State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Good morning everyone. Another year has passed. My cordial greetings to everyone. What kind of year was this? The Prime Minister is at the disposal of the national and international press. I’d like to point out that we have to keep within a time slot of about two hours before the next official engagement. So let’s avoid unnecessary talk. Prime Minister, please.
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen. I wish you all a blessed, peaceful Christmas period and a prosperous New Year. As for what I have to say, this is the time to close the year 2023 and look forward to 2024. And this meeting with you is an opportunity for you to understand us better, and for us to understand each other better, and how the Government assesses the year 2023. We see 2023 as having been a year of great struggles. There was the war, the growing threat of terrorism, migration, inflation and Brussels. These were the scenes of great struggles. Our goals were clear. With regard to the war, our aim was to keep Hungary out of it, to stay out of it. With regard to the threat of terror, which has been growing in Europe, it was to keep it away from Hungary at all costs. With regard to migration, it was to contain it. With regard to inflation, it was to bring it down. And with regard to Brussels, it was – despite its constant carping – to reach an agreement with it. What we all know today is that we’ve succeeded on the issues of inflation, war, migration and the threat of terror. So we’ve done what we set out to do. In 2023 the great struggles were not only for the Government, but also for Hungarian families. The war brought sanctions, the sanctions brought increases in energy prices, and these put the value of pensions and wages at risk. The value of pensions has been fully protected. We’re still waiting for the economic data at the end of December, but it seems that wages have also been protected to a greater extent than was suggested by the rather sad figures from the middle of the year. At that time there had been a 4–5 per cent fall in real wages in the first half of the year, but by the end of the year we may be able to bring this down to below 1 per cent. And the aim for 2024 is that – rather than the great struggles – families should return to centre stage in politics. If in 2023 we fought – and the people of Hungary worked – to ensure that what they had already achieved wasn’t lost and that they protected what they had, for 2024 we hope that the whole country, including families, can work to make progress. What the Government can do to achieve this has already been announced in part. Such is our new housing programme. We hope that “CSOK Plus” will be an opportunity for many tens of thousands of families to move forward. We’ve accepted and announced the agreement between employers and employees to increase the minimum wage; we’re talking about an increase of between 10 and 15 per cent. We’re guaranteeing the value of pensions. In fact, as I understand it, the estimate we made a month ago for the inflation rate in 2024 was higher than it will actually be. So, in addition to protecting the value of pensions, there may be some increase there, and perhaps we’ll focus on that. If the conditions are met, and we’re close to achieving that, then we can also start a three-year programme of pay increases for teachers and kindergarten teachers. As far as the political objectives for 2024 are concerned, at the heart of them are the European Parliament elections. You know our unvarnished opinion of what’s going on in Brussels. I too have come to believe – and here in Hungary this is a fairly common belief – that the bureaucrats in Brussels live in a bubble, and that therefore Brussels is blind, that it doesn’t see life as it really is, and that it’s detached from the problems that people are struggling with, not only in Hungary but throughout Europe. The purpose of the 2024 elections will be to open Brussels’ eyes, to make it see reality and enable it to correct the mistakes that it made – the leadership mistakes that it made – in 2023. Therefore 2023 was a year of great struggles. Meanwhile 2024 will be a year of plans, of great plans, and also a year of elections to the European Parliament, when we’ll try to bring about a major political change in Brussels. This is how we look at 2024. If you want to know the details, I am here at your disposal.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Let’s get started. I’d like to ask MTVA first.
Renáta Kucov (MTVA): Good morning. Renáta Kucov from M1. I’d first like to ask the Prime Minister about migration. Yesterday [Fidesz MEP] Tamás Deutsch said that the latest decision by Brussels is another harsh step towards imposing the new Migration Pact, and that the Brussels bureaucrats want to impose their migration policy on the Member States in an increasingly radical way. What do you think about this?
It doesn’t look good. The honourable Member’s right about that. The necessary majority of the Member States of the Union – that’s to say a qualified majority – have adopted what we shall call, for the sake of simplicity, the migration package. This package’s starting point is flawed. Over the past quarter we’ve had a big debate on this. I’ve spent long hours trying to explain to the other prime ministers, apparently unsuccessfully, that the starting point they’ve chosen as the basis for this package is also flawed. Now I’m not philosophising but speaking from experience, including that gained from Hungary’s eight-year struggle against migration, when I say that there’s only one way to stop migration. This is for us to take the decision that anyone who wants to enter the territory of the European Union must stay outside the Union until a decision is taken on their entry. Any other solution is patching and makeshift repairs, and won’t produce the desired result. So the EU must take the courage to do what we Hungarians have done: we’ve said that if someone wants to come to Hungary on any legal basis, even through an asylum application, must first submit their application and wait outside the country’s borders; if the decision is negative, they must stay there, and if it’s positive, they can enter. Until such time as this basic position, this basic stance, is adopted by the EU, the result will always be failure – whatever packages it creates. We can say with certainty that this migration package – which has been adopted, and which yesterday was perhaps already enacted for the most part – will end in failure. Mountains will go into labour, and a mouse will be born. And it will not run out of the EU, but run into it. So I’m convinced that the Hungarian regulation is the model that Brussels shouldn’t really be opposing or litigating against. This is the situation now: we’re in court because of the Hungarian regulation. The European Commission has taken us to the European Court of Justice in order to have this regulation I spoke about earlier abolished – even though it’s the only regulation in Europe that’s been proven to work. Therefore we’re unhappy with yesterday’s decision.
Renáta Kucov (MTVA): Prime Minister, what do you think about what’s been happening at Polish public television? Former prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said that the decision to replace the management of the public media is a violation of the rule of law. Do you think such a thing can happen in a constitutional state?
It seems that it can. We don’t want to interfere in Poland’s affairs. All Poles are our friends – even those who aren’t friendly to us, or who don’t see us as their friends. This is because ours is an old historical community of shared destiny. And we see the debate that’s going on there. It’s an instructive debate, but it’s not confined to Poland. If we raise our eyes a little towards a higher horizon, today we see strange things – let’s say in the Western democratic world. I don’t want to comment on them individually, because I don’t want to create conflicts with any other country. But we must acknowledge that there’s a large Western European model democracy in which, as far as I can see, there are attempts to use the courts to obstruct one of the favourites to become a presidential candidate being able to stand in an election. I can see another country – on the other side of the ocean, but also a large one – in which a party with significant parliamentary representation may be under national security surveillance. And I see a third country, which is the one you’re talking about, where the television has been forcibly taken over by the police. So there’s something, some disease eating away at the structure of Western democracies. Something’s happening that’s not right. Meanwhile, if all this had happened in Hungary, for example, NATO troops might have already been deployed. This raises the problem of double standards. So I feel that in 2024 we’ll have reason to be concerned not only about Hungary, but about the future of our whole world built on Western democracy.
Renáta Kucov (MTVA): Thank you very much.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Reuters next, please. On the left at the back.
Gergely Szakács (Reuters): Thank you very much. Gergely Szakács from Reuters. What does the Prime Minister hope to achieve at the EU summit in February? How are you prepared to provide Ukraine with EU support, and what do you expect in return? Or, to put the question more simply, what’s the minimum that the Prime Minister would like to achieve at the summit?
Well, if we look at the forthcoming summit with an analytical eye, we can separate out two issues which, as I see it, are mixed up in political debates – perhaps in a way that’s being driven by vested interests. But if we look at this issue analytically, and your question seems to have been in that vein, it’s worth separating the two. There’s the question that was in the first part of what you said, which is about whether to give – and if so, how much and how. I’m talking about financial resources for Ukraine. The proposal from twenty-six Member States – or, let’s say, the Commission – is to give 50 billion euros, to say, “Let’s give this 50 billion euros over four years.” The EU also says that it doesn’t have this money. So we want to give money that at the moment doesn’t exist. So let’s produce this money. The Commission’s saying that we should borrow together, take out a collective loan and give the money to Ukraine. The Commission also says that once we’ve produced it through borrowing, then let’s put it in the budget, the seven-year budget, and give it to Ukraine through that. This is the proposal on the table. And on this the Hungarian position is that if we want to give money to Ukraine, then first of all we shouldn’t give it for five years, because we have no idea what will happen in a quarter of a year from now, let alone five years. So let’s set a reasonable timeframe. The second point is to determine the extent of it according to how much of the burden the United States will shoulder for supporting Ukraine today. Our third proposal is that, if we do give such money, we shouldn’t give it through the budget. Because an item of an uncertain magnitude will wreck our budget, and there’s no argument for why it should be introduced into the budget in such a complicated way and then allocated from there in a complicated system. The alternative – as we do with the budget – is to get together and say that everyone should put down the amount they’ve earmarked for this purpose, as a proportion of the gross domestic product, for example. But outside the budget. And then, finally, the fourth problem facing the Hungarians is that we don’t want to take out loans together with anyone else. We’ve already made this mistake once. At the time we had more hope, it didn’t seem like a mistake. That was after the COVID crisis. You remember that: COVID, economic crisis, recession. We need urgent help for Member States, there’s no money in the budget. We set up this recovery fund to be able to give Member States a significant amount of money quickly, in a targeted way, and we borrowed collectively for that. Now COVID is over, but there are many Member States – several Member States, for example, Hungarians – who haven’t received a penny from that fund. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t accessible. So our opinion is that borrowing money jointly with other countries, while we’re in constant political disputes with those countries, isn’t a sensible thing to do. For this reason the Hungarian parliament has a rule on this; but it’s also the Government’s position that we can distribute money wherever we want to, but we certainly don’t want to enter into collective borrowing with other EU Member States and become collective debtors. Everyone should take their own risks and shoulder their share of the burden. This is the Hungarian position, and I’d like the others to accept it. But there’s another part of the debate taking place at the beginning of February. This was only the first half. The second is that – related to the Ukrainian issue but separate from it – Member States have come up with different budget amendment demands, so that if we draw from it on account of the Ukrainians, then there should be this, this, this, this, this and this too. So far we’ve stayed out of this, because Hungary’s position has been that there was no need to amend the budget, that this budget was good. But if a process like this starts, in which every Member State includes in its budget the matters that are important to it, then Hungary will do the same. But this is still ahead of us. It will become clear in the next month.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. The Financial Times next. Here at the front, in the middle.
Dunai Márton (Financial Times): Thank you. Márton Dunai, correspondent for the Financial Times. I have a topic that’s somewhat similar to the one that Reuters asked about. How do you assess the risk of activation of Article 7 against Hungary by other Member States? We understand that there’s no unanimity among EU Member States on this issue, but if this tussle continues there could be. So how do you rate the danger of that? Obviously this is an area related to the negotiation about money. I’d also like to ask you about the fact that Hungary, as you and others have already said, would like to get all the money that Hungary’s owed – as you’ve said, not half or a quarter of it, but all of it. In order to reach an agreement would it be necessary to release the entire 30 billion euros, or would it be enough to release further funds? And, if so, how much of it? And ultimately the question is also whether, if Hungary wants all the money, do we want to effectively eliminate the whole conditionalities procedure and all that fuss. In other words, if all this fails, or fails to happen, and the twenty-six Member States without Hungary agree on the Ukrainian money, in this context how do you assess Hungary’s further isolation in the European Union? This also leads back to the question of Article 7. Thank you very much.
