László Mészáros (M1): Prime Minister, the European Parliament has been continuously criticising Hungary since 2010. In light of this, how do you assess the fact that a huge corruption scandal has rocked the institution? That’s my first question. My second question is the following. In your introduction you mentioned that the left-wing parties have received considerable support from abroad. In recent days there have been several reports in the press about the left-wing media also receiving substantial foreign funding. What’s your assessment of this phenomenon? Thank you.
Well, coming up to Christmas it’s not for me to stand here and say impolite things, but I can answer your second question by saying that I don’t see the difference between left-wing parties and the left-wing media: they’re the same. To my mind there’s no dividing line. In our view the financial support given to them is therefore the same thing: political support. Now, as far as the European Parliament’s corruption case is concerned, we’re not in an easy position, because the devil is immediately at work within us, and in such a situation the Hungarian language can conjure up good things from the speaker. But since we’re also part of the European Union, we mustn’t place ourselves on the outside looking in. In the first instance, however, that’s what one would do. As an example, one could use the mildest of popular expressions, related to a pot talking to a kettle, but that’s the problem; and although as far as I can see this fortunately doesn’t affect Hungarians personally, it’s still bad news for all the Member States of the European Union. Because although we have disputes with the European institutions and we’d like to transform them, the strength of the community to which we also belong is being destroyed by their loss of credibility through the public exposure of this hypocritical, sanctimonious character of theirs – with which we’re already familiar. At the same time, it also proves that the decision taken by the Hungarian parliament in the debate on the future of Europe – on how we envision the future of the EU institutions – was not without foundations. The Hungarian parliament’s resolution states that the Hungarians want the abolition of the European Parliament in its current form. We want the European Parliament to be made up of representatives drawn from the national parliaments; and this case draws attention to the fact that the national parliaments have much stronger systems of control over their representatives than those which operate – or don’t operate – in today’s European Parliament. So if we want to have more control over the European Parliament as an institution, it would be better to send elected representatives from national parliaments there rather than have direct elections to it. This has already been done in the history of the European Union, it’s not a diabolical idea, and we think it would be worth returning to it. As for our political position, you’re probably aware that there’s only one remedy for the spread of a swamp, and that’s to drain the swamp.
Stefan Löwenstein (FAZ): Thank you very much, Prime Minister, shall I put it in English, perhaps? You mentioned the migration and the Hungarian border, and the fact is there are not only people pushed back from the Hungarian border, but also many, many migrants coming through Hungary and reaching, for example, Austria and then the further west countries. So would it be correct to say that Hungary tries to push back at the borders, but is letting through migrants as soon as they’ve reached Hungarian territory? Thank you.
If you allow me, I would like to answer rather in Hungarian. So first of all, the fence isn’t perfect. But if we compare the infiltration phenomenon that you’re talking about with the picture that we all remember from 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people simply marched into Keleti Railway Station, and from there towards the West, then the difference is obvious. So the fact is that, because of increasing pressure, the fence isn’t airtight. And although we’ve prevented 250,000 attempts to cross the border, there are still people who get through. And although there are 2,500 people smugglers in prison in Hungary today, there are still people who attempt to smuggle people again and again. That’s undoubtedly true, but it doesn’t make the fence superfluous. We can do three things, and we’re doing them. The first is that we’ve set up a completely new armed body, these are the border hunters, who are uniquely dedicated to border protection. It’s quite different for someone to be deployed there, compared with having someone performing their duties there permanently. The second thing is that we’re celebrating Croatia’s membership of Schengen, because this will allow us to transfer personnel from the Croatian-Hungarian border – which up to now has had to be defended – to the Serbian-Hungarian border. This means that we’ll be more effective than we were previously. And the third thing we’re doing is that we’ve reached an agreement with the Serbs and the Austrians. I think we’re also succeeding in creating a long-term durable structure, and between the three of us we’ve created a border defence alliance. The first action of this is to move the strong defence on the Serbian-Hungarian border down south to the Northern Macedonian-Serbian border, and to try to defend that border more strongly. And if we succeed, our plan is to strengthen the Serbian-Bulgarian border in the same way. The Serbs are playing a leading role in this, but Austria also has a significant added value. The third summit on this matter will take place soon in Vienna.
András Kovács (origo.hu): To what extent does the Prime Minister see a parallel in the fact that prominent representatives of the left-wing parties in Brussels have received foreign money, and have therefore represented foreign interests – presumably foreign interests? And to what extent is this comparable to the Hungarian phenomenon? Or do you consider it a general left-wing phenomenon for various left-wing parties around the world and in Europe to receive foreign money?
Well, how nice it would be to say that corruption is restricted to left-wing parties; but we all know that this isn’t true. And, as the number of people involved increases, we can also see that in the European Parliament more and more MEPs from the People’s Party are now implicated. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that the practice of taking money illegally and providing political services in return for it is limited to the left of the political spectrum. It’s a threat that also threatens democratic politics everywhere, and that must be defended against. Since everyone in Brussels knows that this hasn’t just started recently and the general opinion has always been that Brussels is full of corruption, the question is why no defence mechanisms are in place. But, without batting the ball back to you, I’d quietly ask where the investigative journalists in Brussels have been in the last decade, when this type of thing was rampant and became almost a daily routine. There is work for everyone to do here. But again, the most important thing is to drain the swamp.
András Kovács (origo.hu): Prime Minister, after the recent corruption scandal, how much credit, so to speak, does the European Parliament have left? Could its role change in the coming years? Is it less likely to try, say, to put pressure on the Commission in relation to various political issues?
I certainly wouldn’t bring the Commission into this at the moment, because there’s no evidence that the trail leads up to them. I consider that to be a very bold assumption, and without clear facts I wouldn’t consider it right to even speculate about it. It’s easy to say how much the reputation of the European Parliament has been damaged in Hungary: not at all, because it can’t be lower than zero. Since it was already at zero, it couldn’t be damaged any further. Everyone knows that Hungary has been regularly insulted and shown disrespect for no good reason, baselessly, for political reasons, driven by a Hungarophobic instinct, and that all this has been simply because it goes its own way, simply because it wants to continue following its own way of life. It hasn’t been given the respect that is due to Hungarians. Public opinion in Hungary sees the European Parliament as a place that’s not worth talking about too much.
András Kovács (origo.hu): And finally, Prime Minister, you mentioned that there will be a cabinet meeting this afternoon. Will the issue of Budapest’s Chain Bridge be discussed at this meeting? And although it clearly hasn’t fulfilled its contractual agreements with the Government, will the City receive the 6 billion forints that it’s demanding?
There is indeed a contract, and the lawyers will see what comes of this. I don’t want to deprive them of that work. But I’d just mention that the Chain Bridge has turned out to be a true Hungarian “Hungaricum”: we’ve renovated it, we’ve spent a lot of money on it, and now you can’t cross it either by car or on foot. Great! The only good news is that the fish can still move around freely. This is the situation we’re in now.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you about relations with Ukraine and Russia, and how you see Hungary’s diplomatic focus in these two directions in 2023. I’d also like to ask you the same question about your vision for relations with the European Union. It’s been said many times that there’s no connection between the two, and yet in the latest dispute over reconstruction funds and aid to Ukraine, we’ve heard from the EU side – from the Czech presidency – that they see this as a clear quid pro quo: that they see a link between the two. In March and April Hungary will still have a few milestones to pass. How can we guarantee that relations with Ukraine and Russia and with the EU remain separate during these periods?
