Katalin Nagy: The new government has held its second meeting, and the Prime Minister has been conducting a “thank you” campaign, going back to places that he visited before the election to thank people for their support. Yesterday he went back to the village of Dad, where he visited the local nursery school with a large sackful of balls for the children. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the studio. Won’t the National Election Committee and the Curia [Supreme Court] penalise you again for this?
Viktor Orbán: Perhaps not. There are different rules now that the election campaign is over. In that dispute during the campaign everyone stuck to their guns, but to no effect; because in cases like this it is the court that decides. I lost that case and was fined. So much for the state of Hungarian democracy; there are not many countries where something like that could happen. This must be acknowledged. But I went back to Dad so that I could be in an approved and legal photo with the children. I saw that they are full of life and were happy to see me. I also spoke to the nursery teachers. It is important that after the election campaign neither I nor the people feel that for the next four years our relationship has been sidelined, but that instead we maintain live and ongoing communication. This is not easy, because after all I should also be doing my job, and if I travel around the country from one end to the other, then who will deal with the issues that fall within my remit? It’s possible to strike a balance, however; and with a symbolic meeting every now and then perhaps I can send a message not only to the people I meet, but also to those in similar situations. I’ve met pensioners, I’ve just visited a nursery school, and I’ve been to a small settlement where I met people in the public works programme and those facing hardship. I’ve also met labourers, after returning to a factory near Miskolc. These have been good experiences. And we shouldn’t beat about the bush: it’s always better to win than to lose, and to go back after a victory is …
A little easier.
It’s an uplifting feeling, yes.
In your inauguration speech you said that you are looking ahead from 2010 to 2030, and that in its work you would like the Government to also adopt this attitude. This period of twenty years, you said, could be important in several areas. Which areas were you thinking of?
I tried to express myself precisely, but this did not trouble or influence everyone. I made it clear that naturally the mandate I received from voters is for my work over a period of four years, and so I can accept responsibility for the next four years – and only those years. At the same time, the next four years’ work cannot be done without our integrating it into longer-term plans. Therefore, while the mandate we received from voters only extends until 2022, everything we do in the coming years will need to be integrated into a larger plan extending until 2030. Of course many have interpreted this as my wanting to be prime minister until 2030, which is not a bad idea…
Many in the opposition clutched their hearts in shock.
…not a bad idea, but the fact is that there is democracy in Hungary, with elections every four years in which the people decide who stands where on the political chessboard. In the future all of us – every politician – will accept this decision. However, I still have to give an answer when people say that the decisions we make now are one thing, but then they ask where those decisions are leading. And I think that a period extending more or less up until 2030 is a reasonable one, as we can plan that far. Of course there are some uncertainties, but this period, this time span is within our horizon. So it is not irresponsible to talk about the future, but it is something close enough to our lives today and to reality that people can distinguish between serious plans and daydreams. I was talking about serious plans. I described my first priority as something we’re all aware of, something we all know, yet something that during our everyday struggles we rarely concern ourselves with, because its long-term nature means that it doesn’t dominate people’s thinking. This is the societal phenomenon called demography, which is about the following: how many children are born to Hungarian women; how many children we raise together; whether there will be a Hungarian future; whether the Hungarian nation will survive biologically and numerically; what we must do to stop the decline we clearly see in this area; and what we must do to change the fact that we have more funerals than christenings. The Government has limited options here, but it does have options – and we must use them. Therefore by 2030 we want Hungary to become a country which is able to sustain its own population level, to reproduce itself. To put it plainly, we want a country where the number of children being born is at least as high as the number of people departing this life. To this end we shall announce a major family policy action plan, which will be preceded by a national consultation on starting families and raising children. We don’t want to exclude men from this consultation, but essentially we’ll be seeking the opinions of ladies. I spoke about technological development, and this is another area far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We can read a great deal about it, but it’s still only knocking on our door, and so people are less aware of it in their everyday lives. This is the world of artificial intelligence and robots, and in general the changes expected in traditional workplaces, working routines, and the life strategies of working people. In the West vast amounts of money and energy are being diverted towards preparing societies for this era of new technology. We are also focusing on it, but so far we have only scratched the surface of this issue, and so now we must dig deeper. This is why we have created the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, and asked László Palkovics – one of the professors at the Academy and a practising economic expert – to lead it.