Well, you’ve built a fine big haystack for me here. I’m sorry, I’ll try to sort these out somehow, because these are questions with varying natures. There’s the first strand: Is Hungary threatened with an Article 7 procedure? It’s not threatened, because it’s already undergoing them. So it makes no sense to threaten someone with something that they’re already being subjected to. So we’re under Article 7 proceedings. So another Article 7? What you’re saying is that there’s an Article 7 procedure under way, and that another one is being launched in addition to or instead of that one, with the aim of... Because the current Article 7 procedure isn’t intended to take any rights away from Hungary. What you’re talking about is an Article 7 procedure, which is possible under the Founding Treaty, the purpose of which would be to... The Founding Treaty clearly states why such a procedure can be launched. It can be initiated if there’s the ongoing threat of violation of the rule of law. Now, the European Commission has just stated that this is no longer the case, because it’s just declared that the Hungarian judicial system is in order. So Hungary has the most up-to-date and highest-quality judicial system in the whole of the European Union. We’ve just received a paper to that effect. Well, this means that Hungary isn’t being pushed towards an Article 7 procedure, and it’s becoming clear that there’s no reason to launch one. So I’m not afraid of that. Then the second forkful of hay in this haystack is this issue’s financial side. The important thing is that we don’t want to link things that are alien and different in nature, because that never leads to good things, and it doesn’t produce good blood. So, for example, we don’t want to link EU financial support for the Ukrainians with any Hungarian financial issue. That would also violate an EU principle, which is the principle of loyal cooperation. It would also violate a strong custom in Hungarian political culture which doesn’t like that sort of thing, and according to which everything must be settled and agreed with the party with whom you have a problem. So the EU’s approach of looking at a problem it has with Hungarians and then punishing the children of Hungarians through the Erasmus Programme is something alien to the Hungarian soul. We consider it to be utterly despicable, and it’s something we don’t do: we don’t link different things; if we have a dispute with someone, we settle it with them, and not collaterally, through the back door. So the situation is that we can agree on the issue of the Ukrainians not if Hungary gets the money, but if the proposal itself makes sense – and, most importantly, if it’s dealt with outside the budget and not linked to other budgetary issues. So it’s precisely Hungary that wants to separate financial issues with different natures and is against linking them, while others prefer to link them. Hungary thinks that the budget is good, that is, the EU budget as it is, and that if we interfere with it, it will only cause problems; and so we’re not asking for anything. All we are asking is that what’s in the budget should be implemented. The money of the Hungarians is in the budget. This is why we say that it’s owed to us, and if for some reason they don’t want to give it to us, then let’s discuss why not. But it’s owed to us. So we don’t want to put anything into the budget, we’re not asking for anything, we’re just asking for the budget to be implemented. If, however, they start to make changes to the budget, then of course the Hungarian interest will also be represented, and we’ll negotiate accordingly. Sorry, was there anything else?
Dunai Márton (Financial Times): Yes. So that...
I can hear you.
Dunai Márton (Financial Times): The decision on the financial support was taken a day or two after the money – the 10 billion euros – was effectively made available to Hungary. Although you say that Hungary’s trying to separate these two things, in almost everyone’s mind they’re linked.
Well, because some people have an interest in linking it, and some people don’t. Hungarians are among those who have an interest in not linking these different things.
Dunai Márton (Financial Times): I just want to ask this again. So in fact regardless of whether or not the money due to Hungary is released, the Hungarian position on the money for Ukraine won’t change?
It doesn’t depend on that. It depends on the four considerations that I’ve just outlined here.
Dunai Márton (Financial Times): That’s clear, thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: I’ll ask everyone to ask their questions in a structured way, OK? So you’ll have time for about one or two questions. And the Prime Minister always answers them in a structured manner. I’ll ask for Origo next. Here at the front.
András Kovács (origo.hu): Good morning. András Kovács, Origo. Thank you very much. My first question is that the European Commission has in theory released 10.2 billion euros in funding.
You said, “We’ll believe it when we see it.” Do you think it conceivable that this will be withdrawn, and that in the end the Commission – Ursula von der Leyen – will give in to constant blackmailing from the European left?
Before we talk about what I think is conceivable, it’s perhaps worth saying that blackmail is a publicly acknowledged fact. So the assertion that Hungary’s being blackmailed isn’t a Hungarian fantasy, it isn’t an assumption, and nor is it a hypothesis. So the fact that Hungary’s being blackmailed in Brussels is a fact admitted by the blackmailers themselves. These blackmailers are Members of the European Parliament, and they admit this. And you all write – and I and the Hungarian people can read – is what such MEPs have been publicly putting their names to: they don’t want Hungary to receive a single penny, and that if the Commission does give Hungary the money it’s due, then they’ll remove the President of the Commission from her post. There’s just been a threatening letter to this effect, signed by MEPs, warning the Commission not to dare to give Hungary the money it’s due. So, in that sense, it’s not worth arguing about whether Krahács [a fictional Hungarian settlement] is being blackmailed, being pressured, to use that [colloquial Hungarian] expression. Well, because it is! We can all see it. This is what’s happening. The question now is this: What can we do about it? There isn’t much we can do. Because, unfortunately, whether we like it or not, the Commission is at the heart of the European institutional system. And if the European Parliament is blackmailing the Commission, as is happening now, and it’s saying that if the President of the Commission doesn’t prevent the Hungarians from receiving the money that’s already due to them in the existing budget, then the President will be brought down. This is what it’s said and has written down. So this is what’s happening in Brussels today. We can see that Hungary not only meets all the rule-of-law requirements in comparison with other European countries, but when the Commission has specific demands, we also see Hungary implementing almost everything that can be implemented within the framework of the Hungarian constitutional system. So we’re being cooperative. So in my view of the world, Hungary is trying to cooperate with the Commission, while the Commission is being blackmailed by the European Parliament; and the European Council – the council of prime ministers of the Member States – simply watches. Now in this situation Hungary must find some way to assert its interests. I cannot be blamed for doing everything I can to defend Hungary’s interests in such a blackmail situation. This is how I can answer your question.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Bloomberg, please.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): Thank you very much. Zoltán Simon, Bloomberg. Before the EU summit in December, you said that you’d definitely block the EU from starting negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the EU, because you consider it a strategic issue. At the same time you’ve said that you think that aid to Ukraine is a matter for negotiation. By contrast, at the summit the opposite happened: after you walked out of the room, the EU’s decision was to start negotiations with Ukraine on EU membership; on the other hand, you blocked financial aid. My question is, if the strategic issue was for the EU not to start negotiations with Ukraine, why didn’t you actually walk out of the room when the aid was being discussed?
First, I think we should clarify a stylistic point. I think that the German chancellor or the French president can walk out. The Hungarian prime minister can simply leave. One has to manage one’s position. By leaving the room – let’s stick to that word – I have indeed enabled Hungary to maintain its position, to disagree with the decision being taken, but to allow the decision to be taken. There are precedents for this in the European Union, and this method is a tribute not to Hungarians’ ingenuity, but is quite simply a matter of knowledge. We know how to handle such conflicts, and others have been in this situation before. This is why we chose this solution – at the suggestion, incidentally, of the German chancellor. On the strategic issue of Ukraine, I spent eight hours trying to convince more than twenty other countries that we shouldn’t make that mistake. Perhaps what we’re about to do is a mistake, and let’s not make it. I’ve tried everything. I won’t quote it for you, although it was an exciting debate, and I think it was remarkable from an intellectual point of view. Others also contributed to it, but it was a wide-ranging debate, so I won’t quote it here, but I’d perhaps summarise it by saying that Hungary isn’t claiming the role of Cassandra. So we don’t think we’re able to say what will happen. So we don’t have that privilege. But we do have experience. And I tried to tell them that this was exactly how we’d confronted one another on the issue of migration. We’d confronted the same people, telling them what was going to happen – because we live on the [EU’s] southern border, where migration is a reality. And we live on the Ukrainian border, where war is a reality, where it’s visible in a different way, in a way that’s more visible than it is from the Atlantic coast. On migration I did everything I could to convince them not to take the decisions that have become a big problem. And now they’re in this mess, and we have to fight to stop them dragging us down with them. I say that the same thing’s going to happen. Now everyone’s against the Hungarians, but you’ll see that this is a bad decision, that a lot of trouble will spring from it, and that we’ll have to mobilise a great deal of energy to deal with the trouble that we’ll cause with this decision. But I couldn’t not convince them. And I have to admit that they also had a very robust argument, because if the accession of Ukraine is a problem, then we’ll leave it in abeyance for the time being, because there’s no consensus. And if the Hungarians persist in their position that even after several years this isn’t a good thing, and it could be several years, then the Hungarian parliament will still have that decision in its hands. Because Ukraine cannot be admitted to the EU without a decision by the Hungarian Parliament. So if Hungarians are worried about a bad decision, they have the opportunity to defend themselves against it. But there are twenty-six countries who want to make this decision, and they rightly expected me to accept that Hungary shouldn’t seek to protect them from themselves. Such a thing is even difficult with our own children. So it was a legitimate expectation. And in such cases there’s no other option, and a solution must be found. I didn’t want to, it turned around. The danger was no longer one of a bad decision being taken, because with twenty-six of us holding out this was unstoppable. The question was whether we Hungarians would be forced into this bad decision, and whether we’d also have to take responsibility for this bad decision. And I had to find a way out of this situation, so that Hungary wouldn’t be involved in a decision with which it didn’t agree. I managed to find it. I’m grateful to the German chancellor for having put forward this proposal; we had a break in negotiations, there was a German-Hungarian consultation, we reached an agreement and the matter was resolved.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): And the financial question?
I’m sorry, on finance our position is unchanged, there’s no convergence of views. They want to give the money to the Ukrainians from the budget, and Hungary wants to give it outside the budget. If we don’t agree, they have the option of resolving this outside the budget. Without Hungary they don’t have the option of resolving it within the budget. What they have to do is get twenty-six countries together and solve it outside the budget – say by the twenty-six states taking out a collective loan. There is such an option. If this happens, we’ll consider what we think about it.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): So this actually foreshadows the fact that in February this will probably happen: twenty-six Member States will agree on this, but then this Hungarian blockade will effectively be sidelined, so to speak, and they’ll reach an agreement without Hungary. And then the question will be what Hungary has actually achieved, and what the cost will be of it once more confronting the EU.
Hungary’s aim is not to block things; Hungary’s goal is for good decisions to be taken in Brussels. Our goal is for the prime ministers, for the Council, to make good decisions. In our view, it isn’t a good decision to give money to Ukraine in a way that’s within the budget and which jeopardises other parts of the budget – including Hungarian money. So let’s make the right decision. That would be a bad decision. So there’s no question that the will of Hungary can be circumvented on a number of points – or let’s not talk about Hungary, the will of a Member State that disagrees with the others can be circumvented on many issues – and on some issues it cannot be circumvented. Here too, the others have the opportunity to circumvent it if they wish. But I say again: our aim is not to say “no” in Brussels; we want to say “yes”, we want good decisions, we want good agreements. But I’m convinced that giving Ukraine 50 billion euros over five years from the EU budget – which has no money for this, but must borrow it – is a bad decision. Instead, let’s make a good one – this is the Hungarian proposal.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. FAZ, Stefan.
Stephan Löwenstein (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): Thank you, Prime Minister. Two questions, if I may. First, can you give us the reasons why Hungary is delaying the NATO accession of Sweden, in line with Turkey? Is it something like, “Mr. Erdogan is my friend and ally, and I have to stand by him, so he will stand by me if I need so? And the second one is for non-Hungarian speakers: What exactly do you mean with saying Ukraine is as far from EU accession like Makó from Jerusalem? Is it… does it mean light years, or does it mean in the moment it’s an illusion and it’s a far trip, but within a sailor’s reach? Thank you.