I’d be a happy man if I knew the answer to that question. Youve described a dilemma that we’re constantly faced with. It may help to repeat the basic principles. So, in relation to Ukraine, it’s worth stating that the existence of an independent and sovereign Ukraine is also in Hungary’s national interest. The second point is that we’re not interested in the permanent decoupling of the European and Russian economies. So we’re trying to salvage whatever can be salvaged from economic cooperation with Russia – in other words from Hungarian-Russian economic relations. The third thing is that we don’t want to be dragged into the war, but we do want to give Ukraine the aid demanded by the dictates of humanity. And finally there’s this question of interconnection and the package, this question of money. Indeed you’re aware that Hungary has always rejected a packaged approach: we’ve never accepted – and I personally have never for a moment accepted – the idea of linking EU matters that are different in nature. This is partly because I think it would be a violation of the EU’s founding document, which describes a duty of loyal cooperation required from all members; and if you link one issue with a completely different issue, you’re not acting with loyal cooperation. But beyond constitutional concerns I don’t support this approach because once someone’s actions lend it legitimacy, where will it end? Next time it won’t be applied for our benefit, but will be used against us. We’d be making ourselves vulnerable if we adopted such an approach. This is why we didn’t negotiate these matters in a single package, but negotiated all four or five cases separately. As you’ve correctly noticed, the Czechs decided to table the decisions for a single day. I think that if they could have, they would have tabled all four for a single minute. But that’s the sovereign right of the Presidency which leads the European Council, and we’ve had to adapt to it. Why specifically did we accept this? As a secondary question, it’s perhaps justified to ask why Hungary accepted what it had previously opposed – namely that we should give Ukraine 18 billion euros in this way. Here, too, let’s first set out the basics. We consider this to be the wrong solution. We accept that Ukraine needs to be helped financially, but we consider it a bad solution that this isn’t being done on an intergovernmental basis, but through the institutions of the EU. So the right solution would have been what Hungary has proposed: we should decide how much money we want to give Ukraine, and – just as we do with the EU budget – everyone should put their share on the table from their own budget, from their home country. And once that had been done, we’d give it to the Ukrainians. Instead of this, the initial alternative proposal was to collectively borrow outside the European Union budget – as has been done for the financial fund intended to mitigate the consequences of COVID. In other words, the 27 Member States would have created a credit and debt community, would have assumed collective debt and would have given the money to the Ukrainians. We didn’t support this, because it would never end. And in that situation, if one of the states failed to pay back its share of the loan, the others would have had to assume that responsibility. And since there are countries with levels of public debt which exceed that of Hungary by 20, 30, 50 or 70 per cent, we don’t want to be in a debt community with them: we don’t want to stand up for them, because the trouble they’ve caused themselves with their debt accumulation is none of our business. Therefore we don’t want to be in a debt community with them. This is something that we’ve managed to prevent. So the EU has abandoned that plan. But it didn’t accept the Hungarian proposal either, instead coming up with an intermediate compromise solution – we’re talking about Brussels here – in which we’ll use the money that’s already been pledged or deposited in the EU budget as a debt fund, take out a loan on the basis of this and then pass it on to the Ukrainians. This isn’t a perfect solution, because there’s the danger of it leading to a situation in which the money that’s not used in the EU, in the EU budget – as often happens – isn’t ultimately redistributed among the Member States from where it came, but is sent to Ukraine. And one could also see money that’s not given to a country for some reason – to the Hungarians for example – ending up being sent to Ukraine. That’s not something we’d be happy about. So this solution is far from good, but it’s also far less bad than the first one. And we agreed to this because we were left on our own; and in my experience, when we’re left on our own we should only block European measures as a last resort. If a compromise – good or bad – can be reached, then in the interests of unity it’s worth yielding or reaching an agreement. This is what happened here. I’d add that we all know that 18 billion euros won’t be enough, and will never be repaid by the Ukrainians. We can call it a loan, but it will never be repaid. And it won’t be enough not only for next year, but even for this year; and at the latest this debate will be repeated again for 2024. Because what will happen in 2024? So far we’ve only decided on 2023. So I think we’ve started down a road on which it will be very difficult to turn back.
Márton Dunai (Financial Times): I have a supplementary question on this subject. In response to a question I asked after the election in April, you said that Hungary’s most important international task was to settle relations with the Poles. Developments since then have resulted in the Poles taking a position on the Ukraine issue that’s strongly at odds with that of Hungary. This is also reflected in opinion polls in Ukraine, where Poland is seen as the friendliest country and Hungary as the least friendly. So how do you see Hungarian-Polish relations in the future – especially in a year when Poland will hold an election and Europe will be preparing for European Parliament elections?
Here too its worth starting from the basics, so first and foremost, first of all, there’s a common Polish-Hungarian destiny. This is all the more remarkable, because in the Second World War they were on the winning side and we were on the losing side; and then they were rewarded with the same punishment received by the Hungarians. We’d call this a community of fate. We were both saddled with communism, and the West threw us to the Soviet Union – even though one of us had been on the good side, and the other on the losing side. So historically the Poles and the Hungarians have a well-established common destiny. This has given us a strong friendship, which goes back to the Middle Ages. This is a very special system of relations, and a great asset. We think completely differently about the war – but not in terms of strategic objectives, because we agree on those. So, strangely enough, Poland and Hungary agree on the most important issues. What do the Poles say? They say that Russia must be brought to a position in which it doesn’t represent a threat to European security. Bingo! The Poles say that we need a sovereign Ukraine that’s located between our countries: Poland, Hungary and Russia. Bingo! So we agree on the most important strategic issues. The real question is how we view the war – and this makes a difference. You see, the Poles think that the Ukrainians are also fighting for Poland’s freedom and security; but we don’t think that at all. So I don’t think that the Ukrainians are fighting for the security or freedom of Hungary. The Ukrainians are fighting for their own country, heroically incidentally; but they’re not fighting for Hungary. Ukraine will never defend Hungary from anything. Hungary will be defended by itself and by NATO. So our security isn’t provided by Ukraine, but by membership of NATO, and the Hungarian defence capability which is integrated within it and which cooperates with it. And we have faith in this. In this sense, the outcome of the war in Ukraine has no influence on Hungary’s security. That’s how we see it. The Poles see it differently. If you look at a map, it’s not at all difficult to understand why we think differently from each other. A great deal is explained by geography.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, very many people are holding their breath as they wait for their gas bills. What can you tell us, Prime Minister? Will the Government revise the subsidised part of gas bills, which has a monthly upper limit for gas of 144 cubic metres, and for electricity of 210 kilowatt-hours?
This system will remain in place in the future, and our analysis shows that 75 per cent of Hungarian households will remain within this limit. So the proportion of households in Hungary enjoying full protection in terms of reductions in utility bills is about 75 per cent, and there are 25 per cent who have to pay a certain amount above the protected price for utilities. Some pay less, some pay much more, but the latter fall into the better-off sections of Hungarian society. So we consider the current structure to be sustainable.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Even if on the Dutch gas exchange the price of natural gas falls?
The Hungarian system has always been based on what I’d scientifically call “keeping our shirts on”: we’ve never flip-flopped on Hungarian energy price levels. The Hungarian system of energy price protection has been the subject of much criticism in the past, but we’ve set a price, and the market price has either been above it or below it. If it was above it, we provided subsidies from the budget, and if it was below it we created a reserve. And we’ve been able to maintain practically the same level of price stability for – I don’t know, maybe Gergő [Gulyás] knows – eight or nine years. I think this is much better than a system that’s constantly moving and adjusting to market changes. And now we’re in a crisis, but I wouldn’t change this approach. I wouldn’t change to a price system that’s constantly adapting to market prices and changing; we’ve changed the system of price protection because we were forced to, but now we want to maintain it as long as possible and with as much stability as possible.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Teachers have been protesting for months, because they want higher wages. How does the Prime Minister assess Sándor Pintér’s handling of this wave of protests, and what’s the Prime Minister’s opinion on the position of the board of the MTA [Hungarian Academy of Sciences]? They say that it’s essential for the dismissed teachers to be reinstated, and on this matter they’re appealing to Katalin Novák, President of the Republic.
We’re talking about two different things. If you’ll allow me, let’s start with the latter. I’m an admirer of the Academy, so I won’t pass judgement on their position, but never before in the last thirty years have I seen the Academy calling on a government to openly break the law. This is unusual, and we need to treat it as such. The fact is that in Hungary there are legal forms of protest: in addition to demonstrating, one may also go on strike. Incidentally, these forms of protest are broader than in many European countries; in Germany, for example, teachers aren’t allowed to strike. In Hungary they can strike, and there’s a legal framework and order for this. As the laws apply to everyone, I’d ask teachers and everyone else to abide by them. So I respectfully ask them to please choose legal forms of protest. If they don’t choose legal forms, then – as teachers are also state employees – state leaders have no alternative but to look to the usual rules and enforce them. When one takes an oath – as I did myself in Parliament – I say that I’ll obey and enforce the law. I have to obey the law with regard to public servants. Therefore if I see that they’re not obeying the law, the first thing I do is write a letter and respectfully ask them to choose a legal form of protest. This isn’t usually paid attention to. So we write another one, asking them to be so kind as to choose a legal form. And if there’s no change before a third intervention, then there’s no alternative but to apply the law. The Minister can’t choose to apply it to some people and not to others. It’s a very straightforward legal procedure, and the Ministry of Education is applying it with due diligence. This is one issue, but it’s the less important one. The really important issue is the relationship between teachers and children and parents. And I’m on the side of the teachers in saying that wages must definitely be increased. It was a long time ago, and I’m not sure that those of you sitting here remember it, but this is why, when we first managed to pull ourselves out of the financial crisis after 2010, the first occupational group to receive a pay rise and a career system was teachers. By the way, we’re often criticised on why the career structure of teachers is the way it is; but that wasn’t determined by the Government. The government representative at the time negotiated it with the trade unions. And the fact that salaries increase significantly with age, while new entrants are underpaid or start with lower salaries, wasn’t the Government’s proposal, but was agreed by the parties in the negotiations at that time. This was clearly not a good agreement, and this is why there’s an internal disproportionality, with teachers starting on an almost unacceptably low starting salary, and things becoming rather bearable towards the end. But there’s certainly a need for a more substantial increase for new teachers. What the Government can do today is ensure that – like last year – there will definitely be a 10 per cent pay rise this year and next year. This is as much as the Hungarian economy is able to do today. If we can agree with the EU on some of the details, then there’s a point in the agreement which will allow us to use EU funds to increase wages. We could implement them without EU funds, but if we have EU funds, we can implement increases of over 10 per cent across three years – and if not, it will take us six years to implement them. So I’m confident that there will be a financial solution to teachers’ legitimate demands. But if they disagree with a policy line, if they disagree with a professional line, if they’re dissatisfied with their own situation, then here I’d ask everyone – including teachers, with the greatest respect – to choose legal forms of protest.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): I’d just like to say that at an earlier government briefing Minister Gulyás said that civil disobedience as such doesn’t exist within the law, it isn’t recognised in law; but you we’re also engaged in a form of civil disobedience when you dismantled the cordon [around Parliament in 2007].
