State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you Prime Minister. Indeed, it’s time for questions. As we’d like everyone to have a chance, I’d like to ask you all to keep your questions brief, giving an opportunity to your colleagues; otherwise I’ll intervene. In other words, I’m asking everyone to exercise self-restraint. Naturally, there are two people available to answer your questions, as Minister Gergely Gulyás – the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office – is also ready to answer questions. As is customary, we’ll take MTVA first: Hungarian Television.
Noémi Németi (Hungarian Television): Good morning, Noémi Németi from M1. Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you about several topics. Firstly about what impact there will be on the government measures adopted so far in connection with the third dose of the vaccine, in light of the pandemic’s new wave, the spread of the Omicron variant, and the arrival of variant-specific vaccines that you’ve mentioned. Is the Government planning any further measures to increase the current overall vaccination rate of 60 per cent, and to encourage as many people as possible to receive the third dose?
We continue to see the third vaccination as key, and so we don’t intend to change anything related to that. No matter what vaccines arrive, we continue to urge everyone to get the booster shot. One obvious approach would be to make vaccination mandatory, and there are countries which are trying to do just that. Personally I’d like to avoid that. We’ve just spoken about the Hungarian cultural context, and in general the national spirit. I believe that the Hungarian mindset, or Hungarian instincts, mean that people would resist mandatory vaccination even more than they’re now resisting voluntary vaccination. So it’s easier to reach people’s hearts and minds through convincing arguments than through force. This is what Hungary is like, this is what we’re like; and so in my view compulsory vaccination wouldn’t work. But in order to convince Hungarians to receive the third dose of the vaccine we’ll do everything we can – including telephone calls, contacting people in person, organising vaccination days, supporting parents and sending out letters. Therefore I don’t propose any change of strategy – not even with the appearance of the Omicron variant. The capacity of our hospitals is fantastic, and we have a very large number of beds. If necessary, we can make even more beds available for intensive care. Our doctors and nurses are doing a great job. When the need has emerged, police officers and soldiers have also been available for deployment in our hospitals. This means that I don’t envisage a new wave of infection that’s so intense that the Hungarian healthcare system won’t be able to cope – even though great effort may be needed. I don’t envisage a wave in which the Hungarian healthcare system isn’t able to provide care for everyone and isn’t able to do everything humanly possible to save lives or alleviate patients’ suffering.
Noémi Németi (Hungarian Television): On the issue of energy policy: until an agreement is reached among EU Member States, do you think that there will – or could – be a need here at home for further measures regulating prices?
Household energy prices have been fixed for eight years. After much deliberation, we finally introduced regulation of vehicle fuel prices as well. We’re exploring the possibility of price caps on certain essential consumer goods, be we don’t have high hopes for that approach, and so far our experience of it has been negative. We’re monitoring the measures being implemented by other countries. I believe that today the best help we’re able to give Hungarians is to raise salaries and pensions as high as possible. This is where I think we have the most scope for action. So we’re thinking much more in terms of rises in wages and pensions than caps on prices. We’ve taken measures to regulate prices in areas where it’s been possible to restrict prices and where we’ve been able to maintain restrictions in a controlled manner. These are areas in which the imposition of restrictions couldn’t be avoided – such as fuel and household utilities. For other products on the market, we believe that a better solution is increasing the minimum wage, pensions and wages.
Noémi Németi (Hungarian Television): Another front: the dispute between Brussels and Hungary over the issue of Hungary’s child protection legislation. At what stage is this dispute now?
At a low point. Right now we’re being subjected to financial blackmail. The Commission sent us a letter making it clear that, until we change our legislation on school education and family protection, we won’t have access to the money available in the crisis management fund – the essence of which lies in speed, simplicity and urgency. We don’t want to change these laws. This has led to an escalation of the dispute. The Hungarian government doesn’t want to move from this position – in any direction – until Hungarians have decided on this issue in a referendum.
Noémi Németi (Hungarian Television): Please allow me one last question, in connection with the possible sale of Budapest City Hall. Most recently, a witness in the case claimed that the leadership of Budapest may have been aware of the intended sale. What’s the Government’s view on this?
My main piece of advice is that everyone should tend their own garden. So I’d just say that for as long as there’s a Fidesz majority in the Hungarian parliament, the Parliament Building won’t be sold.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: ATV next. Ildikó, could you remove your mask so that we can hear your questions better? Thank you.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. Ildikó Csuhaj from ATV. President of the Republic János Áder’s mandate will end in May. Prime Minister, have you made any recommendation on his successor?
Regrettably, that’s true; Hungary’s constitutional order states that the President of the Republic can only stay in office for two terms. It’s not my place to pass judgement on that; if that’s the way it is, it can’t be helped. At times like this, the procedure is that a group of Fidesz Members of Parliament must nominate a new person for the office of president of the republic. I think this is possible with the signatures of fifty MPs.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Forty.
This is possible with the signatures of forty MPs, and the Fidesz group is much bigger than that. A recommendation must be made. The party leadership debated this question, and I even made the required official nomination.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, can you confirm news reports that the candidate is Minister Katalin Novák?
Yes, I can confirm that.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. Prime Minister, when in the summer you held an impromptu press conference, I asked you whether you’d see any point in taking part in a debate between the prime ministerial candidates before the general election, if one was proposed by the other side – by the Opposition. At the time you said that you were “wading through blood” in Parliament as it was, because you answer every question from the Opposition on every single occasion. So you said that you answer questions anyway. Now the united opposition has its joint candidate for prime minister, in the person of Péter Márki-Zay. Prime Minister, would you see any point in a debate between the prime ministerial candidates in April?
In Parliament a large majority wisely decided to limit the campaign to fifty days, and I’m adhering to that rule: I’ll only deal with campaign issues after the start of the campaign. Until then I’ll concentrate all my attention on governing the country. So we’ll deal with these questions later.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. Not for decades has a high-ranking government official been accused by the Prosecution Service of serious corruption charges and been placed under investigation. Prime Minister, what do you have to say about such accusations being made against the State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, who has since resigned? We’re talking about Pál Völner. And could this case raise the issue of political responsibility?
It could, after the court’s ruling. Until then we don’t know the truth. Today all we can say is that the law clearly applies to everyone equally – including state secretaries. What’s more, it also applies to ministers and the Prime Minister.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, you’ve spoken forcefully about the child protection referendum. Do you think it would be a good idea – or is there a proposal – for this referendum to be held on the same day as next year’s parliamentary election? In asking you this, I acknowledge that the task of announcing the day of both the election and the referendum falls within the remit of the President of the Republic.
It’s one thing, Dear Ildikó, to say that it’s within his remit; but it’s exclusively within his remit. Therefore I can’t really say anything on that subject.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): And can you tell me, Prime Minister, whether the Fudan [University] initiative has been removed from the agenda? [Mayor of Budapest] Gergely Karácsony said this on the ATV programme “Straight Talk”. They, too, initiated a referendum about the revocation of the Fudan laws. Is this issue still on the agenda, Prime Minister?
Of course, it’s the same … Sorry, it’s the same as the Government’s position. We’ve also said that a referendum should be held, but only once we can clearly see the circumstances needed to assess the merits of the case. I understand that this initiative has now started. Based on the procedural order stipulated in the Constitution, it’s clear that this referendum cannot take place before the election, but only after it. So I suggest that we return to this question, also, after the election. Until then we have nothing further to do in the matter.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. I’d like to ask two more questions. One of them relates to the pay rise for teachers. Prime Minister, earlier you announced – and the Government has also decided – that next year, from January 2022, teachers will receive a 10 per cent pay rise. At the same time, we’ve heard news reports from government circles that in 2023, as part of a comprehensive pay settlement, you might return to the principles and extent of the 2013 and 2014 agreement. Prime Minister, can you confirm that from 2023 a pay rise of up to 50 per cent could be on the cards?
Resources are finite [literal translation of the Hungary idiom: “the fence isn’t made of sausages”]. And so what’s possible and what isn’t cannot be determined simply by the Government’s intentions. An important factor is the performance of the economy. The teachers are right, however: the current 10 per cent pay rise won’t solve the problem they’re struggling with – their pay level is low in comparison with the job they do and the general increase in wages in Hungary in the interim. This definitely has to change. As you say, there are two options: either we implement ongoing increases, or we implement a one-off comprehensive agreement. I believe the latter would be a better solution, but we can only make a promise or commitment on this once we see the performance of the economy in the second half of the year.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): So it’s not out of the question that…
Sorry, and furthermore, we must also win the election. I’d like to add that. For this we need an economy and a government; that’s when we’ll be able to act in this matter.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): So you’re not ruling out…
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): …a pay rise as high as 50 per cent?
I won’t mention numbers. We must consider not only a simple pay rise, but a comprehensive pay settlement.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Santiago Abascal, President of the Spanish VOX party, has said that Viktor Orbán could be the leading politician in “the new Europe”. You don’t yet have a party family on the European scene, there’s no group in the European Parliament that Fidesz MEPs have joined yet. Prime Minister, do you think this will happen before the election? This question has been dragging on for some time now.
We definitely won’t establish any new group in the European Parliament before the French presidential election, and neither will we join any group. As regards the personal aspect of your question, Ildikó, what would I be doing there – in European politics?
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): I’m sorry, I don’t want to abuse anyone’s patience, but I’d like to ask one more question. After the meeting with French President Macron, after the V4 meeting, could Macron become the new Merkel for you and for the V4 countries?
Our primary concern is with ourselves, and perhaps it’s understandable that we stand up for and represent Hungary’s interests. Leaders come and go. We have talks with those whom a given people have elected and have mandated to take part in European politics. We also cooperated with Angela Merkel, and she served sixteen years in a very difficult post. We wish her every success for the rest of her life. And we’re waiting for the new German government to reveal its character. At the moment we’re only familiar with documents, with a government programme; and so we need more time before coming to a conclusion. Until then, there’s no doubt that the incumbent President of France is a determining figure in European politics. I think it’s to a large – a significant – extent due to him that we’re on the verge of a victory on the issue of nuclear energy. In the European Union size matters. Naturally we’re all equal, but nonetheless the reality is influenced by countries’ sizes, populations and economic strengths. For Hungary, however, the number one foreign policy goal continues to be the closest possible cooperation with the V4 continues.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you Ildikó. Sorry, we’ll hand over to the BBC.
Mandeep Rai (BBC World Service, in English): Thank you very much. Mandeep Rai, from the BBC World Service. You said that the fence isn’t made of sausages. Does that mean that you won’t build a fence if you don’t get the EU money? Or will you build the fence first and wait for the EU money to arrive?
(In English) Well, in Hungarian culture, “the fence isn’t made of sausages” means something completely different. It means that money cannot be spent in unlimited amounts, because reality imposes absolute limits. So in Hungarian, “the fence isn’t made of sausages” means that how much money you spend on good causes isn’t simply dependent on your intention, but is also determined by the performance of the economy. But to return to the question, the fence is an inevitability: it has to exist, because if there’s no fence, we cannot defend the country. And whatever the decision of the Court, the latest decision, we cannot deviate from that principle. So we’ll stop anyone who wants to gain unauthorised entry to our territory, to our country. And if somebody does so and we catch them, we’ll return them to the other side of the fence, and we’ll defend the fence. You know, in the United Kingdom it’s not so clear, it’s not so obvious, but this year – this year alone – we’ve stopped and caught more than 100,000 people. So if the Hungarian fence hadn’t been there, if the Hungarian fence hadn’t been standing, there would have been over 100,000 more illegal migrants – first in Austria, and then in Germany. The majority of them – the incomers – don’t want to stay here, but want to continue on to Austria and Germany, and this is why we say that we’re not only defending the territory of Hungary. So we’re not only defending Hungary: we’re defending Europe. If you look at Hungarian history, incidentally, you’ll see that for the Hungarians this is a historic mission. So when I say catch them, catch them red-handed, it doesn’t mean arrest them: it means not allowing them to enter the interior of the country, but stopping those who are entering illegally as close to the border as possible. Because they’re trying to cross this fence illegally, which is against Hungarian law. So we have to intercept them there. And then we have to return them, we have to take them back out of Hungary. And unfortunately there are incidences of them trying repeatedly.
Mandeep Rai (BBC World Service, speaking in English): And when you do that, when you follow that line, what’s the reaction in the European Union? What does Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom have to say to that?
(In English) How they perceive reality and how we perceive reality would lead to a long philosophical debate. You see, the mainstream in the European Union is committed to – and even loves – the ideology of the so-called “best of all possible worlds”. And they observe migration precisely through those spectacles. That’s all well and good, but it has nothing to do with reality. If your country is defended by other countries, say by Hungary, then it’s easy. But here on the front line, at the border, we can’t philosophise about this, we can’t ponder the question of what the ideal society would be like; here we must protect our fundamental values, our fundamental interests. We must stop people crossing the border illegally, we must stop migrants. This is why this is reality here, and this is why we stand here with both feet on the ground, while people in Brussels tend to follow more of a philosophical approach. And they suggest certain regulations that are completely alien to the reality that we live in. This is the reason for the confrontation; it isn’t ill will or bad intentions, or that there are bad people on either side. The reason for the differences is that we live in the world of reality, while they live in a bubble.
Mandeep Rai (BBC World Service, in English): I completely agree, I completely understand you. But if this topic meant that you wouldn’t be re-elected, would you change your position? If this is what your re-election depended on, would you change your position, regardless of what happens? In light of what would happen in May?
We are Hungarian patriots; and while the outcome of the election is very important, that’s not the only consideration. We must be loyal, and we must be loyal patriots; therefore we won’t change our position on this matter. I’d like to repeat: this isn’t a philosophical debate, this is the reality, the logical consequence of Hungary’s history of a thousand years.
Mandeep Rai (BBC World Service, in English): Thank you very much.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Next question from RTL.
Anita Vorák (RTL): Thank you. Anita Vorák from RTL News. I, too, have questions on several topics. Pál Völner’s case has already been mentioned. Did you speak to the Minister about it? Has the issue of her responsibility in the case arisen?
It hasn’t arisen in my mind. I don’t know of any circumstance forming the basis for that.
Anita Vorák (RTL): How long have you known about the case? When did you first learn that Pál Völner could be involved in a case under investigation?
When the Prosecution Service posted it on its website.
Anita Vorák (RTL): Documents from the investigation reveal that other high-ranking government officials could also be involved. [The Hungarian weekly] HVG published an article, claiming that the President of Court Bailiffs referred to someone as their “keeper”. Is there an investigation into who that person could be?
The whole case is being investigated exclusively by the Prosecution Service. We have no competency for the investigation of such cases. We must wait for the completion of the Prosecution Service’s investigation and any charges that may ensue. That’s when we’ll be able to take further action.
Anita Vorák (RTL): I’d also like to ask you a few questions about the pandemic. You’ve said – now also – that vaccination will continue to be at the heart of the defence operation. Are you exploring the possibility of expanding the availability of free testing, or making tests free of charge? [Interior Minister] Sándor Pintér has made reference to this. Will there be a decision on this? Is the Government considering this?
I’m not aware of it. The fact is that the tests we have are in essence suitable for testing in hospital conditions. People now use those tests less, because in the meantime other tests have appeared. What are they called?
Anita Vorák (RTL): Rapid tests.
These rapid tests have appeared, and people have more faith in them, people use these. The tests that we have aren’t like them. We have the tests that are needed in hospital care situations.
Anita Vorák (RTL): Regarding the price of these tests, they’re much more expensive than in Western Europe and if someone wants to test themselves – if they have no symptoms, but they think they might be infected – they must pay a lot to find out. I think the possibility of looking into the prices of these tests came up at last week’s press conference. Has this been discussed?
This must be investigated by the competition authority. To be honest with you, I myself don’t understand why to the west of us a certain type of test costs “x” amount, and in Hungary it costs twice as much. I can’t see the reason for that, and I don’t agree with it. This isn’t about the public sphere, but the private sphere, and so I hope that the competition authority will look into it to see whether there’s some cartel or special Hungarian circumstance behind it all. The present situation is completely unacceptable.
