Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s statement in Parliament, responding to reactions to his address before the start of daily business
23 March 2020, Budapest
Thank you, Mr. Speaker,
I’ll try to be as exhaustive as I can. First of all, I thank everyone for their contributions, and everyone who said what the Prime Minister should do. Thank you very much, I’m doing my best. As regards the time limit and the whole current debate, which I think will continue, I believe I understand your point of view.From the Government’s point of view things are different. The Government wants to return to you the right enabling you – rather than the Government – to decide on when the “state of danger” comes to an end. We don’t want to take something, we want to return it. And I want to return it to you because we will have to take decisions after which I won’t want a debate on whether or not we have the right to take them. Parliament must be in a position to take decision-making rights back from the Government at any moment. I’m not asking this for a week, for two days, or for ninety days. You misunderstand the situation. I don’t need a fixed deadline. You can take it back tomorrow morning, if you so decide. There will be decisions for which you will think of doing this. I want to tell you that there will have to be continuous parliamentary support for all decisions being taken, every single day; because on any day you will have the right to say “thus far and no further”. On any day. Estimates tell us – and although of course they vary, I’d still like to inform you – that in ninety days’ time you, we, all of us will be in a much worse situation than we’re in now. Prepare yourselves for that! You misunderstand the situation. We’re not talking about getting together in ninety days’ time to calmly discuss whether the crisis is over. If the defence operation is successful, the epidemic will be extended, because the goal of the defence operation is to slow its spread.We don’t want everyone to suddenly fall ill at once, because if that happens the number of patients will overwhelm the healthcare system – which as a result won’t be able to provide care for people. Our task – which we, and I myself personally, are working on – is to plan the route, the route of the infection, which we cannot stop: there’s no vaccine, and I can’t make it disappear either. So we must plan a route for the progression of the epidemic which enables us to prevent the healthcare system from being incapacitated for a single moment.Such a situation is referred to as “Italy”; we must avoid what has happened there. And so this curve will be longer: the more we can slow down the spread, the longer the problem we have will continue – and it will not be for just three months, Dear Friends. So I’d like to ask everyone not to give me and the Government authorisation for three months. We’ve been entrusted with this work, we’re in a state of danger; adopt this law, and once you’ve adopted it, at any time thereafter you can take back from the Government the rights we’re exercising in order to deal with the crisis. We want to return them to you, not take them from you.
It’s another matter – although one that I understand – that according to your logic this doesn’t mean much, because these decisions can be adopted with a simple majority. And as you’ve heard, here on this side we have a simple majority – indeed a two-thirds majority. And so for you a parliamentary decision is no guarantee. This is something that we cannot do anything about, however, because the people designated these proportions in the election; and as a result, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is this majority – and not the minority over there – that represents a parliamentary guarantee binding the Government. So it is this side that will decide the matter when the time comes for us to make a decision – whether about your conception, which is about extension, or what I see as being about whether or not to take back those rights, and if so when. It is this side that will decide, because it has a majority and it has the responsibility, which it will have to accept. We are glad if you cooperate, and thank you if you support us in this; we are glad to receive your advice, your encouragement, and we welcome anything you have to offer. But we will be able to manage this crisis without you. If you don’t vote for it now, we will resolve it anyway, and we will maintain the exemptions.
Whether or not we detected the spread of the virus in time is something we should discuss after this whole situation has come to an end. May I suggest, however, that when we do so you should employ fair standards; this is possible, because every country in Europe has the same problem. You can take a look around and see that while we may not have been the first to declare a state of danger, though that’s not impossible, we were among the first; and we were among the first anywhere in Europe to enact every important measure. But this is indeed a debate for a future date.
I won’t bounce this back at the former prime minister either, but I’ll thank him for his advice to me on management of economic crises. Yet I think that one comment made here is particularly important: that you – here on the opposition benches – are fighting so that Hungary remains a functioning democratic state under the rule of law. I’d like to draw your attention to the word “remains”. I don’t know for how many years I’ve been hearing in this house that Hungary is not functioning, not democratic, and not a state under the rule of law. Now I see that you’re fighting so that it remains a functioning democratic state under the rule of law.
Have enough measures been enacted? They will do for now,but they won’t be enough, and we’ll need new measures. But in my view it’s wrong to downplay the decisions we’ve adopted so far and to downplay the change they represent in people’s lives. The total amount of the interest and principal on loans paid by businesses and individuals to the banking sector in a single year is 3,600 billion forints. As we’ve introduced this measure – suspension of these payments – in the middle of March, two and a half months of this year have already passed, and the amount related to that period has to be deducted from the total; but this year people will be saving the rest of that 3,600 billion forints. This sum is equivalent to around 6 or 7 per cent of GDP. Don’t tell me that this is a small amount! Or if you do, you need to understand what GDP is, what is a proportion of what, and what the international rates are. But to say that it is a small amount shows either malice – although I presume that is not the case – or a lack of knowledge. I do agree, however, that ever more decisions will be necessary, and we shall make these.