If something doesn’t exist in law, then let’s not use that term in a legal debate. This is why I avoided it. There are legal forms of protest and non-legal forms. If someone goes on strike, that’s a legal form. If someone says “I’m not going to work today”, that’s illegal – whatever you call it.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): In the Parliamentary Economic Committee a few weeks ago the Governor of the National Bank, Mr. Matolcsy, voiced some very harsh criticism. What does the Prime Minister have to say about this? Have you spoken to him since then? And what’s the Prime Minister’s view on whether or not the Hungarian economy is in a state of near-crisis?
To the extent that the whole European economy is in such a state. So we’re not talking about a Hungarian phenomenon, but about the fact that the war, the sanctions imposed in response to the war, and resultingly huge energy prices are pushing the whole of Europe towards economic decline, downturn and recession. This is threatening every country in the European Union. The question is whether one can stay out of it. The Hungarian strategy is to stay out of it. It’s a difficult question, professionally an extremely difficult question. You’ll see the budget for next year, and we believe we can do it. We have a plan for how to stay out of the European recession, and so we’re also planning next year’s budget with the assumption of economic growth of 1.5 per cent. So I don’t see this as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of strength. Now, as for the opinion of the Governor of the National Bank, of course we’re in constant contact with each other, and so I understand him. It’s a very long time since a central bank governor has been in such a difficult situation, because the National Bank is responsible for the issue of inflation. I think what the law says is that the National Bank must guarantee price stability. Obviously, it can’t do this alone, but it still has the leading role, and inflation is above the undreamt level of 20 per cent. So there’s enormous pressure on the Governor of the National Bank, and we need to understand that. On the other hand, the tool that the National Bank has chosen – to introduce high interest rates into the economy – makes it impossible for businesses to borrow. Therefore the National Bank is under enormous pressure from business. Between you and me, he’s in a more difficult position than I am. Mine isn’t easy either, but the situation of the Governor of the National Bank is even harder. So I understand that at the moment the Governor is acting in an unorthodox way in public.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): The Prime Minister has just said that the threshold for exemption from personal income tax will be raised to the age of 30 for anyone who makes the commitment to having a baby.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Sorry, to 35.
No, to 30, and for women. Yes, if a woman makes that commitment.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Yes, if a woman commits to having children. People are also very interested in whether the “baby loan” scheme, which expires at the end of this year, will be extended by the Government in 2023 – and also whether the housing refurbishment support scheme will be extended. What’s the Prime Minister’s opinion on this? What will your position on this be at the cabinet meeting?
There are different elements of housing support, home-creation support. One of them is being phased out, but the others will remain. The baby loan is a subject of debate; it is now, and was when it was introduced. As I see it, there are more of us who want to keep it – and not only because I think it’s a good programme, but also because the generation that studied under Rudolf Andorka is still the majority in the Government. So we learned family support and family policy from Rudolf Andorka; and the first thing we needed to learn was that the only kind of family support that will work in the long term is one which is stable and predictable. The baby loan scheme has been introduced only recently. What kind of family policy suddenly phases out something, a year after its introduction? So I don’t believe in that. We must keep it going for as long as we can, we must keep this offer open to young people; and then in a few years’ time we’ll see how many people have taken advantage of it. But I think that it’s certainly better not to touch it for many years, since it’s the heart of the Hungarian family support system. It should be strengthened rather than weakened.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): In your introduction you said that Europe’s being dragged into this war, while Hungary has managed to stay out of it. And one of the things you said is that Europe’s being dragged into it by giving Ukraine operational support. We know that Hungary’s also giving this kind of support. As you detailed, Hungary’s argument was not about giving such support to Ukraine, but rather about what form it shouldn’t take. So how can these two things be linked logically?
Because there are 27 of us in the European Union. If it were just up to us alone, we’d make a peace proposal tomorrow: we’d send negotiating delegations and we’d say “Let’s negotiate, negotiate, negotiate – we need peace and an immediate ceasefire”. But that’s not what’s happening today, as it’s not just up to us alone.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): So this means that Hungary hasn’t managed to stay out of it, because it’s giving support to Ukraine…
But if you ask the Russians or the Ukrainians, they’ll both say that Hungary has stayed out. So we’ve succeeded in doing so.
Zoltan Simon (Bloomberg): You’ve also said that it’s in Hungary’s interest for there to be an independent and sovereign Ukraine. Many people think that sovereignty and independence are based on territorial integrity. What’s your opinion on this? Can Ukraine be independent and sovereign without preserving its territorial integrity?
No, it can’t – it can only be so if it has territorial integrity.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): And does this mean that the peace that the Hungarian government is urging for so strongly can be achieved without a return to the borders that Ukraine had, say, before 2014?
There needs to be negotiation on that. That’s what negotiations are about. The order is as follows. First a ceasefire: no more people dying, no more fathers and mothers of children dying, no more children losing their fathers at the front. Let’s stop, let’s have a ceasefire. Then let’s sit down with the negotiators and see who has what position, and see if this can be settled by negotiation. Let’s try to do that, instead of continuing the war. This is the Hungarian position. But it’s not our job to give advice to any of the warring parties; we’re just saying that it would be good for Europe as a whole – and for Hungary – if we stopped the guns from roaring and tried to agree something through negotiation. Whether we end up with a sovereign, independent Ukraine at the end of the negotiations will be determined in the course of the negotiations. Let’s not decide that at the beginning; because if we want to reach the results of the negotiations at the beginning of them, there will never be a ceasefire or negotiations.
Zoltan Simon (Bloomberg): Ukraine thinks that the way to defend its territorial integrity is by fighting.
We don’t dispute their right to do so.
Zoltán Simon (Bloomberg): I have a question on the economy. You also said that you’re trying to ensure that here in Hungary we stay unaffected by the economic impact of this war and other negative effects as much as possible. My question is that when the forint was at record lows in October, the Finance Minister suggested that it might be worth thinking about fixing the forint against the euro – or in a band, which in the jargon is called ERM II: the anteroom to the euro. He said that introduction of the euro isn’t on the agenda, but also that at such a time any sensible person would think about doing this. My question is this: is this ERM II – fixing the forint’s exchange rate – on the agenda? Is it being promoted by the Government or by you personally, and what’s your position?
It’s not on the agenda and I’m not promoting it. It’s not on the agenda and I’m not promoting it.
Bettina Holló (Index): As we first reported yesterday, János Csák is relieving the State Secretary for Culture of his position. My question is this: what new tasks will Péter Hoppál take on, and when will he start?
It’s interesting that he said this to you. He told me that he wanted to make him a government commissioner. And he asked me whether there was a theoretical possibility of this, because within the Government there’s a limit on the number of government commissioners and all sorts of other such positions that don’t fall within the traditional structure. He asked for an additional government commissioner post for his ministry. When asked why, he said it was because he wanted to make State Secretary Hoppál a government commissioner. And he’s been given permission to do so. Whether Minister Hoppál – or State Secretary Hoppál – will stay on or become a government commissioner is for Minister Csák to decide.
Bettina Holló (Index): And what tasks will he have? What will his remit be in the new system?
We’ll ask Minister Csák about that.
Bettina Holló (Index): This has already been mentioned in part, but last week at the schools consultation Sándor Pintér said that he doesn’t understand education, but he understands leadership. What’s your assessment of the work of the Interior Minister in the field of education, and what was the concept when designing the government structure? Why was education assigned to him?