Anita Vorák (RTL): The last time you spoke about inventory management related to the pandemic was in Parliament, answering questions from opposition MPs. Today, [the internet portal] Direkt36 released an article about procurement of ventilators. One of their claims is that some of the ventilators which were procured are difficult to use, and don’t function well. The Government purchased 16,000 ventilators; some of them have never actually been taken to hospitals, where around 3,000 have been deployed. Do you think it was a justified and reasonable decision to purchase this many ventilators under these terms and conditions?
Now that we’ve been battling against the virus for two years, it’s difficult to remember the situation in the beginning. But if they want to come to a fair conclusion, I’d like everyone to think back to that time. When the virus first struck, we knew hardly anything about it. In news reports we saw – as did you – that we must prepare for the worst. At that time, healthcare mathematicians and epidemiologists prepared calculations about what the worst-case scenario could be. I spoke to them several times in person about what the worst-case scenario would be if the virus got out of control and we were unable to contain it: how many beds we’d need, how many doctors, how many nurses and how many ventilators. At that time they said that in the worst-case scenario we might need as many as 8,000 to 10,000 ventilators. As back then there weren’t enough ventilators for sale on the world market, I gave the instruction – or the Government made the decision – that if we needed as many as 8,000 to 9,000, then to be safe we should obtain 15,000 to 16,000. Because, as you’ve said yourself, either they work or they don’t; either they’re like this, or like that. We had no time because people were dying, and so we needed to procure whatever we could. Naturally quality, warranties, contractual terms and conditions and the provisions of the law all needed to be observed; but we needed 15,000 to 16,000 ventilators in Hungary as quickly as possible. Now, we managed to contain the virus, and it didn’t run out of control. So it seems that the maximum number of ventilators that we need to use at any one time is somewhere between 800 and 1,000. But there are new variants, and who knows what consequences they’ll have? So when a crisis management decision must be adopted, I think we should count on a worst-case scenario; because you can’t play games with people’s health – let alone with people’s lives. And one should overplan procurements, rather than underplan them. Imagine what people would say, what we’d say and how I could face people, if a single person had died because there were no ventilators in Hungary. In such cases, it’s best to have more.
Anita Vorák (RTL): When buying 16,000 ventilators, was there ever a realistic chance, or in these calculations did you ever consider, whether there would be enough staff to operate them, had there been the need to use that many at any one time?
Yes, of course. Minister Kásler developed a crash course, if I may put it that way, and we trained all our available healthcare staff in the use of these machines. You may remember that we also involved residents, and later students in their final year. In other words, we prepared for a war against the virus – according to the logic of war. We should be happy that this has remained within limits, and the virus hasn’t run out of control.
Anita Vorák (RTL): Did you make any calculations about how much the Hungarian state may have lost in these procurements – how much money was spent unnecessarily?
We believe that we’ve saved many hundreds of lives.
Anita Vorák (RTL): Regarding the procurement of vaccines from China, do you know who’s at the top of the conglomerate involved in the procurement of Chinese vaccines? Who profited from it? Earlier, the Hungarian state or government said they wouldn’t do business with non-transparent companies. Why did you make an exception in this case?
We obtained them rapidly, and we appraised the details of the transactions as much as such details can be appraised. We found them to be in order, and so we placed these orders and procured the vaccines. Let’s just go back in time again: we’re in February, March 2021, and procurement options had first emerged in December. Naturally now it’s easy for me to say that we ordered 10 million Pfizer vaccines and so on, but at the time there were no Western vaccines at all. There was [the Russian vaccine] Sputnik, obtained with great difficulty, and there were Chinese vaccines, obtained with great difficulty. These had to be procured. Let me repeat: there’s nothing more important than human life. All other questions – inventories, contracts, and so on – are secondary. When action is needed, one needs to act.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Anita, one last question, let’s give others a chance too, OK? Thank you. One last question, please.
Anita Vorák (RTL): Economic issues: inflation is rising, and according to a projection by the National Bank of Hungary it’s expected to continue to rise next year as well. The payments now being provided by the Government are one-off, although the minimum wage increase will remain. What other measures is the Government planning to take in order to alleviate the effects of this on the public?
There are one-off measures, but the majority are permanent: the pension increase is permanent, the thirteenth month’s pension is permanent, and so are the wage increases for social workers, doctors, soldiers and police officers. As regards inflation, yesterday I spoke with the Governor of the Central Bank. According to our calculations, we’re expecting an average 5 per cent rate of inflation for the year as a whole, but presuming that the inflation curve will gradually decline, by the end of the year we could reach a rate of somewhere between 3 and 4 per cent. This isn’t just our hope: yesterday we saw this as a realistic scenario.
Anita Vorák (RTL): May I ask you what the source is for the expenditure you’ve just announced: the thirteenth month’s pension, the tax refund, the pension premium? In November, an unprecedented budget deficit was reported. What’s the source for this expenditure?
The source, in one word, is this: work. In 2010, when we returned to the wheelhouse, in Hungary just over 3.6 million people were in work; today the figure is 4.7 million. That’s the source.
Anita Vorák (RTL): I’d like to ask you about many other topics…
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you very much. Financial Times next. Thank you very much.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): Good morning. Márton Dunai from the Financial Times. I’d like to ask questions about four topics, or rather three. One of them is Ukraine. Tension is running high on the Ukrainian-Russian border; in light of this Russian pressure, Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you to articulate Hungary’s strategic position. Hungary has a rather fraught relationship with Ukraine, while it maintains relatively good relations with the Russians. What tensions could this cause in Europe? This is one of my questions. Let’s continue…
I’ll answer that, if you don’t mind.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): Fine.
As regards our Ukraine policy, there are two points to consider. The first is the V4 – and Poland in particular. Wherever possible, and as far as possible, we cooperate with the Polish on this matter. They have a rather tough and clear position. The second point for us to consider is the position of the European Council of prime ministers. Only last Thursday we focused on this question for many hours – for a while in the presence of the President of Ukraine, and afterwards without him. There a much more moderate joint position was adopted. If you read the communication that was released afterwards you can see that the European Union hasn’t given Ukraine any encouragement at all. It hasn’t given any encouragement at all regarding NATO membership or European Union membership. So these are the two directions: we will go together with the Poles as far as we can; but we also adhere to the somewhat more moderate pan-European position. We’re trying to strike a balance. Due to the differences in our size, on the issue of Ukraine Hungary is unable to take the initiative; so instead we adapt, and seek allies.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): I’d like to follow up on that a little. Poland is die-hard anti-Russian; the same cannot be said of Hungary. Where do you see…
Yes, but now we’re talking about Ukraine, not about Russia.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): Except that this isn’t irrelevant in the context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. At what point in Ukrainian-Russian relations will Hungary no longer be able to fully cooperate with Poland?
We’ve always sought to keep our policy on Russia separate from that on Ukraine, and in this we haven’t been without success. As long as the two can be run parallel, we’ll continue to do so: we support Ukraine’s independence, but we’re not at all happy about the sanctions against Russia. We believe that Ukraine has the right to its own national existence, while Hungary has the right to maintain reasonable relations with Russia. It’s not always easy to coordinate these two, but so far we’ve succeeded. In this I’m greatly assisted by the ability to maintain personal relations with Russian leaders. Somewhere in Russia at the beginning of next year there will be a Russia-Hungary summit between President Putin and myself. In other words, we’re trying to maintain these relations, and as far as possible accord the necessary respect to both systems of relations.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): The next question is connected to that. Hungary recently secured its gas supply from a Russian source with a long-term gas agreement. As far as we know, the price is significantly lower than – a fraction of – the market level at present. More specifically, we’ve heard about a price of less than 225 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres. At present the market price is somewhere around 1,600 dollars. Can you confirm this, that the price is this much lower?
I can’t confirm prices, because we’re bound by the agreement; but in essence the items in the agreement are tied to stock exchange prices. The situation is that Hungary needs around 9 to 10 billion cubic metres of gas a year. We’ve now contracted with the Russians for about half of that. The Hungarian concept is that we must have energy security. This means that at all times over a period of 15 years, half of our annual needs should already be provided for; meanwhile we’ll procure the other half on the market, in the continuous hope that if we take advantage of market prices, then we can achieve an even better price than that in the long-term agreement. This means that we’re leaving ourselves some room for manoeuvre, but at the same time guaranteeing our supply. To this you can add the gas that we’d like to import from Croatia to Hungary via the LNG terminal: another 1 to 1.5 billion cubic metres within the 10 billion. This is because Hungary’s aiming for energy independence, and the more supply sources and supply routes we have, the more independent we are. This is why Hungary is fostering especially good relations with Azerbaijan, for instance, because Azeri gas is an alternative for us. Now the truth is that the Russians always honour their side of a deal. They don’t supply more than you order, but they always supply what you’ve ordered and reserved in your agreement. The European Union also suffers from this: the Russians always supply the quantity they’ve contracted to supply. They only supply over and above that if they receive a good offer – but perhaps not even then. That’s a matter for them. But at any rate, they meet their obligations. What’s more of a problem is that the LNG people don’t always meet their obligations. Since Asian demand – in South China, in South Asia – has increased, my experience is that, unlike with the Russians, whoever you conclude a deal with on LNG, they don’t think twice about breaking their contracts. They’ll pay the penalties, and even then they’re able to transport and sell LNG at such a profit that it’s still worth it for them. So today energy insecurity is a threat to us not from the Russian market, but from the LNG market. That’s the reality.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): So can you confirm for us this price level of around 225 dollars?
All I can say is that the price stated in the contract is a favourable one.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): We’ve also heard reports that Hungary was offered this extremely low price, this extremely favourable price, under the condition that we don’t transport gas back in the direction of Ukraine – that it would be possible via the gas pipeline, but Hungary won’t do it. Can you confirm this?
The agreement was concluded by the Hungarian state, while in Hungary trading in gas is done by private companies on a market basis. So Hungary cannot undertake any obligations on behalf of any private company. We’ll be importing Russian gas to Hungary from a southerly direction, bypassing Ukraine. As to who transports what via the pipeline also used by Ukraine, all I can say is that the Hungarian state doesn’t transport anything via that pipeline; but if it’s being used by private companies, naturally, no one can place limits on that.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): That’s clear, thank you. One last…sorry, two more short topics. One of them is the issue of Euronews. Recently there have been press reports that a company called Alpac Capital acquired a majority stake in the network. That company is controlled by a businessman called Pedro Vargas David, whose family has rather close ties with you. You decorated his father, and he himself is on the board of 4iG. The question that’s arisen is whether Fidesz business circles – or business circles with ties to Fidesz – are making some kind of attempt to influence or control Euronews. What can you tell us about that?
I can definitely tell you that Fidesz aren’t hatching plans for a global empire. I can’t make statements on behalf of private companies, but we have no such plans. I know the father of the gentleman in question well, because we were both vice presidents in the European People’s Party, and now we’re vice presidents in the Centrist Democrat International. But that’s all, there’s nothing more.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): Fine, that’s clear. For what’s really my last question, I’d like to ask this: the problems in the budget, or in reducing the deficit, have resulted in a number of measures, such as the postponement of developments and the postponement of the acquisition of Budapest airport. What proportion of this fiscal problem is attributable to energy prices, to what are now the clearly high costs of keeping the reductions in household utility bills?
It forms a proportion, but it’s a negligible one. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not commit myself to exact figures, but we need to compensate Magyar Villamos Művek [Hungarian Electricity Works] for its losses, as it’s a state-owned company. And we must also provide compensation for the Mátra Power Plant, as it’s being penalised by the EU with quotas which must be paid for. That will cost tens of billions of forints. The scale of current fiscal adjustments, however, isn’t in tens of billions of forints, but hundreds of billions. Indeed, the Government has decided to reduce the 5.9 per cent deficit which was earlier planned for 2022 to a minimum – a minimum – of 4. 9 per cent. Yesterday we decided on the final details, and we can achieve this by rescheduling some acquisitions, including the airport, and developments that were due to be realised in 2022. We’re not abandoning anything, we’re merely rescheduling some things. Perhaps I should say a few words about why this is necessary. How did we calculate the expected deficit for 2022? We calculated it by using the European average as a benchmark. As the European Union has freed itself from the earlier rules on budgets and national debt, now everyone is free to fly or swim at their desired level. We wanted Hungary to swim safely, so to be somewhere around the EU average. I was hoping – or around the middle of the year I thought – that in 2022 the average of the budget deficits of European Union countries would be somewhere between 5 and 7 per cent. This is why we aimed for 5.9. But countries have now published their final plans, and we’ll see what they amount to. But towards the end of the year EU countries published their expected, their planned budget deficit data, which was lower than what we’d counted on. As we don’t want to risk Hungary’s financial stability, we must realign ourselves with the mid-table: hence 4.9, instead of 5.9 per cent. With this we’re in the European mainstream. This is the reason for the adjustment.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Telex next.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Thank you very much. Tamás Fábián from Telex. I’d like to go back to Katalin Novák’s candidacy. Who came up with her name first?
What we do is that members of the leadership sit down, we table the question, and then we listen to everyone’s proposals. At times like this, several names will come up, and this time was no exception. We discussed the candidates several times and thoroughly, and finally decided on her.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): How well-equipped do you think a Fidesz member and Fidesz politician is to express the unity of the nation? Until a few months ago, Katalin Novák was a member of the Fidesz leadership. How could it be possible for someone to move from the Fidesz leadership to [the presidential] Sándor Palace, say, six months later?
It’s worth looking at empirical examples. As we see it, János Áder has been an excellent president of Hungary. Hardly anyone was more embedded in Fidesz than he was.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Does a person who at present represents the interests of Fidesz in politics have the ability to detach herself, say three months later, from party logic, and to also represent those whom earlier…
If Árpád Göncz and János Áder managed to do so, then why couldn’t Katalin Novák, too?
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): I see. Let me ask you about the 2022 election. What kind of a challenger do you see Péter Márki-Zay as?
We’ll deal with election issues during the election campaign; until then, I can only answer your questions on governmental issues.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Fine, but you must have some impression about one of your prime ministerial challengers?
Of course, I do. But I’ll keep that to myself. I’ll reveal that to you when the campaign starts. I didn’t enter this profession yesterday, and I only focus on one thing: who the boss is. From that perspective, the particular candidate isn’t relevant. And the boss is always the president of the strongest party. I’ve been the leader of a four-party coalition government, and the boss is always the president of the strongest coalition party. It doesn’t matter who’s placed where, and what label is stuck on their forehead. I know who the boss is. I don’t have to think much about that.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): The door still seems to be open for a debate between the prime ministerial candidates. Can you envisage such a debate?
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): In that case, let me reformulate my question. You’re not ruling out participating in such an event, are you?
We’ll come to the bridge, we’ll cross it, and then we’ll battle it out.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): I’d like to go back to the Völner case. When did you last speak to Pál Völner?
Sometime a few weeks ago in Parliament.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): What sort of a person did you know him as?
I’ve known him for a very long time. We were students together. We didn’t come here to talk about this, but he also had a role in an unpleasant episode in my life. When we were at university and Brezhnev’s death was announced, we were told to stand up. Some of us remained sitting – including Mr. Völner and I. Then, after a great verbal fracas, finally we reluctantly stood up. But the bravest ones among us didn’t: they walked out of the room. Pál Völner was one of them. So all I can say is that during my student days he was braver than me. I greatly regret the situation that’s now developed. I don’t know what the situation is, and until a court judgment has been made, I’m not prepared to decide on it, even in my own mind. The charges set out by the Prosecutor’s Office are serious ones. When Parliament is asked to suspend someone’s immunity due to criminal charges, the Fidesz parliamentary group always obliges. I can’t ignore the position of the Prosecutor’s Office; but likewise I can’t ignore my own personal experience. I’ll wait for the court to settle the truth of the matter.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): You said that in your mind the question of [Justice Minister] Judit Varga’s responsibility hasn’t even arisen. But Minister Varga delegated very important areas to Pál Völner, among them the signing of orders for secret surveillance. Isn’t the competence of Minister Varga called into question by the fact that she entrusted extremely important areas to a person who’s suspected of having been involved in a very serious corruption case?
