Viktor Orbán’s answers to journalists’ questions at his international press conference
10 January 2019, Budapest
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. We’ll begin with MTVA.
László Mészáros (Magyar Televízió): Prime Minister, in the context of migration you mentioned just now that we must reshape our approach to Christianity. Connected to this, I’d like to ask you what you think about Guy Verhofstadt’s statement that you are neither a democrat, nor a Christian.
Viktor Orbán: First of all, I have to think about whether I should have any opinion on this at all. I’m not at all sure that I should. But maybe it’s better not to leave something like this hanging in the air. Apologising in advance for my bluntness of speech, perhaps I would say that liberal thinking in Europe today has arrived at the point at which it sees freedom as its principal enemy. So in Europe today liberals are the enemies of freedom. A good example of this is the sentence you’ve quoted here; because it means that the liberals not only want to tell others who they are, but also want to say who are and who aren’t Christian Democrats. I don’t think that one should go any further down that road. Mutual respect would be a lot better for us all.
Gergely Szakács (Reuters): Making the most of this opportunity, I’d like to ask you about five different topics. So thank you for this opportunity.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Apologies for interrupting, but just as in other Government Info events, I’m not going to allow mini-interviews. I’d ask everyone to exercise restraint. Look around the room, and you’ll see that there are a lot of people here. There will be the chance for one or two questions per person.
Gergely Szakács (Reuters): In that case I’ll try to speed things up. You mentioned that the Governor of the Central Bank has contributed to stabilising the country's finances. György Matolcsy’s mandate expires at the beginning of March. In this regard, I’d like to ask whether he’ll be nominated to lead the Central Bank for another six years – or are you perhaps considering other candidates? And if so, who are those candidates, and what would be the reason for the change?
If you’ll accept lightning responses, then maybe we can have time for all the questions. The quick answer to that question is that no surprise should be expected.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: If there are lightning-fast answers, you can still ask two more questions.
Gergely Szakács (Reuters): My other question concerns Budapest Bank. Several parties in foreign and Hungarian ownership have already expressed an interest, but one cannot yet see exactly what the Government is planning for this bank. In this regard, I’d like to ask you when you are planning to sell this bank, if you are planning to sell it at all, how it would be sold, and if there is a preferred buyer for the bank.
I can tell you that we have an agreement with the EBRD [the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] that I signed a few years ago, according to which we will return Budapest Bank to the private sector. The Minister will make a specific decision on this, and I ask you to ask him for the technical details. But our intention is transparent and clear, and we shall honour the agreement we have with the EBRD.
Gergely Szakács (Reuters): And my third question relates to the Paks project: to the expansion of Paks [nuclear power plant]. According to the latest news, the application for a construction permit, which was promised last year, has still not been submitted. When is it expected to be submitted? In this regard, when can construction of the reactors begin? In light of this delay, will it be necessary to renegotiate the construction contract or the loan agreement with the Russians?
Yesterday we listened to a report from our minister for the Paks project. I’ll make an incidental comment. This is a project in which the Russians will provide us with a turnkey power plant, and therefore the technical details are their responsibility. We are endeavouring to minimise the delay that has already emerged in the construction programme. One of the reasons for the delay is the fact that a complicated European public procurement procedure needed to be followed, and that took more time than we would have liked it to. So there is undoubtedly a delay. At present changing the terms of the contract doesn’t seem necessary. But the Minister is prepared to inform you about this.
András Kovács (origo.hu): Prime Minister, do you think it looks like there will be a unified opposition list in the European Parliament elections? How much would this change Fidesz’s strategy?
I haven't come here today to attack the opposition; it wouldn’t be right to start the year like that. But let me just say that if the opposition sets out on that path I think they will be digging their own grave. And I’m under no obligation to prevent them from doing that.
András Kovács (origo.hu): My other question is this: in Brussels at the beginning of this week Judith Sargentini and the opposition parties held a joint demonstration. With reference to the last question,what do you think about these people acting together, and to what extent can this bring them closer to one another?
I think that this is further proof that immigration will be the main issue in the European election. The Dutch MEP is well-known as a pro-immigration politician. Therefore I see nothing extraordinary in a pro-immigration Dutch politician demonstrating together with pro-immigration Hungarians against the Hungarian government. This is almost the natural order of things.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): My question is that you’ve mentioned that no surprises should be expected in relation to Central Bank Governor Matolcsy. Does this mean that you will nominate him, as this falls within the Prime Minister’s remit: will he be nominated for a second term when the current one expires? This is one question.
Let me answer that right away. So what I said is that no surprise should be expected.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): The other question is that less than a year ago György Matolcsy and Mihály Varga were together at a conference, where it was said that the expectation is that in Hungary, as a developing economy, it should be possible for there to be economic growth of 4 per cent. You’ve mentioned that the figures for 2018 were particularly good. The Central Bank’s forecast, however, predicts that in 2019 growth will be 3.5 per cent, with only 3 per cent growth in 2019–20. Do you think, if the figures turn out like that – if economic growth is less than 4 percent – that there will be personal consequences? To what extent is this a matter of personal responsibility, or a crisis within the economic model? Currently there is a labour market crisis, with demographic decline – partly due to emigration, and partly the Government’s anti-immigration policy – which I think contributed to the adoption of the overtime law in December. So is this something personal or a crisis in the model, and what is the way out?
