Katalin Nagy: During the vaccination action week, at least 130,000 vaccines have been administered every day. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Did you ever think that the action week would be so successful?
I hoped so, and that’s why we announced it. It’s hard to be certain about Hungarians: on the one hand this is a serious country, which takes the threat seriously; and on the other hand, I see that even though there are two or three months to file tax returns, people always deal with this on the last day or two. So I was expecting this opportunity to be taken advantage of by those who aren’t anti-vaccination, but who will be able to get vaccinated with the least possible inconvenience and administration. This is what has happened. We had a Cabinet meeting yesterday, and we concluded that the vaccination week is so successful that we should extend it. So we’re extending it by a week, and those who have missed the opportunity this week can still get vaccinated next week. A lot of people are taking their third vaccination. Very few are taking their first, slightly more their second, but most are taking their third vaccination. That’s of crucial importance. Christmas is coming: last year was a “small Christmas”, because there was no vaccine; this year could be a big Christmas – but only if the number of people taking their third vaccination increases. The European average – the proportion of people who have received their third vaccination – is around 6 to 7 per cent, while in Hungary it’s more than 20 or 21 per cent. And if this continues, we’ll be able to develop strong immunity. Of course personal genetic and health factors matter, but the virologists tell the Government that the effect of the second vaccination starts to weaken after six months – and on average, from about the fourth to the sixth month. This is why there are more and more people who have had two vaccines but have caught the virus: the level of protection they got from the vaccine has weakened. This is why you have to get the third dose. It not only prolongs the earlier immunity, but it also intensifies and strengthens the effect of the first and second vaccines that have already been given – which is why in English it’s called a booster. So the third vaccine is definitely life-saving.
In our neighbourhood, near and far, there are lockdowns: sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for ten days. And after a week they check to see what more they should do. Is the Hungarian government thinking about this?
This is a government with both feet on the ground, so we don’t decide in advance what we’ll do. There’s life, which presents us with challenges, and the challenge we’re presented with will determine the response we need to give. So I’m not ruling anything out, but I want to avoid any bad outcomes. That’s the attitude of the Hungarian government. So if the take-up for the third dose increases, if we see that we can contain or stop the rise in infections, there will be no reason to lock down. I think that lockdowns are just a means of slowing the spread. The solution is the third vaccination. I encourage everybody, of course, to wear face masks, to keep their distance from one another, and to observe the rules that we adopted last week. So protect yourself in the usual, recognised way; but above all look for the opportunity to get your third vaccination.
The German health minister has said that by the end of the winter there will be those who have recovered, there will be those who are vaccinated, and there will be those who are dead. That’s a pretty clear sentence, but can anything be done about anti-vaccinationists?
A harsh statement, a very harsh statement. I wouldn’t give up on any human being. We’ll see whether there are deaths, we’ll look at the statistics, but you cannot approach it with that attitude. You have to approach it by alarming people. I’ve sat here in front of you I don’t know how many times, and over and over and over again I ask people to take the third vaccination. Anyone who has taken the third vaccination – whether because they listened to us or for any other reason – has had their life saved. I think that’s the right attitude. So let’s not concern ourselves or calculate what will happen in bad scenarios and less bad scenarios, but let’s simply do what’s right, what’s good. This is called the third vaccination.
When can children in Hungary be vaccinated? We’ve heard that permission has been given to vaccinate children between 5 and 12 years old.
We expected that sooner or later the international scientific community would say something to the world about this. It seems to us two long years since we’ve known about the virus; but in terms of world history – or virus world history – it’s a very young virus. There’s been little experimentation, we have little accurate knowledge, and everyone’s very cautious. So the anti-vaxxers are wrong, because it’s not that the world is happy to jump headlong into vaccination, but that large scientific communities around the world are working at a fast pace – much faster than usual – to find answers to how certain vaccines work, for how long, for which age groups, and for which they don’t work. So this is about scientific prudence, as opposed to what’s being said by the anti-vaccine people, who are trying to convince us of all sorts of crazy things. There are serious scientific communities at work here. For example, the world hasn’t jumped into answering the question of whether children – between the ages of 5 and 12 – can be vaccinated, but experimental work has been carried out. Scientific justification was needed, as no one dares to vaccinate youngsters without experimental results proving that it will be of benefit to them, or will not cause harm. Two years have passed, and now the world has reached the point at which at least one big pharmaceutical company dares to say, on the basis of scientifically proven results, that it recommends to parents, to adults, that they vaccinate their children – even those between the ages of 5 and 12. We’ve procured 2 million doses of vaccine. The first shipment – of 130,000 doses – will arrive around 20 December, and after that there will be a steady supply of vaccines available for us, for our children. I ask parents to please think about this. You still have time, and I advise you to have your children vaccinated if you can.