We must wait for the court ruling.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Not even mentioning…
We can talk about the responsibility of the Minister and the Prime Minister once we have a court ruling.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): If Pál Völner is found guilty, then could your responsibility in the case, too, emerge, say…
We’ll wait for the court judgment. We’ll see what they have to say, and we can talk about that question, too, afterwards.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Another question connected to Pál Völner. I presume you’ve read the reports, so what was your reaction when you found out that members of [Hungarian president] János Áder’s security detail were also targeted with the Pegasus software?
I realised that the Opposition’s campaign had begun.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): At a press conference recently, Gergely Gulyás, who’s standing next to you, said that judging by the information he’s had on this issue, there were cases with some foundation in fact. Does this case have any foundation in fact?
Well, I don’t want to bore you all, but that’s not how our internal relationships work. János Áder used to be my brigadier: when we were students working by night we did so in teams, and he was my boss. If I want to ask János Áder something, I ask him in person. He’ll answer my question, or say he doesn’t want to answer my question. And if he wants to find out about something, he’ll come and ask me. We don’t need to use the services of anyone else. Our internal relationships – we’ve been doing this together for thirty years – are different from how they’re envisaged by journalists. If I want to find out anything about the President of the Republic, I’ll go over and ask him. And I have more faith in that than in any gadget or technical equipment.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Did you ever give orders to use this software in Hungary for the monitoring of journalists, politicians, businesspeople or civil society representatives critical of the Government?
The use of all intelligence service methods falls within the remit of the Interior Minister. I don’t deal with issues like that. The Interior Minister is guided by only one principle: we must have the same capabilities that other countries in Europe have. The Government doesn’t involve itself in the precise details of what this means in practice. We have only one request: current legislation must always be observed. On several occasions [Interior Minister] Sándor Pintér has confirmed that there has been no illegal surveillance of any kind in Hungary since 2010. He also stated this in the relevant parliamentary committee.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): If you don’t mind, a more personal question. If my calculations are right, you’ve led the country as prime minister for around fifteen years – not continuously, but that’s how much time you’ve spent at the top of political power. How has this period changed your personality?
I hope that – like everyone else – I’ve changed for the better. But time will tell.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Let’s say that in 2022 Fidesz–KDNP is unable to form a government. Your critics often say that you cling desperately to power. If you were to lose the election, would you smoothly hand over power to a coalition that you seem to agree with on absolutely nothing?
Yes, but experience is much more valuable than mere speculation. I’ve spent sixteen years in opposition and sixteen years in government. I’ve lost some elections, and I’ve won some. I’ve had to both hand over governmental power and take it over. So far this has always worked.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: As far as I can see, you don’t have any more meaningful questions, so let’s move on. Origo next, OK? Let’s be fair.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): What do you think about…
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Origo next, Tamás. Thank you.
András Kovács (origo.hu): Thank you very much. András Kovács, Origo. International issues. Many things have already been mentioned, but we haven’t yet clearly spoken about the fact that the coalition government that has recently come to power in Germany is openly in favour of a federal European Union. To what extent do you think that the sovereigntist forces can, say, reach an agreement with the Germans, or perhaps block federalist aspirations?
This is where we see the relevance of the question somebody asked earlier in relation to France, about the relationship between the French concept of strategic autonomy and the image of a federalist Europe that the new German government has put forward. At the moment this is still unclear. So if it’s unclear, it hasn’t been decided yet. And if it’s unclear, then Hungary must build up the appropriate positions in both directions. Hungary is known to favour the positions of strategic autonomy and sovereignty. Contact between our two governments has not yet been established, so I cannot yet say how we can bridge this gap between the German government’s programme and ours on this issue, while still maintaining German-Hungarian intergovernmental relations of the highest possible quality. And as I said to the young man from Telex just now, in politics the value of speculation is only a fraction of the value of experience. So it’s always good to start from what we’ve already seen and what we already know. Right now there’s one thing that we do know, and that’s something that will be difficult to bridge; this, however, isn’t linked to the Chancellor himself, but to the latest strategic directive issued by the German foreign minister, who has said that in the Balkans she wants to introduce sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs. Now, that’s something that we must prevent at all costs. That attitude is wrong, its tone is wrong, its outlook is wrong: everything about it is wrong. And this isn’t because it was said by a German – that only makes the situation worse; it’s also wrong as a European position in general. The Western Balkans must be integrated, the Western Balkans must be helped, the Western Balkans must be brought up to speed, and the Western Balkans must be accepted into the European Union. All this must happen because it’s in the interest of Europe – not just in the interest of the Western Balkans, but in the interest of Europe. One can see this by looking at the map. So sanctions are out of the question! And respect must be given to all the peoples of the Western Balkans – including the Serbs. I think this should be clear to everyone. Germany has now started out in a different direction, although they’ve only taken one step. At a future meeting I’d like to persuade the Germans that they shouldn’t move in the direction of punishing and sanctioning the Western Balkans, because that would cause a lot of problems – perhaps not for Berlin, but certainly for Budapest and for the peoples of the Western Balkans. So we want a culture of cooperation between the Western Balkans and Europe that’s completely different from the one expressed in the statement by the Foreign Minister of Germany. Here we are at the gateway to the Balkans, and so our lives are also on the line. We want to represent our interests with appropriate weight.
András Kovács (origo.hu): The situation in the Western Balkans has been mentioned. So far this year, more than 100,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended at the Hungarian border; meanwhile, in Brussels there are renewed plans for the introduction of mandatory migration quotas. What steps is the Hungarian government planning to take to prevent these Brussels plans?
The way things stand is in line with our interests. We won’t move from here. It’s not good, and we’re not happy, because detaining 100,000 people every year at a fence is an enormous amount of work for those involved. It’s an enormous cost for Hungarian taxpayers, and likewise it’s not at all pleasant for those unfortunates seeking to cross the border. So this is the worst situation for everyone. We need a regulated immigration policy, but Brussels isn’t working to comply. The starting point of a regulated immigration policy is that those who want to enter the continent must seek permission, must submit their applications, before entering the territory of the continent. If we don’t have that, this whole issue will never be regulated: it can’t be controlled either legally, in terms of power, in terms of policing, or administratively. We’d like Brussels to accept that everyone who wants to enter the territory of the European Union should submit their applications before setting foot in the territory of the EU. We should process their applications while they’re still outside: if they’re accepted, they can come in; if they’re not accepted, they can’t. Right now we’re a long way from this, because those who are safe in the interior of the European Union don’t want it; but if we can’t achieve it, then there will be continued disorder. Today, in this great European disorder, there’s a single country where there’s order: Hungary. Because over here we have the rule I’ve just described. This is what maintains order.
András Kovács (origo.hu): Do you think the National Security Committee should look into the fact that in a recently released audio recording a confidant of [former prime minister] Gordon Bajnai said that [opposition MP] Timea Szabó is a CIA operative, who maintains close contact with the Agency? Do you think the National Security Committee should place this issue on its agenda?
There are several good things about being prime minister. For instance, one can’t tell the National Security Committee what to look into; and so I’m not required to take a position on this matter either. But let’s not beat about the bush – after all, why would we? Hungary is a country in an important geopolitical location. If we didn’t want to believe this from recent events, we can clearly see it in the history books. The Carpathian Basin, dominated by Hungary, is an area of geopolitical importance. Accordingly, there’s intense interest in the affairs, decisions and internal relations of this area. The interest is intense from every direction – whether from members of NATO or the EU, or from those outside. Everyone wants to know and wants to understand what they can expect, and what will happen here in the Carpathian Basin. This is quite apart from our neighbours, whose interest in that is obvious. So this increased interest in Hungary is natural, because it stems from geography. Furthermore, in its foreign policy Hungary doesn’t support European federalist empire-building experiments. So it has a foreign policy direction of its own. That direction is important to everyone, but in following its independent line, what’s at least as important is the impact this has on Brussels’ foreign policy: whether or not it hinders that policy, on which points it supports it, where it strengthens it and where it doesn’t. It’s understandable that everyone’s interested. Therefore please don’t be surprised if there’s been a recent significant increase in interest in Hungary related to intelligence services. We can add to this that the intelligence services may also have intellectual interests, and they see that Hungary doesn’t want to take part in this experiment in building a new post-Christian, post-national European society. They see that it takes a different approach to life, to the correct order of life, seeking an order of life that provides a sense of home for the Hungarian people. It’s plain to see that everyone’s intrigued over whether or not in the modern world people are allowed to have a divergent opinion – and, if so, whether they’re able to realise it. So beyond the facts I’ve just stated, there’s also an interest at the systems level in whether or not the Hungarian model works. Therefore I see nothing extraordinary about the fact that there’s intense international interest, including in terms of the intelligence services. So this should be our assumption. Naturally in this regard Hungary must defend itself. But Hungary has a well-constructed intelligence system, a well-constructed system of defence. This is operated effectively by the Interior Minister and the security experts working alongside me. So as far as I can see we’re able to defend ourselves. I haven’t even mentioned the technological dimension: that we also don’t want to be deployed on the new cold-war technological front line, in which Westerners only use Western technologies and people in the East only use Eastern technologies, with people in the East not using American technologies and people in the West not using Chinese ones. We don’t approve of that. We have a completely different concept: we use a combination of these devices, which from a technological aspect is something that raises even further questions among external observers. So I see this as natural. We’re aware of this, and naturally we work with strong protection.
András Kovács (origo.hu): And finally, in these audio recordings it was further revealed – and a witness confirmed this – that a corrupt system of commission payments is operating in Budapest City Hall. In light of this, do you think that the allegations revealed in the audio recordings should lead to the resignation of the Mayor of Budapest?
All I can do is address this request – and perhaps the Government’s legitimate demand – to everyone: the law must be applied equally to everyone, with the same weight. Laws must be enforced. If that doesn’t happen, if we’re unable to enforce them or to maintain such a state of affairs, then in Hungary this could lead to a loss and deterioration of public trust that will on the one hand make our lives more unpleasant, and will on the other hand compromise the country’s economic performance. At the end of the day it’s important that people in this country are able to get on in life on the basis of merit. We need competition – in politics, in business, in intellectual life and in academia. If there’s no competition, we’ll be left sitting at the edge of the pool, dangling our feet in lukewarm water. We don’t want that. This is a talented country, we’ve proved many times that we have plenty to show for it, and we want to bring the best out of ourselves. For this we need competition in every area. There’s no competition without equality before the law.
András Kovács (origo.hu): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Let’s hand the microphone to Péter Breuer.
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): Prime Minister, you’ve just mentioned equality before the law. Some years ago you announced the policy of zero tolerance. So far you’ve enforced that. How is it possible for there to be a candidate for prime minister – whose name I won’t even mention from now on – who talks about “faggots” and raises unacceptable topics? What’s more, the person he was referring to has passed away. A Christian doesn’t desecrate the memory of a dead person. I simply don’t understand what’s happening here. You just said that there’s equality before the law. Then why isn’t this man held responsible for his actions?
Yes, but Dear Péter, the fact is that human life can’t be regulated with the law alone. When I enrolled at the university law faculty, János Németh took the first available opportunity to hammer into my head the fact that life cannot be accounted for in legal terms. This means that we’re unable to create a distinct legal rule for every aspect of life. So there’s also room for morals, public morals, and human factors. These are questions that can be handled not by the law, but by people. If a person becomes successful, that sends a message. If that person is unsuccessful, that also sends a message. Therefore I have faith in the health of Hungarian public opinion, and trust that such things will get their just reward. I’ve also made my share of mistakes, and I’ve reaped the reward. So I believe that the reactions of public opinion guide people, and that on the whole everyone will be better tomorrow than they were yesterday. Let’s have faith, Péter!
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): Right.
You don’t seem very enthusiastic.
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): That’s more or less the answer I expected. But for me the problem is that there’s no public outcry. A candidate for prime minister can do this today, when zero tolerance is actually working.
If we talk about this, Péter, it will push the press conference beyond its natural boundaries. This is what we’re up against. I’m not saying that we don’t suffer from this problem on our side, but clearly to a much lesser degree than the other side. At the same time, from a political point of view they’re in a more difficult situation, as they’re in opposition. So the feedback systems aren’t operating as effectively as they should be. There will be an election and everyone wants to win; and media outlets, journalists and intellectuals who are important in shaping public opinion tend to be more forgiving of their own people than is desirable. But that’s the situation now. I think that this will come to an end in April, and Hungary will present a better image of itself in this respect, too.
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): I see. I’ve taken a deep breath, and I’ll be one of those paying attention to this. Have you yet initiated meetings in person with the new German chancellor and the new Israeli prime minister? I ask this because recently we’ve been increasingly offering support, as both in the European Union and in the UN people have again started to press the buttons voting against the independent Jewish state. This is why I thought that you’ll surely meet him at some point.
Péter, I haven’t been dealt a good hand in international politics lately, because my friends – with whom I not only developed political cooperation, but also friendships – have been defeated. It’s clear that the Americans didn’t invite Hungary to their democracy conference because Trump’s friends shouldn’t be invited. And clearly the Israeli prime minister hasn’t yet met me because everyone knows that for me Mr. Netanyahu wasn’t just a political partner, but much more: a friend. At times like this, such things make the situation more difficult. And while I had many disputes with Angela Merkel, at the end of the day she was a Christian Democrat chancellor with whom I managed to create a good relationship. Now there’s a Social Democrat chancellor. So let’s put it this way: lately the hand dealt not to me but to Hungary hasn’t been a very good one. But Lord, what can we do? As István Csurka used to say, sometimes you travel in style, sometimes on foot. Now we’re on foot, and we’ll see what happens. At any rate, Hungary would like to cooperate with everyone. I’ve written a letter to the German chancellor, asking him on behalf of the V4 for a V4-Germany meeting. And as far as I know, the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel met the Hungarian foreign minister the other day, or will meet with him soon. So at the level of foreign ministers, our relations with Israel are also in order. A meeting at the highest level hasn’t been held yet – which in light of the context isn’t difficult to understand.
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): That would have been my next question. So let’s move on to the Silk Road. This will be my last question, because I can see that Zoli [Zoltán Kovács]… Or should I give others a chance? After so many questions from me, I was very pleased that the airport will be in national ownership again. Some years ago the European Union didn’t allow us to save Malév, our national airline. Now, however, the wind in the European Union has changed completely, and so this has become possible. Have you considered the possibility that, after buying back the airport we should again become completely independent in air transport also – even after some delay?
There are some things that I constantly think about, and this is one of them. Unfortunately, however, prospects for this aren’t quite as bright as your question suggests. The future of the entire aviation industry is uncertain – partly because of the pandemic and partly because of green politics. Let’s not forget that in the long run it’s not tenable for the European Commission to want you as a homeowner and as a car owner to pay for your carbon dioxide emissions, while the international shipping and aviation industries pay nothing. So for the time being there’s no way of knowing what direction things will take, and the future of the entire aviation industry is in question. In light of this, for the time being the Hungarian state is keeping its distance. The airport would be important, but let me repeat: in order to preserve Hungary’s financial security, this simply can’t be implemented within the planned schedule. We’d like to realise this plan later, but we can’t do so in the way we would have liked to. I repeat that the country’s financial security takes priority over everything else in such an inflationary environment, during a period of interest rate increases in the US, in light of the financial indicators, with a eurozone functioning without restrictions. This is why the budget deficit had to be reduced, this is why we must cut the sovereign debt, and this is why we’re unable to launch acquisitions that are justified strategically, but would cause vulnerability elsewhere.
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): But we can only stand to gain by participating in the Silk Road programme, can’t we?
Péter Breuer (Breuerpress and Heti TV): Thank you for the opportunity.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you, Péter. Masks are causing me problems, but if I’m not mistaken, it’s Edit Inotai from ARD.
(How long have we been here?)
(Minister Gergely Gulyás: For an hour and three quarters.)
(Zoltán, how much longer?)
Inotai Edit (ARD): I have a few questions on German politics. Prime Minister, you’ve said that there’s been no official communication, but that you’ve written a letter to the German chancellor on behalf of the V4. Have you received a reply yet, and what relationship do you expect to have with the new German government? In your most recent “samizdat” – or the previous one – you envisaged rather stormy times. On what points will you be able to cooperate, and on what points won’t you be able to? And when could there be a meeting with the new German chancellor?