If I’ve counted correctly, that’s six questions. I’ll try to answer each one separately. Firstly, it would be easy to shrug our shoulders and say that a country that is capable of an export performance that is roughly equivalent to or close to its GDP – so an extremely open economy – has higher than average exposure to turbulence in the international economy. This is true, but I never like to refer to it, and I don’t want to make such excuses, because Hungarian economic policy has come to the point at which no matter how export-oriented and open we are, we still have to aim for 4-per cent economic growth in an unfavourable economic climate. Incidentally, the Central Bank’s forecasts are only slightly lower than those of the Government. And so I would say that the Government’s opinion is that if we don’t take steps to boost economic growth in the coming two or three months – in the first quarter – then economic growth this year will be 3.9 per cent: so below 4 per cent. This is the position taken by the Minister of Finance. This is only a few tenths of a per cent from the position of the Central Bank. This means that we have to make such decisions. I’m also convening the Economic Council in the second half of January to discuss these issues, and we’ll do everything we can. Openness here, international economy there, we’ll do our best to achieve economic growth of 4 per cent – or at least 4 per cent – because we believe that a role is played not only by circumstances but also by resolve. The second point is about the perspective one views things from. If I’ve understood correctly, you referred to the question of the supply of labour, stating that there’s a labour shortage in Hungary. I see things differently, and so my approach is completely different. We need to start with the fact that in 2010 3.7 million Hungarians were in employment. Today the corresponding figure is 4.5 million. If everything goes well and we can keep to our plans, then in the long run – not only next year, but also in the longer term, and because we are the size that we are – we have to expect there to be between 4.5 million and 5 million people in Hungary who are willing and able to work. This, incidentally, is almost full employment – and it may indeed be full employment. As an aside, I’d say that here we want to beat the Czechs, something we haven't been able to do so far, because the lowest unemployment rate is in the Czech Republic; we’re currently in third place, but our goal is to move above the Czech Republic. This won’t be easy, because the Czech Republic is fortunate in having a genius – Europe’s best economic policymaker – leading its government. It won’t be easy for the Hungarian finance minister to compete with him – but let’s see. At any rate, the goal is for Hungary’s economy to have Europe’s highest rate of employment. From this I conclude that it’s not worth pursuing a course of economic policy which assumes development requiring more than 4.5 or 5 million people in work – because our population cannot supply more. So we have to produce this growth from an economy operating with the work of 4.5 to 5 million people. This is possible, there are such economic policy paths, and we’re exploring them. Perhaps we’ve already taken a few steps on such a path: if you look at investments in Hungary in 2018, for example. We’ve changed investment incentives, and we’re not only providing support for new jobs, but also for maintaining or raising technological levels. You’ll see, for example, that the salaries of new jobs created by new investments in 2018 stand at 425,000 forints: 40 per cent higher than the salaries related to investments in 2017. This suggests the likelihood that the investments which took place last year involved higher technological and technical content. So I think we’re going in the right direction; all we have to do is abandon the illusion that our only hope for growth is to have ever more people working. This is an illusion, because we’ve run out: there are 4.5 to 5 million of us [in the working population]. Therefore – as we don’t want immigration in Hungary, and we don’t want a massive influx of guest workers in Hungary – we need to provide the Hungarian people with a standard of living which is among the best in Europe and which is generated by this size of economy. The next question, if I’ve correctly understood your remark, is whether a lack of workers has a negative effect on the economy. I think that it’s positive. I think that if someone wants a new employee today, if they want to employ a good quality worker, then they have to get out their lasso to rope them in. This means that the people dictating terms are no longer business owners, but workers. In this situation there is only one course of action: pay workers more and provide them with higher-quality training. So this situation – which forces up salaries and training – is not bad, but good. And I’ll say it again: the framework for this is provided by 4.5 to 5 million workers. So overall, from the point of view of employees – and in Hungary they are in the overwhelming majority – this whole situation is rather a desirable and good one, and I don’t see it as any kind of crisis. You referred to those Hungarians working abroad. This is another evergreen debate in Hungarian politics. In fact, according to the latest data, we see that 6 per cent of Hungarian workers are working abroad. This is the lowest number in the region – and even when I look at the figures for Austrians, I have to say that it’s even lower than over there. The figures show that 6.6 per cent of Austria’s working population are in employment abroad, so overall the loss of workers resulting from our integration into the European economy is also acceptable by regional standards. Of course we hope that we’ll be better than everyone else, that we’ll be able to offer higher wages, and that therefore people who are now working abroad will see that it’s worth planning their future in Hungary. On the one hand, Hungarians working abroad help Hungary a great deal by sending money home; and on the other hand, they have set out on a risky venture, because for a native Hungarian speaker it is twice as difficult to work abroad as it is for the average Western European. I think they show enormous courage, and deserve high recognition for holding their own and succeeding in a foreign-language environment. Perhaps this issue is also related to the Labour Code, because you made a comment on that. I would like to make it clear that the amendment of the Labour Code is in no way related to a shortage of workers. The amendment to the Labour Code is necessary because today very many people – and especially the owners of small and medium-sized enterprises – are handicapped by the need to employ tricks and look for loopholes if they want to people to work overtime. This is a general complaint among Hungarians running small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. This measure, which gives freedom to employees, seeks to remedy this; and I hope that it will. Here I must add that labour codes are among the most politically sensitive issues across the world – and thus also in Hungary. I clearly remember the sort of protests there were when we created the new Labour Code, maybe in 2012, with people even saying that the new code would be disastrous for workers, and would make it impossible to increase the number of jobs. Compared to back then, today 800,000 more people are in work, and workers are earning far more. So my experience from our time in government is that so far the amendment to the Labour Code has served the interests of Hungarians, and therefore I assume that the current amendment will also have a positive effect.