In your inauguration speech you said that you want to build Christian democracy: old-fashioned Christian democracy. What content will we – or the Government – assign to this? We’ve seen examples of this concept being emptied of content.
Every intellectual movement which battles all the way to becoming a guiding principle of political or governmental action experiences a hollowing-out with time. Right now this is not happening to Christian democracy, but to liberal democracy. At times like this new formulations and guiding principles emerge, new guiding stars are chosen, and a community can suddenly reinvigorate itself, both physically spiritually. I think the time for this has arrived: definitely, I can say with due modesty, in Hungary; and perhaps also in the whole of Europe. The liberal democracy in which we have lived over the past twenty or thirty years has had a number of beneficial effects and results, but has become hollow. Perhaps as a notion it can be defended on paper; that is another debate, which we should leave to academics. But in the practical world in which I live and work I can clearly see that today it’s impossible to pursue effective policy guided by these principles, because the ideal of liberal democracy does not provide an answer to certain challenges. Firstly, it doesn’t provide an answer to the question of what we should do about migration – or if it does provide one, it in no way defends us against migration, but rather supports it, regards it as something natural and positive, and promotes its realisation. It doesn’t defend the borders, because it doesn’t recognise the need for borders, and doesn’t recognise that they must be retained and strengthened. It doesn’t protect us in the sphere of families, because liberal democracy doesn’t strengthen families: it maintains that there are many varieties of family, there are many varieties of lifestyle, and we mustn’t make distinctions between them – in fact, if possible they should be granted equal status in the eyes of the law. One of the consequences of this is that we are living through a period of demographic decline. I think that in terms of Christian culture we also have problems, because liberal democracy doesn’t recognise the existence of an outstanding, leading culture of determinative power. Compared with this there are, of course, other cultures in a society; and as we’re tolerant people there’s room for them. But all the same our lives have a foundational culture which needs to be protected – and this is Christian culture. Now on these issues the political system or the system of ideals that up until now we have lived under, and which we call liberal democracy, has utterly failed. To this I say that in such times we must renew ourselves and, in order to achieve our goals, we ought to choose new guiding principles. I believe that societal development in Hungary and Europe has created ideas and values which can be utilised in the present era. It’s true that these may appear old-fashioned: they have existed before and have been widely declared. Once before they made the whole of Europe – Hungary included – successful and great. Such is Christian democracy. I think that we should bring it out again, dust it off, and modernise it somewhat: insist on its old values, and find new forms in it. We can use this set of ideals to frame thinking on Hungary and Europe for the next twenty to thirty years. Christian democracy protects us from migration, it defends the borders, it supports the traditional family model of one man and one woman, and it also sees protecting our Christian culture as something natural. Therefore today this circle or system of thinking is a more appropriate yardstick for practical politics than liberal democracy.
I suppose you also said this to President Macron in your bilateral meeting with him at the EU summit. That photograph was so symbolic: two unsmiling politicians sitting opposite each other. Everyone said that here we could see two world views opposing each other.
When two state leaders meet they don’t have much time for philosophising. We live according to a strict schedule, and for us, too, there are only twenty-four hours in a day – it would be good if there were twice as many. So when we meet we have to choose more practical approaches, and as we don’t meet often, philosophical discussions don’t take place. I don’t know what the French president thinks about these issues, but right now perhaps that’s not too important. What is more important is that I made it clear to him that Hungary will never support a European regulation which would deprive us of the right to decide who can live within the borders of Hungary. We have borders, we shall defend them, and only the Hungarian people and the leaders they elect can decide who is allowed to live within those borders. And we shall not compromise on this. I needed to make this clear, as there’s no point in running round in circles, seeking compromises, new arithmetical models, or subtle, cunning new provisions through which all we would be doing would be acting as if we were deciding for ourselves – when in fact it would be Brussels telling us who must come to Hungary and live here. I said that we should drop these machinations, as they’re pointless, and get down to straight-talking and clarity: we stand on the foundations of sovereignty, and Brussels cannot take Hungary’s sovereignty away from us. I believe that a Frenchman can understand this.
How many elements will there be in the amendment to the Fundamental Law? Clearly one of its goals is for Hungary to preserve its sovereignty, both here and in Brussels.