My thinking is the same as the Interior Minister’s, because I also think that a leader should understand leadership. The professionals are the ones who understand the profession. And it’s not my job either. It would look good if it was the job of the Prime Minister to understand everything; but that person hasn’t been born yet. A leader must understand leadership, and appropriate organisational forms must be used to integrate the knowledge that’s available in the rest of Hungarian society into the area he leads. So I think this is fine. Back in 2010 I had a plan, but Minister Navracsics and I were unable to implement it: we thought that every two or three years it would be worth moving ministers from one ministry to another, and that this would perhaps improve the efficiency of the Government’s operations and increase ministers’ firepower. But in the end it came to nothing. But this consideration shows that we have to make a fundamental managerial assessment of where a particular area belongs. And I think that when I formed the Government and introduced the ministers in Parliament, I gave a clear reason why each ministry, each department, should be where it is. I have nothing new to say about that now.
Bettina Holló (Index): Up until now the focus of cooperation between the V4 countries has been on migration. Can this cooperation now become decisive in the field of energy, or do new cooperation formats need to be created to meet new types of challenges?
I think that your question is more than justified. Energy could become a priority area for the V4. It wasn’t completely off the table before, either. Let’s not forget that we built the gas interconnector line between Slovakia and Hungary, for example, as part of a V4 programme. In the medium term energy could – and I hope will – also become a priority for the V4. The problem is that today energy is fundamentally approached from the perspective of sanctions. So within the V4, energy is another issue which is viewed by the V4 states through the filter of their opinions on sanctions. So today energy isn’t a question of joint energy procurement, joint energy distribution or similar technical issues, but rather a question of the sanctions linked to the war. And since there’s a difference of opinion on the war, it’s difficult to reach agreement on energy. But we’re committed to the V4 having an energy dimension in the longer term.
Bettina Holló (Index): During the World Cup you had the opportunity to meet the Qatari prime minister. I’d like to know what you discussed, and whether you agreed on anything.
We discussed a lot of things and reached agreement on some questions. We’ll soon have a longer and more in-depth intergovernmental meeting on strategic issues. In the meantime we’ve agreed on energy cooperation, we’ve agreed on energy imports from Qatar, we’ve agreed on financial issues and we’ve agreed on further investments in Hungary.
Bettina Holló (Index): Are you planning to visit Kiev/Kyiv next year?
It’s not on my agenda.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Prime Minister, you’ve said that your mother is a retired special needs teacher. What advice would you give her now on how to draw attention to the problems that special needs teachers are drawing attention to? I don’t know whether you’ve heard that these protests or opinions don’t just focus on money as a problem, but on working conditions, and the fact that staff numbers are very low. So what advice would you give, since special needs teachers are subject to particularly strict rules in relation to strike action?
Well, I don’t like to make personal references to the world of teaching, but since you’ve done so, I’d say that I not only look at it from the outside, but also from the inside – because that’s the situation in our family. It’s a fine tradition, and I’m proud of my mother – who I think was an excellent teacher. She’s retired now, of course. And I also ask her opinion on current issues. Our idea was – and it would be nice if it were followed – that we’ve always wanted the question of how, say, union-type demands and claims should be dealt with in school education to be separated from the question of how professional issues should be dealt with. I believed that it was better if these weren’t handled by the same people. And this is why we created the chamber of teachers and the teachers’ association. And our idea was that all financial demands should be agreed and negotiated with the unions; and that all professional issues beyond the physical aspect of working conditions – hours, content, what kind of national curriculum should be created, and when and how it should be revised and amended – should be discussed with the teaching association. This is because the latter could be a partner of the Government on professional matters, and not focus on trade union matters. I’m trying to operate this structure, with the results that you can see so far. I’m presented with a huge opportunity for its improvement.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): The teachers’ association has also indicated that the dismissals make the situation in education more difficult, and that the problems go beyond low salaries.
Yes, but on the legal and illegal aspects of the protests, it’s not the teachers’ union that needs to be consulted, but the Minister of Justice. The law is the law. I can’t repeat this for the fifteenth time. Believe me, if one doesn’t comply with the law, one can’t negotiate.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): On civil disobedience you’ve just said that the rules should be obeyed and that teachers should turn up for work. But in 2007, when you announced the dismantling of the cordon, when you announced an act of civil disobedience, you didn’t go into Parliament. In 2006 you boycotted Parliament, you declared an act of civil disobedience, and you said that you had to set an example to the citizens of Hungary, especially the younger generation, to show that there’s a limit beyond which one must not go, and that one must protest. What’s the difference between the situation back then and the current situation? The latter, incidentally, is based on a position agreed with by the Government: teachers are protesting for goals that the Government says are justified. So if Ferenc Gyurcsány [prime minister at the time] had told you to obey the rules and not to dismantle the cordon, would you have complied or not?
Well, it’s hard to imagine it now, because such a conversation didn’t take place. But I remember that when the cordon was dismantled our demand wasn’t that our salaries should be increased, but we were objecting to the fact that there had been a clear violation of freedom, that the authorities had violated the law on public assembly. And we wanted to make a symbolic gesture against this. That isn’t the issue here now.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But the law on strikes is also an issue…
Now everyone is free to demonstrate and strike, and the law allows this. There was a clear and open violation of the law by what we could call the police government of that time. So I don’t think one can make any reasonable comparison between the two situations. What’s more, we work according to different hours. Whatever I did with the cordon, I can’t remember a working day in the last thirty years when I worked less than ten hours.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): The law on strikes – or the right to strike – is also now a demand or a matter for protest. Two last questions, if I may. One is that both György Matolcsy and an analyst from the National Bank have said that the price caps are increasing inflation by 3 to 4 per cent. What’s your opinion on this, and why has inflation in Hungary grown so high? Why has inflation in Hungary grown to twice the EU average?
I think György Matolcsy gave a very clear answer to this question. After all, since the National Bank is responsible for the level of prices and price stability, it’s the National Bank that also carries out these analyses. We acknowledge them and accept them. When we talk about the price caps I have my doubts, because it’s difficult for a lawyer like me to understand why if I limit the price of something it will lead to a price increase. The context here is rather that whenever we’ve introduced any kind of price regulation over the last thirty years, regardless of which government did so, the bankers have always protested. So here there’s an age-old professional difference of opinion: bankers always object to regulation and price caps or price restrictions. And I try to explain to them politely that I understand this, but price regulation isn’t introduced for the benefit of bankers, but for the benefit of poor people, and it’s important to them.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): My final question: after the World Cup final Zsolt Bayer, Fidesz vice-president and one of the best-known figures in the government media empire, made a point of the fact that the winners were white. Why is it so important for your political camp to emphasise people’s skin colour? Youve spoken before about the need to preserve ethnic homogeneity, in Tusványos you spoke about us not wanting to become mixed-race. Why is this so prominent in the political rhetoric of Fidesz and its camp?
For me it’s not a focus – especially when it comes to football, given that more than one kind of person plays in the Hungarian national team. Long live Loïc Nego!
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But then why, for example, did you talk about preserving ethnic homogeneity or about racial mixing?
Because I don’t accept the approach or the view that always casts ethnic homogeneity in a negative light and that always considers an ethnically homogeneous community to be less valuable than a mixed one. Anyway, it’s a matter of history and not a philosophy of who is like this or that.
Justin Spike (AP): In the past few weeks we’ve seen the Hungarian government looking for new energy sources in Qatar, Oman or Azerbaijan. In the coming year will there be other opportunities for Hungary to acquire different sources of energy, and are there specific targets for how much the Government would like to reduce or lessen its dependence on Russian energy? Is it even a goal that it should eventually wean itself off Russian energy?