Szilveszter Szarvas (pestisracok.hu): What relationship – or what kind of command and control – does the Prime Minister see in the anti-government demonstrations that have simultaneously burst onto the streets recently in Belgrade, Vienna, Warsaw, Rome and Budapest? And how interesting is it that the parties in power in all these five countries are of the Right and oppose immigration…
If you’ll allow me, before I talk about this fact, I'd like to say a few words about the tone: about our own, the tone of the Hungarian right – if I can I put it that way. I’m always surprised to read pieces of writing that express surprise that the opponent is international. But we’ve known that all along, haven’t we? Indeed, that is also what we want to be: international. So let’s not blame our opponent for something which we are also doing. Well, we want the anti-immigration power bases in Europe to unite and join forces, and together on a European scale we should be stronger than the forces promoting immigration and migration. I welcome the Polish-Italian attempt in this regard, which we saw only yesterday. So we are also uniting! Well of course the opponent is also united, and coordinates demonstrations against us. So I think that this is a simple matter of fact, one shouldn't be surprised at it, and one shouldn’t complain. Of course pro-immigration forces supported by George Soros are preparing for the European elections and protesting everywhere: in Rome, Vienna, Budapest, everywhere. And they will continue to do so. And they will protest against us. Well, this is the nature of this sport, which I don’t object to. The simple fact that I’m pointing out is that here, in the context of the European elections, the anti- and pro-immigration forces are pitting their strength against each other internationally.It will be a fine thing if, in percentage terms, Fidesz is the strongest party in the European Parliament; but it will not be worth much if anti-migration forces continue to be in the minority. So here, if you like, we need success on a European or international scale.
Szarvas Szilveszter (pestisracok.hu): Prime Minister, in 2017, you said that you support autonomy, for want of something better. Recently Hungary's international influence and reputation have been growing in importance, while political instability has reared its head in neighbouring countries, the leaders of which have been coming under increasing pressure. Do these facts change any aspects of your statement? What prospects on policy for Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin do you see for the period ahead?
There is a great temptation to engage in historico-philosophical discussions, but if I did that you’d end up having to be served your lunch here, so I’d rather not. Let me make just one observation, however. If we look back on the past hundred years or so, it’s no exaggeration to say that it was one hundred years of Hungarian solitude. Our neighbours saw Hungary as a threat, they saw us Hungarians as a danger. Our neighbours worked to isolate Hungary. What I am saying is that after great effort – after mutually investing a great deal of energy together with our neighbours – we have today reached the stage that the prevailing spirit in Central Europe is no longer that of fear or a sense of danger, but of cooperation. In my view, if King Saint Stephen has left us a political legacy, it is this: a culture of cooperation among Central European peoples – particularly among the peoples of the Carpathian Basin. This is Saint Stephen’s legacy. So I believe that when the one hundred years of solitude comes to an end and Hungary can finally cooperate with its neighbours, then it will pursue not only sound international policy serving to stabilise the region, but it will also be continuing the best Hungarian political traditions. Hungary is ready to cooperate, and when I say that everyone will benefit from cooperating with the Hungarians, I am speaking sincerely. I am convinced that those of our neighbours who cooperate with us will benefit from that cooperation. They have no need to fear us, but will instead be able to initiate great endeavours together with us. Specific investment projects are proof of this, although I’m not only talking about projects, but also joint representation of our interests in Europe. The fact that within the European Union we are standing up for our interests together with the Slovaks is a historic achievement. I believe that we are not far from being able to do the same together with the Romanians. The fact that we are the champions of Serbia’s EU membership, its chief supporters, is a clear indication of the healthy condition of Serbian-Hungarian cooperation. And I could list further examples. Hungary played an important role in Croatia’s accession to the EU. I don’t want to brag: I’m merely stating the facts. So I believe that today Hungary is pursuing a regional foreign policy path which is stabilising Europe, stabilising Central Europe, and which is continuing the best Hungarian traditions. At the same time it will lead to increased prosperity for people living here, as clearly if we work together we will be able to provide a higher standard of living and a more secure life for our citizens than if we turn against one another. So on the whole I see this situation as extremely encouraging.
Peter Murphy (AFP): You mentioned a poll about 52 per cent of Hungarians considering the issue of migration as the most important. There are plenty of other polls which say that it is by far not the most important for the Hungarian voters. When talking about the protest at the recent demonstrations, they talk about corruption, issues like bias in the public media, the state of hospitals; they definitely don’t mention migration, immigration as being an important issue to them. Yet, to listen to government communication, you yourself, the pro-government media, you blame György Soros, you are talking about migration, immigration. Isn’t there a huge disconnect between the two? And, I mean my question would be, are you ignoring the genuine concerns of Hungarians?
The reason I’m standing here is so that no one can accuse us of that. So the reason I am here is not to neglect anything, but to be ready to answer your questions. And if you represent the opinion of the people, this is a good chance to answer not just you, but through you the Hungarian audience as well. But all the same, we cannot afford to overlook the historical fact – indeed I feel that it is my personal responsibility to highlight it – that across the continent over the next fifteen to twenty years – and therefore also in Hungary – the most fateful issue will continue to be migration. So I’m convinced that as demographic trends will not change, the population of Africa will increase – and at a rate which will exceed that continent’s capacity to sustain such a population. Asia’s capacity to sustain its population will also be unable to grow as fast as its population does. Therefore we Europeans must prepare to live our lives in the next ten to twenty years under permanent external pressure from migration. I think that in European politics in the period ahead this will not only be a permanent issue, but also a permanently dominant issue. Therefore I believe that it is right for the Hungarian government of the day to prevent this issue being removed from the agenda, and for it to perpetually remind itself, Members of Parliament and the public that this is the historical context within which we must interpret everything that we do. In my view, everything that serves to stop migration is good, and everything that brings migration here is bad. This is our position, and so I believe that this is an expression not of negligence but of responsibility.
Márk Herczeg (444): I’ll only ask short questions. I don’t want to conduct an interview or anything like that. But it’s such a rare opportunity to receive lightning answers.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: You’re here at every Government Info event, and you can ask your questions.
Herczeg Márk (444):My question is this: your son-in-law István Tiborcz, your father Győző Orbán, your neighbour Lőrinc Mészáros, your former college roommate Lajos Simicska and your [hill climbing] “rope buddy” István Garancsi are now all billionaires. Did you play any part in this, or is it pure coincidence?