How does the Constitution come into all this? It comes into it because in order to be able to protect Hungary against migration and illegal immigration, we must enact new legislation which clarifies Hungarian legal provisions. This is important here at home, but we must also create regulations which are capable of repelling attacks from Brussels. According to the text of the current Constitution there may be a dispute over whether there is a place for such rules – and, if so, how far they can extend. We must avoid such a dispute by laying down a few principles in the Constitution, after which the dispute will immediately disappear. If the Constitution states that it is forbidden to resettle people in Hungary, it will be much easier to create the relevant detailed regulations and defend them both at home and in the international arena. In order for the regulations which defend against migration to stand on firm foundations, we should look at the Constitution and amend a few of its passages. This is how we’ve come to this point, and this is how the “Stop Soros” legislative package has also resulted in proposed constitutional amendments which – as the Government has already approved them – we will submit to Parliament at the beginning of next week. The Penal Code will also be amended, and there are some earlier constitutional debates which we would like to settle with this constitutional amendment in a single package.
Does the protection of the home also form part of this? What does that refer to? Do you want to address the problems of foreign currency debtors, or ensure that they can’t lose their homes?
That’s not the aim. Other rules – not these – apply to assistance for foreign currency debtors, or in general for our compatriots struggling in debt traps. Those are partly banking regulations, and partly the institution of personal bankruptcy. In this instance, however, in order to protect people’s privacy we would like assert that under no circumstances – with whatever intention – may someone be harassed in their own home. And therefore we want to lay down the general principle that everyone has the right to an undisturbed home life.
So this means that if a demonstration is organised outside someone’s home – say the home of a politician – then the neighbours shouldn’t have to suffer, not being able to reach their homes, or access their properties by car.
What tends to happen in these situations is that those affected – I myself have been involved in such a situation – go round to their neighbours and collect signatures so that we can protect the peace and quiet of our lives. This is normal. In a normal country there is freedom of opinion, and sometimes it can take some strong forms: the Hungarian language offers plenty of opportunities, and people usually make use of them. But not allowing other Hungarian citizens to be undisturbed in their own homes is not part of that freedom. Here you shouldn’t just be thinking of members of the Government, but potentially everyone else as well: such incidents have recently involved not only politicians, but also other Hungarian citizens – from sportspeople to bankers.
What do you think about the fact that a well-known international human rights organisation – Human Rights Watch – has started a campaign to persuade the European People’s Party to expel its Hungarian member party, Fidesz? They demand transparency, but they don’t like being the subject of transparency themselves.
This is interesting, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. That’s the beauty of our profession. After all, within the European People’s Party there are parties – from the German Christian Democrats and the French Republicans to the Spanish People’s Party. These are Europe’s leading parties, and this is where we are, too. I’m not saying that we’re an insignificant party, but we’re not one of the top dogs. We are by no means a marginal player, however. This is good for Hungary, because international politics is also organised on party lines – not only on an interstate basis, but also on a party political basis – and the various national parties carry out their work in an international context. Thus the Social Democrats have an international organisation, and we in the Hungarian people’s party also have such an organisation. But who is admitted to an organisation and on what basis, who is eligible for membership – or who is expelled, for that matter – is exclusively a matter for that organisation’s members. For an outsider, whatever it is called, even if it has an elegant English name, and even if it claims to be a civil society organisation – funded by George Soros, incidentally, just to set the record straight – to seek to tell an organisation who can and cannot be a member is nothing less than illegitimate pressure. This is especially true if it organises an international campaign on the question. George Soros wants to use his money to influence European politics through a variety of organisations – through Human Rights Watch in this case – and in a way that would be bad for us Hungarians, for us who live here in Hungary. He is a malign figure, and what we’re talking about is an illustration of that fact.
Why does the Stop Soros package provide greater security?
As individuals we don’t see these unfortunate migrants as a threat to Hungary, because we have hearts and we can see that they’re escaping difficult living conditions. But we must see this as a societal phenomenon, and we say that if it continues like this, we will not be helping these migrants arriving in Europe, but they will be ruining us. Therefore we must choose another form of help. These people – who we have empathy for – don’t just wander here, to the Serbian-Hungarian border, from the other side of the world, from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Syria: they’re brought here, they’re helped to come here; their journeys are organised; they’re provided financial and legal assistance, and legal aid; and they are even provided with representation in cases brought against the Hungarian authorities. They are represented against the interests of the Hungarian people. In Brussels these activities are seen as a question of human rights. We Hungarians, however, say that this is a matter of national security, and must be handled accordingly. Therefore we must impose penalties for the activities of those engaged in seeking to bring people here whom we Hungarians don’t want in Hungary. We must prohibit and prevent these activities. After all, it’s hardly normal for the Hungarian state to defend itself against activities which it does not regulate or prohibit. So we’ve proposed that we put things in order in this department, and declare that these activities – organising the entry of these people into Hungary – are criminal offences. It is not only a possibility for the Hungarian state to take action against these criminal offences violating our national security interests, but it is also the duty of the state to do so; this is how it can protect Hungarians’ security. This is the essence of the Stop Soros package.