We have hopes. Although we’re on different wavelengths, the situation isn’t hopeless. As I see it, in Germany social engineers have become rather influential; they envisage a society and try to shape people’s daily lives accordingly. Meanwhile in Hungary there are conservative, Christian realists, whose starting point is what life has to offer; and we want to find answers to questions that actually emerge in life. This results in completely different intellectual approaches, and so for the time being we’re not on the same wavelength. But perhaps a shared language and a shared map of understanding could come into being; and we Hungarians must not give up on relations with Germany. Taking account of all its rainy as well as sunny periods, our current relationship with Germany is an outstanding one in the history of Hungary. After all, we knocked the first brick out of the Berlin Wall, the Germans supported Hungary’s EU membership, there’s plenty to build on, and it wouldn’t be good if these foundations were damaged by party political considerations. So Hungary aims for good relations with Germany. All we ask is that they accept that they’re Germans and we’re Hungarians. Some statements in their government programme, referring to their desire to take responsibility for certain issues also in a wider context, give us cause for concern. We respectfully ask them not to take any kind of responsibility for us, because we’d prefer to take responsibility for ourselves – including the whole question of policy on the Balkans, which I’ve already spoken about. Despite our very different party positions, in the years ahead I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of us building good German-Hungarian relations on the solid foundations that we’ve built up through history.
Edit Inotai (ARD): Is cooperation with AfD compatible with the policies of the incumbent Hungarian government or Fidesz?
So far we’ve categorically ruled this out.
Edit Inotai (ARD): So far?
Yes. Today is today.
Edit Inotai (ARD): My last question is related to the Balkans. What motivates your very close relations with Mr. Milorad Dodik and the Bosnian Serbs? Not long ago, in the summer or autumn, you went there yourself. And Mr. Dodik was here in Hungary. And now the Hungarian foreign minister has said that he’ll veto any sanctions that the European Union might impose on the Bosnian Serbs. Why is it necessary to maintain this, or what is the Hungarian government’s motivation for so strongly standing by a politician who in many quarters is seen as a threat to the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
The person you’re talking about is the elected leader of the Serbs.
Edit Inotai (ARD): Of the Bosnian Serbs.
That’s right! So our relations with him are the kind one should have with an elected leader. Our relations with the German chancellor are also the kind one should have with an elected leader of the Germans. And I see this as necessary. Labelling, demonisation and vilification will get us nowhere. I can see us wanting to pursue this kind of policy of exorcism in quite a few areas, and I think it’s foolish. Using foreign policy – the ideological dimension of foreign policy – to legitimise and strengthen domestic policy at home seems logical, but it’s an extremely dangerous game. And European history has provided us with many examples of why this should be avoided. Hungary is avoiding it. To return to the question. Hungary’s southern border – south of Pécs – is about 70 or 80 kilometres from the Bosnian border. So, contrary to the image of Bosnia as a distant country that’s common among Hungarians here in Pest, Bosnia is essentially our neighbour. During the Yugoslav Wars, tens of thousands came over from there – not only Serbs, but also Bosnians and Croats. So if a conflict develops there, its impact will be immediately felt on Hungarian territory the very next morning. And, despite the obvious fact that the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina hasn’t been functioning for years, I believe that there’s the potential for a sensible solution there. And for some reason those who are supposed to run the state are unable to manage that task. This is a problem, and one that can only lead to trouble. If you go there, as I’ve done, you can see the negative consequences of this. Geographically, between Greece and Hungary, today there’s a “hole” – a “black hole”, if I may put it that way. And it’s in Europe’s interest that it disappears. It’s absurd for us to take responsibility for the security of Greece, to take responsibility for Greece’s economy and military security, and then for there to be hundreds of kilometres of no-man’s land, before one comes again to two members of NATO and the European Union: Croatia and Hungary. This cannot continue! This is a danger to everyone. This is an area that isn’t declared to be part of the political and economic integration of the European Union. And if it’s not declared as such, then everyone there can develop strategies in their own interests, without restrictions and without the limits placed upon them by consideration of European intentions. This isn’t good for us. Everyone knows that the Balkans have a historical tradition. So the Balkans must be stabilised. The Balkans cannot be stabilised without the Serbs, and the Balkans cannot be stabilised without Bosnia and Herzegovina. And Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be stabilised without restoring to the Serbs the rights that are due to them. This is our logic. The key to the Balkans is Serbia and the Serbian nation.
Edit Inotai (ARD): My final question. Is this stability being reinforced by the 100 million euros that Radio Free Europe says Hungary has sent as a kind of aid – or emergency aid – to the Bosnian Serbs?
We have a programme called “Responsible Neighbourhood”. Its aim is to develop cultural, intellectual and economic cooperation in zones adjacent to Hungary’s borders, extending over a practicable distance. So Hungary is mobilising considerable sums in every direction – including towards Ukraine, incidentally. And indeed we’re now helping the Bosnian Serbs with an economic development programme that’s being made available to small and medium-sized enterprises.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Mandiner.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Thank you. Dani Kacsoh from Mandiner. After all this, what are the realistic prospects for EU enlargement in the foreseeable future?
The stars aren’t favourably aligned, but they never have been. So I clearly remember that Hungary held the Presidency of the EU when Croatian membership was on the agenda. I’m not mentioning this now in order to relive our achievements back then, but we had to invest a lot of energy in overcoming the phenomenon that’s described in Brussels as “fatigue”; the feeling which has taken hold of the European Union is called, I think, “enlargement fatigue”. And I’ll do everything I can to convince Europe’s great leaders that, although the Balkans may be further away from them than from Hungary, their security is crucially affected by how we solve the security situation of a state in which two million Muslims live. If we were to go out onto the street right now and ask people where Sarajevo is, everyone would say that it’s somewhere south-east of Hungary. They’d say that the issue is something that belongs to the East. But then one looks at the map: no, it’s right below Budapest! So it’s right here at the gateway to Hungary. So the way in which we need to think about this area is one which enables us to make the stability of this area a matter of interest for the whole of Europe. If we succeed, then we can convince the big players to allow enlargement; but if we fail, then the status quo will persist. But if the status quo persists, we must do everything we can to provide every possible link to the European economy through the Hungarian economy to the Serbs, the Bosniaks and the Serbs and the Croats living in Bosnia, despite their lack of EU membership rights. So in that event we must act as a gateway and a bridge, even if the large Member States of the EU are not yet prepared to accept the states of the Western Balkans, the countries of the Western Balkans.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Prime Minister, you mentioned a letter that the Hungarian government received from the Commission related to the child protection law, or partly related to the child protection law. I’m also partly asking this of the Minister: in light of this, what are the chances of Hungary receiving any funds at all through or from the RRF [Recovery and Relief Facility] before the general election?
As we prepared for today’s press conference, I can tell you that Gergely and I think that the EU has no legal grounds for denying Hungary or anyone else access to funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility. We decided on that. Funds are also being raised from the money market on our behalf. The fact is that the entire recovery facility is credit: the European Union is taking out a loan on behalf of all the Member States, which it is then distributing to the Member States for the implementation of various programmes. Every penny of that facility is credit. The Member States receive a part of the funds as credit and another part as grants. But in fact the EU is borrowing the entire sum as a loan. And responsibility for the loan is being undertaken by all of us – including Hungary, for its part. Therefore no one has the right to tell us that they won’t give us the money we’re entitled to on the basis of the regulations from a credit facility that we took out with joint collateral. In terms of the unity and future of the European Union, this whole procedure is the most brutal act of sabotage. This will break the EU apart. I’ve never seen a policy as irresponsible as the one we see in this instance. Who will trust the Commission from now on? How will we adopt unanimous decisions? The Polish and Hungarian parliaments must also vote for this, but how can we ask our national parliaments to vote for programmes like this? How can we vote for it, and then not be given access to the funds that we’re entitled to? I can only say the worst about this whole affair. In my view this is a short-sighted, ideologically driven decision by the Commission that is influenced by party politics. They should have disbursed these funds to us a long time ago. This is quite apart from the simple fact that the whole facility was invented because the crisis was severe, and we needed a large volume of rapidly and easily accessible funding. By contrast, despite the EU’s talk of fair competition, some countries were given access to these funds in June, while Hungary is still waiting for its share in December. What kind of a procedure is this?! What kind of competition is this?! What kind of “level playing field” – in Brusselese – is this?! The entire process is undermining similar large European Union projects in the future. Because after this there’s no point in anyone saying that this type of fund-based development policy should be seen not as a simple one-off affair, but as an integral part of the EU’s general economic policy toolkit. Who would vote for that? We wouldn’t, and that’s for sure! Never, after this! It’s perfectly clear that what’s happening isn’t a problem for Hungary, but a problem for the future of the European Union. But at the same time, sooner or later we’ll receive these funds, as there’s no legal basis for us not receiving them. What I’ll say now is perhaps something that Gergő [Gergely] wouldn’t approve of, because it’s harsher than the Minister believes is justified. But the fact is that the Commission is playing a political game. Everyone can see that this is about them looking for a way to harm the Hungarian government. And behind this is their ambition to see a government in power after the next election that’s different from the present one. They see this as a means with which they can support the Hungarian opposition and attack the Hungarian government: a way to support the Opposition. I think that this is absolutely obvious. They want a government that doesn’t stand on national foundations, and doesn’t cause them so much trouble by continually standing up for Hungary’s national interests. And they believe that an effective tool for this could be this playing for time: “we’ll pay, we won’t pay”. At the same time it’s clearly ineffective. When preparing to come here I asked for the relevant figures: in the last quarter alone – the fourth quarter – Hungary has received transfers of 1.4 billion euros from the EU; because with regard to other funds, other facilities, they have even less opportunity to deprive us of the money we’re entitled to. So people are mistaken if they believe that this behaviour by the Commission will be effective, because in the meantime the approved programmes which are post-financed by the EU are already underway. And I repeat, in the fourth quarter Hungary has received transfers worth 1.4 billion euros. The same will happen in the first quarter of next year. So they won’t achieve their goal by trying to paralyse a programme. And one can’t paralyse everything, because that would lead to the end of the European Union. So in my view the Commission should quit its party-political games and return to where we were during Barroso’s time [as President of the Commission]. In this matter the main culprit was Prime Minister Juncker, the Commission’s last president, who declared the Commission to be a political body. I was present when he announced this. We protested against it, saying that politics is pursued by parties, and so if the Commission is a political body we’ll be making it the servant of party-political considerations. This runs counter to the fact that the provisions of the European treaties describe the Commission as the guardian – the impartial guardian – of the treaties, and therefore barred from displaying either national or party bias. And we said that if we go down that path, and the Commission isn’t the “Guardian of the Treaties” as laid down in the treaties, but becomes a political body, then we’d end up where we are today. With this they’re destroying the entire architecture of the EU. So we’ll have to find leaders who will take the European Commission back to where it was during President Barroso’s time.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): I see.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I’d like to just add a few words to clarify the chronology. We were on course to being one of the first Member States to conclude its RRF agreement. Then the Hungarian parliament adopted the child protection law. Following this, after the signing of the RRF, the President of the Commission asked for an informal meeting, and travelled to every country. They then cancelled it. This was despite the fact that no one denies that the topic of child protection does not fall within the remit of community law – even with regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. So political pressure is being exerted. Earlier I said that the signing of the RRF depends solely on whether or not the Commission wants to interfere in the Hungarian election campaign. On other matters, talks are constructive. Under the leadership of State Secretary Szabolcs Ágostházy, we’re making good progress with the partnership agreement. The RRF agreement can be concluded at any time, but the Commission isn’t doing so because they really do want to interfere in the Hungarian elections on behalf of the Opposition.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): One last question. Budapest, and the City Hall affair. Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony said that he screamed or shouted at the Interior Minister – I don’t know which word he used precisely – due to the fact that a police investigation had been launched in the case. Did Sándor Pintér tell you about this incident, and what’s your view on something like this happening?
I applaud the Mayor’s courage, because I’ve worked with the Interior Minister since 1996, and I’ve never once dared to raise my voice to him. So I’ve got some catching up to do.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): I see. And as a “question B”, what’s your view on the accusation which formed the core of what Gergely Karácsony said? The accusation was that Fidesz or the Government unleashed the police on Budapest City Hall for political reasons, and that the whole case is completely baseless?
There’s a political folk proverb: “Ill doers are ill deemers”. If that’s what someone thinks, it’s because that’s what they would have done. But it doesn’t follow from this that we’re the same as him. We don’t do things like that.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Hír Televízió.
Ágota Papp (Hír TV): Thank you. Good morning. Ágota Papp from Hír TV News. I’d like to ask you about the coronavirus situation. Several neighbouring countries have tightened regulations for New Year’s Eve, even introducing restrictions for entertainment venues. Can we expect any restrictions in Hungary, or even the separation of vaccinated people from unvaccinated people?
I receive reports every day, every two to three months I meet one or another leader from the Operational Group, and, if necessary, we also discuss these issues at Cabinet meetings. We’ll introduce restrictions if the situation demands it. At the moment, however, the situation is exactly the reverse. I don’t want to speak too soon, but as far as I can see, the situation has improved in the past few days. We can’t yet precisely assess this new variant, but my basic position remains unchanged. This virus cannot be curbed with quarantine. This virus can only be defeated with vaccination. Naturally, we have a vaccination protocol and an immunity certificate system which determines that certain services can only be used with a vaccination certificate. Previously this extended to a wider range of services, and nowadays to a more limited range. But sometime by the end of January at the latest we’re planning to link the validity of the immunity certificate to the third dose of the vaccine. So the immunity certificates that we issued after two doses of the vaccine will lose their validity if the second dose isn’t followed by a third, booster, shot. If the situation deteriorates, this will happen sooner or later, we’ll take that step. But this isn’t expected during the New Year period.
Ágota Papp (Hír TV): In the past few weeks and months you’ve announced pay rises in a number of sectors. Next year will you implement pay rises in any further sectors?
In this regard we can’t yet say anything for certain. How did the present situation come about? When this whole crisis struck in March 2020, everyone suddenly tightened their purse strings. No one knew what impact this virus crisis would have on the economy. We were no exception. And – let me repeat – in this, experience always trumps speculation. But we had no such experience. We tried to learn something from the Spanish flu, but that wasn’t much use. So we had to wait. In 2020 we thought that a cap should be kept on spending, on pay rises, and that we should use all available means in defending against the virus. Therefore we spent much more money on investments, for instance, than on pay rises. But by 2021 we had a year’s worth of experience, and by the middle of 2021 we could already see that economic growth this year would be high. Then we realised that, in addition to investments, we could now also start increasing wages. This is how these sectoral pay rises have come about. Furthermore, we weren’t the only ones to think like this: the market is one step ahead of us. Where wages are concerned, I don’t like it when the state dictates the pace: that must be dictated by the market. If pay rises start in the market, then something happens in the economy which the Government ought to integrate into its own decisions. The economy started to expand as a result of the success of our investment-based crisis management, the economic relaunch was successful, and wages started increasing. Then we saw that in order to retain good workers we ourselves needed to implement pay rises. We also saw that if the state of the national economy allowed pay rises in the private sector, then, mutatis mutandis, it would also allow them in the state sector. And in the autumn we started working out the details of pay rises, starting with doctors, with the rest coming at the beginning of next year. Many say that this is election speculation. Naturally it’s not a problem if there are pay rises before an election, but the election alone wouldn’t have been enough to determine the timing of pay rises. Only the revival of the market gave us the opportunity and the courage to embark on more significant pay rises. The only truly intrepid – or, if you like, risky – aspect of this was the question of what to do with pensions, which are less strongly linked to wages. There’s no doubt that we took a risk on that. After long debates with the Finance Minister, we decided that in 2022 we should try to reinstate not only the second week’s instalment of the thirteenth month’s pension, but the entire thirteenth month’s pension. My argument was that if in 2021 there was economic growth of 6.5 to 7 per cent, when should we have the courage to take this step, if not now? Next year it will be lower, and so we won’t take that step then. Therefore if we ever want to reinstate the thirteenth month’s pension – taken away by Gyurcsány and his associates – more rapidly than over a four-year period, then now is the time. And so my arguments somehow proved to carry greater weight.