This is the umpteenth time you and your colleagues have asked for my opinion on business matters. You’ve been unsuccessful in the past, and you will be in the future also, because it is my belief that the Hungarian prime minister and government of the day must not concern themselves with business matters. If you want business information you should approach the Chamber, the Stock Exchange or the Court of Registration. It is an important principle of Hungarian politics that politics and business should be kept apart: politicians deal with politics, and businesspeople deal with business. I can guarantee you that if despite this any businessperson seeks to engage in politics, they will not stand much of a chance.
Márk Herczeg (444): My other question is this: why do you think it is beneficial for the Hungarian public and Hungarian citizens that your prime ministerial decision prevented the Media Authority and the Hungarian Competition Authority from scrutinising the transfer of 476 media publications to a right-wing media foundation?
In the recent past we’ve adopted twenty-three decisions classifying such investigations as unnecessary on the grounds of the national and public interest, and this has been the only one that anyone has objected to: no one ever objected to the other twenty-odd. So I would rather say that what is surprising is that you or the public find this government decision to be unusual. At the same time, the perspective I have on this whole affair is from a somewhat different standpoint. Bringing things together in a group – or not bringing them together – will not change the overall percentages. I live my life day in day out with a perception of Hungarian reality in which there is a left-liberal anti-government media majority in Hungary today.I regard this as a fact. So I say without any emotion – I’m not angry, I’m not shaking my fist – that quite simply, just as the sun rises every morning, I also get up and see that I’ll be working with the wind against me. We have a situation in which the largest television channel, the largest weekly, the largest internet platform and even what is perhaps the largest national political daily are all openly critical of the Government, left-wing and liberal. Whether newspapers and media outlets representing the opposite tendency are grouped together or act separately will not change the overall percentages; so from my point of view that is irrelevant. Even after this development on the media market, I will have to do my work with the wind against me.
Márk Herczeg (444):Do you mean in terms of the number of separate publications or in terms of reach?
In every respect. Let me repeat: when I start work in the morning, I look at the dailies, at the press reviews, international and domestic, I look at internet portals, and I see that there are more of you against me than with me. Well, I see that this hasn’t changed. And I think that it’s as well for any Christian democrat Hungarian prime minister of the right to prepare themselves for this continuing for a long time to come. Election results show that it’s possible to succeed even in such circumstances. Therefore I’m not cursing my predicament, I’m merely making it clear that this is unfair; in my view this is an unfair situation, but it’s inescapable. And meanwhile I carry on with my work.
Márk Herczeg (444): What are your thoughts about the way Member of Parliament László Varju was treated at the public service television headquarters?
May I answer that question as a lawyer?
Márk Herczeg (444): Of course.
Hungarian law clearly states that not even Hungarian Members of Parliament are above the law. This means that while members of the Hungarian parliament have the right to enter any public institution in order to seek information, they have no right to disrupt the operation of any public institution – that is forbidden by law. And in particular no Hungarian Member of Parliament has the right to take over the operation or control of any public institution: to decide, for instance, which statements should and should not be read out. These are the legal facts. I believe that Hungarian Members of Parliament who disregard this legislation are overstepping the legal boundaries of freedom of political expression.
Valerie Hopkins (Financial Times): Are you prepared to forge new alliances with Jarosław Kaczyński and Matteo Salvini to bring about what they call a “New European Spring”? And what would that mean in concrete policy terms for the EU?
I have written a good answer to your first question. First of all, I just would like to remind all of us that I called Mr. Salvini last year in September my own hero. I still keep it, that position. Hungary can pride itself on being the first country to prove that migration can be stopped on land; and for a long time not a single maritime country attempted to do the same. The fact that Mr. Salvini emerged in government and was the first European politician to say that migration can also be stopped at sea made him a hero in my eyes. And what he has done since then has vindicated my opinion of him at the time. So I wish him every success. The Polish-Italian – or Warsaw-Rome – axis: this is one of the most magnificent developments that the year could have possibly begun with. So I have high hopes for it. I believe that this is a positive development, and for us – because we belong to the European People’s Party – it simply means that anti-immigration forces in government and which are to the right of the European People’s Party are seeking various forms of cooperation. This is good news for us and for the European People’s Party; because, to be honest, I’m fed up with the European People’s Party only ever looking for allies on the pro-immigration side, among representatives of either the liberals or the socialists. My wish for Europe is that there will be a political force to the right of the European People’s Party – a Rome-Warsaw axis or whatever you want to call it – which is capable of governing, which is responsible, which is anti-immigration and which is prepared to cooperate with the anti-immigration forces within the European People’s Party. This is why I say that what has happened is a magnificent development.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): First of all, I’d like to know what you think about the level of corruption in Hungary. Do you think it is critical or acceptable, and does the Government have a specific action plan to tackle it?
First of all, with your permission I’d like to clarify one or two basic principles. In my view, there is no such thing as an acceptable level of corruption. So there is only one right policy for the government of the day to pursue: the policy of zero tolerance. Without relativising what I’ve just said, my approach is that it is worth considering some plain facts, such as what we had before 2010 and what we have now.Because before 2010 the budget deficit grew, debt grew, public assets shrank, and there was no economic growth. I think that the reason for this was partly because a great deal of money was stolen. And what have we seen after 2010? The budget deficit is falling, government debt is falling, public assets are increasing, the economy is growing and wages are rising.With such economic results and in such circumstances I consider it inconceivable that there could be a significant amount of corruption in Hungary. There is either one or the other. Corrupt countries are poor. Hungary is not yet a rich country, but year after year the country is performing better. In my view, this in itself invalidates the claim that corruption in Hungary is higher than, let’s say, the European average. But let me repeat, this is not an excuse for anything. There is only one policy one can have against corruption: the policy of zero tolerance.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): So you don’t think the Government should take action in this area?
