when after 2010 “we first managed to surface from the flood of the financial crisis,” this was the first area in which they created a career model after a series of talks with interest representations.
He added that within the system there was an inner disproportion in the form of the almost unacceptably low starting salaries; in this regard “we need a more significant raise”.
Concerning the border fence, the Prime Minister said that while 250,000 illegal border crossing attempts have been foiled, there are some who do get through. As many as 2,500 people smugglers are in prison; yet, ever further people decide to engage in people smuggling.
He said Hungary had set up a completely new unit engaged exclusively in border protection; these are the border hunters. Hungary welcomes Croatia’s Schengen accession because this makes it possible for us to redirect live force from the Croatian-Hungarian border which had to be protected so far to the Hungarian-Serbian border. This means that “we will be more effective than we were before,” he said.
Mr Orbán also said Hungary had come to an agreement with the Serbs and the Austrians, and a border protection alliance had been forged by the three countries. Their first mission will be to push the robust protection that there is at the Serbian-Hungarian border at present to the North Macedonian-Serbian border. The plan is to also reinforce the Serbian-Bulgarian border, he informed members of the press.
The Prime Minister stressed that the existence of an independent and sovereign Ukraine was also a Hungarian national interest. Hungary has no interest in the European economy being definitively detached from the Russian economy, and so whatever element of economic cooperation with Russia can be salvaged, they will make every effort to salvage. Hungary does not want to be dragged into the war, but wants to give Ukraine the help that is dictated by “the command of humanity,” he said.
Regarding Polish-Hungarian relations, Mr Orbán said the two countries share a common historical fate which rests on solid foundations, and there is also agreement between the two countries concerning the strategic issues of the Russo-Ukrainian war; namely that Russia must not pose a threat to European security, and we need a sovereign Ukraine. However, the Polish take the view that the Ukrainians are also fighting for their freedom and security, while according to Mr Orbán, the Ukrainians are fighting for their own country, and are fighting heroically. Hungary is defended not by Ukraine, but by itself and NATO, the Prime Minister highlighted.
In answer to the question of whether the Prime Minister maintains its offer that Budapest could host the ceasefire or peace talks, Mr Orbán said it was a standing offer. At the same time, there are no talks not because of a shortage of space, but because the warring parties and the great powers behind them have not yet come to this determination.
Mr Orbán repeated his former statement that “we fundamentally need US-Russian talks; if there are no US-Russian talks, there won’t be peace.”
Hungary is taking part in the training of Ukrainian military health care personnel for humanitarian reasons, he stated.
Mr Orbán also said he is not planning to pay a visit to Kiev. He said he had last spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin in person during his visit to Moscow in February, and had last spoken to him on the telephone at the time of Gorbachev’s funeral.
According to the Prime Minister, energy could become a dominant area of the Visegrád cooperation. He recalled that the gas pipeline between Slovakia and Hungary, too, had been built as part of a V4 programme. At present, however, Member States approach also the issue of energy from the direction of the sanctions, he pointed out.
Qatar and Hungary reached agreements on the issues of energy, financial cooperation and investments, while soon they will hold a longer intergovernmental meeting which will also concern strategic areas, he explained.
He said the government’s goal was to reduce the country’s dependence on imported energy.
Nuclear energy is the energy source causing the least dependence, this is why they decided on the construction of Paks II. In Mr Orbán’s view, the eventual success of Paks II is related to whether Hungary will succeed in protecting the entire nuclear energy industry from being sanctioned.
Answering another question, the Prime Minister indicated that if Paks II is completed, Hungary will be able to greatly reduce its gas consumption. Until then, there are only “half-solutions” such as the reduction of the energy consumption of state institutions.
With a view to reducing the country’s energy dependence, Hungary will embark on a cable construction project in cooperation with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania, he said, adding that they are continuously expanding pipeline connections as well, and are looking into the possibility of receiving gas intended for Hungary also in ports, as part of which they have reached an agreement with Croatia.
Regarding the raising of the transit fee of the Adria Oil Pipeline, Mr Orbán said Hungary wanted to pay a fair price, while Croatia wanted to receive a fair price; to this end, negotiations are required. He added that on this issue they had not yet received an answer from the European Commission.
In recent years, China has become an ever more important investor in Hungary, Mr Orbán stated. He said: aspirations to isolate China are misguided.
We must make every effort to maintain the best possible relations between China and Europe as well as between China and Hungary. Hungary needs Chinese technological know-how and the knowledge based on it, the Prime Minister stressed.
In answer to a question related to Fudan University, he said in the interest of strengthening relations, we must have an understanding of the Eastern economic way of thinking, and so all university training coming from Asia is valuable.
The Prime Minister also spoke about the fact that while Hungary does not agree with other countries of the EU on a number of issues, this does not mean isolation. Isolation is when someone does not take part in the important common decisions. Hungary is taking part in the adoption of the decisions determining the community’s future and designating the course of its progress.