But clearly this pressure on Hungary within the European Union will increase.
But it will also strengthen our own biceps, and that’s important.
The budget. You’ve asked Mihály Varga to present the budget bill to the Government at the end of May if possible. What did you draw his attention to? What did you ask of the Minister? What are the priorities?
A few years ago we introduced the practice of creating the budget by the end of the first half of the fiscal year: by 1 July. This is a good practice because it gives everyone around six months to read, understand and, where necessary, adapt to the new budgetary rules which will provide a framework for our lives and business activities over the following year. Therefore Hungary having a budget by 1 July is a good tradition – a tradition worth preserving. It would be good if we were able to adopt a budget somewhat earlier; but 20 July – or even 28 July – is still an acceptable date. Now, the budget can only be based on reality, and in Hungary today the reality is – and we’re happy that an incumbent prime minister is able to say something like this – that all negative indicators are on the decrease: unemployment is decreasing; the budget deficit is decreasing; and government debt is decreasing. Meanwhile, good indicators are on the increase: wages are increasing; jobs – as in employment – are increasing; and the performance of the Hungarian economy is also improving. So the budget is based on this underlying situation. I’ve asked for the promises that we made to voters to be honoured unconditionally. Firstly, we promised further tax reductions in two areas. Earlier we concluded a deal with trade unions and employers on our plan to reduce the taxes on wages. In 2019 this will result in a 2 per cent reduction. So now we’re not talking about 2018, but about 2019. I’ve also asked that we honour our commitment to increase the tax allowance for families with two children. We’ve doubled it through phased increases, and in the coming year we’ll complete this process. This means that a family with two children will be able to claim a monthly tax allowance of forty thousand forints. These are the two most important news items from this budget. I’ve also asked for there to be sufficient funds in the budget for economic development, innovation and technological transition; for there to be allocations in the budget which permit research development, economic development and business development. Pensioners are always a priority, and a major item. This is particularly true if things are going well, because then we must comply with the rule – at least what is a rule for us – that those who raised us, our parents and grandparents who are now pensioners, should not miss out on the fruits of the economy’s performance. At such times there are usually pension increases. Now there is also a new institution, which we introduced last year, I believe – or applied for the first time, to be more precise: the pension premium. According to our plans for 2019, we’ll be able to generate economic growth of over 4 per cent. This will enable us to pay a pension premium, in addition to a pension increase. I believe that so far this economic direction and these economic objectives have proved to be successful; and so the budget for 2019 is being prepared on the unchanged basis of these economic objectives.
In this studio an hour ago we had Árpád Kovács, the President of the Fiscal Council. He confirmed that an economic growth rate of 4 per cent is achievable.
This is good news, because the members of the Fiscal Council are hard-hearted people. After all, they’re employed by the Hungarian people to study the budget with hard hearts, uncompromisingly, to make sure that nothing goes wrong. This was necessary because between 2002 and 2010 the country was almost crippled when the governments in office then were unable to keep the budget on the path of fiscal discipline.
We have one more minute, Prime Minister. Aside from tax allowances, family tax allowances, how will your demographically-focused governance show itself?
The construction of crèches and nursery schools will feature in our budget. The world has changed a great deal since I was young. People – and women in particular – think differently. I see this in the increasing proportion of women who want to work not out of simple economic necessity – because they need one more salary in their households – but also out of personal ambition. In Hungary this outlook on life, this life strategy, this philosophy appears to be on the increase. If they decide to have children, we can help women by operating institutions where they know that their children are safe. Crèches are such institutions. We would also like education to start not in school, but with nursery programmes; and so it is possible – and even mandatory, though exemptions can be requested – to enrol children in nursery school from the age of three. We can thereby start preparing them early, so that by the time they reach the school gates at the age of six they will have spent three years together and will have gone through a certain educational training programme, so that they can perform better in school, and so that already in childhood the differences among us Hungarians will be reduced. Therefore we shall continue the crèche and nursery school construction programme.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.