This week there was a day – in fact more than one day – when we had 12,000 new cases. It’s true that there aren’t as many people in hospital as there were in the second and third waves, but how is the healthcare service coping? How long can it cope with the pressure? How do you see this?
Everything depends on the heroism of our doctors and nurses, who have been doing a superhuman job for almost two years now, so hats off to them. I see that they’re bearing up. We’ve enacted measures to help them in their work: we’ve introduced an unprecedented increase in doctors’ salaries; and in the last three years – and in the year ahead – we’ve been able to increase nurses’ salaries by more than 70 per cent overall. This still isn’t enough, and definitely not a lot, but it’s 70 per cent more than four years ago – and it’s much more for doctors. These are major steps, which perhaps send a signal to them that the country is with them. We have the means, we have the beds, we have the ventilators, we have the vaccines, and we have the various medicines to alleviate the suffering of patients. And for the time being we have enough people – although, of course, we have to make transfers and redistribute people. We also have a pandemic hospital that hasn’t been opened yet, which we can open at a moment’s notice if necessary, and we’ve defined its management and operating procedures. So I think that the people who work in public administration and in the health sector – and the police and soldiers who are helping out – are doing a superhuman job, and guaranteeing that the health sector won’t collapse. It’s strange – and we’ll have to analyse this after the epidemic has died down – that the healthcare capacities that can be mobilised in Hungary at such times are orders of magnitude greater than those in Western European countries. I talk to Austrians, and I look at the Germans and the Slovenians – in other words, those to the west of us; and their capacities – the ability of their healthcare systems to treat people who have fallen ill during the pandemic – are much smaller than those in Hungary. I don’t know exactly why this has happened, but the pandemic is certainly a great lesson, and we must keep these capacities alive in the future as a minimum emergency reserve.
Every day we receive news, the numbers reported by the border police, about how many people have tried to enter the territory of the European Union at the Hungarian-Serbian border. We hear, of course, about the new front in the East, the Belarusian-Polish border. Frontex also confirms that, in the first eight to nine months of the year, 70 per cent more people tried to enter the European Union here on the southern border. And it seems that the European Commission isn’t listening to the prime ministers who are asking the European Union, the European Commission, to assist border defence in building a physical barrier. Why not?
We are indeed under attack from three directions at once. This has never happened before. These waves of migrants are reaching Europe through Italy, from the sea, and they sometimes even reach as far as Spain. We see the images from the Polish-Belarusian border, so they’ve also started coming from the East. And our headache, our really big problem, is that migrants are also arriving on the Balkan route via Serbia, Turkey and Greece. The pressure is increasing from all three directions at once. To answer your question about the figures, I can tell you that this year we’ve stopped more than 100,000 migrants at the Hungarian border. This is two or three times – or rather three times – the number for last year. Now picture our police and soldiers stopping 100,000 people in the ten, ten and a half, eleven months of this year. One shouldn’t imagine that these people applied and knocked on the door to say that they wanted to come in: they all wanted to break into Hungary. These are 100,000 people committing crimes, crossing the border illegally. Now, of course, crossing the border illegally is punishable under Hungarian law, and in principle we should imprison them. But where would we put 100,000 prisoners? So we don’t lock them up in Hungary, although we have the option of doing so – which the EU wants to take from us, but perhaps more on that later. We take them back to the other side of the border, to the other side of the fence. The EU doesn’t accept this at all: it wants these 100,000 people to be here in Hungary. This is the dispute we’re engaged in. So they claim that the rules in Hungary today are not right: the rules which instruct border guards, police officers and soldiers to throw, guide, place and direct illegal border crossers back to the other side of the border. They say that we should accept these people here, we should ask them for their documents, we should accept some kind of paperwork from these people – or at least their verbal statements; according to them, we should have started 100,000 procedures to check whether we want them here. Meanwhile it’s clear that you mustn’t climb over the fence: a border crossing point exists, and you have to go there and try to submit your papers. There at the border crossing point we’ll say something about this, but mainly we’ll say that such papers aren’t processed at the Hungarian border or on Hungarian territory. We’ll say that such immigration applications are processed at the [Hungarian] embassy in the country from which they come, or through which they pass. This means that you have to go back to Belgrade or Macedonia, you have to hand in your papers at the Hungarian embassy there, we’ll look at them fairly, we’ll assess them fairly, but during that procedure you cannot stay in Hungary: you have to stay outside. This is the essence of the dispute. Now, many countries in Europe would like to do this; but the current rules don’t allow it, because the rules on migration were written in more peaceful times. But we’re not living in peaceful times, and those rules are obsolete. It’s simply stupid to apply peacetime rules in wartime, to apply rules made in peacetime to wartime circumstances. So the only word for what Brussels is doing is stupidity: sticking to old, outdated, obsolete rules that now aren’t helping our lives, but bringing trouble down on us. This is when old rules must be discarded and new rules made. I’ve initiated this with the European Commission, but so far I’ve only met with rejection. The problem will grow. The problem will grow, because 30,000–35,000 people are leaving Afghanistan every day. They’re coming out of Afghanistan in one direction or another, but they don’t want to stay in the first country they arrive in when they come out of Afghanistan: they’re heading towards Europe, most probably along the Balkan route. So in the coming months we have to be prepared for more pressure than ever on Hungary’s southern border. Brussels must also prepare for this, and it must stop what it’s doing now: it must stop punishing those who are defending Europe. We shouldn’t be penalised; but even if they don’t reward us, they should at least cover our costs – or a fair share of them.