But I do! We must be continuously taking action in this area. Let me give you just one example. There is, for example, a problem that can be linked to corruption: the percentage of single-bidder public procurement procedures. In Hungary we started from a high figure: if my memory serves me well, in 2010–2011 this figure was around 30 per cent. The lower the percentage the better. Today I think we are somewhere around 15 per cent. But this number will not decrease unless we introduce ever more measures. So Hungary must continuously implement anti-corruption measures to combat both large- and small-scale instances of corruption. Let me give you another example. Although it’s rarely interpreted as corruption, I would put tax fraud in this category. If we look at the new tax measures that we’ve introduced, we see that they clearly and significantly reduce Hungary’s shadow economy – even according to EU institutions, which are not exactly friendly to us. Or I’d mention my extremely firm position on the relationship between politics and business: politicians must concern themselves with politics, and businesspeople with business. For this there are two conditions, which I think are not weak in Hungary, but they can be strengthened. The first is that the political sphere already has enough money. In Hungary, through the central budget taxpayers provide the finances needed for political parties to function and conduct their election campaigns. As I have a good grasp of the facts going back thirty years, I can tell you that in Hungary not a single party needs to raise additional funding from the business sector in order to win a parliamentary election. This is even true for parties in opposition – as our party and I have demonstrated more than once. Of course there’s no harm in collecting donations, but it’s not necessary: nothing like that is built into the functioning of politics here – unlike many countries, where the development of political power relations is dependent on donations from business. In Hungary these two are separated, and we introduced these rules – which I think are good rules. Similarly, I would also like to remind everyone that in Hungary our law on the declaration of assets by Members of Parliament is the strictest in the whole of Europe. My declarations of assets, for instance, have been made public every year for the past thirty years, and are also accessible retrospectively. I would venture to say that there are hardly any politicians in Europe who would be prepared, every year for thirty years, to reveal their private, financial and business lives in the sort of detail that is required in Hungary. No other country has regulations which are as strict as those in Hungary. I just want to point out that these rules didn’t create themselves; they had to be created. My point is that corruption, the general interdependencies between politics and business and the issue of public finances continuously demand that the Government remains unceasing in its efforts in this sphere, and refuses to declare that the situation has become acceptable. The situation here is not any worse than in Europe generally – far from it – but that is no reason to abandon this policy.
Baka Zoltán (mfor.hu): We may disagree on the sources from which parties finance their operations, but I’ll move on to different topic: pay rises and wage negotiations. At the end of the year, employers, workers and the Government agreed on an 8 per cent increase in the minimum wage. Do you think this rate of increase is acceptable if within ten to twelve years we want to have reached 80 per cent of the average wage in Austria?
There are two ways of increasing wages. One way is for the Government to say so, and it shall come to pass: the Government states a figure; and as we all want to see ever higher wages, we state ever higher figures. This is one possibility. In my view, this is bad economic policy, because it ignores the economy’s capacity to perform and to bear burdens. Therefore we are not following this path. The other way is to involve – in fact transfer responsibility to – businesses and workers in the process of agreeing the level of wages. This is the path we’re following. For a long time workers and employers had failed to come to an agreement, and in such an eventuality the Government can use its legal entitlement to set a higher minimum wage, which then pushes up other wages. I didn’t want that, and – if you'll pardon the expression – I expressly forbade the Finance Minister to do so, saying that we should wait until the parties concerned come to an agreement. This was because pay rises have an impact on the future of businesses. There’s little point in a pay rise which is not sustainable and therefore results in businesses having to close. This is why it is important that there should be agreement between employers and workers. We have achieved results by following this path. Two years ago we concluded an agreement valid for six years. As far as possible, this is the approach, philosophy and policy I would like to employ.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): All this is clear, but is this rate of increase rapid enough to catch up with the Austrian pay level which you set as a goal?
Or the American or the Chinese level…so how shall I put it? Selecting a country and saying that is where we want to be is not the right approach. I think that businesses and trade unions can do that, but the Government should not. I believe that businesses and trade unions – employers and workers – can set wage targets. But they are the ones who should set them, not the Government. If the Government were to set them, the risks would be high.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): My brief last question is this: we have made a commitment to introducing the euro. Is there a target date for this, and what could be the earliest date?
We have no target date, and there are two reasons for this. One of these is that we cannot clearly see the future of the euro. The other one is that although we agreed to enter the eurozone, at that time the eurozone was not what it is today: since then many new regulations have been introduced, and new institutions have come into being. So no one knows which way the eurozone will be heading in the period ahead. So I’m following my instinct and the wait-and-see policy of a “cautious daredevil”. We must acknowledge that today three Europes exist side by side. I always smile when people talk about the desirability of a two-speed Europe, because there are already three Europes: there is the Europe of the eurozone; there is the Europe of the Schengen Area; and there is the entire membership of the European Union. These are three distinct regions. I believe that it is possible for Europe to continue with such a three-way division in the future. I don’t think it’s necessary for every country to be part of the eurozone. Whether or not this will be in Hungary’s national interest at some time in the future is something we must continuously examine and assess, and we may adopt such a decision if it is in our interest to do so.
Róbert Csákány (Euronews):We’ve also heard here that you think the political map of Europe is divided by the issue of immigration. As you said after the Sargentini Report, those who supported Judith Sargentini’s report are pro-immigration politicians. Yet Fidesz supports the nomination of Manfred Weber as the Spitzenkandidat from the European People’s Party. He voted for the Sargentini Report, so that means that he’s pro-immigration. This will make it difficult to take control of the European Union’s institutions. Why did you nevertheless support him?
