PM Orbán answers questions in year-end press conference

“Hungary has the most freshly assessed and best judicial system in the entire European Union; we have just received a document that is proof of it," the prime minister said.

Answering a question about whether Hungary was threatened under the Article 7 procedure, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán dismissed its significance, noting the procedure had been initiated long ago.

The prime minister said the current procedure was not aimed at taking away any rights from Hungary. In any case, stripping a member state of its right to vote could be initiated under the EU Treaty only if there was a persistent threat of the violation of the rule of law, he added. The European Commission, he noted, had just declared that Hungary’s judicial system was in compliance with EU norms, adding that “Hungary has the most freshly assessed and best judicial system in the entire European Union; we have just received a document that is proof of it.” Far from being pushed towards the end goal of the Article 7 procedure, it has become obvious that there was no reason to initiate such a procedure, he said. Regarding EU funding, PM Orbán said it was generally recognized that Hungary had been “blackmailed in Brussels”, and the blackmailers were members of the European parliament. PM Orbán said there was “not much we can do about that”. Hungary, he added, complied with all requirements regarding the rule of law and was cooperative. Whenever the Commission had specific requests, Hungary would implement “almost everything”, he said. “In this situation of blackmail, Hungary will do everything in its power to assert its interests,” PM Orbán added.

Regarding the EP election, he said Fidesz MEPs were in talks with the European conservatives but they would not give up their status as independent MEP’s until after the election. PM Orbán said “things are going unbearably badly in Brussels” as there was no peace along the borders of the EU and the European economy was not getting stronger. “Our plan is to join forces with the right-wing that is now becoming stronger in Europe and create sufficient attraction on the centre-right,” thus achieving a different kind of migration, economic and foreign policy, he said. Regarding the Hungarian 2024 EU presidency, the prime minister said Hungary would largely assume an intermediary role. “How we can protect our national interests, too, is a difficult question,” he added. Concerning Visegrad Group cooperation, PM Orbán said it was “sad” that it had fallen apart, partly due to internal divergences and partly due to external pressure. There is a chance, he said, that in February, during the Czech presidency, there would be a meeting of V4 prime ministers, where they could reconsider whether central European strategy still had any viability amid the changed circumstances. He noted that the V4 was created with the aim of not having a Franco-Germany axis decide all important matters in Europe, but for central Europe, too, to have weight, importance and a voice.

Asked about migration pressure seen on the Hungarian-Slovak border in recent months, PM Orbán rejected the suggestion that there had been any fluctuations in the quality of the protection of the southern border in recent months. “We are doing as much as we can,” he said, adding that soldiers, police and border guards only deserved words of appreciation for what they were doing to protect the border. Regarding his recent meeting in China with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán said it was a “coincidence of intentions”. He dismissed press reports that he had been unable to avoid the meeting. Orbán said he never acted under pressure in foreign policy but represented the sovereign Hungarian state. Asked about whether he had plans for a bilateral meeting with Putin, he said neither party had any intention for bilateral talks. On the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession, he said: ‘There is no Turkish-Hungarian agreement”, adding that the two countries would make a decision on the matter independently of one another. He noted that Hungarian MP’s were “not very keen on the decision”. This, he said, was because when the Hungarian parliament approved Finland’s accession, the very next day, the Finnish government took the Hungarian government to court in the EU on a different matter.

Asked about Israel and the Oct 7 terrorist attack, PM Orbán said Hungary had been one of the few countries in the EU that said, based on the specific situation in question, that Israel had a right to defend itself and do everything possible to prevent a repeat of such a situation. He said Israel’s stability was in Hungary and Europe’s fundamental security interest. He indicated that differences had narrowed during a debate at the recent EU summit, and there was a chance that, sooner or later, there would be a pan-European position considering Israel’s stability as a strategic issue. In response to a question, Orbán said sending money to “registered terrorist organisations” from the EU budget was a “capital offence”. He said an investigation would also be undertaken to determine whether humanitarian, education or other forms of financial aid had made their way to terrorist groups.

