Prime Minister Orbán kicked off his international press conference in the Carmelite Monastery earlier today with a brief summary of the most important topics that lie ahead for Hungary in 2022. Speaking in retrospect about 2021, PM Orbán said that this year was about two things for Hungarians: (1) the struggle against the virus; and (2) restarting the economy.
Touching upon the defense against the coronavirus first, the prime minister said that our methods have changed from a lockdown-based approach to the effective use of vaccines to combat the virus. “It is only possible to defeat the virus with the use of vaccines,” PM Orbán said, adding that Hungary reached a level of 60 percent of our population being vaccinated, among the first in Europe.
“Those who have had a third dose of the vaccine make up about 32 percent of the population currently. The EU average is 21.5 percent,” he said.
On the economy, Prime Minister Orbán said that thanks to the successful vaccination campaign, Hungary could restart its economy one and a half months before other European countries, which has led to estimates for GDP growth of around 6 percent this year. Next year, economic growth will be between 4 and 5 percent, he added. “The unemployment rate in Hungary is 3.9 percent, while the EU average is around 6.2 percent,” the PM underlined.
According to the prime minister, three important things will happen in Hungary in 2022. The first is that certain economic policy decisions will come into effect that are without precedent. “Hungary will be able to extend assistance to both the youngest and the oldest — with a 13th month pension payment at the beginning of the new year and the personal income tax exemption for young Hungarians,” he said.
The second important topic is the defense against the pandemic. The prime minister confirmed that “there were always enough vaccine doses, there are still enough vaccine doses, and there will always be enough vaccine doses.” The third task ahead concerns the referendum on child protection. In PM Orbán’s view, the referendum is about who has the right to direct the raising of our children, under whose supervision it falls and with whose permission. Hungary, he continued, believes that the education of our children, including sexual education, should remain the sole right of parents.
Speaking on the pressing foreign policy questions for Hungary, Prime Minister Orbán began with the EU-wide debate on energy prices. “Without nuclear energy, climate protection is not achievable,” he stated, adding that a position is taking shape that nearly has a majority among the EU prime ministers: How big a role the new ETS put forward by Brussels should play, a system that would impose more taxes on car owners and homeowners.
According to PM Orbán, the question is whether “we will have enough support in Europe to prevent the introduction of extra car and real estate taxes that would be a burden for families?”
On migration, PM Orbán said that a growing number of Europeans agree that claims for asylum should not be submitted on the territory of the given country but outside the country. “In any case, the process should take place outside the territory of the Schengen Area, and half of the border defense costs must be borne by Brussels,” the prime minister said, adding that a recent ruling of the Hungarian Constitutional Court found that Hungary’s Fundamental Law must take primacy over Brussels’ migration rules.
PM Orbán then opened himself up to questions from members of the press.
Responding to a question from ATV on what happens when President János Áder’s mandate comes to an end in May, Prime Minister Orbán confirmed that his governing Fidesz party will nominate incumbent Minister for Family Policy Katalin Novák for the role.
A number of questions from the press focused on the corruption charges brought against State Secretary Pál Völner, and the PM made it clear that in his view no one should be above the law; however, he added that we must wait for the court’s final ruling on the case.
Regarding the formation of new groups in the European Parliament, and Fidesz’s place in the European political landscape, Prime Minister Orbán said that while there have been talks recently about establishing a new political group within the EP, this will not happen prior to the presidential elections in France.
BBC World Service’s Mandeep Rai expressed interest in finding out how other European countries, like the UK and Germany, respond when countries like Hungary stop immigrants at the border. In his reply, the prime minister stressed that “it's easy to see things differently if your country is protected by other countries, as when Hungary protects the rest of Europe from migration.” According to him, the basic difference between Hungary’s standpoint and that of others is that we live in reality, while others live in a bubble.
When asked about Hungary’s strategy regarding the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Prime Minister Orbán said that “we have two points on which we align our strategy. One of them is the V4 and Poland. As long as we can, we will stand by Poland. The second point of alignment is the council of EU prime ministers. Here we have developed a much more moderate position.”
Hungarian online news portal Origo wanted to know more about the government’s migration strategy, to which PM Orbán responded by saying that “where we stand now is acceptable to our interests. But we won’t give an inch from here.”
“To stop 100,000 people is a lot of work and costs a lot,” he said.
When asked about any upcoming meeting with new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Prime Minister Orbán said that no date has been set yet, but, even in light of very different party positions, Hungarians cannot give up good relations with Germany. “We were, by the way, the ones who knocked the first stone from the Berlin Wall, and Germany supported Hungary's EU membership. We ask them to acknowledge that we are Hungarians and they are Germans,” the prime minister said.
On his close ties with Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnian Serbs, PM Orbán explained that Hungary's southern border is 70 to 80 kilometers from the Bosnian border. “When the Yugoslav war arrived, tens of thousands came through. If a conflict develops there, it will also appear in Hungary the next morning,” he said, adding that Hungary’s goal is to fill the gaping hole between Hungary and Greece.
“The Balkans cannot be stabilized without the Serbs, without Bosnia, and Bosnia cannot be stabilized without the Bosnian Serbs. The key to the Balkans is the Serbian nation,” the prime minister underlined.
AP’s Justin Spike expressed concern over the fairness of Hungary’s upcoming elections and the media’s role in them. In his response, PM Orbán made it clear that the government does not serve as an authority over the public media. “Speaking generally, if you look at the Hungarian media landscape, you can see that it's basically different from Western ones. It is pluralistic, while the Western model is hegemonistic. In the West, there is a liberal hegemony of opinions,” Prime Minister Orbán said.