There’s a lot of discussion from where this in Hungary famous saying is coming from: far away as Makó from Jerusalem. One of the main explanations is that Makó is a name: it’s not the name of the city; it’s a name of a knight, who was a crusader knight, who tried to go to Jerusalem, but finds himself somewhere else. That’s what I mean. So if you would like to help Ukraine, we should provide something, we should offer something which is realistic. Membership is not realistic for long, long, long years. Why do we do that? If we would like to help really Ukraine, why [don’t] we use another instrument, which could bring closer Knight Makó to Jerusalem, where he would like to go to? Like a strategic partnership, which could be immediate, short, consisting of the most important elements for Ukrainians, and to support them in that way; and not through membership which looks like a nice gesture of politics, but in reality does not help the Ukrainians at all. So why the strategic partnership is not more reasonable answer to these challenges than this faraway promising of membership which we all know that we are not helping for long, long, long years? So that’s what I mean. What was the first question? NATO enlargement... The first fact is that there’s no Turkish-Hungarian agreement. In your writings I sometimes read that there’s an agreement between Türkiye and Hungary on Sweden’s accession to NATO. No such agreement exists! The two countries can decide independently on this matter. The Hungarian parliament insists on this. You’ve repeatedly stated that the Government can make promises on dates, but the only factor that will determine the date is the Hungarian parliament – when Hungarian Members of Parliament feel that the time is right. They don’t have much appetite for making a decision – the reason being that when Finnish accession was approved by the Hungarian parliament, the following day the Finnish government took legal action against Hungary in the EU on another matter. You also have to understand the Members of Parliament.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you very much. The BBC there, at the back on the right.
Nick Thorpe (BBC): Thank you very much. I’d like to ask two questions in English, if I may. So my first question, Prime Minister. The Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that he would like a demilitarized, neutral Ukraine. In the past days you’ve made clear your differences with EU leaders on the issue of Ukraine. Could you tell us, please, your differences with President Putin – or indeed any similarities you have? That would be my first question on the issue of Ukraine as a buffer zone, as a demilitarized and neutral country. Thank you.
May I answer in Hungarian, if you don’t mind? Your question is two steps ahead of where I stand. So I can’t answer that, and for the moment I don’t want to, because the conditions aren’t yet in place for what kind of peace agreement should be concluded after the war. That’s what you’re talking about, and you’re referencing what the Russian president would like. But if anyone thinks that we can first agree on what the outcome of the peace negotiations will be and then start peace negotiations, they misunderstand the nature of politics. The correct sequence is the following. First there must be a ceasefire, independent of any post-war settlement. We must say that we’re stopping the killing here and now, and there’s a ceasefire. And so we give ourselves time to discuss what peace talks will be, in what format, and what the main issues will be. So we’ll have a negotiation frame, as they say in your language. But independent of this the ceasefire should still be implemented tomorrow morning. Hungary will only go as far as to say this: let there be a ceasefire as soon as possible, and then let the negotiations begin. Here Europe is exposed to a threat: if Europe doesn’t step in and start negotiations, then the Russians will end up making a deal with the Americans over Europe’s head. This has been a constant threat since the Second World War, because in the Second World War Europe was occupied from two sides: from the Western side and from the Russian side. And since then, for Europeans it’s been a bloody reality and experience that Europe’s fate won’t be decided by Europeans, but by two great powers outside Europe. This danger was averted in the Crimean crisis. I think that it was a great feat when the European Council – and I was also present then – gave the then French president and the German chancellor a mandate to negotiate with the Russians. This led to the Minsk agreement – without the involvement of the Americans. Now the question is this: When there are negotiations – and I’m not talking about what the results will be – who will be negotiating with whom? And if the Europeans don’t pay attention, they’ll be left out of this negotiation. So this is my real approach: a ceasefire; then the negotiating framework; and then what you’re talking about, what is wanted by the warring parties – the occupying Russians and the defending Ukrainians – and how to create some kind of compromise between them. This is very much at the end of the line. We’re very far from that. And if we start speculating about the end, about the end of the line, it will prevent us from taking the first step – which is a ceasefire. So I don’t want to speculate, but I want to focus on the ceasefire. I don’t know whether that was clear…
Nick Thorpe (BBC): That’s completely clear, I just feel that you haven’t answered the question, in as much as… If you have a vision of Hungary, which you clearly do, you have a vision of Europe, which you clearly do, surely you have a vision – even before the end of the war in Ukraine – of whether you want a neutral country, a buffer zone, on your eastern border, or whether you want a fellow NATO EU member on your eastern border?
Hungary doesn’t have a vision for another country. Hungary has a vision for itself, for what gives Hungary security. So we focus on Hungary, and in this sense we only look beyond the Hungarian state border to the extent that for us it’s important that Russia doesn’t share a border with Hungary. This isn’t important because of Ukraine; it will definitely be important for Ukrainians, but that’s their perspective. It’s important for us because we’re Hungarians, and it’s in Hungary’s interest for there to always be something – some kind of state formation – between Russia and Hungary. In the recent past this was Ukraine. This was good for us, and we weren’t the ones who changed it. The changes to this haven’t occurred in line with Hungarian intentions. So all I can say is that we’re looking after ourselves, and it’s in our interest for there to be a settled area between Russia and Hungary which is ordered in the form of a state. Everything else will be agreed on by the big boys. This is the extent of the Hungarian interest.
Nick Thorpe (BBC): And my second question. As a champion of national sovereignty, not only for Hungary but for other nations, if the people of Ukraine want… the sovereign will of the people of Ukraine is to join the European Union and NATO, why are you – as a small and sometimes difficult country – placing obstacles in the way of the sovereign will of the Ukrainian people? Thank you.
The answer to this question is, of course, that sovereignty is something of absolute value. But we shall not agree to a decision that would drag Hungary into a war. We don’t want to be part of an alliance with a country that’s currently fighting bloody wars on its eastern border. Because then we’d also be drawn into war, and we don’t want that. Our starting point is not the Ukrainians; our starting point is Hungarian interests. It’s not in Hungary’s interest to be in alliance with any country that’s engaged in open war with someone as a result of being attacked. This must be avoided. But this is also what NATO says. So this isn’t a selfish Hungarian position: this is the joint NATO position; NATO says that it won’t take action in the interests of Ukraine. NATO hasn’t taken a single step in the interests of Ukraine. It encourages the Member States to do what they can, but it, as a military alliance, doesn’t want to take any action because that would involve it in a war with Russia. That would be bad for everyone, and – due to geography – certainly for the Hungarians. Therefore, when someone is fighting a war with a great power, a nuclear power, Hungary doesn’t want to take on an obligation – and we’d have a legal obligation – to take part in that war. Ukraine’s membership of NATO would mean that – under the NATO treaty which we’re bound to – tomorrow morning we’d be obliged to send troops to Ukraine. We don’t want that.
Zoltán Kovács State Secretary: Péter Breuer.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press, Heti TV): Thank you. Péter Breuer, Breuer Press, Heti TV. On a somewhat different topic, did Israel’s war come up at the weekend EU summit? What should Europe do to find a solution – in particular to protect Jewish communities not living in Israel? And – continuing the question – will there come a time when the other twenty-six prime ministers will think about the Jewish state like you do, and will these twenty-six heads of state or prime ministers realise that they’re next? Because terror knows no borders, and after the Jews will come the Christians.
I cannot say when, for whom and how fast God will enlighten their minds. What I can say is that within the EU today there are clearly different positions – on Israel, and also on the terrorist attack on Israel. These are markedly different opinions. You regularly write about these, so I’m not revealing a secret or betraying any confidences regarding the Council’s private meeting. You regularly write about this because the leaders of the states make statements about it. In connection with this particular case, Hungary belongs to the group – and there aren’t many of us – which says that we have a strategic interest in the stability of Israel. Therefore the State of Israel has the right to defend itself and the right to do everything it can to avoid being in such a situation again, avoid being subject to terrorist attack. And we believe that this is the first consideration. So this group of people who think like this – some states within the EU – are far from being the majority. The rest don’t have a strategic vision or a strategic decision on Israel. I repeat that there are one or two countries in the region, and Israel is one of them, because we’re talking about a democracy whose stability is in Hungary’s elementary security interest, and I believe it’s also a European security interest, but not everyone has come to this realisation yet. And so Hungary is acting accordingly. There were great debates at the Council meeting, and at times there were serious discussions about a single word or phrase. Interestingly, the differences didn’t increase as a result of the debate, but decreased. So there’s some hope of what you’re saying – that sooner or later there will be a pan-European position that considers the stability of Israel to be as strategic an issue as Hungary considers it to be.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press, Heti TV): We were just talking about aid to the Ukrainians, but can the European Commission transfer aid to a terrorist organisation without even looking at it, without checking what money from collective funds has been spent on?
There are two things. The first is that to send money from the European Union budget to an openly registered terrorist organisation is a capital offence and a despicable act. We don’t know that this has happened, so let’s see if it’s happened. We can’t rule it out, as these things happen in a very mysterious way, but we have no knowledge that it’s happened. But, because of the recent terrorist attack, the second thing that we need to look at is whether or not the money that we sent to non-terrorist organisations – which we allocated as humanitarian aid, educational aid, or goodness knows what kind of aid – ended up being used to send money to terrorist organisations through back channels. And if it has, then all those forms of support need to be reviewed.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press, Heti TV): Last question, Prime Minister. After the Slovak and Polish elections, what do you think about the V4 (Visegrád Four) alliance? Are there now common interests, in line with which cooperation could be further expanded? Is it possible to envisage countries joining that aren’t even members of the European Union, but that think like the V4 originally did?
If I have a minute, I’d like to explain why I think the V4 is a bigger issue than it seems. Because we see the debates related to the V4 – that’s the nature of the daily press. But if we take a step back and try to understand what the V4 is for, we see a strategic picture unfolding before our eyes. The V4 is trying to bring together countries that are between the Germans and the Russians. So the V4 is an attempt to try to put into practice the Central European cooperation that has been formulated in different ways and at many times in history. And we wanted to achieve this with the aim of ensuring that in Europe it shouldn’t be a Franco-German axis deciding on all important matters, but that we Central Europeans, being smaller than the big ones, should join forces, stand together, form an alliance on strategic issues, and be as big as the French or the Germans. If you look at the V4, we’re also comparable to France and Germany in terms of population, in terms of territory, in terms of gross national product – and now, I’d say, in terms of military strength. The plan was that through this Central European cooperation we should recognise that Central Europe had a weight, a significance and a voice, and that the Germans and the French should accept that European issues should be considered not by two large groups of forces, but – together with Central Europe – by three. That was the plan. The truth is that it wasn’t in the interests of anyone other than those who were involved. And it fell apart, partly because of internal difficulties and partly because of external pressures. Now we’re working on how to put it back together again. We have hopes that now, during the Czech presidency, there will finally be a V4 meeting at prime ministerial level in February, where we can reconsider these strategic issues and see whether, in the changed circumstances, there’s still a reality to this Central European strategy. This explains the sad situation in which the V4 finds itself.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. AP please, Justin, here in the middle.
Justin Spike (Associated Press): Thank you very much. I’m Justin Spike, from AP. Prime Minister, I have a question about the Sovereignty Protection Act. There have been some slightly contradictory messages from the Government recently about how it will affect the media: some have said not at all; some have said – and you mentioned this in your radio interview last Friday, for example – that in these foreign attempts at influence the media is a factor. How do you see a situation in which the media can be condemned or criticised under this new law?