I wouldn’t put it in terms of weaning itself off Russian energy, but in terms of weaning itself off imported energy – whether it’s Russian or from elsewhere is relevant, but only secondary. The question is whether or not we can be self-sufficient. And there’s something that makes me feel bad about government policy over the past few years: Paks II [the extension to Hungary’s nuclear power plant]. I remember that in 2013 or 2014 we decided that Paks II should be built, precisely in order to dramatically reduce Hungary’s energy dependence. And if we had Paks II operating right now, all we would need to do would be to sit back and relax. I’ve tried everything, but either I haven’t been determined enough or I haven’t been able to find the right route, but this unfortunate Paks II project has been constantly blocked by everyone, and I haven’t been able to defend it: the Hungarian opposition blocked us and we lost a year; Brussels blocked us, we had to renegotiate and we lost another year. And I would wonder whether or not we should have done something differently in order to finish this project sooner. And then we planned for 2023, didn’t we? So the plan was to start operating it in 2023. Just imagine Paks II generating energy in 2023. We’re extending the lifetime of Paks I. Nuclear energy will account for 60 per cent of our electricity. Meanwhile, solar will have gone up to 20 per cent. What problem is there with that? I hope that the question of why this hasn’t been achieved isn’t only on my mind, but also on the minds of those who have been blocking this. So the real question is not whether or not it’s Russian, but whether we can be independent, even if for the time being we import the fuel for the nuclear power plant – although we have uranium reserves that we can offer in exchange for fuel. So in Hungary today the least vulnerable energy source is still nuclear. But are we doing anything other than complaining? Perhaps this is a consequence of your question. Hungary is a country without a sea coast, and therefore it can only obtain energy through energy supply lines. There are two types of supply line: pipelines and cables – with gas coming through pipelines and electricity through cables. This is what we’re using. So right now Hungary’s engaged in a huge cable-building “megadeal” or “mega-contract” with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania. If my memory serves me well, in 2010 Hungary’s gas pipeline connections with the outside world went through two points. Now they go through seven, so we’ve been continuously increasing them. And, of course, we’re negotiating with ports, like those in Croatia with which we have agreements to receive liquefied natural gas destined for Hungary and being transported from the ports to Hungary. So we’re constantly looking at a succession of such programmes. But the ultimate salvation will be Paks II.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Staying with Paks for a moment, at this stage what are the obstacles to accelerating the project, given the rapid decoupling of the European and Russian economies?
We’ve been dealing with the danger which is perhaps clear from your question. So it’s legitimate to ask the implicit question of whether we can expect the European Union to decide to decouple from Russia in terms of nuclear energy. This could take the form of adding nuclear energy production facilities to the sanctions list. There have been attempts to do this, and so far [Foreign Minister] Péter Szijjártó and Hungary have been successful in fighting them off; but there will be more such attempts, and the success of Paks II is indeed dependant on our continuing to be able to keep the entire nuclear energy industry off the sanctions list.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): If I’m not mistaken, in April the Prime Minister offered Budapest as a possible venue for armistice or peace talks. Will he perhaps repeat this offer?
Hungary has made this offer on a permanent basis. But today it’s not the lack of a venue that’s resulted in negotiations not taking place, but rather that the warring sides and the great powers behind them have yet to commit themselves to this. I repeat my earlier – apparently slightly unusual – statement that US-Russian negotiations are a fundamental necessity. If there are no US-Russian negotiations, there will be no peace.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Considering the vulnerability and fluctuation of the forint exchange rate in the past, especially in the past year, what are the Government’s current arguments against joining the eurozone?
The question is more than justified. The dramatic fluctuations in the forint’s exchange rate points to the fact that there’s no connection whatsoever between the value of the forint and the strength of the foundation of the Hungarian economy and its performance level. So a country’s economic performance cannot change as fast as the fluctuations in the value of the forint. So obviously the forint is detached from the actual capacity and strength of the Hungarian economy. And at such times there’s a good reason for a country to join a wider currency zone, because this can provide its currency with stability. So there’s an argument in favour of joining the euro, but I consider this argument to be outweighed by the fact – which I’ve personally witnessed over the past twenty years – that joining the euro would slow down economic growth. And this is illustrated by an example that’s near at hand. So in my opinion if the Hungarian economy wants to grow and close the gap with other economies, it’s better for it to stay outside the eurozone. If you consider stability more important than closing the gap, then it’s better to join; but I’d recommend that Hungary prioritises a more rapid closing of the gap, and that therefore it doesn’t join.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): The institutions of the Hungarian justice system are working on the affair of the 3 billion dollars of assistance that was mentioned previously. In addition, will the Government perhaps take diplomatic steps to clarify the source or background of this foreign support?
For now there’s an investigation underway, and later we’ll see.
Dániel Kacsoh (Mandiner): Is there a route – or any intention – for Fidesz to return to the European People’s Party? I ask this because a major agreement has now been reached with the European institutions: the rule of law in Hungary has been fully investigated.
If the question is whether the European People’s Party can once again win the hand of Fidesz, the answer is no. We’re already in another place, we’ve moved on.
Nick Thorpe (BBC): I’d like to reassure the Prime Minister that he doesn’t need to be afraid of independent and international media, and that if he were to give us more interviews, we wouldn’t need to wait outside churches, in hospital corridors, at border crossings, in cafes…
Of course not…
Nick Thorpe (BBC): …I’d be very grateful, and perhaps this Hungarophobia that exists in the world could be reduced if there were more opportunities for personal interviews. Personally, by the way, I’ve been waiting for an interview for fourteen years. Now to my question, which I’d like to ask in English.
Please do so.
Nick Thorpe (BBC): How isolated do you feel in Europe today, Prime Minister? And what policy measures are available to you to overcome or lessen that isolation? I noticed in your recent visit to Bucharest that you strongly supported Romania’s joining, next year, the Schengen Agreement. What other concrete policy measures are open to you? Thank you.
I think if we would like to consult in a reasonable way, we should make a distinction between being isolated and disagreement. So, it’s not… these two things are different, so they are not the same, they are not equal to each other. If you’ll allow me, I’ll continue in Hungarian. So Hungary disagrees on a number of issues, but that doesn’t mean isolation. Isolation is different: isolation isn’t taking part in big collective decisions that you’d otherwise want to, or have an interest in taking part in. Now the latter isn’t the case. You cannot isolate an EU Member State and a member of NATO. You can disagree with it, you can disagree with anyone; but that’s not isolation, because we’re there, and we’re involved in the decisions that determine our community’s choices and direction of progress. In addition, look to Hungary’s history. You obviously study Hungarian history in the time given to you by the cancellation of interviews – or at least when we used to talk to each other, I noticed that you have a deep knowledge of our history. So if you look back over it, you’ll see that from the foundation of the state, Hungarians have always believed in what’s expressed in modern terms as “connectivity”. So Hungary’s always been involved in some kind of cooperation while maintaining relations with the rest of the world. You’ll see this if you look at its foreign policy, from the first kings of the Árpád Dynasty right up to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; and you see the continuity of this in our policy too. So, while belonging to a community and therefore not being able to isolate itself, Hungary’s arguing with all its strength against the formation of blocs. If blocs are formed – either in military terms, which is now usually described as “decoupling”, or in economic terms – Hungary will be the loser. This has been the case for a thousand years. If blocs form, Hungary will always be a loser in terms of foreign policy. If you look at the map, you can immediately see that if there are blocs, we’re on the eastern periphery of the Western world. If there’s East-West cooperation, we’re at the centre of the world. Therefore Hungary must always strive for what’s called connectivity – to as many places as possible. This is why we’ve been to Qatar and Oman, why we maintain good relations with the Chinese, and why I don’t want to give up even the most limited form of cooperation with the Russians. The experience of a thousand years of Hungarian foreign policy shows us that these are all things of value. This is why the Bucharest trip was also valuable for us, because we were able to establish cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary – something which one would never have thought possible. These are all valuable things. And I’m happy to give interviews if I have something to say. But please understand that just answering journalists’ hostile questions and spending my day like that isn’t a particularly attractive offer for me. I give interviews when I see that there are meaningful, consultative, real interview opportunities which are about wanting to know what I think about things, and not about sticking a pike in the bull’s back and waving a red cape in front of it. So perhaps you’ll understand that, alongside my work, it might not be worth it for me to devote time to that. But if there’s the opportunity for a meaningful consultation and interview, I’m never opposed to it.
Barna Kéri (RTL): The subjects of education and healthcare have been raised more than once. I’d like to ask a question which has perhaps already been asked, but I don’t think has been answered. Does the Prime Minister still have confidence in Sándor Pintér? Are you confident that, under the leadership of Mr Pintér, it will be possible to conduct negotiations in both the education and health sectors that will lead to a solution, or bring us close to a solution?
Barna Kéri (RTL): And is that the situation now? Are we going that way now?
Barna Kéri (RTL): But that’s not what’s being said by those involved in these sectors – or not all of them say so.
This needs to be worked on.
Barna Kéri (RTL): What message do you have for people who go to the shops before Christmas and are faced with record inflation, record inflation for Europe, while a survey has shown that Hungary has the second lowest wages for those in full-time work? I ask this because earlier, on the subject of utility bills, you said that those who can’t pay their utility bills should either use less energy or earn more. Is this also true for those who are going to the shops now?
We can help people to earn more by reducing their taxes. So we’re working to help people earn more and more. The Government can help them do this by cutting taxes, and so we’re cutting taxes almost every year. We’ll continue to do that in the future. We want people to earn as much money as possible. This is the stated goal of the Government, which we’re committed to.
Barna Kéri (RTL): But VAT, for example, isn’t being cut.