You said several times that we’ve closed schools. The situation is as follows: we haven’t closed schools. Don’t spread fake news! We haven’t closed the buildings: we haven’t closed schools or school buildings. Teaching has been switched to a different mode, to a digital mode. Buildings are open and principals must go in every day; and, in line with an instruction issued just yesterday, there must be enough teachers present in schools to supervise and teach – in groups of five – those children still being sent to school. Today the situation is that parents who are unable to supervise their children at home can take them to school; because, contrary to what you’re saying, schools are open, and are guaranteeing the supervision and teaching of children in healthy circumstances, in groups of no more than five. There is no break, learning has not stopped, children have not lost a year, and there is the chance of going ahead with school-leaving examinations.Let’s not convince ourselves that in terms of education the coming months can be automatically written off. No! Studies are continuing, there are teachers, and if parents can’t manage the situation at home they can take their children to school. Yesterday we ordered that school supervision must not take place in groups of more than five.
When to distribute protective equipment, how much and to whom? These are very important questions. Several of you suggested that we should deal with these issues at every meeting of the Operational Group. I can inform you that the questions of when, to whom and in what quantities protective equipment is distributed are determined by three factors, a combination of three factors that we must pay attention to. One of these is the quantity of supplies we have in stock. The second is the anticipated trend in patient numbers: not the number of patients we have today, but the number we’ll have tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and in three months’ time. And the more successful our defence operation, the longer that period will be. The third is the number of healthcare workers. Dependent on these factors, and based on daily decisions, we can say which healthcare workers will be given what protective supplies and when: face masks, coveralls, this type of face mask, that type of face mask. This is an ongoing military-style operation, involving the management of supplies. We must thoroughly consider what we give to whom on any given day. I’d like to inform you that we’ve determined an order: doctors and nurses working in intensive care units; then those taken to hospital with suspected coronavirus infection; then healthcare workers in non-coronavirus intensive care units; then those working in hospitals generally; then police officers and soldiers; and then those working in public administration. This is like a military sequence: logic dictates that we must manage the amount of supplies that are available to us. One can agitate against this, one can say that it’s not good, that more is needed, one can say anything. But I repeat that those making these decisions must take into consideration three factors: the upward and downward trends of the disease, the available supplies, and the number of healthcare workers we need to provide with supplies. Every morning, according to the best information we have, we make the necessary decisions on the basis of this combination of factors.
I’m not joking, because this is no time for that, but I’d advise my fellow Member of Parliament Tímea Szabó to rephrase her injunction “Let’s not delude ourselves” so as to refer solely to herself. I have no intention of deluding the honourable Member: I am speaking frankly and honestly.
In answer to the question about how many healthcare care workers become infected, which is also an important element of stock management, the answer is that in China 4 per cent of healthcare workers became infected, while in Italy the figure is 10 per cent. So in addition to stock management, we must also attend to staff management. Every day the Operational Group will calculate how many doctors we will need for the anticipated number of patients, who should be sent to the front line, who should be brought back to the rear, how they should be given time off, how to replace those who drop out, where they live, and where they should be deployed if we direct them to another part of the country. I’m not talking about today, but about what lies ahead. We need to think about where they will live, what they will eat, and so on. I repeat: matters are proceeding according to a military mobilisation plan. I ask you not to agitate against this. Believe me, these are concerted defence measures developed on the basis of appropriate methods and following a logical order.
The statement that tests should be carried out according to World Health Organization recommendations is right; but that is exactly how we’re testing. Here you are demanding that we do that. Don’t demand! We are following the testing protocol recommended by WHO.
Shouldthere be a curfew? Someone here demanded this – perhaps Jobbik demanded that we impose a curfew. We’re considering this option, but above all we’re considering which of the different types of curfew would make sense. Different countries are trying different things. Don’t fall for everything you see in the media! When you hear that a curfew has been imposed somewhere, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t allowed to go out on the streets. Read the full story and you’ll see descriptions of who can go out, when and how. Not only is a complete curfew undesirable, it’s probably not even possible. I think a reasonable debate can be had on whether or not there should be a curfew, and if so what kind it should be. This is something we can consider. We can also consider who should be separated, isolated from whom: whether we want to isolate everyone from everyone else, or only the groups who are at risk. Many of us will be infected with the virus without even noticing it – or if we do fall ill, we’ll recover within 14 days. But there are others who will be infected and will need intensive care. They will have to be taken to hospital, and it’s not certain that they will survive, just as seven have not. We know the two most vulnerable groups – at least at present, because our knowledge is limited, and understandably there’s no scientific certainty about anything. We know that people who are not old but who suffer from certain immunodeficiency disorders are especially at risk. Regardless of their age, they constitute a high-risk group. Another high-risk group is everyone over the age of 65 – and especially those over 80. A curfew is about separating people from one another; and when we consider – as we do – who should be separated from whom, we should consider whether we want to isolate everyone, or only at-risk groups. And if so, for how long? Twenty-four hours a day? Only during certain hours? These questions are not as easy as standing up and saying we should impose a curfew. I’d like to ask for more seriousness from you in this matter. We are considering this, we are observing the experiences so far, and we’re also looking at what has worked in which country. We’re especially observing Austria’s experiences, and earlier I explained why this is so.