This is a serious question, I don’t want to puncture it with a joke. But perhaps there are some here who aren’t familiar with the trope – which originated in the era of Freud – about a lady who’s dreaming about running away from a monster that’s chasing her. The monster catches up with her, and she turns around and says, “What do you want from me?” And the monster says: “You’re asking me what I want? It’s your dream I’m in!” This is the situation we’re in. Nothing has happened yet. We’re talking about some kind of fear. I don’t want to talk about these things, because I have a different approach. I don’t live in a world of fears that I create, but I try to start out from the facts. What happened? What happened in Hungary is that in the last parliamentary election a considerable amount of money – hundreds of millions of dollars – arrived for the purpose of influencing the election. This, incidentally, has been admitted by the left-wing players involved. This is the starting point. This isn’t about the media, it’s about this problem. We had thought that the Hungarian legal system would protect Hungary against this, and that there could be no foreign interference. But it turned out that there were loopholes through which this could occur. We’ve now worked to close these loopholes, which is what the Sovereignty Protection Act is all about. Some people think we’ve succeeded with this legislation, some think that we haven’t, some think we’re doing more harm than good, but I think the opposite. But I don’t say and don’t dare to tell you now that it will operate flawlessly, perfectly and without gaps. We shall see. We’ve now created legislation which we’ll try to enforce. We haven’t found a better idea than what we’ve now passed into law. We hope that it will close these loopholes. It will take a few months, and we’ll see how it works. Perhaps we’ll even discuss it with you if there are shared experiences. And if we have to modify it, we’ll modify it. We just have to get started, because no one can expect us to stand there as usual, shrug our shoulders and say, “Yes, this is happening, they’re sending a few hundred million dollars. There’s nothing we can do.” No one can expect that. Voters expect the opposite. Something has to be done. This is an absurdity! Now what can our starting point be? We’re anti-communist fighters: this is what we started from when we were looking for a solution. So our starting point was how we had to fight against the communists. Because we think that the same methods should be used to fight against the great power that’s now abroad. When we founded Fidesz, our idea was to fight through public exposure and transparency. One has to reveal what the truth is. It must be shown to the people, and then we’ll overthrow the communist system. Incidentally, even the Soviets could somehow be driven home from here. So I still say that there’s a great power here, coming from abroad, with far-reaching connections, with a lot of money, and they want to exert influence on Hungary. What’s the only way to defend ourselves? Public exposure and transparency! This is what this legislation serves. We’re hoping for results, and we shall see; let’s give it a chance and give it time.
Justin Spike (Associated Press): Some unusual things have been happening on the Slovak-Hungarian border over the last couple of months. The Slovaks have closed the border – and not just the Slovaks, but also the Germans and the Poles. This is because thousands of migrants have started to enter Slovakia from Hungary. How could this have happened when there’s a barrier on Hungary’s southern border? What’s happened to the border barrier? Has there been a period when it wasn’t working perfectly? And how can it be that, according to press reports – and I myself was at the border – it’s said that this phenomenon on the Slovak-Hungarian border has practically disappeared? What happened during that period, what happened to the fence, how did they get there, to the border?
Before I reply to this, I must make a correction to what I said earlier, so as not to appear misinformed or foolish. So when I said that hundreds of millions have arrived in Hungary, I don’t mean dollars: hundreds of millions of forints have arrived. So it’s millions of dollars, just to avoid misleading you. Coming back to migration, we have a border protection system, the condition and performance of which is constant. So as it stands it’s at a permanent level. We’d like it to be 100 per cent, but the truth is that sometimes migrants manage to break through. And then we have to use the police to escort them back. This is a very difficult process. We haven’t been able to keep the army on the border because in the meantime the Ukrainian war broke out and the army needs to be engaged in exercises. Border defence isn’t a military exercise, it’s something else. Now we have to prepare the Hungarian army in units for the possibility of a military conflict. So we had to redeploy the soldiers from there. The police remained, but more police had to be deployed from the countryside, which brought with it the risk of a deterioration in public safety. So we had to start recruiting for border protection. We were planning to recruit 4,000 to 5,000 people, but we managed to recruit about 2,000. So unfortunately this barrier isn’t airtight. What’s more, so far we’ve spent around 2 billion euros – and I’m saying that correctly, so between 700 and 800 billion forints. So this is eating up money. We’ve received nothing from Brussels: the amount we’ve received so far in border protection aid is less than 1 per cent of this. This is the situation we’re in now. In the meantime, the migrants are becoming increasingly fierce and radical, and they’re already shooting at us, at our border protection personnel. So we’re in a very difficult situation; we’re coping, we’re trying to cope. Our soldiers, our policemen and our border guards cannot be praised enough, they’re doing their utmost. But sometimes migrants get through, and then we try to catch them. But I don’t accept that there’s been any fluctuation in this respect, in the quality of border defence recently. It’s performing now exactly as it did in February. This wasn’t in what you said, so don’t take it personally, but one sometimes reads the cockeyed assumption that for political reasons we’d make the integrity of this barrier sometimes looser and sometimes tighter. This doesn’t correspond to reality. We do as much as we can. We have another problem, although I don’t want to talk about it at length. The problem is that today this barrier is only secure on the Serbian border. A new development is that the Croats have joined the Schengen area, and have dismantled their border fence. We’re keeping ours, but now there’s a different quality of control. Then again, we’ve had major discussions on it, but since we support Romania’s membership of Schengen we’ve decided not to build a border fence on the Romanian-Hungarian border. And unfortunately the Serbian-Hungarian border fence can be bypassed from that direction. But I don’t want to talk about that, because it’s not my job to criticise others. On the contrary, I want to help Romania join the Schengen Area as soon as possible, so that it won’t be the Hungarian-Romanian border that needs to be defended, but Romania’s southern border. I think that these are the phenomena you’re talking about, when sometimes the number of illegal border crossers rises, and sometimes it falls. This isn’t because of the quality of defence, but because they’re being pushed through from below; because the people smugglers start a wave when more people come, followed by a lull. But I’d like to ask everyone to appreciate the fantastic effort that thousands of people – thousands of police officers and border guards – are making every day to defend Slovakia and, of course, in addition to Hungary, the whole of Europe. So if we want to talk about this issue, I’d ask that the keynote should be recognition of this effort. And only then let’s talk about the fact that it’s not perfect.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. I’d like to ask Index next. In the middle.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): Thank you very much. Bettina Holló from Index. My first question is about the fact that the provisions tightening the Child Protection Act were originally supposed to have been submitted to Parliament in the autumn. Why didn’t this happen in the end? Is the draft ready, when can it be submitted to Parliament, and what amendments are being considered?
The limits of our capacity to cope are becoming apparent here. We can’t fight two battles at the same time: one for the protection of sovereignty and one for the protection of children. First one and then the other. That will come, too.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): And the second part of my question is do you have any precise ideas as to what amendments might be coming, and when they might actually be presented to Parliament?
Since the referendum on child protection, a working group has been working within Fidesz and within our parliamentary group. They’ve prepared their proposals, and there was a political decision on what to bring forward and what to leave for later.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): A decision could be taken in the next parliamentary session, so how do you see this work progressing?
Let’s survive the first one, and if we’re still alive, let’s start the second.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): At the demographic summit you talked about extending personal income tax exemption to mothers with three children, but this measure hasn’t been announced yet. When is it planned to introduce it, and under what conditions?
On this issue I’m fighting a determined battle against financial reality and its representative, the Finance Minister. We haven’t been able to this year. So the Finance Minister has been very clear: there’s only so much money, and each forint can only be spent once. One simply cannot launch a CSOK Plus [the new family home creation allowance scheme] while extending baby loans and launching another form of family support at the same time. He said that we should prioritise matters, putting CSOK Plus first, because [the original] CSOK had come to an end. So we thought that it was more important. But I don’t want to close this parliamentary term without the Hungarian parliament having passed into law personal income tax exemption for mothers of three children; that’s my express intention.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): And could this take place as early as next year?
There’s no doubt that the Finance Minister is tenacious.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): How much can teachers expect to see their salaries rise from next year? Will the newly available EU funds allow for the pay rise of more than the 10 per cent that’s already been mentioned?
I’ll talk about the numbers, and so I’ll try not to get them wrong. We still need a legal instrument, we need to get a letter from Brussels authorising us to make the increase, which will ensure that a certain percentage of the pay rise will be paid by Brussels. This letter could arrive at any moment. We’ve prepared our plan for what we’ll do when the letter arrives. Our plan is to launch a three-year pay improvement programme. The figures for this I’ll give you now are average figures, average teachers’ salaries. There will of course be elements related to performance and geographical location, so there may be internal differentials, but overall the figures on average earnings that I’ll give you are correct. So we’re going to break the wage increase programme into three steps, three tranches: on 1 January 2024, 1 January 2025 and 1 January 2026. And this means that from 1 January 2024 we want to implement a 32.32 per cent pay increase that will show up in salaries in February. A smaller but significant rise in 2025, and then in 2026. Now I should also tell you where the average salary of teachers will be at the end of the pay rise programme: somewhere in the region of 800,000 forints – on average.
Bettina Holló (index.hu): What exactly have you asked János Lázár to do in the proposed skyscraper project? And why does he think it’s important – if he does think it’s important – to call this project “Maxi Dubai” and not “Mini Dubai”?
I’m not a kind of godfather, so I’m leaving that to others. I’d just like to say in general that if Hungarians do something, it shouldn’t start out as “mini”. I think we’ve outgrown that. There are these small Hungarians who want to convince us that Hungary is small and Hungarians are small. So we mustn’t allow this, and if we do something, it must be of the maximum size and quality – but, of course, within the bounds of reason. This is also why I don’t like the term “national minimum” – it’s such garbage, if you’ll excuse me! We should aim for a national maximum, not a minimum. This is a matter of attitude, inclination or instinct. So this, rather than a specific project, is the main question. As far as this particular project is concerned, what happened was that we were approached by a foreign state which said that it would like to conclude a contract with us for the company designated by the state to set up a large real estate development in Hungary, in a location which today can be categorised as rather shameful. If you walk by there you’ll see this. They can see that Hungary isn’t using the site, they have the money and the experience, and they want to create a large real estate development. I’ve appointed Minister János Lázár to clarify this issue. It’s a multi-phase process. If there’s going to be anything at all, first an intergovernmental agreement needs to be concluded with the country that wants to realise this project through the company. We can make preparations for what will happen there after the contract’s been signed and there’s authorisation for it – which isn’t about the content of the contract, but which just grants authorisation. It can be decided whether what they want to do is what we Hungarians want: if we Hungarians – or the people of Budapest, a narrower group of Hungarians – want it, if they want it in the neighbourhood. And once we’ve clarified all this, then something can come of it. This is where we are at the moment. We’re not far from being able to conclude an intergovernmental agreement, an international agreement with the applicant. This isn’t yet about what will happen there, but about the possibility of negotiating on something happening there. This is where we are now. And we should forget about Dubai – although I don’t know how that sounds to the younger generation. Someone might like, or think it would be better to choose a better name – say, “Romantic Rákosrendező” [the name of the neighbourhood in question].
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Unfortunately, I can’t allow Index to ask all the questions. Mandiner is next.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Thank you. Dániel Kacsoh, Mandiner. Are intergovernmental negotiations in progress on the Hungarian purchase of Ferihegy Airport? How are the negotiations progressing, and how many players are involved?
Again, let’s start with what we really want. And we can leave recitation of a jeremiad on how we got here for another time. Never mind that now – we are where we are. The bottom line is that in the world and Europe there’s huge competition for tourism: for conference tourism, professional conferences, international organisations. And this is a major economic force in the European economy, with everyone wanting to participate in it, and wanting to be in this business. Air travel is a key element in this. And in recent years Hungary has suffered a great disadvantage – I imagine you’ve been to Istanbul airport, and seen what the situation is there. Twenty or thirty years ago Vienna was like Hungary, but they’ve left us behind. And if you go to Poland, you’ll see that the Poles are building a huge airport. So there’s a lot of competition. And we see that Hungary not only cannot keep up with this competition, but hasn’t even entered this competition. And we can see that it won’t happen if the state doesn’t get involved in it. It’s possible to operate the Hungarian airport at the level it’s currently operating at, but what’s certain is that doing so wouldn’t be reaching for the sky. So if we want to keep pace, tourism must account for 10–11, for 11.5 per cent of Hungary’s GDP. So people must be able to come here. A major element in tourism is foreign tourists. Budapest is a fantastic place, a great magnet, a great attraction; but today it isn’t accessible. So we definitely need development, growth and strengthening. We can’t expect this from the current framework. This is why we had to act. And this is why we had to agree with the airport owner to do things differently there. Correctly, the Government doesn’t seek to claim that it can run an airport. We haven’t tried that, and so can’t rule it out, but we have no evidence that the Government can run an airport. Therefore we need a partner that’s an owner and can certainly run an airport. We’ve found that partner: it’s a French partner, that will also run it. And we’ll be happy if it can bring in other investors. The bottom line is that the Government will stick to what it knows best, but it definitely wants to ensure that the Hungarian airport is developed so that we can exploit the potential of Hungarian tourism – for the benefit of us all, for the benefit of the entire Hungarian national economy.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): And when can the transaction take place?