With your permission, first I’d like to answer the question about the specific person, and then I’d like to make a general observation. It can happen that one’s friend is taken for a ride. This is what happened to my friend. In preparation for this press conference, yesterday or the day before yesterday I visited the Soros university’s website – as Manfred Weber said that he voted for the Sargentini Report because of the Soros university. And what did I read on their website? On their website I read that the Soros university is a Hungarian university and is not engaged in educational activities in any other country. I’m a lawyer by education, and lawyers say that “Confession is the Queen of Evidence”. Today the law states that if an institution wishes to issue foreign degrees in Hungary, it must also be engaged in educational activities in another country as well. This is the precise opposite of what I read on that website, which can be accessed by anyone. The single conclusion to be drawn from this is that my friend Mr. Manfred Weber was taken for a ride. So, in my view, the vote which he cast against Hungary on account of the Soros university was unjustified. Returning to the issue of immigration: what I was trying to talk about at the beginning is that it has perhaps already changed the future of Europe more profoundly than has been expressed so far. I don’t know whether you talk to – clearly you do, if not as frequently as me – the leaders of countries where the proportion of migrants and immigrants has reached or exceeded 10 per cent. If you’ve had such conversations, you will have heard that they no longer talk about whether or not there should be migration. That is no longer a question for them: that ship has sailed. The question for them is how to manage coexistence. In those countries a future with a mixed civilisation has already been decided on. A new character will come into being, blending the Islamic and Christian civilisations on a massive scale. I don’t want to say that it is doomed to failure, because I wouldn’t venture to say such a thing. It may turn out that the correct analysis is expressed by those who have said that such an amalgamation will bring forth a new quality, resulting in a way of life superior to that represented by traditional Christian societies. This debate cannot be decided today, and I do not deny that they might even be proved right. But there is one thing I can say for certain: that today the only thing that they can discuss is the issue of coexistence, because in those countries something has already come about. Therefore in Western European countries the question of migration and immigration is a question of co-existence. The same is not true in Central Europe, because we don’t want to live alongside others: we want to stay as we are. So here the debate on immigration is about how to prevent the development of the situation that we can now see in Western Europe, and how to protect our societal system which rests on the foundations of Christian culture. So our default position is a defensive one. And this is as clear as if we were on two different planets: the questions they are concerned with are completely different from the questions we are concerned with. Therefore it is logical and understandable that in Hungary there is a stronger opposition to immigration than there is in countries where there are immigrants: because we do not want to set out on that path, and we are still able to protect ourselves in line with a conception about which we have made our own democratic decision. This can be contested, and it can be criticised; that has been happening, and all sorts of negative adjectives expressing disgust have been ascribed to this policy and to Hungary. But despite all this, we have made a democratic decision which states that this is how we wish to stay. And therefore here there is much greater aversion to immigration and migration than in countries where immigration has become a question of coexistence – despite the fact that we don’t have first-hand experience of the problems of coexistence. So I see this phenomenon as a natural one. And this clearly shows how far the issue of migration has pulled the two parts of Europe away from each other. The big question – the biggest question for the future of Europe – is how, having chosen such divergent futures for ourselves, we can remain united.
Róbert Csákány (Euronews): The second of my two questions relates to Brexit. There are ever more indications that there will be a “hard Brexit”, a “no-deal Brexit”. Has the Government assessed the impact of this on Hungary? What action does this demand from Hungary? How will this affect us here, and does the Government need to take action with regard to Hungarians living in the United Kingdom?
We have looked into the possible impacts, and we’ve even quantified them. We’ve come to the conclusion that a no-deal Brexit will have no significant impact on Hungary and the Hungarian economy. At the same time, the British prime minister has guaranteed that the situation of Hungarians living there will not be negatively affected.
Tamás Fábián (index.hu): Prime Minister, you’ve said several times that you are planning in a time frame extending up until 2030, and you’ve also said several times that you’d like there to be an illiberal democracy in Hungary. My question is this: what further illiberal changes will have to be implemented in Hungary before we reach the Hungary you envisage for 2030?
What I would like is an interesting question, but it is secondary to what the Hungarian people want. As I see it, the Hungarian people take an illiberal stance on important issues.They take such a stance on all three important issues. The first is immigration. Liberal democrats are pro-immigration; we are not. As regards the question of the family, liberals believe in the equality of distinctly different forms of cohabitation, which they see as all having the same status as families. We who are illiberal have a Constitution, and our Constitution lays down that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Similarly, when we talk about whether in our countries different cultures can exist side by side as equals, or whether there is a culture which, for whatever reason, is under specific state protection, liberals say that of course such a thing isn’t possible. We say that it is possible, and that this how things should be. This, too, is laid down in the Constitution: the protection of Christian culture is the duty of every state institution. So on the three most important issues I believe that in Hungary there is an illiberal majority. Now there is another problem caused by the use of words of foreign origin in Hungary. But we cannot do anything about that, because a specific Hungarian characteristic is that the Hungarian language, the way we think and the way we use words are distinctly different from the way words are used in Western Europe – and particularly in English-speaking countries. In the English-speaking countries the word “liberal” means something a completely different from what it does in Europe, and its meaning in Europe is different from that in Hungary. This is a given, but it does not mean that we should stay silent.
Tamás Fábián (index.hu): With regard to the system of institutions – as you’ve just spoken about political orientation – do you think any illiberal changes are required in the sphere of, say, the courts, civil society or the media in Hungary?
For these highly important, system-defining institutions, these questions are regulated in the Constitution. They are in good shape, thank you very much.
Tamás Fábián (index.hu):Now that you’ve mentioned it, last summer you said that there will be a process of constitutional revision which will last one year to eighteen months. What stage is this process at, and what areas will it cover?
It’s in its initial stages.
Tamás Fábián (index.hu): What is the reason for that? So you haven’t made any progress in six months...
Yes, we’re making slow progress.