This is an old debate. We discussed it in 2010, but we can discuss it again. One of the attractions and characteristics of the Hungarian tax system, and the key to its success, is that the taxes on work are the lowest in Europe. And instead of taxes on work, the budget collects the money it needs through consumption. This is a matter of tax philosophy, and we don’t want to change it.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Speaking of inflation, you talked about the National Bank Governor’s responsibility in this. In an interview Péter Tölgyessy has talked straightforwardly about “Orbán inflation”. He’s said that your actions, or the actions of your government, contribute to inflation by, I think, 6 to 7 per cent – increasing it by that much. What do you think about that? Do you think that Orbán inflation really exists?
First of all, I’m honoured that Péter Tölgyessy has elevated me to that high level. Secondly, I’d ask everyone to look back on these questions when inflation is in single digits and we’ve broken the back of it. Maybe that will be seen as laudable.
Barna Kéri (RTL): When will it be in single digits?
At the end of next year at the latest.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Earlier you talked about why you think the European Commission hasn’t given money, why it hasn’t agreed, why it isn’t giving money to Hungary or Poland. Does this mean that the Government bears no responsibility for the fact that it seems that part of the funds that are due to Hungary are frozen? So has the Government done everything right?
Barna Kéri (RTL): Would you do everything the same again?
In this respect, everything. Unfortunately this isn’t true in every area, but in this area it is.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Why, then, are you undertaking to make changes on twenty-seven points in order to satisfy the European Commission?
The EU asked for this. We didn’t initiate anything like that. They asked for it and we did it.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Changing things that are already good? Why do this, if you didn’t mess up?
No. They asked for new things. They didn’t ask us to change things, but rather asked us to create new things. So let’s go for it!
Barna Kéri (RTL): This question has already been partly discussed. In Tusványos you spoke about the need to withdraw from natural gas – I think that’s exactly how you put it. Where do we stand now in this task? Obviously gas consumption has gone down, the data shows that; but are we withdrawing from gas, can we withdraw from gas, when can we withdraw from gas?
If we have Paks II, we can achieve large scale reductions in gas consumption. Until we can do that, we have these makeshift solutions. So we’re trying to impose rules on, say, public institutions in order for them to reduce their energy and gas consumption by 25 per cent. This will reduce the price pressure, but won’t solve the problem. What will solve the problem is Paks II.
Barna Kéri (RTL): So does the recently announced undersea pipeline to bring green energy to Hungary fall into the category of makeshift solutions?
That’s for 2026–27. By the time it’s completed we’ll be in 2026–27. Now a detailed construction study is being prepared, then the four or five parties – including the European Union – will need to agree on financing, and then construction will need to start. Over one thousand kilometres of power lines will need to be laid under the sea and then extended from Romania to Hungary. This is realistic for 2026–27, but the problem isn’t then: it’s here and now. Here and now I know these solutions, which I am sorry, but I have to regard as a kind of makeshift adjustment, because only nuclear energy can provide a real, major structural solution for Hungary.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I’d like to clarify one point: for years, the only indicator has been the GDP per capita of a country. I suggest that we continue to use this. A special research method has now been used to investigate how much money each country spends; but how much money each country spends and how much each country saves is a matter for everyone to decide on independently, and so it doesn’t show anything. By comparison, if we look at the situation in terms of GDP, in other words per capita GDP, we see that there are already seven European Union countries behind Hungary: we’ve caught up with the Portuguese – and even overtaken them, because of last year’s higher economic growth. So, if we want to assess the real situation, what the country has achieved economically, it looks absolutely different.
Barna Kéri (RTL): Very briefly, earlier there was mention of the corruption affair involving the European Parliament. There are reports that the other party in this is Qatar, where you were last week. Did this case come up in any way during your talks there? Did your counterparts react to this news in any way?
Not in any way at all.
Barna Kéri (RTL): And didn’t you ask about it?
No. It’s our problem. It’s not their problem, it’s our problem.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): I’d like to start with a longer-term question. Next year you’ll be 60, and you’ve already led the country for a total of sixteen years. Angela Merkel was 67 when she retired, after sixteen years as Chancellor. Have you thought about how long you plan to be active in politics?
Well, I use different mathematics. I’ve been in opposition for sixteen years, and this year, when I reach the end of the year, I’ll have been in government for seventeen years. That’s only one year more, and so I don’t find it satisfactory. So it’s not something that prompts one to say that it’s time to retire. After all, the beauty of this profession is that if you earn people’s trust and you can do something for your country and for the people, being in government is better than being in opposition. But the balance is still only one, not sixteen. I’d wait for that.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Have you thought about how much longer you plan for?
Well, that’s how it is in our profession. But this isn’t why we’ve gathered together. So one can’t know how long one can last. One day one feels like taking on the world, and the next day it looks like one’s aged a hundred years. And I’ve seen it the other way around. The Germans had Adenauer, who looks like an old man, then one day becomes Chancellor, and then amazes the world. So it’s not like football, where after a certain age you have to think about what’s going to happen to you. God will decide that, and here we don’t need to try to be too clever.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): I’d like to ask you one more question in relation to this: do you see anyone else in Fidesz, for example, who you’d consider suitable as your successor?
I see almost only such people. One has to navigate that subject very carefully. But we’re not here to discuss that.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): What quality does such a person need to have?
State Secretary Zoltán Kovács: Sorry, instead of lifestyle questions, if you have any relevant questions let’s get to them, shall we? Because then I’d like to ask someone else for their questions.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): So not about this. Right! In relation to György Matolcsy’s statements, the National Bank Governor said that next year the Government plans a significant amount of borrowing from abroad. What do you think about this statement?
It will be necessary. As I’ve mentioned to you, in 2021 we paid 7 billion euros [for energy] and in 2022 we paid 17 billion euros; and next year, God willing, we’ll pay around 17 billion euros – or otherwise around 20 billion euros. We’ll need to get this from somewhere. Of course it’s the job of the Finance Minister to prepare the country’s financing plan for the coming year. I think he’s done that, because yesterday he held a press conference on it, and today he’ll tell the Government about it. So there’s a financing plan from the Finance Ministry on how to deal with this financial issue and how to resolve it. So it can be managed, and the Ministry of Finance knows how to manage it.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): Are you negotiating on this issue with the IMF [International Monetary Fund]?
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): So the possibility of the Government borrowing from the IMF can be ruled out.
I think we’re more inflexible on that than we need to be. But we’re still inflexible. So in Hungary the IMF is a question of sovereignty. It would be possible to negotiate sensibly with the IMF, and the financial instruments offered by the IMF are often on favourable terms, but the money always comes with conditions. And what’s more, they’re usually conditions which hurt people. This is why, here in the Central European world, the IMF is a bogeyman, representing the loss of sovereignty. It signifies not being able to manage one’s own finances without special help, on one’s own and with the help of the financial markets. This is why everyone’s wary of the IMF. There’s a ranking. The IMF gives you money at the best interest rates, but on the worst terms politically, and all sorts of other things. The second worst money is EU money. The third – which is the best money – is money from the money markets, because there are no conditions. You have to pay it back, with interest, and that’s that. But, unlike the EU or the IMF, they don’t tell you to do this or that, stand on your head or sing in a soprano voice. So there’s none of that, and the best money is always money from the money markets.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): So long story short, there will be no IMF loan. I’d like to return to the issue of education, because on 30 November another eight teachers were fired, and you’ve repeatedly used the first-person plural to say that they were warned and sent letters before these firings took place. Did Sándor Pintér consult you on this issue?
He doesn’t need to consult me, because the fact is that I expect him to abide by the law. He should consult me if he doesn’t want to enforce the law – but then he shouldn’t consult, but resign.
Tamás Fábián (telex.hu): The question only arises because it’s a politically sensitive area, which has once again given greater emphasis and new impetus to education-related issues.
Yes, people always say that, but I don’t accept it. So if the Hungarian prime minister makes decisions on the question of legality based on their political sensitivity, then it’s the end of the world. Then there will be anarchy here and everything will disintegrate. Then the health workers won’t go to work, the policemen won’t go in, and soldiers will say that they’d rather not go on duty. So where will we end up?! There are laws and legal forms of protest for all public employees. These exist because a strike by a state employee doesn’t harm the private sector in the way that, say, a strike in the car industry would. Strike action was invented so that if workers feel they’re underpaid, they cause losses to the owner of capital, and it can be agreed that more of the profits should be passed on from owners of capital to workers. But in the case of the state, who are they trying to harm? So therefore it’s very important, especially in the public sector, that we respect the legal forms of protest, because we’ll harm people who don’t deserve to be harmed: we won’t be teaching children or parents won’t know where to put their children. So therefore, here in the public sector, it’s doubly important that we don’t start from a political point of view, but that we focus solely on the law, and that it’s known by everyone. This is why it’s important that the Interior Minister writes letters to those who choose to protest in a non-legal way – two if need be, three if need be. Because the point is to understand each other, not to show strength against each other; because who is it that’s suffering here?