We’re coming to the end, so it could be any day now, if I’m not mistaken. It’s not so easy to take over a company like this, because there are loans, banks and many other things behind it, and all of these have to be negotiated one by one. So one has to complete the technical and financial processes that demand a long period for completion, from the moment the intention first occurs, or even from the moment the intention is agreed on. This is the stage we’re at now, so I consider this to be a done deal – despite the fact that we’re talking about it as if it’s still incomplete. I think it’s a done deal, which just needs finalisation of the technical details.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): The Prime Minister referred to a US court decision concerning Donald Trump’s campaign and his participation in the primaries in Colorado. From a Hungarian point of view, what’s the problem with an independent US court making a ruling on this? What’s more, many people who hope to see Trump fail are glad that this has happened, but so are many of those who are cheering him on.
We have no say in how the judicial system works in the United States, about who the judges are and how they make their decisions. That’s not a matter for us, but for the American people. We have one respectful request. As a matter of urgency, stop lecturing us.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Clear. Last question: if we’ve understood things correctly, President Zelensky has again offered an invitation to the Hungarian prime minister: he’s calling for diplomatic talks after the EU summit. Will you meet, are you planning to do so, and have you received an official invitation?
We were brought together by chance at the inauguration of the Argentine president, where we exchanged words and I accepted his invitation. So he asked to talk to me and I said I was at his disposal. We’re just clarifying one question: what the discussion will be about.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): So it hasn’t happened yet…
But he and I said that we’re open to bilateral relations, the two foreign ministers should prepare the talks and then they’ll happen. He then said that he’d also like to negotiate about their membership of the European Union, to which I replied that first the European prime ministers should sort out among themselves what they want, and then it would make sense to negotiate with Ukraine. So we’re still in the first phase.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Thank you very much.
In plain language we can say that he made an offer of talks, which I accepted.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. ATV.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. I’m Ildikó Csuhaj from ATV. At its meeting on Tuesday, did the Government decide that public transport will be free of charge for under-14s and public employees?
It didn’t decide on that, but I forgot to mention that when we talk about teachers, kindergarten teachers should also be included in the pay rise programme.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): OK, so there was no...
But we decided that they should be included. But we didn’t decide on this question.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): In 2024 is the Government going to review the price for above-average gas consumption? Are you planning to reduce it? Because the world market price is very low, and experts say that most of the gas in storage facilities is already cheaper gas.
We’re constantly monitoring what’s happening in the gas market. In the Hungarian system there used to be universal rates for gas and electricity, and this was the essence of the system of price protection. Prices rose sharply, this blew a hole in the budget, and we had to decide to impose rules that vary according to whether one has below-average or above-average consumption. The good news is that, according to the regulation, 90 per cent of all consumers have below-average consumption, with the corresponding figure for electricity being 75 or perhaps 80 per cent – there’s some debate about that. So in this scheme the majority of Hungarian families will remain in the protected band. What you’re talking about is that there are people who consume more than that, and what kind of pricing we’ll use for them. What one needs to realise is that those who will pay more for their above-average consumption will also pay less for their below-average consumption. So it’s not a question of those who consume less being in the protected system and those who consume more not being in it, but of everyone being in the system up to the level of average consumption. So today, if you pay more for your above-average consumption, you add up the two bands and you still get gas at a reduced price.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): I understand, but when will it be reviewed?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I’d like to add that we’ve made it possible to exit the scheme. So if you think that the market price is better, you can opt out of the system, you won’t benefit from any discount, and you’ll receive gas at the market price.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you for that supplementary information, but when will the Government consider the possibility of reducing the price of gas in the above-average consumption band?
The system is... This is why we had to set up a separate ministry. We’ve known each other for a long time, and you know that I don’t like a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of ministries, so it’s good to have as few of them as possible. But we’ve had to set up a separate ministry, and the reason is that the market changes so quickly and prices change so quickly that you have to keep track of them. So we don’t have a time-bound price review, but the Government is constantly monitoring what’s happening through its minister and the ministry. What’s more, most of the decisions aren’t even taken by us: the Energy Authority is a public body independent of the Government, with independent powers, and it’s up to them to decide independently. All we do is monitor what’s happening and decide whether we need to indicate to the agency that action or intervention is required. So we have a good division of labour. One thing…
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Will there be such a review in the spring?
Because of the continuous review I can’t tell you when a decision needs to be taken on intervening in the price structure. But I can tell you for certain what Minister Gulyás has said: today no one can lose out. Because anyone losing out within the current subsidy system will simply leave the system. And then they’ll be in the market. So no one’s doing badly compared to the market, everyone’s doing well. Whoever does badly will leave and enter the market system. So we feel that we’re giving everyone a discount, we’re giving everyone an opportunity, we’re giving everyone protection.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. János Lázár, one of your ministers, has very abusively attacked the Office of the President of the Republic, saying that it must be cowardice or a communist reflex causing the President of the Republic, Katalin Novák, to send the law on restoring historic buildings to the Constitutional Court for review, rather than signing it into law. What do you have to say, Prime Minister, on this extremely and unusually harsh assessment of the President of the Republic?
Perhaps I’d say that, as the President of the Republic expresses the unity of the nation, all things considered the Government always gives the President of the Republic, regardless of who he or she is, the respect and deference always deserved by the holder of that office.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): And are ministers allowed to make such harsh statements, the like of which we don’t even hear from the Opposition?
I just want to say that, all things considered, the Hungarian government’s behaviour towards the President of the Republic is respectful, and will remain so.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Thank you. A candidate for Mayor of Budapest. Will you nominate a mayoral candidate in the spring, Prime Minister? Can you tell us when or which month?
First of all, the Government isn’t making nominations for any position...
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Fidesz, as the president of Fidesz...
Yes. So, as the President of Fidesz I can say that at the last meeting of the executive committee it was decided that we’ll name our candidate for Mayor of Budapest by March at the latest. We feel obliged to do so, and we’re happy to fulfil this obligation. The alliance of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party is the largest political force in Budapest. We may not reach 50 per cent, although we’ll fight to reach it. This is still the largest community, and we shall represent this community with determination in the elections. So we shall have a candidate for mayor.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Was it a coincidence that Orsolya Ferencz sat next to the Prime Minister at the Fidesz congress, and that she took the podium from there? Or are the rumours true, and is she also among the candidates? There have also been reports that Dávid Vitézy’s name is on a list of possible candidates – although we know that [the opposition party] LMP is already trying to invite him to stand for mayor, or to win him over.
We all live in this city, and in this respect we’re in a gossipy environment. All I can say is that the Fidesz leadership has decided that we’ll name our candidate for Mayor of Budapest by March at the latest. Everything beyond that is all the stuff of Budapest café society legend.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: RTL is next. Thank you! Please pass the microphone behind you.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Thank you very much. Barna Kéri from RTL. Prime Minister, the Russo-Ukrainian war has been mentioned several times. When you met President Putin, did you specifically tell him that he should end this military operation, as you called it when you were in Beijing, so that there would be no more shooting, and no more victims?
I asked him whether he was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire. This is how I talk, and not in the way that you’ve just expressed it – especially with the President of Russia, who’s the leader of a people. So I put the question in the correct form.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Why did you call this war a “military operation”, when you’ve called it a “war” here and now several times?
Because it is a military operation.
Kéri Barna (RTL): In what sense?
If there’s no declaration of war between the two countries. When the Russians declare war on Ukraine, well, that will be “war”. Now, since we attribute political content to the terms “military operation” and “war”, we use them as alternate versions. But we should be happy as long as there’s no war in the strict sense of the word, because if there’s a war there’s mobilization, and it’s general. I don’t wish that on anyone.
Barna Kéri (RTL): So will you continue to call it a military operation?
Either a war or a military operation, as the respected guest wishes.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Thank you. I asked this question a year ago and I’m asking it again now, backed up by the latest data. According to Eurostat, in terms of per capita consumption Hungary is second [lowest], above only Bulgaria. What does this say about the economic policy of the last thirteen years? As a footnote, in terms of GDP per capita, Romania is ahead of Hungary, if only by a hair’s breadth. So do you think that the economic policy of the last thirteen years has been successful?
There’s no doubt about it, because I don’t think there’s anyone in Hungary today who would say that the Hungarian economy isn’t in a better state today than it was in 2010. I don’t think there are any people in this country who are that harebrained. At least I don’t know any. As for how much better it could have been, that’s another question. But in my opinion there’s no question that this is a different country, with different prospects, different stability, different capital strength, different salaries, and different numbers and ratios of employees and workers. I think it would be silly to debate whether or not the Hungarian economy is in a better state now than it was in 2010, when we moved from Gyurcsány-Bajnai socialism to this civic economic era. I don’t think that’s a sensible debate. As for the data, I’d suggest caution on that. Since we don’t use the same currency, the basis on which we’re counting makes a difference. Consumption is only one part of life: saving is just as important, and wealth is just as important. So it’s more complicated than just picking something and saying one’s behind or ahead, because there are indicators in which we’re very much ahead. But I don’t think you can draw a conclusion from that. For example, in terms of the number and value of residential properties, we’re ahead in the European Union in relative terms, which would imply that we would be ahead overall. So I’d suggest a more restrained or nuanced approach. And overall, I think there are obvious results. For me, the most important element in all the data and results is that in Hungary today 4.7 million people are in work. And this is one million more than were in work before 2010.
Barna Kéri (RTL): In January motorists will face the consequences of the increase in excise duty on fuel. Why not raise the excise tax by the lowest possible amount, the minimum level, so that there isn’t this increase of what I think is 41 forints per litre?
In general, the Hungarian government doesn’t want to raise any taxes at all: we’re a government of tax cuts. I’m trying to cut tax, if I can, for mothers of three and in other places. We believe that what’s good is for people to keep as much of the money they earn as possible. This is a general, principled approach. So we want to remain a government of tax cuts. There are EU regulations that bring in all sorts of constraints. They have them for VAT, and they have them for excise duty, and so sometimes we’re forced to raise taxes, even if it’s against our best convictions.
Barna Kéri (RTL): They could be raised by less...
The question is when, and in how many steps; these are technical questions. We have to increase it because the EU is forcing us to; we wouldn’t increase the tax if the EU didn’t force us to.
Barna Kéri (RTL): That’s clear, but the amount by which it’s increased is a decision for the Hungarian government.
And in how many steps is also up to the Government. And the Finance Minister has found this combination to be the right one.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Inflation. You’ve talked about what inflation might look like in the coming period. Looking back now at 2023, when inflation here was the highest in Europe, can you tell us specifically why Hungary had the continent’s highest inflation
It’s because Hungary is very exposed to energy prices. So Hungary has been a country – but won’t be in the future – that uses energy from abroad and can only limit the price of foreign energy to a very limited extent – that used by households, for example. So Hungary is a country exposed to foreign changes in energy prices. The way to defend against this is to develop our own energy sources. In addition to one million extra jobs, the second achievement of the last ten years – one which is dear to my heart and, I think, a significant achievement – is that we’ve built up huge solar power capacities in Hungary. Never before has there been such a scale of development – not only in solar, but in general. The last development on such a scale was the commissioning of Paks I [nuclear power plant] in the dark ages [under communism]. So I feel that we’re making great strides towards Hungary becoming self-sufficient in energy. If Paks II can be completed, in around 2030–32 Hungary will be a country in which we generate 60 per cent of our electricity from nuclear, 30–35 per cent from solar, and the rest from fossil fuels. So it’s a huge step forward, and most of our money – most of the resources available to the Government or to the country today – is being consumed by the developments that we’re creating. Incidentally, when we talk about solar, we must not only build solar farms, but we must build gas-fired power plants to back them up, so that when solar energy isn’t available, another power source can kick in. We’ve announced three huge projects, international public procurement procedures are under way, and so at the moment Hungary’s in the middle of a huge energy development programme. For me this is the main lesson of high inflation.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Just very briefly. Last year, in response to our question, you expressed your satisfaction with the work of Sándor Pintér, the Minister of the Interior, who also oversees health and education. In health, hospitals have record high levels of debt, the National Director General of Hospitals has been replaced, hospital directors have been dismissed, and many teachers have left the profession after the “Status Act” was promulgated. Are you still satisfied with the work of Sándor Pintér?