But how many times have we asked for this, and how many times have other countries asked for it? It’s also interesting that we’ve managed to reach the point at which in Brussels they’re saying that they’ll give three times as much money to the Lithuanians, the Estonians and the Poles to manage the existing situation. They’re not saying that a physical barrier should be built, and they’re not saying that those who haven’t arrived in this region legally should be taken back across the border.
What I see is that while they’re not giving money for physical border security, they are giving money for everything that assists immigration. So they’re giving money to George Soros, they’re giving money to George Soros’s organisations. So funding is given to all the “civil society organisations” – or whatever they’re called – that support immigration. And those who are engaged in defence don’t get any. So Brussels must understand that it’s wrecking itself – at least that’s how we see it. I don’t want to divert our discussion from its main thrust, but the German government’s programme has just been published, in which Germany is described as an immigrant country. They’re not identifying that as a situation, but as a goal. So here within the European Union we urgently need to clarify a few things, because now there are countries that are openly acknowledging that they want to be immigrant countries. And then there are countries – we Hungarians, for example – which are openly acknowledging that they don’t want to be immigrant countries. These two positions cannot be reconciled, because you’re either an immigrant country or you aren’t. And we shall not yield. And if I know them, especially the Germans, they aren’t the kind to do so either. Consequently, we either have to learn or develop rules which allow for the coexistence of two completely different concepts of the nation: the immigrant country – Germany and other countries; and the non-immigrant, Central European concept, including Hungary. These rules need to be established, as they don’t exist at present.
Recently you’ve said that the battle over household utility bills is never-ending, and that this will be the case in 2022, leading up to the election. Why do we need to defend the limits on utility prices? Why do we need to defend them? In its programme the Left doesn’t routinely state that it will increase gas and electricity prices.
When we talk about reducing the price of utilities, which was Hungary’s battle or fight launched in 2013–14, we note that the world market price of electricity and gas regularly changes: upwards or downwards, sometimes – and more often – upwards. This is a heavy burden for families. This is why we shouldn’t allow the bills that people pay for gas and electricity to fluctuate in line with world market prices, but bring them down to a level that’s reasonable, tolerable and favourable – and keep them at that level. And that is the price at which we shall supply gas, electricity and district heating to households – regardless of movements in the world market price of electricity and gas.
But they say that this is anti-market.