As regards the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify former US President Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot, Orbán said Hungary had no say in the functioning of the US justice system, and only asked “respectfully that they urgently stop lecturing us”. Meanwhile, he underscored the importance of the amendment of Ukraine’s minority law, saying minority protection regulations were pointless if the relevant legal practices were not solidified. Orbán said Hungary was studying the new law and did not want to underestimate its worth, but proposed that Ukraine restore the minority law it “took away” from ethnic Hungarians in 2015. Meanwhile, the prime minister advised caution concerning the assistance Hungary could offer ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, citing “sensitivities regarding good neighbourly relations”. He said ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia formed “an extremely strong community” but were incapable of demonstrating that strength when it came to political representation. “This is something they have to be the ones to resolve,” he added. Orbán said Hungary-Slovakia relations were at an all-time high, adding he trusted that the new Slovak government would be more sensitive and open to the needs of the Hungarian minority.

Meanwhile, PM Orbán said that Hungary was making quick progress towards energy self-sufficiency, arguing that the completion of the upgrade of the Paks nuclear plant would mean that by 2030-2032, nuclear energy would account for 60% of domestic electricity consumption, with 30-35% being covered by solar power and the rest by fossil fuels. Most of these resources today, he said, went towards energy production upgrades, noting that gas-fired power plants “must be built behind solar farms”. Asked about the state purchase of Budapest’s international airport, Orbán said: “We’re at the end of the process … an announcement could be coming any day now,” adding that the purchase was complete and there were only technical details left to sort out. Orbán said there was fierce competition for tourism, conference tourism and international organisations. “Everyone wants to be part of this, and the key question here is air transport in which Hungary has had a big disadvantage in the recent period because it hasn’t even entered into the competition,” the prime minister said. He said it was “impossible to reach the top” in this sector without state involvement, noting that the government had found a French partner to operate the airport, “and we’ll be happy if it can bring in other investors.”
Asked about hospital debt, Orbán said Hungarian health care was neither public nor private, and this was a “problem”. The government, he added, wanted to keep the single state insurance model and was moving towards more regulated state health care without banning private health care altogether. He said it was unclear why a surgical procedure in one hospital was priced differently than in another. To speed the process up, director-general positions and the role of hospital directors were undergoing change, he added. PM Orbán said it had been a “historic, professional and moral gesture” on the part of the medical chamber to end the practice of gratuity payments and enter into cooperation with the government.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said the government was not linking pay hikes for teachers to EU funds, adding that it was indisputable that Hungary could raise their pay on its own. But this would be a 5-6-year process, while with external financing, this could be reduced to 3 years.
Regarding the sovereignty protection law, he said the aim was “to serve transparency and the public”. When Fidesz was founded, he added, it took the side of the public against the Communists; now the same methods must be used “to fight against the big foreign powers that want to exert influence over Hungary”. Orbán dismissed the suggestion that the law would affect the media, saying that people making such accusations were doing so out of fear, but he preferred to “start out from the facts” rather than from the emotion of fear. The prime minister said that in the last general election, several million dollars had been used to influence its outcome. This, he added, was not about the media but about the issue of foreign political financing. The law, he said, closed loopholes against attempts to influence the elections, and it would be clear in a few months how the law worked in practice. If it appeared necessary, changes could be made, he added. Asked why the planned child protection law had not come before the parliament in the autumn, Orbán said the government could not “fight two battles at the same time”. Since the referendum on child protection, a Fidesz working group has been drafting the bill, he said.

Addressing the issue of guest workers, Orbán said fears were justified in the case of Western Europe, but not in Hungary’s case. Significant labour reserves were available and there was no need for a large influx of guest workers, he added. Orbán said it was not the government but private companies that brought in guest workers, and this was subject to strict rules. These may be tightened if necessary, he added. No one, he said, could stay in Hungary illegally, and when the legal basis for staying expired, foreign guest workers would have to leave the country. Guest workers were allowed only from countries with which a deportation agreement is in force, he added. Asked about the debate on euthanasia launched by a terminally ill constitutional lawyer, Orbán said a referendum initiative was underway that the government had nothing to do with, and further action would be based on the plebiscite’s outcome. He said it was not simply a legal issue, but also a human one involving a “shocking human fate”. “All I can say to the person involved … is that we are with him, we sympathise with him; we wish him much strength, and, if he lets us, we will pray for him, too, so that he can get through these difficult times.”