My vocabulary doesn’t contain the word “satisfaction”. And if it ever becomes part of me, I’ll quit right away. So I don’t think we need a prime minister who’s satisfied with anything in this country – and perhaps even the performance of the national football team could be included in this. So dissatisfaction is a condition for the job. This country has historical disadvantages going back a hundred years. When we’ve worked to cancel them out, then we can talk about this context, about satisfaction. There’s no such thing! The question of whether someone’s doing their job well is, in my view, a better approach. And Sándor Pintér is doing his job well.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Thank you very much.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Hír Television, please. Please pass the microphone one row back. Thank you.
Péter Molnár (HírTV): Péter Molnár, Hír Television. Two questions concerning Hungarians living beyond the borders. One is about the tragedy in Székelyudvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc. The Government has promised to do everything it can to help. What’s meant by this? What help can the Government give in response to this tragedy? That’s one question. The other is about Transcarpathia. Ukraine has a new minority law. How does this affect the Hungarian community there, and how does the Government assess this?
Indeed, after the collapse of the high school building, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén received an instruction or request from the Government to make himself available and to provide all possible governmental assistance to the staff and students of the school concerned, as well as to the school itself, in case local resources weren’t sufficient for reconstruction. So I hope that Zsolt Semjén will soon be able to provide details. As for the law in Transcarpathia, this is a very important issue. I don’t want to bore those present, because for some people it’s perhaps not as important as it is for the Government, but – as we all know – minority protection legislation is among the most complex in the world. This is mostly because rules are worthless if the practice that goes with them isn’t consolidated. So we don’t see a law as being enough. We’ve seen enough minority protection laws in Central Europe after the First World War to make us interested in what the law is and what the practice is that accompanies it. Therefore we’re studying the new law. We don’t want to underestimate its value, but we’ve proposed another solution to our Ukrainian friends. Our proposal relates to the fact that in 2015 they took a piece of legislation away from the Hungarians that guaranteed their rights; there was a practice attached to it that was enforced and which was good for the Hungarians, who were satisfied. So the question we’re asking is why the law that we had in 2015 can’t be restored, with the practice that went with it, and then close the whole issue – instead of bringing in a new law and arguing for years about whether or not it works in practice. So this would be a better solution, and this is what we’re calling for – not only in Transcarpathia, but also in Brussels: that the legislation that was abolished in the disenfranchisement of 2015 should be reintroduced in Ukraine. Then the sun will come out again – at least in Transcarpathia, if not in Donetsk.
Péter Molnár (HírTV): Thank you very much. The only question is that, if we’re talking about areas beyond the borders, we shouldn’t leave out Felvidék [in Slovakia]. Hungarian politics in Felvidék is looking for its own boundaries, which have to be re-established after the election there. Can the mother country help in this political process?
Careful, because there are sensitivities here that affect all kinds of good neighbourly relations. In my opinion, a good starting point to choose is the fact that the Hungarians in Slovakia – in other words in Felvidék – form an extremely strong community. It has a great many large and well-functioning institutions. One thing this community hasn’t been able to do for a long time is demonstrate this strength in political representation. This must be resolved, but it must be resolved by them: we won’t take any action that doesn’t originate from them. Any steps that do come from them will, of course, also take into account Slovak-Hungarian relations – which, by the way, are at the moment of a quality that’s higher than ever in living memory. And I’m confident that the new Slovak government will also be more empathetic and attentive to the needs of the minority communities of Hungarians living there than previous governments were.
Péter Molnár (HírTV): Thank you very much.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: I give the floor to ARD.
Edit Inotai (ARD): Good morning. Edit Inotai, ARD German public service television. I have three quick questions. One is about whether a bilateral meeting with Russian President Putin is expected in the near future. Also, I’d like to refer back a little to the question from RTL. You met Putin in Beijing, and there you asked him whether he was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire. What was his answer?
As for his answer, it can be deduced from the current situation. As far as the intention to negotiate is concerned, there’s no intention on either side to hold such negotiations in the near future.
Edit Inotai (ARD): A bilateral meeting with Putin?
There’s no intention on either side to have such a meeting in the near future.
Edit Inotai (ARD): Prime Minister, you mentioned that there’s the hope of a breakthrough by the Right. In that event, is Fidesz considering joining the European party family of Identity and Democracy?
At the moment we’re in talks with the ECR, the European Conservatives and Reformists. We won’t change our independent status before the European Parliament elections. After the elections we’ll see what the right thing to do is. We certainly want to keep our eyes on our goal. So the question of who – which party – allies with whom and how, these are technical issues. We mustn’t lose sight of the grand strategic goal. So our opinion, if you’ll allow me to answer at a little more length, is that things in Brussels are going intolerably badly. There are many reasons for this. This European Union was created to ensure peace and prosperity. By contrast, there’s no peace on our borders, and the EU seems incapable of creating peace; and it’s not only incapable of doing so where there’s open warfare, but also where there are conflicts that flare up and explode – such as in the Balkans. And we also wanted prosperity; but at the moment the European economy isn’t strengthening, growing, becoming more muscular or occupying a more prominent place in the world, but is moving in the opposite direction. And defending the level of prosperity that’s already been achieved is also beyond its power. This isn’t good. This isn’t why we created it. It must change. It must be changed. Why are we in this situation? The reason we’re in this situation is that in Brussels there’s a Brussels elite, which we consider to be mainstream, as they say in English. Part of this is on the left and part of it’s on the right; but in reality it’s a single community. What do they say in the film “A tanú” (“The Witness”) before the aborted hanging? “You’re a gang!” So they’re in a gang, and they’re pulling in the same direction. You know, one calls itself “Left” and the other calls itself “Right”, but they’re actually pulling in the same direction, as a gang. That has to change. This is the source of all that’s wrong with the situation. So rotation of political power and political competition in European politics – at the level of European politics related to the European institutions – no longer exists. And we’d like to throw all this off course, throw off course the party structure that’s heading in the wrong direction. And our plan is to join forces with the Right, which is now gaining strength, in order to exert sufficient attraction on the Centre-Right so that it doesn’t always try to look only to the Left, but to the Right, and to launch new policies – in terms of content and quality – on migration, the economy and foreign policy. This is our goal, and it’s against this background that we must decide with whom we will or won’t cooperate. So this is how we’ll decide. But at the moment we’re in a phase of negotiation or feeling our way, and getting acquainted with the ECR, which is led by the Italian prime minister.
Edit Inotai (ARD): The third question is on the EU presidency. In the second half of the year Hungary will hold the rotating presidency of the European Union. What are the priorities here, and does the Hungarian government expect major resistance from Brussels or the European Parliament?
We’re starting out from what we already know. So this won’t be the first time that Hungary has held the presidency. And this isn’t the first time for me either. If I remember correctly, this might have happened back in 2011. So all we’ve had to do now is take the dossiers off the shelf, open them and see how we did it twelve years ago: what the themes were then, what was dropped, what was left in, and what new themes we’ll be taking over from the Belgian presidency, which will start its work on 1 January. So nothing extraordinary should be expected. This will undoubtedly be a different role: it won’t be “I’ve arrived, I’m here, these are Hungary’s interests, so let’s negotiate”; instead Hungary’s role will be much rather that of a mediator, a facilitator, an organiser, a problem solver, and an honest broker. How we’ll also be able to defend national interests is a difficult question, but perhaps others more knowledgeable than me will be able to talk about that on another occasion.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you very much. InfoRádió.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): Thank you very much. Good day. Zsolt Herczeg from InfoRádió. You’ve replaced the leadership of the General Directorate of Hospitals, but how are you going to prevent hospital debt from accumulating again?
In the last few days we’ve had long professional discussions on this issue. If you’ll allow me, I’ll take a step back here, too, to see the problem that we’ve been struggling with for ten or more years now. The Hungarian healthcare system is neither private nor state-run, but something of a dog’s breakfast. We’re afraid of moving to a private system: we don’t want to, because that would only be possible if we privatised the insurance system as well, and I think that would have painful consequences for poorer or less wealthy Hungarians. So we want to maintain the single state insurance model. Therefore we can’t move towards private health care. Consequently, if we don’t want this muddle to persist, we must move in the direction of public health care. We’re taking these steps now. Some say it’s a step backwards, others say it’s a step towards a more orderly system. I don’t want to pursue this debate now. But we’re moving towards a more regulated state system that, of course, doesn’t ban private health care in Hungary – because that may be necessary, and if people want to use such services, why should they be banned from doing so? We just don’t want to mix private and public, because we think that – as is the case in such mixed systems – the profit always go to the private side and the cost is always borne by the state. And I don’t think that’s fair to the taxpaying citizens. So we’re trying to rationalise this. It’s a very difficult task, because when you have these confused, mixed systems, sorting them out and understanding why the same operations taking the same number of hours are priced differently in different hospitals. so we’re talking about going through thousands of items, and that takes time. And this is what’s going on now. This work needs to be done faster, and this is why we’ve replaced the National Director General of Hospitals, to get this work done faster. But it will take months and years before a well-regulated state system’s in place. Private health care is also seeing where it can find its place and operate in a commercially viable way – not as a core element in health care, but as a supplementary element. It will take time for this to come together. But the most important thing is that we’ve eliminated the source of blurred boundaries, and I can’t thank the medical profession enough. I think that what the medical profession has done is historic, and it’s not appreciated enough in the public arena. The fact that the Medical Chamber itself has taken action to abolish the “system” of informal gratuities [or “gratitude money”] and has offered to cooperate in this with the Hungarian government is a professional and moral gesture that we don’t give enough public recognition to. This is a very big thing. A system has been wound up or abolished which everyone in this country said was untenable, because it was built on the less praiseworthy parts of human nature. And to abolish and eliminate such a system is something big. We need to take more such steps, and we’re moving forward. I’m sure that we need a system of double-checks, the details of which are still being debated. We need a monitoring system for hospital directors. And on the insurance side we need a much stronger, real financial monitoring system – not of the budgetary type, but a very strong monitoring system incorporating the best features of the market. But today state insurance isn’t built along these lines. It has to operate according to a different logic: today it operates as a budgetary institution, allocating resources. That’s not what we need. What we need is for the insurer to tell us what the price of everything is, because today we don’t know the price of things in health care. And until we price it, we can’t account for it properly. So we need an insurer that has the best experts, who are able to map out and monitor a mechanism that can be analysed in monetary terms. In the meantime, professional supervision must be maintained in the other branch: in hospitals. This is being put together at the moment. I apologise for boring you with such specialist policy issues.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): Two more questions, which are short. Do you think the debate launched by Dániel Karsai on active euthanasia has merit? Do you think the planned referendum on this is necessary, and do you think it’s conceivable that the Government will also consider reviewing the rules?
If we’re talking about the legal side of things, things are now simplified. There’s a referendum initiative, and from now on, neither I nor we – as members of the Government or as Members of Parliament – will have anything to do with this issue. There will be a referendum, and that will decide what’s to be done. But this isn’t just a legal issue – it’s also a human issue. This is why it’s so difficult to talk about the whole thing, or to relate to it at all; because here we’re dealing not simply with a legal case, but with a shocking human fate. And to the person concerned, who’s now brought this matter to the public’s attention, I can only say that we are with him, our hearts are with him, we wish him strength and – if he’ll allow us – we’ll even pray for him, so that he can get through these difficult times.
Zsolt Herczeg (InfoRádió): A short one to finish: now that Balázs Fürjes has been appointed to the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee, what chance do you see for an Olympic Games in Central Europe – or perhaps in Hungary?