He added that Hungary – whilst belonging to a community cannot as such become isolated – stood against the formation of blocs with all its might. If blocs are formed, whether in a military or economic sense, Hungary will only stand to lose, this has been so for a thousand years. If blocks are being formed, “we find ourselves on the eastern periphery of the western world. If there is East-West cooperation, we are the centre of the world,” Mr Orbán stated.
In the context of the EU rule of law procedure, the Prime Minister described the “rule of law structure” devised by Brussels as misguided as the rule of law requires clear definitions and standards. However, these are missing in Europe due to the different cultures and traditions.
He does not question the good intentions that may have been behind the establishment of this system which “in actual fact, tears the European Union apart, disintegrates the European Union”. If the question is whether we will stay Hungarian and will fight, we will stay Hungarian and will fight, he laid down.
In answer to a question concerning the funding of left-wing media from abroad, he said he saw no difference between left-wing parties and left-wing media; in his view, these funds all qualify as political grants.
We are against all sanctions, we are also opposed to the policy of sanctions in general, if it were up to us, there would be no policy of sanctions, the Prime Minister stated, taking the view that sanctions should only be resorted to within a more limited and targeted scope, with better planning. He indicated that Hungary had not supported the EU packages and would not, but “you can’t veto every moment because we then destroy the community of the EU”.
In the context of the funding of 18 billion euros intended for Ukraine, he believes that it is a bad solution that this financial aid is to be provided via the institutions of the EU, rather than on an interstate basis. Hungary did not support the idea of collective borrowing, and the parties eventually managed to find an in-between solution.
According to Mr Orbán, inflation is the result of multiple factors, some of which may be attributed to the government. These include exchange rate fluctuations, the productivity of the economy and the sovereign debt.
If there were no sanctions in Brussels in relation to energy, Hungarian inflation would drop to as low as half, he stated.
Mr Orbán took the view that it was difficult to understand why the restriction of the price of a product would lead to a price rise. But whatever price regulations the government has introduced in recent decades, bankers have always opposed them, Mr Orbán said, pointing out at the same time that the government has introduced the price caps not for the sake of bankers, but in the interest of people with limited financial means.
He later also stressed that rather than abolishing benefits intended for members of the public, the government had introduced such benefits as the government’s philosophy lay not in austerity, but in promoting economic activity which “pulls” the economy out of difficult situations.
The Prime Minister said the hectic fluctuation of the exchange rate of the forint was an argument for joining the Eurozone. At the same time, accession slows down economic growth. If the Hungarian economy wants to grow and catch up with others, it is better to stay outside the Eurozone; if stability is a higher priority than catching up with others, it is better to join. According to the Prime Minister, swiftly catching up with others is more important, and therefore, he does not recommend Hungary joining the Eurozone.
Mr Orbán also indicated that the government is not planning any VAT reduction. This is an old debate, he said, adding that it is a specificity of the Hungarian tax regime and at the same time the key to its success that the taxes levied on work in Hungary are the lowest in the whole of Europe. At the same time, the budget collects the money it needs via consumption, rather than in the form of taxes levied on labour. “This is a philosophical issue in taxation, and we don’t want to change it,” he stated.
In answer to a question about borrowing, he pointed out that the government did not negotiate with the IMF because they usually tied funds to conditions that hurt the people. Money market money is the best money, he laid down.
Regarding the case of Dunaferr, the Prime Minister said the situation was so “chaotic that it is difficult to describe it with conventional words”. Despite this, they continue negotiations “in order to salvage that which can be salvaged”.
He indicated that the company “has debts amounting to 500 billion forints, meaning that if anyone takes those debts on, they immediately find themselves crushed by them”. He mentioned that the very identification of Dunaferr’s owners presented a problem, and so there was no way of knowing whether the company came under any sanctions or not.
Concerning the financing of the newly-refurbished Chain Bridge, he said there was a contract; lawyers will look into it to determine what follows from it.
Mr Orbán confirmed press reports that State Secretary for Culture Péter Hoppál will be assigned duties as government commissioner.
Regarding a scarf depicting historical Hungary he wore at a football match, he said Hungary is a 1,100-year-old country, we are surrounded by historical symbols which represent national unity as part of daily life.
The Prime Minister highlighted: he does not accept the view that an ethnically homogeneous community is less valuable than a mixed one.
He also said he was happy that Benjamin Netanyahu had become Prime Minister of Israel again. He recalled: he was the one who – after no Israeli prime minister had been to Hungary for 30 years – paid a visit to Budapest in 2017, thereby opening an entirely new chapter in Hungarian-Israeli relations.
In answer to a question about his future, Mr Orbán said he had been in opposition for sixteen years. This year, he has been in government for seventeen years, and so he does not feel it would be time for him to retire.