Tamás Fábián (index.hu): What’s the reason?
Because after having received a two-thirds majority in the last parliamentary election, in the autumn we were faced with a number of questions which earlier – without that two-thirds majority – we’d been unable to legislate on. I’ll give you an example: the law on churches. Only now have we had a chance to deal with these issues, and so during the autumn our constitutional lawyers – who are needed for revision of the Constitution – were occupied with legislation which is at a lower level than the Constitution, but which can only be amended with a two-thirds majority. So – how shall I put it? There’s no major problem, we’ll just finish this job a few months later than planned.
Fábián Tamás (index.hu): I have one more question. Today in Hungary one political side is continually talking about Soros and his “hirelings”, while the other side is marking out the meme “O1G” [an initialism of an obscene reference to Orbán] in the snow, and painting it on placards. Both are linked to you: you made anti-Soros rhetoric the focus of public discourse in Hungary; and “O1G” is a personal reference to you – Lajos Simicska, your former party colleague and college roommate, said this about you. Do you think you have any personal responsibility for the fact that public discourse has become this extreme and has been reduced to this level?
I don’t like paternalistic approaches. In Hungary people are adults, they are grown-ups. Everyone is responsible for their own words and deeds, and they cannot shift this responsibility onto anyone else.
Viktor Attila Vincze (888.hu):In Politico around two years ago, posing as the defender and last representative of liberalism, George Soros declared war on you personally, Prime Minister, as a representative of nation states. Where do we stand today in this global- and European-level clash? To what extent have Soros’s expectations been fulfilled, and what can we expect from him – especially with regard to his extraordinary financial resources, which he uses against Hungary?
If you will allow me, I’ll assume that the first part of your question relates to the past. What happened? Migration reached an intolerable level, and in line with a decision by the Hungarian government I published a five-point proposal on how we should resolve the migration crisis, how we should handle it.A few days later George Soros published a proposal containing six points, specifically referencing my five points: the Soros plan. He had this published in the international press, saying that the solution proposed by Hungary must be rejected, and another solution must be found instead. He described this other solution in six points, explaining what should be done. This was a pro-immigration manifesto, and from that moment on the conflict has continued to escalate, and has moved from Hungarian domestic politics to the international political arena. Here my responsibility meant that I was not willing to fight in a situation that I believed would inevitably condemn Hungary to failure: in which we would be transparent, everyone would know who we are, how much money we have, how much power we have and how we fight, while our opponent would be lurking underwater. One cannot play water polo while one’s opponents, smiling above the surface, are kicking and punching under the water. This is unacceptable, because in this way we can only lose. So we had to make a difficult decision, knowing that we would have to pay a price; and personally I would also have to pay a price. Hungary’s reputation would also suffer. We knew that this would draw us into disputes that we would like to avoid, but we knew that the only way to win the debate on immigration would be to pull our opponents up above the surface of the water. That was when we said that everything must be transparent: if we who are against immigration must be transparent, then those supporting immigration must also become transparent. In Hungary there are some sixty-odd organisations financed by George Soros, and most of them are continuously involved, one way or another, in the shaping of the general atmosphere surrounding migration, or in shaping the legal and sociological environment of the process of migration itself. If we are to fight, let the fight be fair. It was then that Hungary – and I personally – identified George Soros as the person influencing – and, in many respects, controlling – migration with extraordinarily large resources and very powerful international contacts. But he has never denied any of this. So in my view, Hungary is sometimes held to account for calling attention to something that the person himself has no objections to. Naturally, everyone can object to the style used, and I myself sometimes object to the style used against me: I don’t always like what our opponents say. I understand that George Soros doesn’t like every sentence we utter, but neither is it acceptable, in my view, that one side is transparent and fights in the open, while the other camouflages itself. This is where the problem of anti-Semitism is always mixed in. I have a very clear position on this matter. George Soros is our compatriot: a Hungarian – and, indeed, a Hungarian citizen. As it happens, we do not see eye to eye. At the same time, I believe that those who want to defend George Soros by continually referring to his origins are doing harm. They are harming Hungarian politics, but they are also harming George Soros. This is because, in my view, in politics you must argue: you must accept the need to debate, and you must present your arguments; and those who hide behind their origins instead of debating are cowards. So I believe it is harmful for those in the Hungarian public realm – including journalists – who want to defend and support George Soros to continually refer to his origins, and I counsel against it. For us that is irrelevant: George Soros is a Hungarian citizen, our Hungarian compatriot, and we have a serious dispute with him.
Viktor Attila Vincze (888.hu): As a politician and prime minister, what is your view about the increased incidence recently, both in Europe and Hungary, of those on the left-liberal side of politics inciting violence in connection with street demonstrations and political manifestations, and the increasing number of acts of violence being committed?
I think it is alarming. Regardless of party preference, I find it worrying that in Germany, say, a politician has been brutally assaulted. This in Germany of all countries: the country of law and order, and respect for legality. In my view these are alarming phenomena. In Hungary the situation is the same. I believe that everyone has the right to demonstrate, and also to go on strike. But there are clear legal rules which set out the legislative boundaries, and those boundaries must not be crossed.I ask everyone who disagrees with the Government, or has some other problem, to employ those modes of expression which may be used in a democracy. All I ask of everyone is to reject violence, not to cross the line, to remain peaceful, not to vandalise, not to be aggressive, and to not use physical force. I find it especially worrying that taking the lead in this are Members of Parliament, who have used physical force: not allowing the Speaker of Parliament to take his seat when chairing a session of the House amounts to physical violence. This sets an extremely bad example, and I believe that both in a European and Hungarian context it must be publicly condemned. This is what I am doing.
Attila Póth (ARD):Prime Minister, on a number of occasions you’ve criticised EU Members and the European Commission for refusing to listen to people, and for ignoring what they want. Thousands of people have been demonstrating, and more than ten thousand people have demonstrated several times in Budapest and many other parts of the country. Why aren’t you listening to them?