I’d like to answer this question, but I’ve given a long interview – the manuscript of which I got back just before meeting you – which will be published in [the sports daily] “Nemzeti Sport”. And in that I’ll talk about this in a way that’s longer than strictly necessary – indeed I could say exhaustively. So with your permission I won’t respond to that now. In any case, my workload has increased, because – you don’t know this, and perhaps it’s not important – I tend to disagree with Balázs Fürjes on eight out of ten issues; and now that he holds such a high position, I have to meet him more often, and so I have much more about which to argue with him.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. Telex, please.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Dániel Simor from Telex. Are you serious that this isn’t a war?
I was serious when I said that Russia didn’t classify what it was doing as a war. Under Russian law, in a war there’s mandatory conscription. This hasn’t happened yet, and I said that we should be glad that it hasn’t happened.
Dániel Simor (Telex): But so far the only time you’ve used the term “military operation” was when you were sitting next to Vladimir Putin. What message do you think that sends?
I’m happy to use it now: there’s a military operation in progress. It’s not difficult for me.
Dániel Simor (Telex): But to sit next to the aggressor and conform to the censorship dictated by the aggressor? What message does that send?
I am Hungarian, and a Hungarian does not conform, except to himself. This is an old custom of ours. Don’t try to make it look as if either Americans or Russians can tell us how we talk and what we think. It’s not... This is Hungary, and that’s not possible.
Dániel Simor (Telex): But that’s what happened in Beijing.
But you see that it didn’t.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Well, why didn’t you use the term “war” while sitting next to Vladimir Putin?
I’ll be happy to use it the next time I meet him and he would like it.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Press reports have said that you didn’t initiate that meeting, that the Hungarian side didn’t initiate the meeting, and that you had no opportunity to avoid it – at least this is what you told the President of the European Council and the Secretary General of NATO.
I never said that, and it wouldn’t be true. The Hungarian prime minister can avoid any meeting he wants to.
Dániel Simor (Telex): And who initiated the meeting?
There was a convergence of intentions.
Dániel Simor (Telex): So you contacted each other?
I took it for granted that if we were in Beijing, we’d meet. So I thought it was appropriate. If the Russians hadn’t taken the initiative, and there hadn’t been a convergence of intentions, then I’d have taken the initiative, and it wouldn’t have caused me any problems. So in foreign policy I’m not acting under duress. Just to clarify this issue, I don’t select my words, expressions and so on, under duress. So I represent the sovereign Hungarian state.
Dániel Simor (Telex): You said earlier that we should aim for a national maximum. It seems that Lőrinc Mészáros could have heard this, because in the summer he was photographed on a new yacht, which cost about 27 billion forints. What do you say to that?
Contact the owner with this question.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Have you seen this yacht? Did you like it?
First of all, the Hungarian government doesn’t deal with business matters. Nor does it deal with the private affairs of individuals. Hungary deals with economic policy, it makes economic policy decisions, and this issue is outside the scope of that.
Dániel Simor (Telex): This yacht is owned by a company called Euroleasing, which is itself owned by Magyar Bankholding [MBH], and the Hungarian state also has a stake in MBH. So, in fact, the Hungarian state is also, in some way or other, the owner of this yacht. What do you say to this?
We should have sold the state’s stake a long time ago. That’s my position, but Márton Nagy hasn’t yet seen the time as right. So I don’t think it makes sense for the state to retain the 30 to 40 per cent ownership in this bank that you’re talking about, and it should be floated on the stock exchange as soon as possible.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Because of the yacht?
No, because we don’t need it.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Staying with the yacht, in the summer Gergely Gulyás said that in the current economic situation he’d expect smaller boats and greater modesty from everyone. Do you agree with that?
Modesty is always a good thing.
Dániel Simor (Telex): What do you think is the reason that some economic actors close to the Government aren’t behaving with sufficient modesty at the moment?
We’re not all the same, you know.
Dániel Simor (Telex): I see. The law on local elections. You’ve just made significant amendments to the law on local government in Budapest – at the beginning of December, six months before the elections. Isn’t this considered an abuse of power? You regularly amend electoral laws to suit your own interests.
First of all, no law prohibits it. So when we amended this law, we didn’t violate any law. As for who draws the line where, for my political taste the line is roughly half a year, so amending an electoral law six months before an election – even on detailed issues – doesn’t promote agreeable relations. It’s better to avoid that. I’m glad that this happened before that deadline.
Dániel Simor (Telex): So can we take it as a promise that electoral laws won’t be amended again in less than six months before an election?
I’d like to remind you that this amendment wasn’t initiated by the Government. So you’re knocking on the wrong door, it won’t open in that direction.
Dániel Simor (Telex): But if someone else takes the initiative, Fidesz won’t support it if it’s less than six months before the election?
I’d like to avoid that, yes.
Dániel Simor (Telex): So can we take this as a promise?
I’d like to avoid that.
Dániel Simor (Telex): I see. I’d like to ask about another luxury vehicle. In March you travelled to Egypt on an official visit with a Hungarian Defence Forces plane, and on the way home the plane made a detour to Italy, where you were photographed. Did you fly to Italy on this plane?
Of course. I always say that it’s pointless to take photographs or to carry out such complicated operations. We always make public where we are and what we’re doing.
Dániel Simor (Telex): And was this a private visit to Italy?
According to Hungarian law, the Hungarian prime minister is under constant protection day and night. That’s the rule. So wherever I go, for whatever reason, I’m always under constant security protection. That’s the law. There’s an exception to this rule, and I can grant myself an exemption from it; but only in the rarest of cases, because I’d be taking a risk with the safety of those who are charged with guaranteeing the security of the functioning of the Hungarian state.
Dániel Simor (Telex): But who pays for your private trips when you use a military plane?
I repeat: the Hungarian prime minister is in a regulated round-the-clock system, yes.
Dániel Simor (Telex): I understand, but the taxpayers are actually financing your trip from public funds.
That’s right. Every aspect of this is regulated, as in other countries, and the rules have to be followed.
Dániel Simor (Telex): Do you pay for these?
Everything is regulated, and I follow the rules.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you very much. Next is 24.hu. No, 24.hu is next.
You have to do what the rules say, and I always act according to the rules. If you ask me twenty times, I’ll say the same thing twenty times, but I don’t want to rob you of the opportunity. The problem isn’t that there are more questions, but the same one.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: 24.hu is next.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Thank you very much. Rebeka Bánszegi, 24.hu. Good day.
At your service!
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Your salary before the 2022 election was one and a half million forints per month, afterwards it was raised to 4.1 million forints, and together with your honorarium it’s 5.7 million forints. So this tripled in the space of a year. Can you think of another example in the public sector in which the salary of a professional has tripled?
I can give you an example of why this has happened. So, since 2010...
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): I really didn’t want to delve in your pocket.
Yes, but if you’re already delving, I’ll tell you.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): But this is why my question referred to why it hasn’t happened in other areas...
Yes, but if you’re already delving in my pocket, I’ll tell you. So here’s the situation: since 2010 we’ve been launching wage development programmes on a continuous basis, by occupational sector. Some areas have already had two raises. We’ve left politicians – including MPs and government officials – until the very end. So rules on how and in what way they’re paid, which is also publicly known, were created last. So these questions of how much a minister earns, how much a prime minister earns, how much an MP earns, are regulated by law. There’s only one point that’s important, and that’s if there are no pay increases in Hungary, then politicians’ salaries can’t increase either. The increase in politicians’ salaries must be proportional to what happens in the lives of other people, according to a multiplier. So it’s a transparent, predictable system, linked to the needs and considerations of everyday life, and to the people – just as it is in all other occupations.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Yes, it’s linked to the average wage, but before it was linked to the average wage, your salary tripled. So the question was: why hasn’t there been a similar increase in other professions, and in the public sector?
It’s worth going over, and I’ll say it again: since 2010, we’ve seen continuous pay increases for all occupational groups – from doctors and nurses to police officers. We’ve left the pay of those working in politics to the very end – this happened at the end. They waited thirteen years – or eleven years as you say – for this. I think we now have a transparent, clear, fair system that’s worth operating.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): It was at the very end in terms of time, but it was at the very beginning in terms of proportions.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I’m sorry, the Prime Minister doesn’t want to make excuses for himself, but I’d just like to point out that in the previous term ministers earned twice as much as the Prime Minister.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): But the question wasn’t about the Prime Minister’s salary, but about the salaries of other public sector workers...
I’d also find excuses unworthy, I don’t want to defend myself in that way, I said...
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): I’ll go further...
But if I may, all I’ve done is explain that there’s a system. It’s in a system. I don’t want to defend myself against something like that in an undignified way. I do my job, and the voters decide every four years whether they want to employ me. If they hire me, I stay, if they don’t, I go.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): It’s been repeatedly said that the increase in teachers’ pay is linked to EU funding. How did you manage to pay the salaries of government members from your own coffers?
Could you repeat the question?
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): So why are teachers’ salaries being linked to EU funds, when you were able to manage the pay rises for members of the Government?
But we’re not linking them, that’s a misunderstanding.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): It’s been said several times.
No. You’re talking about the timing. So the fact that teachers’ salaries should be increased, and that Hungary should be able to do it from its own resources, isn’t up for discussion.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): So it will raise teachers’ salaries from its own resources.
That’s not a matter for discussion. The question is how many years we can do it in. If we rely only on our own resources, it will be a five- to six-year process.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Earlier, when you were talking about the fact that Brussels wouldn’t allow a pay rise for teachers...
Minister of State Zoltán Kovács: Please allow the Prime Minister to give his answer.
If we can bring in an external source – and such is the Brussels source – we can reduce a five- to six-year process to three years. So the wage increase process won’t take six years, but three. But even if there was no EU money, we’d still do it, it would just take six years. I don’t know...
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Understandable.
Thank you very much.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): One more question. What’s your opinion on the dismissal of László L. Simon?
The Minister used his powers to decide on this question.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): I ask because recently you shared a TikTok video in which you talked about your favourite book being “Pokolbeli víg napjaim” [“My Happy Days in Hell”]. I believe that one of its plotlines is about gay love. When you posted your video, did you consider whether it was within the law or whether there was a risk that you might face political repercussions?
I’m trying hard, but I still don’t understand everything. What exactly are you asking?
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): What was your decision-making process when you posted that video? You must have realised that, say, in the case of László L. Simon, it was enough for three pictures to appear in an exhibition, three photographs showing gay people in an old people’s home. And in this book there’s a gay love plotline, and TikTok has a huge number of teenage users.
There are a lot of books available in Hungary, by both Hungarian and foreign authors, dealing at length with same-sex emotional relationships. I don’t understand the question.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Where’s the borderline? Where’s the borderline between something that promotes homosexuality and something that’s acceptable in a book, in a novel, as something adding artistic value?
If you’re asking me if I can say what my favourite book is, I think I can.
Rebeka Bánszegi (24.hu): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. HVG.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Good day, Tibor Lengyel, hvg.hu. As a quote from János Lázár came up earlier, I have another one in my first question. Recently he said that in the past fifteen years many people have joined Fidesz in the hope of success – even those who shouldn’t have. And he warned against such disreputable people. And László Pesty went even further, mentioning the “Lölő” phenomenon [a nickname for Lőrinc Mészáros], “orcs” and a “cancerous growth” among the same group. When you look around Fidesz, do you see anyone you don’t want to see in the entourage?
I was re-elected President of Fidesz at the party congress last time around, and the people I know in this community are, without exception, good people.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Then János Lázár and László Pesty, for example, might be looking in another direction. That’s clear. Another question is that in 2016 I think you said – or I know that you said it, I’m just not sure it was in 2016, but I think it was – that there’s no problem, or nothing to talk about, as long as there are no Fidesz members in the top ten richest people. Well, now friends and family members are moving up the list of the one hundred richest – higher and higher. Lőrinc Mészáros has been top of this list for three years now. And your son-in-law, István Tiborcz, is now 25th, I think, with 70 billion euros; but if he keeps rising at this rate, he’ll be in the top ten in two years. So is there anything to talk about?