Ágota Papp (Hír TV): You’ve already spoken about Brussels several times today. Do you think there’s any chance that Brussels might settle its bill with Hungary before the election – including reimbursement of the costs of building the fence or the costs of border defence?
What can we do? I’ve already spoken about the EU not giving us certain funds – earlier items yes, but not the latest, not the Recovery Facility funds. We don’t want the investment side of the recovery effort to suffer, because in order for the economy to recover you need investments. If the EU doesn’t give us that money, we must do what we’re doing at present: provide it from the budget. This is one reason we need to juggle with the budget. Anyway, we’re providing that money up front from the budget, and we’ll post-finance the investments from EU funds. This is the exact opposite of the arrangement which the EU has made possible for other countries. In other words, they’re singling us out for extra burdens – but those burdens are not so great that we can’t cope with them. We’ll resolve this. We’ll launch every single programme.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Azonnali.
András Kósa (azonnali.hu): Thank you. András Kósa, azonnali.hu. Prime Minister, I’d like to return to what you said earlier about very intense intelligence service activity in Hungary, in connection with Hungary. In this regard, what’s your view on the fact that in the newly inaugurated building of the national security services, an address by [Speaker of Parliament] László Kövér may have been secretly recorded and leaked to the Hungarian press? Doesn’t this represent a very serious security risk?
I wasn’t present, but what I know about this is that when we speak – when people with governmental responsibility speak – we do so in one of three categories. The first category is when we speak in secret. This means that what’s said is classified, and a duly authorised agency states that it cannot be disclosed to the public for five, ten, twenty or thirty years. That’s the secret category. Another is when all of you are not invited, say when we speak in a specialist environment: it’s not a public event like this press conference, but neither is it a secret one. If that’s leaked, it’s leaked. That’s what happened in the case you’re referring to. The third category is when we address the public, through you, at public gatherings or other events. The instance you’ve mentioned is in the second category, not the third. If it had been in the first category, if the details of a classified event had been leaked, that would have needed to result in legal consequences. But that’s not the case here. I’m sorry, this is a little complex, it’s a difficult system.
András Kósa (azonnali.hu): Earlier the Hungarian government had plans to buy land and other properties in Slovakia. This aroused tensions in Bratislava/Pozsony, and eventually we abandoned the plans. How did Slovak prime minister Eduard Heger dissuade you from this course of action?
The Hungarian government hasn’t abandoned its property acquisition plans, and it will purchase several properties, as we have plans for consulate buildings and for cultural institutions for the Hungarian minority living there, and so on. What the Slovaks were strongly opposed to was the purchase of land by Hungarians. The purchase by Hungarians of agricultural land – not real estate. Naturally they were cautious in raising their objections, because restrictions or permissions related to the purchase of land there are subject to the European Union’s competition rules – as Slovakia is also a member of the European Union. And on this there’s little scope for the exercise of national competence. I’m not even sure if legally they’d have been able to prevent it. But the Prime Minister asked me to take account of their situation, and for the Hungarian state not to buy land. If Hungarian citizens buy land, say in Slovakia, or Slovaks buy land in Hungary, in political terms that’s a different matter from the Hungarian state buying land. And I had to accept that he was right.
András Kósa (azonnali.hu): One last question. Recently there was news that an NGO had to win a lawsuit in order to gain access to information of public interest related to the authorisation of the Eastern vaccines. Especially since the introduction of the state of danger, ministries and government agencies have regularly taken advantage of – or sometimes abused – the possibility of extending the 45-day deadline. On many occasions members of the press and others have been compelled to launch lawsuits in order to gain access to information of public interest. As Prime Minister, what’s your view on this approach to informing the public?
I approve of the Government’s conduct, but I also understand your impatience. Let’s not forget that today healthcare institutions must concentrate all their energy on caring for patients, who are now more numerous than usual due to COVID. So I expect hospitals to first and foremost care for patients. When they do release data, they’re putting their necks on the line. Data can only be released once it’s been checked several times and found to be valid. Therefore I think it’s right that hospitals don’t release data. That’s not their job. But there’s the National Public Health Centre – the duty of which is to release data. At the same time, they don’t want to make mistakes either; because they know very well that if they release erroneous data, then on the one hand they’re misleading the public, and on the other they’ll lose public trust – which will have consequences for their jobs. In a situation like this, releasing erroneous data falls into the most serious category. So I ask you to understand the reason for their caution. Only valid data that has been checked several times can be released.
András Kósa (azonnali.hu): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Pesti Srácok.
Szilveszter Szarvas (Pesti Srácok): Thank you. Szilveszter Szarvas from Pesti Srácok and Pesti TV. Prime Minister, in the witches’ brew being concocted by the Opposition there have been – and are – a number of plans for the toppling of Hungary’s constitutional order. Several members of the Opposition have said they’d use a simple majority to change the Constitution and rewrite the laws that require a two-thirds majority. Most recently, Member of Parliament Ákos Hadházy said that in a worst-case scenario this system could be overturned not in an election, but also through a revolution. Can you comment on MP Ákos Hadházy’s words? Do you think that amending the Constitution with a simple majority could jeopardise the Land Act or the Act on National Assets?
Your question can be approached in several ways. One of them is the line that you’ve taken, but I don’t want to follow you in taking this seriously and engaging in deep speculation. It’s a trivial issue, and if a word of it is true, I’ll hand back my law degree. The situation is that in Hungary there’s a very clear legal system, and this is simply a political bluff. I understand that things like this will sweep through the news before an election. Clearly there’s a lot of pressure from the Left, and I understand that; but we shouldn’t take it seriously. In Hungary there’s a solid constitutional order, and one can’t just delete or change one rule or another. This is a constitutional system, not a run-down squat or a garden shed.
Szilveszter Szarvas (Pesti Srácok): Thank you. I’d also like to ask you about Germany. In the programme it’s published, the new German government would like to see more intensive immigration in Germany, and would also take determined steps on the integration of migrants. Furthermore, they also want to force EU countries in that direction. Do you think there will be a major break between East-Central Europe and Western Europe? The other day you met the new German chancellor in Brussels. What personal impressions did you form, and did you manage to speak to him about this?
We didn’t speak about anything one-on-one. The approach I adopt isn’t necessarily the right one for this occasion, but for twenty or thirty years I’ve been working for the disappearance of that fault line between East and West. I believe that it’s definitely not in the interest of Hungary and Central Europe. At the same time, the differences that exist between the two halves of the continent are undeniable. What I’m saying is perhaps an oversimplification, but after World War II one half of the continent was occupied by the Russians and the other by the Americans – and not only in a military sense, but also in a cultural sense. The Americans embedded the Western half in what we call the liberal European or Western world, while here the Soviets tried to develop “Homo sovieticus”. We were able to resist that. After World War II the military and economic occupation of our region was successful, because when we rose up against it, they crushed us. The attempts at cultural transformation clearly damaged us, as things like that don’t disappear without a trace. But we resisted. Over here, Homo sovieticus, the communist species of man, could never establish itself. And as we had to defend ourselves, we continuously strengthened our national and religious identity. This was the form taken by our daily lives, without our even realising it. We resisted every day, to the point of such ridiculous things as refusing to learn Russian, even though it was a compulsory subject in school – which is something we now regret, but those were different times. For us, our resistance to the cultural pressures seeking to transform us became a survival instinct. The West has no similar experience: when the Americans started to culturally unify the West – America and Western Europe – they did so without resistance. Something came of that. I don’t want to use words now that might provoke a debate, but we might call it a cultural quality. Here, too, there developed a cultural quality, which broke free after 1990. Suddenly in 1990 it was revealed that in terms of loyalty to history, traditions, values, nation, communities and religion, the culture here was clearly very different to the one in the West. Ever since then I’ve been working to enable people in the West to understand that Europe is not only about the history of that part of the continent occupied by the Americans, but that the history of the part of the continent occupied by the Russians or the Soviets is also part of European history. Our experiences are also valuable, and what we can contribute is valuable. What they’re doing now is unacceptable: because we’re different from them, they see us as enemies, as backward, and they want to re-educate us, to lecture us. This cannot happen, because this is our life. And until they understand this culturally in the West, the Commission will seek to have governments in Central Europe that resemble the governments of Western Europe – from the viewpoint of fundamental values, for example. But this doesn’t lead anywhere: although we should aim to forge European cooperation, this won’t create European unity, but European doubt. This is how I see this from a historical perspective. We must make daily efforts to overcome the conflicts that have their origins in this difference.
Szilveszter Szarvas (Pesti Srácok): Thank you. Finally, I’d also like to ask you about foreign interest. On 23 October you said that in America, on the far side of “the Great Water”, forces are being mobilised in connection with the 2022 general election in Hungary. What foreign interventions do you fear in 2022? And what specific role will America play in them?
It’s very important to forget that word “fear”: we don’t fear anyone. We’re a state with a history of 1,100 years. We’ve seen everything here – and yet we’re the ones who are still here, not those who wanted to take our place. So we don’t fear anyone. We’ll defend what’s ours, we’ll defend our government, and our supporters, our voters, will stand up for themselves. We’ll see how much we can achieve with that, but we’ll definitely defend what belongs to Hungary. I don’t use that word. All I wanted to say was that Uncle George [Soros] is coming. We’ll be receiving guests: Uncle George is coming, and he’s not coming alone – he’ll bring all his mates. They’ll all be here.
Szilveszter Szarvas (Pesti Srácok): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. AP, Justin.
Justin Spike (AP, in English): Thank you. Justin Spike from Associated Press. I’ll ask my questions in English, if you don’t mind.
Justin Spike (AP, in English): Thank you. You said that there have been more than 100,000 illegal border-crossing attempts at the southern border, and that the pressure of migration has been worse than it was during the 2015 crisis. During the same period, Frontex reported less than half this number throughout the entire Western Balkans region. What could be the reason for the discrepancy in the numbers of border violations reported by the Hungarian authorities and by Frontex? Does this 100,000 mean 100,000 border-crossing attempts, or 100,000 individuals?
(In English) This is much more complex and much more confusing than that. When I last met Austria’s new chancellor, he said that 30,000 illegal migrants had arrived in Austria from Hungary. So there are at least three numbers in circulation. We’re talking about 100,000 border-crossing attempts. The Austrians are talking about a very large number of people who were detained at the Hungarian border, but 30,000 of them still reached the Austrian border. And there’s a third number from Brussels, according to which around 50,000 border violations were recorded. We don’t know exactly what this is about, but I think that the 100,000 illegal border-crossing attempts are very close to the truth. So for me that’s a fair and credible number. We don’t know how many individuals these attempts involve, because we count border-crossing attempts and not people, not individuals. And when someone is detained and expelled, they might well try again the next day.
Justin Spike (AP, in English): Thank you. According to the charges, State Secretary Pál Völner is suspected of having accepted bribes. And earlier Justice Minister Judit Varga said that Pál Völner had been responsible for signing surveillance orders in connection with the use of Pegasus software. Do you have any concerns that Pál Völner may also have been bribed to authorise the use of Pegasus?
(In English) All I can do is repeat what the Interior Minister said. He said that in Hungary each and every procedure is initiated by the Interior Minister, the Ministry of Interior. The Justice Minister can’t initiate such procedures: that must come from outside, the request must come from another ministry. Minister Sándor Pintér has said that there has been no illegal, unlawful surveillance in Hungary since 2010. I’m confident that this is true. I’m completely confident.
Justin Spike (AP, in English): A UN rapporteur has visited Hungary. She said that in Hungary freedom of the press is in danger, and that this jeopardises the fairness of the next election. There are a great many critical media outlets in Hungary, and you’ve said that this proves that there’s media pluralism. At the same time, I’d like to ask you about the role of the public service media. Senior editors have given political orders or instructions to journalists, and these people are still in office in the public service media, despite the fact that they’re clearly biased. Will the election be fair if the public service media fails to play the role of acting impartially and fails to give every side the same amount of time?
(In English) The Government isn’t an authority directing the public service media; I can’t influence them, and I won’t. You can rest assured that the election will be fair, and that the parties in government will never exert pressure on the public service media with regard to what they should or shouldn’t do. If you look at the Hungarian media landscape in general, you can see that it’s rather different from that in Western Europe: the biggest difference is that here the media is pluralistic, while in the West it is hegemonic. If you look at the Hungarian press, if you look at Hungarian radio and television, if you look at social media, you’ll see that there are very many different opinions, a wide-ranging palette. This is very different from the media in Western societies. I’d say that on the whole around 50 per cent of the Hungarian media is Christian democrat, traditionalist and conservative, while the other 50 per cent is progressive, liberal, left-wing and so on. So here in Hungary this kind of fundamental difference is quite clear and strong. I think this is a good thing. This is what we call pluralistic media. It’s not for me to criticise any country, but in Western countries liberal views have a kind of hegemony. It’s not for me to criticise this, but nonetheless it’s disturbing that what we have here isn’t regarded as normal because it’s not exactly the same as what exists in Western societies; but from our point of view what exists over there isn’t normal. This is what we’d call a dialogue of the deaf.
Justin Spike (AP, in English): Yes, but in Hungary there’s the Media Act, and there’s the Media Council, whose duty it is to oversee the functioning of the public service media. What can the Government do to encourage the Media Council to ensure that the media regulations are observed, and to also give the Opposition appropriate airtime on the public service media?
(In English) You’re aware how fiercely we’re criticised in connection with the media situation in Hungary. If I tried to influence or put pressure on any media, how fiercely do you think I’d be criticised then? And that would be legitimate criticism. So that isn’t my responsibility. The Government will stay out of that. That’s the task of the National Media and Communications Authority, and I keep my distance from it.
Justin Spike (AP, in English): Thank you. One last question. A daily fine has been imposed on Poland because they’re failing to implement the European Court’s judgment. Such a fine could also be imposed on Hungary, due to its refugee and migration policy. In spite of the European Court’s decision, you’ve said that this policy won’t be changed, because your interpretation of a decision by the Constitutional Court of Hungary is that it prevents the Government from changing its asylum policy. If a daily fine were imposed on Hungary, would you be prepared to make any compromise? Or would you simply pay it?
As this carries genuine weight, and this is a very complex matter, please allow me to answer your question in Hungarian. What’s the root of this problem? The root of the problem is that everyone in Brussels now agrees that migrants must be stopped somehow – with a fence if necessary. No one is now being attacked as fiercely as we were in 2015 when we built the fence. This is one aspect of the reality. Another aspect of the reality is that there’s a set of regulations in force related to asylum. This was conceived before 2015, before mass migration started, and it wasn’t designed for the situation that we’re in now. The European authorities enforce those regulations, even though now the reality is something else. In its conclusions a few months ago even the European Council itself unanimously stated that we’re asking the Commission to change the regulations: to make a recommendation for changing the current regulations that were conceived in times of normality, so that we can adjust them to the reality of mass migration. And now Hungary is the victim of this situation: we’ve been found guilty on the basis of a set of regulations adopted in more peaceful times, and we could even be punished financially because we’re not letting in people whom they believe we should let in. In the meantime, we have a new reality that everyone has already accepted, including in Poland: that they cannot be allowed in. There’s only one way to resolve this: by changing the European asylum rules, by adjusting them to conform with reality. This process hasn’t even started yet, but at least the Commission has sensed this challenge, and the 27 prime ministers have unanimously asked the Commission to adjust the rules to conform with reality. I hope they’ll see reason and won’t penalise us in the meantime with fines when they themselves know that, although they were unable to adopt a different ruling on the basis of the regulations in force, for a very long time those regulations have not served the interests of a single country.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Index.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): Thank you. Bettina Holló from Index. When will you compile and publish Fidesz’s party list for the election?
Fifty days before the election.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: That’s when the campaign and the collection of signatures starts. The legal deadline is 36 days, no later than that.