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): I’d like to ask the Prime Minister, in your opinion, what state is Hungarian school education in?
I think it’s good if the Hungarian prime minister – and all political leaders in general – listen to those who are involved in the matter in question, instead of their own opinions. So it’s the parents, students and teachers who are in a position to say exactly what the state of education is. I accept their opinions. Sorry, perhaps there’s one more thing, the opinion of one more player in education, and that’s the opinion of employers; because they’re the ones who employ former students who are now adults, and the important question is what knowledge these young people bring to their first job. Therefore, in addition to parents, students and teachers, the opinions of economic operators are also important.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): When it comes to education issues, what the Government talks about is basically pay. I’d like to ask the Prime Minister to name two problems in the field of education which we should move forward on and solve.
The experts don’t need me to help them on that, because they have quite a long list. I take them all seriously and consider them to be valid.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): But what’s your opinion?
I’m not the Education Minister.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): But do you have any views on what the main problems are in school education other than the issue of pay?
I want to help stakeholders in education to improve the quality of education. I want to help them to do that – I don’t want to impose my opinion on them; this is a completely different approach.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): But aren’t there two points that you can highlight and say that we should agree on this, and this is an important issue?
I made decisions on the two issues that I considered important. So on those I didn’t come to an agreement: the Government made decisions.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): And what were those two issues?
Physical education and religious education.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): So physical education and religious education are the two main problems in Hungarian schools?
The two most important problems are young Hungarians’ mental and physical health. I think that the physical and mental health of young Hungarians are the two most important questions.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): Then I’d also like to ask the Prime Minister about economic issues. The term “Orbán inflation” has been mentioned today, but from the previous answers I understood that the Prime Minister and the Hungarian government dot consider themselves to be responsible at any level for the fact that, according to Eurostat data from November, Hungary has the highest inflation rate in the European Union. Am I to understand that the Hungarian government and the Prime Minister have nothing to do with the level of inflation?
National Bank Governor Matolcsy has said that inflation is the result of several factors, and I agree with him.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): And in this not one of the factors is the Hungarian government?
Among them are several that could touch on the Hungarian government. As the Governor of the National Bank says, one of them is the exchange rate. It’s very important that, when we look at the charts, we shouldn’t forget that, since we’re not a member of the eurozone, changes in the exchange rate are immediately felt in price levels. The second issue is the question of the Hungarian economy’s productivity. The Governor of the National Bank has also spoken about this. The third is the issue of high state debt. In 2010 we inherited a level of Hungarian public debt that stood at 82 per cent of GDP, and now we’re at 77 per cent; so we’re lower than we were. So these are all elements that play a role. Of course the most important is the question of sanctions. If there were no sanctions, if the price of energy, for example, weren’t subject to sanctions from Brussels, and if, tomorrow morning, say, a fairy were to wave her magic wand and lift the energy sanctions, then inflation in Hungary would suddenly fall – perhaps not by as much as half, but then again perhaps even by that much. And we’ve always fought against sanctions, because we knew they cause inflation.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): In your introduction you said that 2022 has been the most difficult year since the fall of communism. This year the Government has introduced windfall taxes and abolished or partially abolished tax allowances for the general public. I’d like to ask if we can rule out the possibility that the Government will introduce new taxes in 2023 – either in the form of windfall taxes, or the abolition of other tax allowances for the general population.
We haven’t abolished tax allowances for the public: we’ve introduced them. We’ve introduced the thirteenth month’s pension. We’ve given full income tax exemption to people under 25. We’ve given back a substantial part of the personal income tax paid by people raising families. I wouldn’t call these the abolition of allowances. It’s a defining characteristic of the Hungarian government, of our economic policy, that we never respond to these difficult situations with austerity measures, but with measures that bring with them the potential for growth. This year too, we can say that we’ve set an investment record. So in the history of the Hungarian economy as we know it, the highest level of investment in a single year was in 2022. This isn’t a cut or an austerity measure, and with these we’ve created jobs. So our philosophy isn’t cuts and austerity, but assisting economic activity that generates energy and pulls the economy out of difficult situations. So as I see it, we’re in a different solar system.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): The reductions in utility bills have been reduced, for many people price caps have come to an end, and the abolition of the KATA small business tax can also be classified as a reduction in allowances for the general population. So aren’t such measures, these kinds of measures, expected in 2023?
I think the budget will be approved by the Government within days, maybe today. It will come into force on 1 January. We’ll immediately submit it to Parliament, of course, because we always try to submit emergency measures to Parliament. Parliament will also debate it, but the country cannot be without a budget from 1 January. Therefore perhaps at today’s cabinet meeting we can already decide on the budget that we’ll send to the Budget Council. All the measures that we’re planning for 2023 are included in it, and they’re specifically designed to help people, and not to take things away from them.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): When did you last speak to Vladimir Putin?
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): In person, on the telephone, or in any other way.
In person at the beginning of February when I was in Moscow on an official visit.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): And on the telephone?
And on the telephone when I was at Gorbachev’s funeral.
Gergely Miklós Nagy (24.hu): Sorry, one last question: you have a special relationship with Vladimir Putin, and I think you know him well. What’s your impression of how long the Russian president wants to continue this war?
The Russian president doesn’t discuss these issues with the Hungarian prime minister. I can inform you of that.
Gregor Mayer (DPA): Mr. Prime Minister, after all the quarrels and the conflicts in the European Union, within the European Union, after all these threats of cutting funds, isolation, which you call disengagement or Hungarophobia, pressurising, is there a trajectory – or can you imagine a trajectory – at the end of which you would, on your free will, leave the European Union?
You mean Hungary getting out, stepping…?
Gregor Mayer (DPA): Yes. After all this what you call Hungarophobia, humiliation, whatever.
No, we are used to it – no problem.
Zsolt Herczeg (Inforádió): It’s difficult to plan in this period. So this question arises: will the 2024 budget be submitted in the spring as usual, with the National Assembly being able to adopt it in the summer, or won’t that be possible this time?
That’s a very difficult question, and I can’t answer it now. I consider Hungary’s budget planning to be successful, with the Hungarian parliament adopting the 2024 budget on 1 July of the preceding year: by 1 July 2023. But if the circumstances are very hectic and the fluctuations are very large, it’s worth reconsidering this. What’s happened now is that we’ve adopted the 2023 budget as we usually do, on 1 July; but if you think back to what’s happened between 1 July 2022 and today, which has obviously turned the budget inside out, you can see that we’ll have to look for an answer to that question. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to answer it, because the important thing is to see what kind of year we have ahead of us: more hectic or calmer. I think the earliest that the Government can come back to the question of the budget, the methodology, will be sometime in March or April.
Zsolt Herczeg (Inforádió): Do you want – and especially are you able – to adjust the pension increase in the light of the inflation forecast?
We usually base the pension increase on the National Bank’s inflation forecast, and this is what’s happening now. If during the year we see that inflation is higher than we’ve planned for, we usually implement an interim pension increase, with the latest point at which we need to make the annual adjustment being in November. This is the standard practice, and we have an agreement on it with pensioners. In 2010, in the shadow of the dark practice of the preceding years, I agreed with pensioners that we’d preserve the value of pensions as long as we have a civic, national government in Hungary. If you look at the change in the value of pensions over the last twelve years, we’ve not only preserved them but have increased them, because we’ve been able to give back a whole month’s worth of pensions: the thirteenth month. We weren’t even talking about or undertaking to do this in 2010, but in the meantime the Hungarian economy has enabled us to do so. At all events I’d like to keep this agreement, so pensioners can count on the Government, and won’t suffer any losses.
Zsolt Herczeg (Inforádió): Dunaferr is in trouble, and Tungsram is in mortal danger. Can the Government do anything – if not for the companies, then for their workers?
What we can always do for the workers there is to create at least as many jobs in the area as are in danger. This is also the case in Dunaújváros. There we’re creating – or have created – around 2,500 new jobs last year, this year and next year; and a very large South Korean company with a great need for workers has set up business there. At the same time, the Dunaújváros ironworks is close to our hearts and is part of Hungary’s industrial history, but I’ve never seen a more troubled situation in my life. Even identifying the owners is a problem. We don’t even know whether or not it’s affected by sanctions, which depends on who the owner is: whether they’re Ukrainian or Russian. And it’s also in debt to the tune of some 500 billion forints; so if someone takes it on, it will immediately crush them. The whole thing is so chaotic that it’s difficult to describe it accurately in conventional terms. Nevertheless, we’re in negotiations to salvage what can be salvaged from it.
Zsolt Herczeg (Inforádió): What’s the Government’s position on the new Ukrainian law on minorities?