I wish good luck to all Hungarian owners of capital.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Nothing to talk about, then.
The Hungarian government doesn’t discriminate on the basis of the identity of the owners of capital. Hungary has universally applicable laws, everyone has to abide by them, and they’re applied to everyone, without fear or favour.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Yes, you don’t usually deal with economic issues, but when you mention economic policy, it’s because of economic policy that people get rich enough to make it into the top ten – or even to the very top.
Hungarian economic policy has no such intention, it’s not selective, but the two issues are related – only in a different way. So I think it’s a legitimate expectation or a good objective of Hungarian economic policy that – regardless of their owners – successful companies in Hungary should be able to compete in the marketplace outside the country’s borders. And this is desirable. So I urge, push, press and express this wish of the Government. I also call on the relevant ministries to ensure that Hungarian companies are put to the test in support schemes, and that they’re also able to withstand the test of competition abroad. We’re in a good position in this respect, so if there were a year-end aggregate that did this, and in fact there could be, we’d see that over the past four or five years there’s been a large increase in the number of significant Hungarian champions – let’s say national champions – who have also taken on competition abroad, and are successful. I could also say that the Hungarian economy is expanding – from the construction industry to the IT sector, from the banking sector to the energy sector. And I think this is good for Hungary.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Yes, I understand that. If we look at the policy of Eastward opening, it’s necessarily, of course, a kind of distancing from the West. But if we look at the years since 2010, and this is a process, where are we now? Say, halfway, a third of the way, or are we all the way?
This is a question of perspective. I don’t share your starting point, but I accept that you can look at it that way. You’re taking the position of [the Hungarian poet] Endre Ady, as I understand it: we should see Hungary as moving between the East and the West. I think that the East and the West overlap in Hungary. This is a different approach. This is why we don’t want to moor Hungary like a ferry here or there. For our hearts that’s not a pleasant image, and we don’t follow that logic; but we say that if Hungary doesn’t build relations with the East and doesn’t bring Eastern capital here, we’ll be the uninteresting far periphery of the Western world, somewhere at its eastern ends. That’s what our fate would be. The way to defend ourselves against that fate is to offer the world opportunities that can only be offered from here, from this point – or that can be best offered from here. And as we belong to the West, we’re part of NATO, the European Union and Christianity, today Hungary is a country where Westerners feel at home. But at the same time Easterners also feel at home here. There are Western investors and Eastern investors here. In fact we’ve now come to the point at which they’re not only side by side, but also cooperating in Hungary. So Hungary isn’t moving anywhere: it is where it is, and it has a house number that cannot change. So we’re not a “ferry country”, but we’re a country that can present a business opportunity to both the West and the East, that creates cooperation in Hungary, and that thus increases the country’s value. This is what we’ve been living for the last ten years. I think the country’s rise in value is mainly due to this strategy.
Tibor Lengyel (HVG): Thank you. And with regard to the Easterners who are doing well here, let me just say – and I promise I’ll be very brief – that, apart from the battery factories, perhaps one of the most important issues this year has been that of guest workers. This was so much the case that Fidesz mayors are also railing against having to face all kinds of large-scale construction projects, temporary accommodation and guest worker accommodation in their settlements, because they say it’s eroding their popularity. Is there anything in the way this whole guest worker story’s been handled that would cause you to say that we haven’t done it in the best way, and there are still aspects of it that need to be changed?
If you’ll allow me, I’ll go back to the starting point. So I don’t accept the mindset that assumes that the mayor of any settlement should think about these issues in terms of popularity. There can be such a point of view, but it can’t be the first one. The first is how he or she can serve the interests of his or her settlement and the people who live there. This comes before everything else. And this is why councillors, members of the local council, or the Mayor, have the right to say “yes” to something or “no” to something. This is their job, because they’re responsible for the development of their settlements, the direction and pace of development. So that’s fine. Those who want large investments will have large investments, and those who don’t want them won’t have them. That’s for elected leaders to decide locally. Now, on the issue of migrant workers, the facts don’t yet confirm the fears. So what do we see today? Today we see that Hungary still has a significant labour reserve. And I think – and I’m just saying this as an aside – that we also have plenty of energy reserves, and we’re creating new capacities. So I don’t agree with the claim that our industrial policy is deficient in terms of both energy and labour. We have – or are building up – energy reserves. We have water in unlimited quantities, being in a basin; where we’ll deliver it is just a question of will. And we have the labour reserves. If you take a look at our industrial policy, you’ll see that in the first step we’ve fulfilled our mission to bring Hungary, which is divided into two parts, eastern and western, closer together – or to enable the eastern part to close the gap with the western part. If you look at the large industrial developments, there’s a major role here, by the way, for Eastern investors – but also for Western investors, like BMW. There are all kinds of investments in the eastern part of the country that are already underway, and that will bring the eastern part of the country up to the level of the western part. It will take a few years for all the investments to come through, but it will happen. Decisions are being taken, and investments are being made. Our problem – and here comes the question of labour supply – is now north-south. So the new axis of inequality for Hungary is not east-west, but north-south. Therefore industrial policy must look to the south, or industrial policy decisions must be used to relocate investments to the south. There have been labour reserves for investments in the eastern part of the country, due to underdevelopment. The difference in unemployment rates in the western and eastern parts of the country has shown this clearly, but this will now disappear. Similarly, this is now appearing in the southern area. We expect that with the investments in Szeged and Békés County – in Csongrád-Csanád and Békés County – we’ll be able to mobilise the labour reserves that still exist there, which are in the hundreds of thousands. I therefore believe that we don’t need a large influx of guest workers. This is my first statement in response to your question. The second is that, furthermore, the Government isn’t itself bringing in guest workers. So the question is what rules we apply to private companies. Because guest workers are brought in by private companies. And the question here is whether we’re devising good rules to limit private companies’ willingness to do that. We’ve tightened the rules on this. I think the rules we have now are promising. Now it’s just starting to work. When we see that we need to tighten up, we’ll tighten up. But for the time being every Hungarian can sleep soundly tonight having understood that the jobs in Hungary belong to Hungarians, that no one can stay in the country without a proper legal basis, and if that legal basis has expired, has ceased to exist, then they must leave the country. And we’re able to do this because we only allow private entities to bring in guest workers from countries with which we have deportation treaties. So we’re not, I think, facing the threat of our country being overrun – unlike Western Europe, where that’s a clear and present danger. So I don’t want to hide the fact that – starting with a Qatari agreement – we, and I personally, have been pushing through guest worker laws relating not just to the West but also the East, in order to find solutions that are good. Now we’re talking about guest workers, but in fact one can also reside in Hungary under other forms of legal status. The great virtue of the new law is that it explicitly says that when we’re dealing with a foreigner it must be clear what legal status he or she has, and how long he or she can stay here. This area used to be more opaque and untidy. I feel that we’ve taken a step forward in the right direction.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you. We’re running out of time, so there will be time for two short questions from each of two questioners. I’d like to ask Blikk first.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): In the past weeks and months, several Hungarian politicians and intellectuals from Transcarpathia have expressed their willingness to allow Ukraine to start the EU accession process, and they believe that this is in the interest of the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia. Prime Minister, if we look at this situation solely from the perspective of the Transcarpathian Hungarians, do you think Ukraine’s membership of the EU would be a good thing, would be beneficial?
In the end, what the Hungarians have said publicly has happened: accession negotiations will begin. I think this is a bad decision, but it’s in line with the intentions of the Hungarian leaders who have spoken publicly.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): But does the Prime Minister agree that this is in the interest of the Hungarians of Transcarpathia? To be part of the EU?
Will they be better off if they become members of the EU?
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): Yes, will they be better off?
It can be done in a way that makes them better off, yes.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): It seems that the current Fidesz mayor of Győr has a challenger in the person of the former Fidesz mayor. What do you think of Zsolt Borkai’s mayoral ambitions?
I’m not a voter in Győr, but if I were, I’d look for another possibility.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): One last question. Since it’s Advent, let’s not just talk about conflicts. Can you name one or two opposition politicians who are currently active and whom the Prime Minister may find likeable, or whom you respect for some reason?
I won’t list them, because I don’t want to cause them problems. It never turns out well if you start praising someone from your rival’s camp. When I hear that about Fidesz, I immediately prick up my ears like a hunting dog and see what’s happening. So peace is better, and everyone should stay in their own space.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): What do you do when you hear this?
I prick up my ears.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: The last question will be from Magyar Nemzet. Here at the front please.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): Thank you. Patrik Máté from Magyar Nemzet. What’s the Prime Minister’s opinion, or to what do you attribute the Ukrainian secret service’s refusal to allow former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to leave Ukraine? Because word has it that he would have met you.
I’m more permissive than public opinion in general. Ukraine is at war. I don’t know whether our friend or colleague is still here, but Ukraine is at war – which you might call a “military operation”, but in fact it’s a bloody war. And in times of bloody war, you can’t live by the same rules as you do in peaceful, normal times. So the fact that in wartime the Ukrainians are imposing extraordinary rules – with no elections, with parties essentially banned, with the free press practically abolished – is something I regard as bad, but necessary. It’s therefore acceptably bad, and I don’t have a single critical word to say about it. And if the Ukrainian state considers that the departure of someone, an individual, from the territory of the country poses a risk to national security, then it must act accordingly. The question this raises is, if a Ukrainian citizen meeting a Hungarian prime minister poses a national security risk, how they’d want to be members of the EU. But we’ll leave that for later.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): If I may, one last short question: what’s the Prime Minister’s opinion on the Momentum politician Katalin Cseh’s statement that it’s in the interest of Ukraine and also of Hungary for Ukraine to receive the 50 billion euros – the billions in aid – that it hasn’t yet received?
Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is whether it’s right to support Ukraine. I think it’s right. Hungary is supporting Ukraine. When the war broke out we launched the largest humanitarian aid operation. It’s a sovereign decision for each country, based on its own situation, to decide which form of aid is better and which is less so. Hungary has also made this decision: we’re not supporting Ukraine with arms. But we are supporting it with money, because Ukraine still receives quite substantial sums of money from the EU budget every month, and our [Hungary’s] money is included in that. So at the moment, in the common budget of the EU, when we’ve taken decisions we’ve earmarked a sum of money which Ukraine will receive; if it didn’t receive it, the Ukrainian state wouldn’t function. But, like every forint in the European budget, at least 1 per cent of that money is our money – because that’s roughly how we are in terms of our population. So 1 per cent is our money. The question is this: Do we want to give the money of the Hungarians, the Germans or the Dutch to the Ukrainians? I think we can talk about that. So there’s nothing diabolical in talking about supporting Ukraine. It’s a sensible dialogue. But we’re opposed to the idea – we don’t think it’s a sensible proposal – that the support be provided through joint borrowing, or provided from the EU’s existing budget. I think that European leaders getting together and discussing whether Ukraine should be supported – whether they want it, who can give how much money – is a proper and legitimate discussion. But let’s not smash our budget and let’s not be in debt to anyone. So supporting Ukraine isn’t a bad objective. What I wouldn’t like to see happen is for the money to be put in the budget without even noticing it, and with the forints in fact intended for Hungary being eaten up by the support for Ukraine. Because our fear is that our money that’s been withheld will end up in Ukraine, and when we arrive at the moment when we should receive it, we’ll be told that the coffers are empty. This must be avoided at all costs. So support for Ukraine must not be at the expense of Hungarians. But Hungarians can play a role in this. We can discuss this, and if we need the budget to cover it, then Parliament must debate it. So we’re ready for such a discussion – but not on credit, and certainly not within the current budgetary framework of the European Union.
Patrik Máté (Magyar Nemzet): Thank you.
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Thank you very much Prime Minister and Minister. Honourable colleagues, thank you for attending today. We wish you all a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!