According to the law, the campaign starts fifty days before the election. In order to determine when that will be, the President must first set a date for the election. We’ll count back fifty days, and that’s when we can start collecting signatures for the candidates. The list of our candidates will be in the public domain no later than fifty days before the elections. This is the accurate way to put it.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): Thank you. After the France-V4 summit, can we expect any further extended V4 summits during the Hungarian presidency?
First we had the President of Egypt, then of South Korea, and most recently the President of France. Our next meeting will be with Prime Minister Boris Johnson – we don’t yet know whether it will be in London or Budapest, that’s yet to be decided. We’re waiting for the German chancellor’s reply. There will be a meeting between the Turkic Council and the V4, which will naturally also involve the President of Turkey. Meanwhile, in March Hungary will host this big conservative jamboree, called CPAC. Can I call it that? We hope it will be attended by high-ranking guests from the United States. So we won’t be bored in the months ahead.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): I’d like to continue with a question about education. What makes you think that the campaign of the Left is behind the teacher strikes called for January and March? What has led you to that conclusion?
I don’t know.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): I ask because after the strike talks, the Ministry of Human Capacities issued a communication, stating the Government’s position that it’s simply a campaign stunt by the Left – and that in fact teachers are taking directions from Ferenc Gyurcsány. What’s your opinion on this? Or is the reality different?
I stand by my minister’s statement. If that’s what my minister said, then that’s the case.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): Very well. Let me continue with questions on the pandemic. Is the Hungarian government planning to take steps in the future to resolve the travel difficulties experienced by citizens injected with the [Russian] Sputnik vaccine?
We keep trying, but at the moment thick walls tower over us. Our situation with the Chinese vaccine is simple, because that’s been recognised by the WHO, and if the WHO recognises a vaccine, it means that it’s effective and safe. So we don’t have to concern ourselves with that. On the other hand, the Russian vaccine hasn’t been approved yet. But in practice everyone says that it’s effective and safe. As far as I can see, those who’ve received the Russian vaccine are in very good shape – including the Minister, as you can see. They’re in excellent health – or at least I hope that’s the case for everyone. We’re waiting for the international authorities to finally give the seal of approval to the Russian vaccine, but until then there isn’t much we can do. My advice to everyone is that when they receive their third dose of the vaccine – and anyway, the experts advise against three doses of the same vaccine – they should make sure that the third one is a vaccine that’s also approved in Western Europe. And then we’ll see. There are certain countries which completely disregard all the rules, however, and now they’re making entry conditional on tests. So my advice to everyone is to consult the website which provides the latest information on entry requirements. Whenever I need to travel, I also consult it to see which vaccines are accepted, or which tests can be used.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): Yes, but earlier the position was that Hungary would try to lobby for easier entry requirements for those who received a Western vaccine as a third dose after two doses of Sputnik. Are you saying that so far these efforts have been unsuccessful, and that no progress has been made on that?
We’re literally lobbying for that, yes.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): I’d like to continue with another question about the pandemic. Earlier in the management of the pandemic we followed Austria first and foremost, looking on it as a kind of laboratory. Do we still regard it as a model, or has this changed since the beginning of the pandemic? And if so, what criteria are we now taking into consideration, or which other countries are we observing?
This has changed, because Austria decided to continue with a hybrid defence system: a quarantine-style or lockdown-style defence system. Meanwhile we’ve changed over to a vaccination-based defence effort, meaning that we’re following a completely different logic. Therefore, while we’re closely observing the Austrian experiences, we’re now no longer able to draw direct conclusions from them because we’ve set out on another crisis management path. We believe in vaccination.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): My last question. In November, Hungarian doctors published a study claiming that it’s possible to reduce COVID-related mortalities in hospitals to a third, by using a very cheap and easily accessible anti-depressant. Have you been informed about this study, and is it possible that this effective therapy will be used more widely in hospitals?
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that over the past two years dozens of very well-intentioned people have contacted me suggesting a variety of medicines, procedures and therapies – claiming that these would help. But we’re not a healthcare authority, and our skills and abilities are limited – definitely as far as medicine is concerned. So I’ve immediately directed all such recommendations to the healthcare ministry, to the Ministry of Human Capacities to be precise, and there matters have followed their own path. Some have come to something, while others simply haven’t passed the test. Regarding the alternative therapy you mention, my answer is the same: this is the procedure followed by the Ministry of Human Capacities; if they support it, it will be included in the medical protocol; if they don’t, it will be discarded. But the Government doesn’t presume to act as a judge in matters that require specific virological, medical or scientific knowledge. So far we’ve managed to protect ourselves from the illusion that we’re experts on virology; and although we’ve been dealing with this in our every waking hour for two years, we’re able to keep a distance from it. Let the statisticians, mathematicians, virology experts and scientists come forward, let’s listen to them, and let’s make decisions only after hearing from them. We won’t take on that role.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: InfoRádió.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): Hello. Zsolt Herczeg from InfoRádió. Some clarification in connection with the pandemic. If I understood you correctly, from the end of January at the latest you want to make the validity of the immunity certificate conditional on a third dose of the vaccine. Has a decision regarding this been adopted yet, or is this a plan that depends on how the pandemic develops?
The Government has authorised the Operational Group to make such a decision, and the date will be fixed by the Operational Group. I think this is the accurate way to put it.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): Thank you. Another question related to the pandemic. There are some who’ll soon be due for a fourth dose of the vaccine. As a matter of fact, I fall into that category myself; and I’m sure there are many others too, because I remember that at the time there were a lot of us in the queue. You’ve referred to the third vaccine as the key, but when and what plans do you have for administration of the fourth dose? Clearly you’ve already consulted experts on this, also in light of the fact that – as you’ve mentioned – the vaccine against the Omicron variant will only arrive at the end of next year and the year after. So that’s not yet the solution, even though Omicron’s spreading rapidly. Following on from this, clearly this is the question: in terms of the third or fourth doses of the vaccine, what information do you have on the currently available vaccines’ efficacy against the Omicron variant?
All I dare to say in this regard is that, as far as we know, the third dose of the vaccines now in circulation is also effective against the Omicron variant. This is our starting point. We can’t yet say with any degree of certainty what other variants will appear and to what extent the various vaccines are effective against the Omicron variant. But in my opinion scientists can’t yet say either. So we must wait. I believe today the third dose of the vaccine is key, because after a while we’ll have had enough. Vaccination is, after all, a question of trust. If I’m starting to resemble a pin cushion, if you’ll excuse the phrase, then after a while how many more? Will there also be a tenth one? Or a fifteenth one? Where will all this lead? So I’m very hopeful that this third, booster, shot will contain it. I myself would find it difficult to go for a fourth one, so I’m very hopeful that this third one will also defeat Omicron. Reading international news reports, this seems to be the case. We’re now told that the Omicron variant is only spreading much faster and reaching far more people, but that it doesn’t cause severe symptoms, because the vaccine is effective. So the pressure on the healthcare system won’t increase. The severity of cases won’t increase, but their number will. Let’s hope that this turns out to be the case.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): One more question on another topic. For however short a period, will you have to find a successor in the Government to replace the person nominated as the new head of state? Have you considered this yet, and has there been a decision on this yet? When should this decision be made, and for how long will it be in effect?
I’d like this decision to be made as soon as possible.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): So already…
I was thinking of 1 January, yes.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): She’ll leave her post on 1 January. And do you already have a candidate?
I haven’t yet spoken to the Minister, but this is what I’d like.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): She’s already been informed. Fine. Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. HVG.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Thank you. Is this microphone working? Fine. Thank you. Tibor Lengyel from hvg.hu. I’d like to go back to the Völner case for a minute. This is the second time in a year that a person in the Government has come under suspicion of corruption. At the beginning of last December a deputy state secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture was arrested. That wasn’t a deputy minister, but a deputy state secretary. So this is the second case in a year. In your opinion, could two cases of corruption in a year be described as systemic corruption within the Government?
It’s too many. Exactly two more than there should be.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Clear. You mentioned that you’ll wait for the court’s decision before there are any consequences, including in relation to political responsibility. That could take years. Until then, hasn’t there even been the suggestion of an internal investigation within the Government?
The State Secretary denies the accusation. The matter would be simple if he didn’t deny it, but accepted it. But that’s not the case. He’s denying it, so we don’t know precisely what the truth is, and we must wait for the court’s decision. At times like this there’s one thing I expect: the person involved must resign their position in the Government. Not because I want to prejudge the case, but because a person under this type of pressure and attack needs to spend most of their time defending themself, and so they’re unable to perform the job that we all expect a responsible official to perform. In a situation like this, they must resign their state office; and he did just that, as we expected him to.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): I see. You say that in the Pegasus case everyone was surveilled in accordance with the law. The Minister has said this several times. If – as you consistently claim – this is the case, then why doesn’t the responsible authority dispel concerns in this matter by rescinding the classified status of these documents and disclosing them to the public?
That’s for the relevant authority to decide.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): That’s probably the Interior Minister. He can decide to do so if you ask him to. Are you planning to do that?
That’s right, but I have no intention of doing so.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Why not?
Because that’s not how this government works. If it did, after a while I’d be at the head of every ministry. There are clear rules, there are leaders, there are responsibilities, and we must follow them. And as long as people do their jobs well, they’ll stay in them. If you make decisions over the heads of ministers, after a while you’ll find that you’re the one making the decisions in every difficult situation. Perhaps you can run a company like that, and I don’t know about HVG as a business, but I’m sure that you can’t run a government like that. Clear responsibilities, boundaries, characters: that’s the only way it can work.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Did you perhaps ask the Minister whether he was considering such a step?
I asked him whether I had anything to do. He said that I could relax, as everything is being done legally.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): So if I’ve understood correctly, he isn’t planning to take any further steps in this case. That’s clear. Have you seen Hatvanpuszta lately? Do you still say that a simple farmstead is being built there?
Every other day I see it when people post pictures of it on the internet. So now I just sit comfortably in my office, and follow events from there.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Have you visited the site?
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): And do you think it’s a simple farmstead?
I think you should feel free to approach the owner with any questions you may have.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): I see. We did that, but we haven’t really had any answers from him, and that’s why I ask you from time to time. Don’t you think that the 4.9 per cent budget deficit target for 2022 will be jeopardised by these payments, pay rises of all sorts, and other measures?
We’ve run through all the numbers several times with the Finance Minister, and we believe that the budget that I’ve signed – or the Government has approved – will withstand the storms. We now have faith in that. But you can see for yourself what state the world economy is in, and so one can’t be completely certain. What’s needed is a government capable of action, and we’ll make adjustments when necessary. Although we haven’t gathered here for me to list this government’s virtues, I think that one of them is its ability to respond rapidly. If needs be, we can make adjustments within days – either related to the virus, or to the budget. And the truth is that now our situation, my situation, is even easier than normal, because we’re in a special legal situation which on a number of issues only requires retrospective approval from Parliament. So decisions can be adopted, and even brought into force, before they’ve been debated by Parliament. This broadens our capacity for action on the issues of both the virus and the budget.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): That’s clear. One last brief question. Can we expect any changes in the procedural rules related to the elections, to constituency boundaries, before the 2022 election? And could you postpone the election because of the state of danger? Has this question arisen?
If there’s such a citizens’ initiative, say from HVG, we’ll consider it. So far this hasn’t arisen. The election must be held. Sorry, what was your first question?
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): The procedural rules for the election and electoral districts…
I don’t want to twist the lion’s tale, but this isn’t the United States, where the procedural rules can be changed even immediately before an election. So with the election approaching we’re committed to keeping changes to a minimum – or to zero if possible. As in many other important dimensions related to constitutionality, the main guardian of this principle and approach is Minister Gergely Gulyás. He regularly analyses all such amendments, and so the chances of them occurring are extremely slim.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: No changes of any kind have been made to electoral boundaries since 2013.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Right. Except that there’s a rule which says that they should be adjusted.
They should be, that’s right.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Since 2012.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: No, this is true. This is true …
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): I see. So there won’t be any changes, any amendments.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: In our defence, I can tell you that there used to be three-fold differences, 300 per cent differences, between some constituencies – for instance, between Electoral District 2 in Veszprém County and Budapest’s District XIII, Angyalföld. Compared with that, in some places now there’s a 20 per cent difference; compared with 300 per cent, in some places the difference has slipped to just over 20 per cent. If we can reach a consensus, we should perhaps make adjustments after the next election. But since the adoption of legislation on electoral rights in 2011 there haven’t been the kind of grossly disproportionate differences that existed before 2010.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Euronews.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): Thank you. Ádám Magyar. Prime Minister, you’ve mentioned that we’re ordering 9.5 million doses of vaccine against the Omicron variant. Are we doing this as part of the EU vaccine procurement scheme? Are we returning to the EU vaccine procurement scheme, or doing it independently?
There’s some confusion on this, and I see it regularly, but the following is how this should be seen. There was a vaccine procurement programme in the EU, in which we took part. Then it turned out that children need a separate vaccine, and so we took part in that programme, too. At that time the EU asked whether we wanted to extend our participation in the first vaccine procurement programme. We said we didn’t, because we had enough vaccines; and so we didn’t take part in that. Now the EU’s made a new offer: rather than returning to the earlier programme, they’ll open a new one for the Omicron vaccine, and they’ve asked us if we want to participate in it. We’ve agreed to that offer.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): Recovery Facility. The Commission has several demands, and you’ve already spoken about them yourself. Are there any demands that the Government would be willing to fulfil – or at least partially fulfil – in order for Hungary to receive the funds as soon as possible? Either regarding the fight against corruption, or transparency of expenditure?
There are some items that we’ve agreed upon. Earlier I thought that we’d agreed on everything, but then it was derailed because of the child protection legislation. We came to an agreement on the issue of public procurements, on enhancing competition in public procurements. There was also the issue of joining a central database run by the European Union…
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Arachne.
…a programme called Arachne which we support, provided that we’re also given access to the data of the other countries that have joined this system. In other words, we want full transparency. Fine, we’ll upload our data; but in that case, we want to see what the money has been spent on in Germany and in France. It mustn’t be a situation in which they can look at us, but we can’t look at them. What we couldn’t agree on was that the EU also has demands related to public law – for instance, that we should change the status of Members of Parliament and limit their right to initiate legislation. According to Hungarian tradition, that’s completely out of the question. And they’re also urging Hungary to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office; but in Hungary the Prosecution Service is subordinated to Parliament, and therefore it can’t move in the direction of any international association. Its sovereignty must be preserved, and it will be preserved; we couldn’t agree on that. On that issue, we’re bargaining over some procedural protocols, about how the Prosecution Service could somehow better cooperate with the EU – despite it being independent and not under the Government’s oversight. I see no obstacle to that. Sorry, Gergő. We rarely talk about this, but it’s important to put things into perspective. For instance, in Germany the Prosecution Service is subordinated to the Government – to the Justice Minister, to be precise. In Germany the Justice Minister has the right to give instructions even in specific cases, and he or she regularly exercises that right. Just imagine if Judit Varga were to instruct the Hungarian prosecution service in a specific investigation, in relation to specific charges. That’s the German system! That’s not seen as a problem, but Hungary’s independent prosecution service subordinated solely to Parliament is seen as a problem. It would be best to leave the Prosecution Service out of this game, otherwise it will turn out that quite a few countries would be required to make far more changes than we’re being asked to make. So as regards the Prosecution Service, “yes” to cooperation, but “no” to systemic change, to a change of its place within the constitutional system.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I’m sorry, I just wanted to add one sentence, because the gentleman mentioned transparency. Here the essence of the debate is that we want more transparency than the Commission wants. We say that it’s fine for there to be a new system into which we upload all data – that’s the Arachne system; but every country should have access to every element of that system. They don’t want that. We’re for transparency, while the Commission wants to restrict transparency. So there’s a dispute over that. But the real issue is the child protection legislation.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): Thank you.
Just to make it clear, this is important; because if they didn’t continually accuse us of all sorts of things, then we wouldn’t want to look into the pockets of the French, German and Austrian ministers. But if we’re under attack and they’re scrutinising us, then we, too, must be able to scrutinise them; we can’t defend ourselves otherwise. The system must be two-way.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): Thank you. Does the dispute centred on the Recovery Facility have anything to do with the Government postponing the implementation of investments worth 350 billion forints? Which programmes are affected by this decision? How did you select these programmes?