I believe that the Government in general – and certainly I myself – cannot be accused of ignoring what the people say. We have introduced a number of institutions into political life in Hungary which serve to involve the public. I’ve already spoken about the consultations, and the means of amending the Constitution was another example. So I’m listening to those who are out demonstrating now. Of course there are things that it would be best not to hear, because they throw and say such repulsive things at you. It would be best not to hear them, but I received the message that they want to send. I understand that they don’t agree with the Government on several issues. We discussed these issues – for instance the overtime law was discussed with the trade unions as part of the legislative process, as there was a parliamentary proposal. In fact Lajos Kósa met them several times. And we also discussed other issues in Parliament. So these are not decisions adopted without a debate, with the avoidance of debate. Although we heed their words, all I ask of our opponents is to not call into question the right of Parliament to make decisions and the fact that in a democracy decisions are made by a parliamentary majority; this is why they were elected. We have adopted decisions in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Naturally, we are ready to engage in all debates and exchanges.
András Kósa (Népszava): Prime Minister, you obviously have very extensive international experience. Do you know any democracy in the world where, for years on end, the Prime Minister does not talk to press outlets which are critical of the Government? You do not give interviews to, say, Index, Népszava, 444 and others. You’ve just admitted that such media outlets represent the majority of Hungarian voters, or at least are read and watched by the majority. When do you want to give these media interviews? And what is your view on the fact that at this event several registered members of the press were eventually refused entry by the organisers? Thank you in advance for your meaningful reply.
I respectfully welcome those who are here. I don’t think that there are any questions which are not being asked at today’s press conference because there are some people who aren’t here: I have a better opinion of you than that. But going back to your question, for me the point of an interview is not to engage in a bullfight with a journalist. I’m happy to oblige anyone if the aim of an interview is to clarify a particular issue from as many angles as possible. I don’t seek and don’t agree to interviews and situations in which it’s clear that a hostile interviewer will ask me prejudiced questions. Thank you, but no thank you. I don’t need that, as I can make contact with Hungarian voters in other ways as well. But I’m happy to oblige anyone who would like to discuss a specific issue from multiple angles, even by representing an opposing viewpoint. But the minimum preconditions for any meaningful discussion are a certain degree of fairness and readiness to cooperate and the same kind of approach – or at least the acceptance of the other side’s approach. This is the situation. This is the basis on which I select whom I talk to, about what and when. There is one exception to this: when ladies hunt me down in the corridors of Parliament; there is no defence against that, and so at least once a month I give them mini interviews, in which I face the whole backlog of awkward questions.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Allow me just one observation. As at every Government Info event, attendance is by invitation only. The room is full, and physically there is no more space. So our message to those who remained outside is that there is no point in turning up when you’re not invited, because that’s not how it works. And we do not allow press outlets from political parties into these press conferences.
Stephan Löwenstein (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): Prime Minister, your office has recently moved to the Castle Hill. Does this location in your view bear a certain historical or political symbol, as part of the fact that it is locally separated from the legislative power? Thank you.
If you allow me, I will respond in Hungarian. In this regard I think that there are three things that need to be noted, in terms of symbolic meaning. The first is that it was truly strange – let us leave it at that – that Hungary was perhaps the only country in Europe where the legislature and the executive were not physically separated. I would point out that before communism they were physically separated: the idea that everyone should be in the same building was dreamt up by the communists, who rejected the principle of the separation of powers, merged them and placed them all under the control of the Communist Party. So this was a communist legacy, and we are happy that we’ve finally put an end to it. The second symbolic meaning is that the centre, the symbolic space of a thousand years of Hungarian statehood is on Castle Hill, while the symbol of modern democracy is in Kossuth tér. Hungarian democracy is built upon this duality: a one thousand-year tradition; and modern democracy, representation of the people, Parliament. Incidentally, the first step in moving back to the historical arrangement was taken by a socialist government, as they decided that the President of the Republic should move out of the Parliament Building to Castle Hill. So Castle Hill was first used for purposes of a political nature as a result of a decision by a socialist government. Let us put that on record. There is a third issue: aesthetics, or reparation. In Hungary there is a regular debate on whether the reconstruction of certain historic buildings is a political question, an aesthetic question, or a historical question. In my view, the restoration and reconstruction of all historic buildings which were destroyed after Hungary was robbed of its independence is an issue of reparation: it is not an aesthetic issue, concerned with whether it was beautiful then, or whether it is beautiful now. For the sake of Westerners, I will say that for forty-one years power in Hungary was exercised by a party whose watchword was to irrevocably erase the past, and who wanted to evict us from our own past, our own national cultural environment – in every sense, including our material environment. Therefore, in the spirit of anti-communism and of reparation, I also see it as my personal political mission to restore whatever part of the past they sought – unsuccessfully – to erase, and to do this as reparation to the Hungarian people and the Hungarian nation. This is my approach. And finally there is also a personal matter, which is not symbolic: I’ve moved from the world’s most beautiful workplace to go to a monastery. But believe me, the Parliament Building is the world’s most beautiful workplace.
Anita Vorák (RTL Klub): Returning for a while to the amendment to the Labour Code. You said that this decision was adopted in response to a legitimate demand. Since the adoption of this decision, however, another legitimate demand has been voiced by workers. Is there a chance that you will listen to that demand, and is it possible that you will introduce further amendments? Who requested the clause in this amendment which, under certain conditions, allows as much as three years for the payment of overtime to employees? What interests of employers did you consider when you incorporated this into the amendment?
We have now adopted the law, and debates must be held before its passage – not after. We conducted those debates. At present, no further amendment of any kind is on the agenda. As regards the content of the law, I’d like to make it absolu