As regards economic proposals, I don’t want to open up a debate on the philosophy of economics, but most of the proposals suggested here require austerity. Others require things that would lead to the loss of further tens and hundreds of thousands of jobs if we heeded them – but I won’t. We are preparing plans specifically to protect jobs, and we will protect jobs. We want to adopt measures which simulate growth, and instead of paying people welfare benefits, we want people to support themselves through work, not benefits. Those who have become unemployed may have to live on unemployment benefit for three months, two months, or one month – there’s no knowing for how long. But my goal is to enable them to come off unemployment benefit as quickly as possible. Therefore we will spend every penny on enabling employers to give people work, because it is work that helps people, not welfare benefits. So for my part I am unable to accept any proposals that point in the direction of austerity.
Statutory pricing. We’ve looked into this issue ourselves – especially the possibility of statutory prices for personal protective equipment. The situation is as follows: all the protective equipment we’re manufacturing is needed for healthcare workers and law enforcement officers. This means that we’re unable to supply the market with any of the face masks or other protective equipment that the state is manufacturing.Clearly statutory pricing relates to products that can be bought on the market – in pharmacies, for example. The problem is that such products are not being manufactured domestically – and, among ourselves, if there were such commercial production it would long ago have been placed under state control. But there’s no such domestic production, and so the products for which you would like to introduce statutory pricing are imported from abroad. And in this case we have no way whatsoever of controlling procurement prices. At today’s meeting of the Operational Group we made a calculation on this, and we’re concerned that if – for face masks, say – we were to introduce statutory pricing, at the prices determined by us we would create a situation in which not a single pharmacy would import and sell them. Your fine proposal on statutory pricing would result in not a single face mask being available in retail outlets. Is this what you want? Think it over. In a situation like this, when the import price is higher than the statutorily fixed price here, there are two options: either pharmacists become black marketeers, selling products at prices which are different from the statutory prices; or they stop selling such products altogether. So these proposals sound fine, and I agree that we should introduce statutory pricing wherever it’s necessary and rational to do so; but you shouldn’t demand statutory pricing which hinders the defence operation and deprives people of the possibility of protection. Jobbik’s proposal is just that: it’s bad for people, and at this point in time I cannot support it.
In answer to a point made by a Socialist Member of Parliament, I’m willing to support any proposal as long as I can be confident that it will not weaken the country’s capacity to protect itself. I will not support any proposal which, as I judge it, weakens the country’s capacity to protect itself.
Someone used the phrase “Enabling Act”. Please don’t say that: it does not describe the nature of the bill. That phrase conjures up bad memories. I have no intention of presenting such a bill to Parliament, and that is not what this is about.
Regarding the Romanian approaches which someone suggested, I’d advise you to exercise caution. In Romania there’s already an institution called the “Emergency Government Decree”, which gives the Government the authority to amend and create laws – even on issues which are covered by other legislation, including cardinal Acts. So nothing new needs to be introduced there. And, excuse me, this is in peacetime! So be careful with ideas imported from Romania. And once those laws are in place they remain in effect for six months, and Parliament is only given a chance to annul them after six months. Is that what you want? Don’t call for such proposals. That is not a good proposal, honourable members of Jobbik. In the name of democracy, withdraw it.
Regarding pay rises, I can say that these are obviously all justified – as are all demands for pay rises, because although Hungary has made progress in many areas over the past few years, we’re still not where we would like to be. Consider this, however: are you sure that this is the time and place to start a wage war in Hungary? Shouldn’t we concentrate all our energy on protecting jobs and creating new ones? I’m convinced that anyone who starts a wage war here and now has misunderstood the time and the place, and therefore doesn’t understand what is possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Finally, opposition Members of Parliament spoke about their fears. Members of Parliament are leaders of the country; last time I also had the chance to say a few words about this. Clearly there’s a difference between the responsibility of the Opposition and that of the Government, and also between the responsibility of Members of Parliament invited into the Government and the responsibility of those not invited there. It’s not for me to talk about the Opposition’s problems related to fear, but I have expectations related to politicians in government parties. The situation is already difficult, and it will become even more difficult. It doesn’t matter what the Opposition are afraid of – that is a matter for them. I need 133 brave people, the country’s 133 bravest people: you here on the government side of the House. Therefore I ask you not to waver, not to back down and not to dither – whatever anyone may say. Use your best judgement to see through the decisions which will help to increase the country’s capabilities. Be brave.
In closing, Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Fellow Members of Parliament,
When declaring the state of danger I said that I would always keep you informed of both good news and bad. I asked for a joint defence effort, and at a time like this we must be honest with one another: difficult times like ahead. I ask everyone to show fortitude and rise to the task ahead.