We put a huge pile of documents on the table and went through them one by one: projects over 10 billion, projects over 5 billion, projects over 1 billion. And we postponed by one year those projects which were at the lowest level of preparation. That’s how we did it. It was quite a hands-on process, to tell you the truth: a method lacking all the charms of artificial intelligence.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): Prime Minister, you’ve mentioned that in the pandemic Austria opted for a different method of defence. Now in the downward phase of the fourth wave, what’s your general opinion of the Hungarian defence operation compared to, say, the Austrian numbers – their infection and death rates? How successful do you think it’s been? Is it possible that if a new wave arrives we’ll return to the Austrian model: a defence method involving major lockdowns, but fewer infections and deaths?
I wouldn’t like to return to that, but neither do I want to rule anything out. As we believe in vaccination, we’d like to use all available means to increase the rate of vaccination. As to how one measures the success or failure of the defence operation, this is one of the big debates – perhaps not only in Hungarian politics, but across the whole of Europe. It’s a difficult debate. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. People have died, so here it would be more appropriate to show empathy, so that those who have lost loved ones feel that we also have something kind to say to them: that we care about them, too, and that we haven’t forgotten about them. Even though an individual’s personal loss is the greatest for them, this is also a shared loss. These are the gestures that are truly appropriate in a decent Christian society. In contrast to that, arguing over how many people have died and what the situation looks like creates a very negative atmosphere. This is in the nature of politics, however, and we can’t avoid it. So all I can say – and what I always tell the Opposition – is that if we want to talk about this issue fairly and calmly, then the figure we should look at is one called “excess mortality”. This tells us how many more people died compared to a situation in which there was no pandemic in Hungary. We obtain this number, and then the different countries can be compared based on that number. If we do that, Hungary is ranked somewhere around eighth [in the EU]. The country with the worst figure is at the top of the list, and we’re in eighth place: somewhere, I think I could say, in the middle rank. If one uses the word “satisfied”, then one has to ask how anyone could be satisfied with a situation in which more than 30,000 people have died. Everyone is doing their best – every single doctor, nurse, minister, police officer, everyone. But you can’t be satisfied, because people have died. Therefore, instead of primary political considerations, we should adopt a more Christian, more human or more humane approach to this whole situation. So for the time being, as far as I can see, the Government is able to defend the position that it did everything that was humanly possible – and sometimes it even did things that others didn’t. For instance, the Government procured vaccines which others didn’t – and rapidly at that. And we’re ahead of everyone else in administering third vaccinations. So for the time being I’m able to take full responsibility for everything that’s happened in our defence operation. I can take responsibility with a clear conscience.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): My last question. You’ve spoken about foreign interference in the upcoming election, both in relation to the European Union and America. What specific interference attempts are you expecting?
When they happen we’ll let you know. That’s perhaps the simplest approach, because otherwise we’ll slide into conspiracy theorising, which may well be exciting, but is bad for the soul.
Ádám Magyar (Euronews): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Magyar Nemzet.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): Patrik Máté from Magyar Nemzet. My first question relates to the fact that the Left are continually attacking reductions in household utility bills, border defence, the child protection legislation, the various family allowances and the reintroduction of the thirteenth month’s pension. Has the Government considered or planned any higher, constitutional protection for these measures?
Not only has the Government considered this option, but we also asked a question about it in one of the national consultations, and the idea received overwhelming support. We’re now strapped for time, and changing the Constitution before the election to give something constitutional protection – something which clearly also concerns the budget – wouldn’t be in good taste according to Gergő; and neither would it be compatible with sound constitutional conduct. That said, I myself think it would be necessary on some points – especially regarding the family support system. If we can declare in the Constitution that we can’t reduce the current level of protection related to the environment, then we could also declare that likewise we can’t reduce the current level of protection related to the support of children and families. This would satisfy my conscience and constitutional views – although on this, too, there’s some debate. So there could be scope for action. We’re too close to the election, and so I don’t think this could be expected before then.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): I’d like to continue with the same topic, the topic of child protection. Last week the Constitutional Court ruled that in the referendum Hungarian citizens will also be able to state their opinions on the so-called fifth question: the one on “gender reassignment” surgery. Prime Minister, what’s your view on the Constitutional Court’s decision?
It chimes with my initial response. When the Curia ruled that this question isn’t a suitable one for a referendum, I was less able to understand their reasoning; but I’m better able to understand the reasons put forward by the Constitutional Court. But it’s too late now, and I think it would only lead to chaos and confusion. At some point we’ll need to hold a referendum about this question, too; but in my opinion adding it before the election to the four questions that Parliament has already approved would cause more harm than good, and so we’ll have to do it sometime later. Now, however, we’re preparing for a four-question referendum: one with four “yes/no” questions, and we’ll see what the result is.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): Let’s move to Budapest City Hall. We’re now witnessing a corruption scandal, the like of which we haven’t seen since the [Gábor] Demszky era. What are your thoughts on that? And couldn’t the need emerge for statutory protection for buildings such as Budapest City Hall, which the left-wing city leadership very nearly squandered?
As far as I know there are investigations and proceedings under way at Budapest City Council, and so if you don’t mind I’d rather not say anything until they’re concluded – beyond saying that I’m following events with a sense of dismay.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): Sailing a little into international waters, my last question is this: Prime Minister, how long do you think Brussels can continue linking funding for European competitiveness to various ideological expectations and issues?
In fact, there should be no link between financial issues and ideological considerations, but this connection has been created. As you’ve said, the question is how long it will be before European – or let’s say Brussels – officials leave that path. I think they’ll leave it when they finally begin to experience the damage being done. I’m convinced that what the Brussels bureaucrats are doing in Brussels right now is fatally weakening Europe’s competitiveness. Foreign policy cannot be based on ideological considerations, economic policy can’t be based on ideological considerations, competitiveness can’t be based on ideological considerations, and developments can’t be based on ideological considerations. Because there are others in the world – both in the East and the West – who don’t do things that way. And those who throw that ballast out of their hot-air balloon will fly higher. Therefore, after a while the EU will have to – and will – see reason and realise that they can only make slower progress than those who focus on the issues at hand: on trade, investments, foreign policy interests, and so on. But by then we’ll be paying a high price. As I see it, however, they’re like the Bourbons: they’ve learned nothing and forgotten nothing – or if they have, only at their own expense.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. 24.hu.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): You said you first learned about Pál Völner’s case from a communication by the Prosecutor’s Office. What was your first reaction when you read it?
I won’t repeat it verbatim, but it’s what you think.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): So you said some swear words.
I had some strong thoughts.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): How is it possible that you knew nothing about this case before the communication?
I should be thinking this: had I known about it, would that have been right? It wouldn’t have been right. I think this is the right order of things. I’m not saying it’s convenient, but this is the order of things.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): That you didn’t know about it beforehand.
Of course. Let’s just imagine! If the Prosecution Service were subordinated to the Government, that would be another matter, then I’d have said a thing or two, but the Prosecution Service isn’t subordinated to the Government. The Prosecution Service is subordinated to Parliament.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): Yes, but you’ve mentioned yourself that Pál Völner is relatively close to you, and so you regard him as a friend. Isn’t it strange that you didn’t know about the investigation?
To use a well-known category, he’s an old fellow warrior. Let me repeat: this is the correct order of things. In the present constitutional order it cannot be otherwise, and it must not be otherwise.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): One more question about the Völner case. Are you aware of any other member of the Government, state secretary, minister or Member of Parliament who might be involved in the case?
When you take your oath before Parliament, you say that you will observe and enforce the law. If I knew about any further information, I should take action immediately, and if I do in the future I will take action.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): And don’t you want to call upon him to also resign his seat as a Member of Parliament, as he’s already resigned as state secretary?
It’s my responsibility to ensure that the latter happened. As regards his mandate as a Member of Parliament, there’s a disciplinary protocol in Fidesz, but the mandate belongs to the MP, and it can’t be taken away from them. The Fidesz parliamentary group can’t vote about whether someone should resign their mandate: it’s theirs, and they can keep it for as long as they see fit.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): Returning a little to the issue of the fourth dose. If I understand you correctly, the issue of the fourth vaccine isn’t even on the agenda. You’re not even consulting with experts, virologists…
We are, and among themselves they’re keeping that issue permanently on the agenda; but their position hasn’t yet crystallised to the point at which it could be the subject of a government proposal.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): This is interesting, because the third dose was first made available in August. At the time, access to it was mainly for healthcare workers and the oldest citizens. Their four months will be up soon. Should they expect another vaccination?
Here the problem or the question is that we don’t yet know by how much the third dose prolongs the efficacy of the first two doses: there’s no scientific consensus on that yet. We hope, everyone hopes, that it’s by a long time – by a very long time. Before we arranged for administration of the third dose we were told that it would provide a significant boost and prolongation. This was the scientific consensus not only in Hungary, but internationally. We’ll see.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): You’ve said that you’ve ordered 9.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccine against the Omicron variant. Are we ordering any Chinese or Russian vaccines?
There’s no need for them at this point in time. I would do so, but as far as I can see European procurement is reliable and sufficient – even if it’s not particularly fast. And as we have enough in storage, there’s no need for that now. Furthermore, billions of people are being injected with the Chinese vaccines in countries where Western vaccines aren’t available, and so I don’t think it would be fair on them if we took those vaccines away from them by importing Chinese vaccines again. This might qualify as product placement, and perhaps it’s not appropriate to say it here, but I received the Chinese vaccine, and I’m convinced that it’s the best. But everyone’s free to follow their own beliefs. However, we haven’t got any now – or we only have a small quantity in storage, and that will run out soon. After that we’ll only be importing Western vaccines, because procurements are better scheduled and easier.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): You also said we can’t hope for the virus to leave us. This means that from a healthcare point of view we must prepare for parallel operations: normal care and COVID care in parallel. From a labour market point of view, how do you envisage this being realised in the long run? What’s the situation on waiting lists? Are you preparing any plans or strategies for that? Are you preparing any strategy at all for these parallel operations in the healthcare system as a whole?
This is the most difficult technical issue that I’ve come across recently. If we vacate a bed and reserve it for future COVID use, and then it turns out that there weren’t that many infected patients and it didn’t need to be used for a COVID patient, then someone hasn’t received the treatment they needed. So this is the most difficult question. At the same time, if the pandemic suddenly flares up again, you can’t remove patients from beds who have just undergone surgery or are waiting for it. This requires very sensitive coordination, and the Ministry is continuously monitoring the safety margin we must maintain, at the same time making sure that not a single bed more than absolutely necessary is reserved. How did we resolve the backlog of patients last time? We did so by … 6 billion?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Thirteen.
We gave the healthcare ministry 13 billion forints for an accelerated protocol to carry out the medical interventions related to the backlog of non-COVID patients that had accumulated between the two waves of the pandemic. The length of waiting lists shrank significantly, and we accomplished the task rather successfully. There will be another surge in between waves, and so we’ll have to convince doctors with a larger sum of money and ask them to carry out more interventions on non-COVID patients, which will enable us to reduce waiting lists again. I think this is how it’s possible, how we can move on.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): You’ve said that hospital capacities are fantastic – that’s the word you used, if I remember correctly – and that there are enough beds. What about the workforce situation? What information do you have access to?
I think I know everything I need to know. At times like this, in order to have sufficient workforce we must introduce deployment rules. There are deployment rules, meaning that if in a particular place there aren’t enough staff, within a legally developed protocol we’re able to transfer doctors, nurses and other personnel from another part of the country. With the present deployment protocol, the available workforce is able to cope with the challenges. It’s not easy for them – in fact, it’s very difficult for them – but they’re coping.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): Did you see the video posted by the Medical Chamber, in which they complain that it’s very difficult to organise Christmas locum services in hospitals? Locum service is voluntary, and not many doctors are prepared to volunteer for it. What are your thoughts on that, and what plans does the Government have for reforming the locum system and for paying locum service rates?
I’m sure that Christmas locum services will be organised. So far they’ve always been organised, even on holidays. We have a healthcare ministry to take care of it, and we have a national chief hospital commander to take care of it. I think we’ll resolve this. I ask doctors to make themselves available for locum service; because if they don’t, then indeed we’ll be left without doctors. But I ask them to do so. I don’t want to resort to strict legal measures such as ordering compulsory work. I’d like this to remain on a voluntary basis.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): What about pay for locum service?
What I can tell you is that based on the agreement concluded with the Medical Chamber there was a pay rise in Hungary, and I think no one recalls anything like it in the past – for the simple reason that there’s never been one like it. That’s one. Two: for some time now we’ve been negotiating with the relevant professional organisations about how much money would be required for locum services, and so on. Gergő says that we’ve set aside 27 billion forints for this purpose, so I don’t think that what we’re talking about is a question of money, but that it’s tough to be on a locum shift at Christmas. And I understand the doctors. Whenever I speak about doctors, nurses, soldiers and police officers I only ever do so with the greatest respect, because these are professions in which you’re required to work even on Christmas Eve. I respectfully ask them to volunteer for work, even if it’s hard.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): But at the moment they have to work for less money: locum service pay has been reduced, and this is why doctors aren’t volunteering for it.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: No, that’s not true, salaries have increased, but locum service pay hasn’t decreased. Locum service pay has also risen. The National Hospital High Command put forward a proposal which the strategic cabinet discussed, and locum service pay is in line with that. Naturally, compared with salaries they’ve lagged, because instead of the earlier salaries of 500,000 to 600,000 forints, today doctors’ salaries are between 1.5 and 2 million forints.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): You said it’s right for hospitals not to provide data. Do you have access to any hospital data at all? I’d really like to know whether you’re familiar with the vaccination status data of COVID patients treated in hospital, and those who died.
Perhaps not in the way a statistician needs it, but we start every Cabinet meeting by first listening to the report from the Operational Group. Every Cabinet meeting begins with that. In fact, even at the preparatory Cabinet meetings we review the numbers, and the head of the Operational Group tells us everything he knows. After that the floor is given to the Minister of Human Capacities, who supplements the details of that report with medical considerations that the Government should be aware of. And if a decision is required, we usually make a decision after that. When there’s a lot of pressure – we’ve already had such situations – I convene all the hospital directors for a video conference. We’ve had two of those. And then I consult with them in person, as the situation demands.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): So you have access to important data, hospital data.
I think so. Of course.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): I have one last question on another topic. Mónika Karas has resigned as President of the Media Authority, receiving 41 million forints in severance pay. In 2010 you adopted a law with which you levied a tax on “shamelessly” high severance payments: payments over two million forints. What word would you use to describe this sum of 41 million?
I’d say that this falls beyond our remit. These are independent regulatory authorities. Hungary has a few independent regulatory authorities which adopt decisions similar to those of the Government, but which fall entirely outside the Government’s control. For instance, the Government has no control of any kind over the National Media Authority, the Communications and Media Authority; and I wouldn’t like the Government to have any, as in our constitutional order this is how it’s determined. I don’t judge them.
Ágnes Benke (24.hu.): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. TV2 please.
Márta Vendrey (TV2): Thank you. Márta Vendrey. My first question. What’s your view on an earlier statement made some time back by the Left’s candidate for prime minister, in which he said that it’s stupid to reduce household utility bills? He said you can reduce household utility bills in other ways: people should use less water, people should use less electricity, people should use less gas. What’s your view on this statement?
Márta Vendrey (TV2): Should we follow his advice?
I’m trying to put those sentences into perspective. I’ve seen many things in my profession, but nothing like that, I can tell you. So at the moment I consider what I see here as some new kind of celestial body. I thought that governing was about doing good things for the people. But to take away the minimum wage, to tell people to buy smaller cars and wash less, and things like that? How can I put it? Such things don’t exist in the celestial sphere I’m familiar with: there’s no such planet. So, to be honest with you, I don’t understand what’s happening.
Márta Vendrey (TV2): Now that we’re talking about benefits and allowances, are you planning any further payments, tax reductions or welfare measures?
