At the event Equal Quality of Products for All, the Hungarian Prime Minister said in his opening speech that it is in the nature of trust that it can only be gained with long and hard work and a great deal of perseverance, but it can be lost within seconds.
This is particularly true in Central-Europe where the former communist oppression heightened the people’s sense of freedom and justice, he stressed, remarking: a great many affairs that may seem straightforward, daily, pragmatic affairs in regions that have been free from communism are „in our world” directly attached to our sense of justice.
This is why Central-Europe reacted to the issue of the dual quality of products in a uniform and sensitive manner, Mr Orbán said.
In his words, the people who live here do not only believe that their wallets have been cheated, but also their sense of justice.
They would like the products they take off the shelves to be indeed what they appear, to come indeed from the country stated on the label, and they want to be certain that the products they buy are of the same quality as if they had bought them in another European country, he said.
The pettiness with which large international corporations seek to cheat Central-European consumers is simply depressing, Mr Orbán stated.
He said that wealth and generosity do not necessarily go hand in hand as Europe’s richest companies are deceiving consumers.
Tests carried out in Hungary in the spring showed that in seventy per cent of cases the quality of food industry products sold in Hungary was different from the quality of their counterparts marketed in the West, and double quality standards were demonstrated in the case of one third of seasonal products, he added.
He stressed that the case is not only specific to Hungary or Central-Europe, and this is why Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned it in his speech on the state of the EU. Mr Orbán welcomed the view of the President of the European Commission that there cannot be second-rate consumers in Europe.
“The direction is right, I like the sound of the words, it is now time for action”, he stressed.
He underlined that Hungary joins Slovakia and the Czech Republic when it points out that the practice of double standards is unacceptable.
In his words, the Central-European people are more suspicious than people in Western-Europe, and tend to read big things out of little signs. One has the impression that the dual quality standards are, in actual fact, none other than the introduction of a two-speed Europe. And if there is a two-speed Europe, “we, Central-Europeans will certainly be on the receiving end”.
He said that there is also a specific reason for Central-European sensitivity. In these countries, agriculture and the food industry have great traditions. However, in the past thirty years, the region has been exposed to two major market shocks. First in 1990, after the collapse of the planned economy, when these countries joined the blood circulation of world trade, and later when they joined the EU, he argued.
He added that both events resulted in the opening of the market, Central-European countries producing foodstuffs of high quality were compelled to compete with large international companies without capital, and it is therefore no surprise that they lost out in many cases. People now feel that they would be capable of making products of higher quality than those they can buy in the shops, the Hungarian Prime Minister stated his view. There is in this a sense of historical injustice, he remarked.
He said: this is why the Central-Europeans have every reason to demand that they should have access to foodstuffs of the same quality as Western-Europeans.
He reiterated that the Visegrád Four already adopted a position earlier in Budapest in which they sought immediate legal solutions from the European Commission. Hungary will continue to support the elimination of dual product quality also in the future, Mr Orbán pointed out, and thanked the Slovak and Czech Prime Ministers for having led the Visegrád countries in this struggle.
The Hungarian Prime Minister wished Austria and the Czech Republic every success with their upcoming parliamentary elections.
In addition to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, government-level representatives of the rest of the Member States of the European Union, Czech politician Vera Jourová, who also serves as European Commissioner for Consumers, members of the European Parliament responsible for agriculture and the single market, and the representatives of some consumer protection federations were also invited to the meeting.
The parties laid down in a preliminary communication that the event offers an opportunity to discuss, in search of solutions, the practice which divides consumers into two groups. It is important that the necessary measures are taken for the resolution of the problem, they added.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrád Four drew attention to dual food quality – some multinational companies sell products of inferior quality under the same brand names on the Central- and Eastern-European markets compared with the products they sell in Western-Europe – at the beginning of the year. They declared this practice an act of fraud and a dangerous political message, and called upon the competent agencies of the EU to urgently investigate the situation.
In addition to the Hungarians, the Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croatians, Romanians, Bulgarians and Greeks, too, share the view that it is unacceptable that almost one hundred million European citizens only have access to products of inferior quality because large manufacturers apply double standards.