But I’m not interested in the market: I’m interested in Hungarians. So the fact is that this system works. If they were to say that this system doesn’t work, that it’s stupid, that it’s collapsing, that it’s bad for families, then that would be something we could talk about. But none of that is true. We have eight years of experience with it since 2013, and it’s absolutely clear that this system works. Now, when prices are sky-high, when gas and electricity prices have gone up several times over, it’s torturing Western Europeans; because over there households’ bills automatically follow the rise in energy prices. And now they’re scrambling to see how they can protect families. We’ve been doing this for seven or eight years. So – whether it’s anti-market or not – we have a system in place, and it works, it’s good for families. Why should that be changed? I don’t know who this market is – Doctor Market or Mr. Market – who knocks on the door and says we can’t have this. So the market is run by the people – including states, for example – and we’re part of it. So the market isn’t a set of rules that’s been handed down to us from Heaven or from God, but a set of rules that we make. There’s this kind of market and that kind of market, there’s a limited market, there’s a free market: there are many kinds of market. But we’re the ones who decide. One shouldn’t fall into the trap of the Left, who claim that there’s some oracle that decides how it should be. The opposite is true: our premise must be that we’re free, and that we have the ability and the possibility to regulate it as we see fit. Of course we need to regulate it well, because we’ll get into trouble if we do unreasonable things – however well-intentioned. But the cuts in utility charges have not gone wrong, because we’ve had seven or eight successful years of them. It’s a good system. The cuts are not stupidity, but what I would class as stupidity is calling them a dog and pony show, as the Left is doing now. So it’s a defensible system, a good one. We’ve also defended it in Brussels, because of course the multinationals aren’t happy about it: they want to take more money out of your pocket, and they say that you should pay more for gas and electricity – and of course that increases their profits. I can understand that, as after all companies work to make a profit for themselves, for the owners and for the people who work there. But they’re not the only ones in this world; we’re consumers, someone has to protect us, and that’s what governments are for. And the Hungarian government is on the side of the people, not the multinationals. I accept that if someone is engaged in an economic activity, producing or supplying gas, electricity or services, they should make a fair profit. But you cannot allow the price to skyrocket and skyrocketing profits to be made. That must be kept within limits. That is fair. We’re not talking about businesses, we’re not talking about industry: we’re talking about households, we’re talking about children, women, families; we’re talking about the bills that have to be paid at the end of the month. And it’s legitimate, valid and right for the Government to intervene. But it has to intervene well. What is a good intervention? Time has given us the answer. Seven or eight years have passed, and time has decided. It is good, so let us protect it. I’m also speaking about this – perhaps a little more vehemently than usual – because I want to alert people to the danger: Hungarian families are under attack from two directions: they’re being attacked by the Left, which has never supported the cuts in utility bills, and is still attacking them every week, almost every day; from another direction, the multinationals are attacking through Brussels, and now they want to restore rises in utility bills. Their plan now is to tax your house and your car. So they want to impose an extra tax on the energy expenditure needed to maintain one’s everyday life. Unless the Hungarian government protects you, if Brussels is free to decide, you will pay extra for having a car and extra for heating your home. We must stand up against this: both against the Left and against Brussels.
The tax package is before Parliament. Is the Government thinking in terms of tax cuts because its years of experience in this process, in this policy, show that it works for the economy, that it’s good for the economy?
In Hungary for thirty years there has been a big debate between the Left and the Right.
There are several big debates, but one debate between us has been storming for at least thirty years: the Left believes that taxes should be increased, and we believe that taxes should be reduced. These are two completely different philosophies and two completely different worldviews. We’re in favour of tax cuts because we see that if we cut taxes, then there are jobs. So when the Left is in government and raises taxes, there’s unemployment. Not only are there high taxes, but there’s also unemployment. The two are linked. When we’re in government, we cut taxes and there are jobs, with very low unemployment or none. That’s the situation in Hungary now, where there’s a labour shortage rather than a labour surplus. This proves that if you regulate taxes well, if you reduce taxes, the money stays in the economy, employers can pay workers’ wages and they can make improvements. This in turn creates more jobs. We believe in this logic. And this is what’s at stake in every election in Hungary. If the Left wins, you know that taxes will increase. I clearly remember that before 2010 the average income fell into the highest tax band. Instead, now those who earn ten times more pay ten times more, and the middle class is protected. So I believe in the policy of tax cuts because it has worked. If there’s work, there’s everything. The unemployment rate in Hungary is one of the lowest in Europe. And looking at the minimum wage as an indicator, for example, if I remember correctly it was at around 73,000 forints in 2010 when our national government took office; at the beginning of next year it will be 200,000 forints. The minimum wage is higher today – or will be higher from 1 January – than the average wage was under the Left. This is the difference between the policy of tax increases and tax cuts. This is why, from 1 January 2022, we shall again enact significant tax cuts. First and foremost we’ll cut taxes on employment, because we’re pro-employment: we’re letting businesses keep 750 billion forints. But in return they’ve agreed to raise the minimum wage and the guaranteed wage minimum, which will go up to 260,000 forints. For our part, we’ve cut taxes. We’re also reducing the simplified business tax [EKHO] and the small business tax [KIVA], and we’re maintaining the local business tax allowance, which we halved last year: we’re not raising it back to the previous level. And at the same time, because we’re supporting families as well as work, another interesting thing is that next year we’ll double the amount of state support for baby bonds. I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to this savings and investment opportunity. What better investment could there be than investing in our own children? So baby bonds are available to those with children, but the interest rate is always inflation plus 3 per cent. There’s no other such low-cost investment in Hungary. We don’t just want to link work with higher income: we want to link work and family with higher income.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.