Márta Vendrey (TV2): Can you tell us what they are?
Márta Vendrey (TV2): Is the Government planning any further interventions related to energy prices? Youve recently introduced lower energy prices for businesses as well. Prices are likely to increase further next year. How do you see the future as far as energy policy is concerned?
I’ve now received confirmation that the decision we adopted eight years ago has proved to be shockproof: even during the present major European energy crisis it has protected Hungarian families. I spoke earlier about the need to be careful with comparisons when talking about social difficulties, because it’s hard for everyone. But you’ll be surprised if you look at what’s happened over the past year in, say, Spanish households, French households or German households: if you look at how their household energy bills have changed and how your household energy bills have changed. Hungarians aren’t aware that we’re the only country in the entire EU whose households are protected against the energy crisis. Now some other countries are coming down this path or looking for this path, but when this whole crisis erupted, there was just one country in the whole of Europe where households weren’t affected, weren’t shaken, weren’t knocked sideways.
Márta Vendrey (TV2): And finally allow me a question about the relationship between László Bige and Péter Márki-Zay. László Bige was recently ordered to pay a large fine by the economic competition authority; according to its investigation, he profiteered at the expense of Hungarian farmers. He’s also subject to a criminal investigation. He also openly supports Péter Márki-Zay, with whom he regularly meets and consults. What’s your opinion on their relationship?
I’m not inclined to have any opinion on that, and if you don’t mind I can only make a general observation. There are different solutions in different countries, and even within countries different political parties follow different lines. In Hungary, the Right takes the view that business is for businesspeople and politics is for politicians, and if that line is crossed in either direction there’s a problem, and you have to put your house in order. This happened to us, too, we had to put our house in order, and we did; perhaps it won’t sound too much like macho posturing if I say that I put our house in order when I had to. There are different customs on the Hungarian Left. There, business isn’t separated from politics. Hungary’s last three prime ministers of the Left were successful Hungarian businessmen: very successful, very rich Hungarian businessmen. On the Left, businesspeople do politics; and what you’ve mentioned is yet another manifestation of that, so it doesn’t surprise me.
Márta Vendrey (TV2): Thank you very much.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Magyar Fórum.
Attila Medveczky (Magyar Fórum): Thank you. Attila Medveczky, Magyar Fórum, magyarforum.info. A communication released by the European Commission for 18 December – International Migrants Day – says that migration spreads knowledge, and that the EU needs migration to address increasing skills shortages. Prime Minister, are you aware of any dependable EU study or survey confirming this?
In this whole matter the outrage is that the sentence you’ve just read out is the incarnation of intellectual obscurity. I don’t see a problem in the claim that, if they need workforce from outside, European Union countries should be able to review applicants, select those they need based on qualifications or other intellectual attributes, bring them in, and give them a chance to live there for shorter or longer periods – or even permanently. I don’t see a problem in that. That is for each country to decide. Hungary also has a system for that. At the beginning of each year we receive a report on how many job vacancies there are in Hungary, and we then decide how many people we let in for which jobs and for how long – aiming for lower numbers than those stated in the report. There’s no problem with that, but it has nothing to do with migrants. That’s the problem. This whole crisis in the European Union, the regulated use of labour, has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenon of people illegally breaking in with the assistance of people smugglers, not giving a damn about a given country’s laws. That’s another phenomenon. Brussels won’t make progress if it continues to insist on managing these issues within a single legal category, instead of separating them and devising completely different rules for each. All I can say is that I’ve already seen policy of that kind. The success of the United States is in large part due to it: there was regulated immigration into the United States. Everyone’s heard about it, about Ellis Island, where they checked people and let in those that they wanted. That’s one thing. Any country that wants to follow suit is free to do so. Hungary believes more in children, but that’s another matter. What I’ve described is a manageable problem. But it’s a different story if, without any controls, two, three or four hundred thousand people from a completely alien cultural environment kick down your door, in violation of your laws – using violence if they see fit. That’s a different case, and it can’t be treated the same way from a legal point of view. Therefore I regard the whole thing as a political issue. What this is about in fact… This press conference has become very drawn out, and I apologise. I’d be happy to finish, but instead I’m now heading in another direction. But the thing is, for us Hungarians it’s very difficult to understand this, believe me. A result of the forty- to fifty-year period after World War II is that responsible political leaders – elected leaders in Western Europe – seriously believe that if they let in people who want to come in, unmonitored if necessary, and these people are mixed together with members of the indigenous population, this will result in something good, and they’ll move closer to the desirable, ideal, optimal society that they envisage in their minds. They believe in that. But I think that this brings with it firstly a security risk, secondly a cultural risk, and thirdly an economic risk. These are so irreversible that we mustn’t embark on such an adventure. This is how we see things. For our part we don’t want to force our view of life on them; all we ask of them is that they leave us alone, that they allow us to do things the way we want to. They are free to do things the way they want to. This is the right we’re fighting for. Seen from this perspective, the whole issue of immigration isn’t about immigrants, but about what the Constitutional Court ruled: whether you or anyone, the man in the street, has a right to human dignity related to who they live alongside, where they work, and the nature of the environment that surrounds them. We think that such a right exists, while Westerners think that it doesn’t.
Attila Medveczky (Magyar Fórum): Thank you.
This is how we’ve arrived at where we are.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. 168 Óra.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): The Hungarian authorities recently released the documents related to the authorisation of Eastern vaccines, and these clearly reveal that right up until the last minute experts had serious concerns about Sputnik [Russian vaccine] and Sinopharm [Chinese vaccine]. Was the Government aware of these concerns when it started the vaccination campaign?
The Government knew that the WHO approved the Chinese vaccine.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): And Sputnik?
Not Sputnik. But in the case of Sputnik, Hungarian experts visited two factories. The Hungarian authorities’ investigation wasn’t limited to experts sitting at home and waiting for paperwork: expert delegations travelled to Russia, to the factories and laboratories where these vaccines were made. And I remember that they made such a visit not once, but twice; and the authorisation process was longer than was ideal, but we couldn’t dispense with these checking procedures.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): Yet it’s known that many parts of these documents were redacted. Prime Minister, what do you think the reason for that could be?
I’m sure I could answer your question if I were familiar with these documents, but I haven’t read them.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): According to some, there’s the suspicion of negligence, or at least serious irresponsibility. What do you think about that?
That’s definitely out of the question, because I asked for reports at several Operational Group meetings. Back then we were still only at the beginning of the crisis, I couldn’t yet clearly see whether our crisis management system would work, and every morning I chaired the Operational Group meetings in person. Every morning I asked the people responsible for the vaccines to update us on the progress of vaccine procurements, the progress of enquiries, what difficulties they had, and what assistance they needed. In my opinion we exercised due care.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): Thank you. On a number of occasions Professor Béla Merkely has referred to data verified by [the medical university] SOTE, which says that there are unvaccinated people under the age of 65 in hospital who require assisted ventilation. At the request of [Member of Parliament] Bernadett Szél, it was revealed that neither Béla Merkely nor SOTE has such data at their disposal. How is this possible? Why did he make such a reference to this?
I’d be happy to answer for Béla Merkely as well; but believe me, that’s beyond my competence, and so I can’t. And to be honest with you, I don’t know why I should know that. The Professor isn’t exactly well-known for avoiding questions.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): Does the Government regularly gather data about the proportions of those in hospital who are vaccinated and unvaccinated?
The Government doesn’t. As I said earlier, we have a separate authority, the National Public Health Centre, which gathers and analyses all data. From time to time they publish comprehensive studies with all sorts of appendices and diagrams. I think this is a good method, and it’s worth reading them.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): I’d like to ask you about pay rises for mayors. Parliament recently decided on significant pay rises for mayors – in some cases as high as 50 per cent. Yet for this the Government isn’t providing additional funding to local governments. How do you think local governments will be able to cope with this, alongside the reduction in local business tax?
They’re skilful, and they’ll cope with it.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): Can you give us an example? What fiscal measures…
Let’s return to this in a month or two, to see whether they’ve coped with it.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): I’d also like to know…
Minister Gergely Gulyás: we’re providing full compensation for the local business tax to local governments of settlements with populations below 25,000.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Yes, below 25,000. And for settlements with populations over 25,000 a rise in the mayor’s salary of, say, 20 per cent isn’t perceivable in the budget.
But here I don’t want to make a link with the local business tax. The problem that you’re talking about exists, but not in connection with the local business tax. I look at this in a completely different light, because the Government hasn’t taken away from them the revenue derived from the local business tax. That revenue is still there in their settlements – not with local governments, but with small and medium-sized businesses. It remains in each settlement, and it works there. It’s not as if we took their money and put it into the budget. Instead, we said that as the economy is in a difficult situation, we would reduce central taxes, and they should also reduce local taxes by half. But that money stays in each settlement. Therefore, compensation and such ideas make no sense from my perspective.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): Now that we’re talking about towns, what’s your view about Central Bank Governor György Matolcsy wanting to carve up Budapest? Do you agree with that?
Every great idea comes from somewhere. Even a central bank governor can have such ideas.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): So you don’t agree with that statement. You wouldn’t carve up Budapest, would you? You wouldn’t make Zugló, for instance, a separate town?
I don’t live in Zugló. Let the people who live in Zugló decide on that. I live in Svábhegy, and we’re fine, thank you. We’d stay.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): My last question. Prime Minister, why do you take such pains to avoid saying Péter Márki-Zay’s name? What’s the reason for this?
How would I benefit from doing so?
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): You’re almost obsessive about not uttering the prime ministerial candidate’s name.
That’s true. You’re right.
Csenge Pelva (168 Óra): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. I see that we’re running out of topics. But I’ll give the floor to 444.hu.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Zoltán Haszán from 444. Regarding the fourth wave, Minister Gulyás said that the scenario that emerged has been worse than the predicted worst-case scenario. Prime Minister, why do you think this happened?
Regarding the fourth wave?
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Yes.
As I see it, we’re part of the European wave of the pandemic. Some may have believed – and perhaps some still do – that the virus could be contained, and that we could perhaps remove ourselves somewhat from the system of European waves with a very strict border closure or isolation, by suspending entry into the territory of Hungary. But so far we haven’t succeeded in that. Whenever there were lockdowns, the waves arrived here anyway – even if they did so later. Therefore I think that, in terms waves, whatever happens in the European Union will also happen here. The only question is whether there are enough hospitals, enough ventilators and enough people to manage the problem.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But I would have thought that the most pessimistic scenario must have made allowances for virtually no measures at the beginning of the fourth wave – as was the case in Hungary. Yet it seems that the data is even worse than that.
There were measures, but the ones we adopted were for a vaccination-based defence effort. We’ve been adopting measures continuously, but they’ve all focused on vaccination: for people to get vaccinated, and for us to make vaccines available.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): And is it possible that this is insufficient?
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): At the end of August, the President of the Academy of Sciences recommended the wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces, and he also suggested that you make vaccination easier: that you do away with prior registration and the booking of appointments. These are two things that the Government did, but only months later. Couldn’t this have favourably influenced the outcome of the pandemic’s fourth wave in Hungary?
We try to monitor the world of medical experts, of scientists, of economic experts, of healthcare administrators, gather information from there and set a timetable accordingly.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But this was already on the table at the end of August. Yet, only some months later…
Yes, but I think our timing was right. I think we introduced the face mask mandate at the right time, we never suspended certain measures, and certain events can only be attended if one has a vaccination certificate. I don’t see the problem in this.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): In June we spoke…
Or, to be more precise, the major problem. I understand that it would be good to find someone whose ears can be boxed and who can be held responsible. But you see that this isn’t the situation.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Responsibility for the defence operation against the pandemic clearly lies with the Government.
Yes. I’m not saying that you should award us medals, but we don’t deserve to have our ears boxed. I think we did everything humanly possible.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But I mentioned that a scenario developed which was worse than the predicted worst-case scenario, and that’s clearly a bad situation.
What we see now… Yes, it’s bad, of course, because, let me repeat: every death, every illness, is bad – even if only one. If I compare the fourth wave with the third one, it’s more bearable. Difficult, but more bearable.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Yes, but the threat now is similar to what happened in the third wave: the second wave had barely ended when the British variant sparked the third one.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Zoltán, if I may ask you, please ask questions. I know that right from the first wave you trained yourselves as epidemiologists.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): I’ll do that.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: You’re polemicising and commenting. I want to give you one last chance. Ask your question. All right?
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): I’m sorry, but really …
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Ask your question.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Omicron is approaching. We know that in Britain and Denmark the number of new infections has risen astonishingly. What are we preparing for, and how will we try to prevent this?
For historical reasons of some kind, I think pro rata healthcare capacity in Hungary is greater than anywhere else. I don’t know whether this is good or bad in normal times, but at times like this, in a crisis, I’m sure that it’s good, rather than bad. I’d never have thought that a virus that appeared and spread more or less the same way in both Hungary and Germany would start testing the limits of the healthcare system sooner in Germany than in Hungary. The reason for this is the amount of resources operating in normal times, and the capacity that exists when we need to change over to crisis operations. And in this respect, too, I can confidently say that in every comparison the Hungarian healthcare system is not only holding its own, but that we’re ahead of most countries. To put it even more plainly: I don’t want to polemicise, Zoltán; but when I speak to, say, my Austrian counterpart and ask him how many beds they have, I realise that if we only had that number of beds, I’d be worrying day and night. It’s the same when I ask other countries about the number of beds they have in reserve, and it turns out that we have as many as ten to fifteen thousand beds that can be made available at a moment’s notice. Such healthcare capacities are quite simply unavailable elsewhere in Europe. Credit for this isn’t necessarily due to the Government – that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the situation we’re in shouldn’t be belittled or – how can I put it? – disparaged. Because the system dealing with this whole virus thing is a strong one by European standards.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): In June we spoke about how you were interested to know the reason for the death rates here and in Austria. You also said that you’d order a study on that. Has that been completed yet?
With the arrival of further waves these need to be continually rewritten.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): I have two questions, two topics. You’ve stressed the importance of the cooperation between the countries of the Visegrád Four. At the same time, at a talk or press conference in which the Slovak foreign minister gave his assessment of the past year, he says that he doesn’t like the way in which the Hungarian and Polish governments continually speak disparagingly of “Brussels” and how they conduct themselves in their dealings with Brussels. And the new Czech foreign minister is also known to hold such views. Do you think this could cause problems in the cooperation between the Visegrád Four countries?
I haven’t yet met the Czechs, the new Czech government, so I can’t tell you anything about them yet. I understand the Slovak concern. It’s motivated not so much by feelings of personal sympathy – although I’m sure they also play a part – as by the fact that three of the four Visegrád countries aren’t members of the eurozone, and one is. Therefore the situation of the Slovaks – their relationship with Brussels, their relationship with the Germans, their relationship with the council of finance ministers – is completely different from ours. We have more sovereignty, because we have our own currency, our own money, our own central bank. The Slovaks don’t, and so their room for manoeuvre is different. And this friction – I wouldn’t call it a conflict – is encoded in the system of the V4.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): One more V4 question. The Poles suspect that the Russians and Putin are behind the Belarusian migrant crisis. Do we agree with that?
The Poles not only suspect it, but openly say it. They say it loud and clear.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Do we agree with this open…
I haven’t yet seen any evidence to prove that. In general, in Europe, most of our troubles stem from the easy answer we have when something doesn’t work: we say, “But of course, it’s that scheming Putin again!” I see that reflex, but I want to know more.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Last question. Football. In 2007 you said that within seven or eight years there would be five Hungarian footballers regularly playing in the top championships. This hasn’t yet happened, despite the fact that we’ve spent tens of billions of forints on a system of football academies. What do you think is the reason for this?
We’re making slower progress than we should.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But that wasn’t seven or eight years ago, but fourteen.
Yes. We’re making slower progress than we should. We’re making progress, but more slowly.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Do you think more money is needed for the operation of the system of football academies?
This is no longer a question of money. There are no financial limits on improvement; there are quality limits, not financial.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. I think that with this topic we’ve more or less reached the end of the topics for this year – in a symbolic sense also. Thank you for attending. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Goodbye.