Well, here in the shadow of the war it may not be easy for you to accept what I’m about to say, but up until 2015 there was legislation in Ukraine that created peace. For the minorities living there – including the Hungarians – it was perfectly fine. There was peace. No one was harmed. In 2015 they took our rights away. Over a hundred schools there are subject to continuous discrimination. It’s only the war that makes one feel that now isn’t the time to open such a debate with the Ukrainians, because they’re fighting for their lives. But this fact remains true, and until this issue is resolved we won’t facilitate Ukraine’s participation in any international integration and won’t conclude any meaningful bilateral agreements with them. And we don’t understand why they don’t want to give back what they’ve taken away. The current law you’re asking about doesn’t give anything back.
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): I’d like to ask the Prime Minister this: after the ninth package of sanctions has been voted through, will you continue the campaign against sanctions?
Of course, because there’s a misunderstanding or misrepresentation here. So we’re against all sanctions: we oppose the sanctions policy in general. So if it were up to us, there would be no sanctions policy – or if there were, it would be much narrower, much more targeted and much better designed. Because sanctions aren’t good. This is why we don’t vote for them in the sense that we always speak out against them; but in the end it’s the EU that decides, and we don’t veto them. So if you want to be fair to me, it’s perhaps better to say that we haven’t vetoed all the sanctions; but I haven’t supported any of them and I won’t support any of them in the future. And you can’t veto every time, as that would destroy the unity of the EU. So we have to select those points on which it’s a matter of national interest for us to accept the breaking of unity that comes with a veto. On those points we’ll accept it, but that can’t be an everyday situation. But we don’t support the sanctions and we don’t vote for them: all that happens is that we don’t veto them, so we don’t prevent the other twenty-six countries from putting them into effect – although we’d be inclined to do so.
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): Staying with sanctions, the Government has blamed EU sanctions for the November petrol panic. Can you name any sanctions that have had an impact on the Hungarian economy, but not on the EU oil market?
How long do I have to think about my answer? I’d have to scroll through all the sanctions measures, and there are hundreds of them.
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): There may have been such a sanction, but there wasn’t such a petrol panic elsewhere. So do you know of any sanctions that you think caused this?
A petrol panic?
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): There was a time when there were huge queues at the filling stations and people didn’t have access to enough petrol. I’m thinking of this situation.
Yes, but this isn’t the same. The cause was that we’re Hungarians. So here in Hungary, if I were to announce that there would be no sugar, everyone would go to the supermarket. How can I put it? In Hungary, the start of certain processes isn’t linked to economic policy decisions, but to the way we live.
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): How, if at all, do you feel that the rule of law procedure has changed the balance of power between Hungary and the EU? Has the Hungarian government learned from what’s happened?
The rule of law structure designed by Brussels has failed. We said as much when it was introduced. And back then we also asked them to consider what we were saying, didn’t we? This is about the rule of law. For law to rule, there must be clear definitions and clear standards. Now, in matters that fall under the rule of law – freedom of the press, freedom of education, sovereignty issues, the justice system – there are no definitions, no definitions that are uniformly accepted in Europe, and no uniform standards. I’ll give you an example. Just consider the fact that in Germany the Public Prosecutor’s Office is subordinate to the Government. It’s also the case there that in specific cases the Prosecutor can be instructed by the Minister of Justice. In specific criminal cases! In the German system of the rule of law this is acceptable. Now imagine if in a specific case in Hungary the Prosecutor was instructed by the Minister of Justice. There would be a revolution! I only say this because cultures and constitutional traditions are different. This is why there are no uniform European definitions and no uniform European standards. And if without these you create a procedure against a country, the end result won’t be the rule of law, but the rule of a man. And the rule of man is the rule of one man over another man. The rule of law was invented to prevent a person or a group of people from imposing their will on a given person, and instead to ensure that we could all be subject to the rule of law. What the EU is doing today is a few people dealing with the rule of law wielding personal power, and those people are exercising power over the countries against which they’re launching procedures. So if there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that the rule of law system should be abolished, because it has the opposite effect to the one for which it was created – perhaps with good intentions, I’m not questioning that. Consequently, the whole rule of law procedure – and the Hungarian example is about this – is actually dismantling, breaking up the entire European Union. This is a major nail in the coffin of the EU. It needs to be pulled out.
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): I was rather wondering whether in the future the Hungarian government will debate with the EU in the same way, not accepting the basic principles of the EU. As you say, you find this rule of law procedure – or the incongruence of concepts – to be wrong. But in the future will you engage in these disputes in the same way? That’s more what I had in mind.
If the question is whether we’ll remain Hungarians and fight, then we’ll remain Hungarians and fight.
Nóra Sheonuda (Euronews): Earlier someone asked if you were going to rejoin the People’s Party. You said “no”, but is there any information on whether there will be a new formation within the EU or within the European Parliament before the EP elections?
We’re working on it. So we don’t have information, but we’re working on it ourselves. Yes. We’re waiting for the Polish general election.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): I’ll start with foreign affairs. Looking at US politics, it seems that Donald Trump may have a strong challenger on the Republican side in the person of the Governor of Florida. Who will you support in that race? Will you continue to stand by Trump?
Fortunately, it doesn’t make any difference who we support; and we’re a loyal breed, so we stand by our friends.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): Two weeks ago was the first anniversary of the Völner scandal. Have you met Pal Völner since then? Have you talked to him?
No, unfortunately not.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): Since he’s not in custody, you might even run into him in the street. If that were to happen, what would you say to him?
I’d ask him how he is and how his case is going.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): Would you greet him in a friendly way?
I’d ask him how his case is going. Of course. For as long as he isn’t convicted, I’d look on him like any other Hungarian citizen who’s suspected or charged.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): A week and a half ago it emerged that two former opposition Jobbik MPs, János Volner and János Bencsik, will continue their careers at the Foreign Ministry. What message do you think is sent by the fact that two opposition politicians have received such good positions at the Foreign Ministry?
I hope they’re up to the job that they’re undertaking. I think there are some such people from the other side. I’m glad that the Foreign Ministry is trying to live up to the idea that it’s very difficult to conduct foreign policy along party lines, and it’s much better to have a broader, national basis. And if someone coming from a different political background – from the Right or the Left – can identify with the foreign policy line at least to the minimum extent required, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be given a meaningful job in the Foreign Ministry.
Barnabás Balázs (Blikk): But is it intentional that this opportunity has been given, for example, to opposition politicians, former opposition politicians, who, let’s say, didn’t participate in the coalition? I’m thinking of the pre-election opposition coalition.
Since these aren’t political decisions, but professional ones, you should question the Foreign Minister on that.
Xu Ming (CCTV): A question about China to Mr. Prime Minister. You might have noticed that China is easing its COVID policy, and are you concerned about the prospect of China’s economic recovery after the pandemic? And what would you comment on the China-Hungary cooperation in the past, at present, and in the future? Thank you.
Thank you for the question, anyway. If you look at the latest year’s statistics, you can identify a quite surprising change. Previously for decades, the first foreign investor in this country was regularly Germany, sometimes the United States – so it was all Western-oriented. In the last four years the leader of that rank is China and South Korea – changing each other, replacing each other. So it means that the Eastern investment policy – which we support very much – provides a good chance for countries who are interested in Hungary, like your country. May I continue in Hungarian? What’s going on in the European Union today is, I think, what the people in Brussels call decoupling, or isolation, or a breaking off of ties. And there are proposals to initiate such a policy in relation to China. That would be a very big mistake. It would be a huge European mistake. We must do everything we can to ensure the operation of the best possible economic relations between China and Europe, and between China and Hungary. You’re now not only consumers of the most modern technologies in the world, but also producers. Know-how is being created in your country that’s newer than what we have, and Hungary needs this technological knowledge and the production chains and capabilities that build on it. So the Hungarian government expressly favours economic cooperation with the emerging countries of the East in addition to the West; and we not only want you to create jobs and value in Hungary, but we also want to go to China and invest there. And we are there – on a small scale for the time being, but we’d like to see China occupy a more prominent place among the investment destinations for Hungarian capital than it has done so far.
Xu Ming (CCTV): My last question is will the Fudan University still [be] on your agenda, and will it progress?
It’s still on the agenda. Since Asia is rising, there are two kinds of economic knowledge in the world today: Western knowledge and Eastern knowledge. And if we aren’t familiar with Eastern concepts and knowledge about the economy, we won’t be able to cooperate with the Eastern world economy. And I don’t want Hungary to be locked into knowledge of the Western world economy. So all the universities, training, professors and everything that comes from Asia – not just China, but also South Korea and Japan – is of value to us. These are extremely important skills, because we want to be there in the Eastern world economy, and we want to find our place there, too. For this, we need language, knowledge, culture, education and business experience in the East. And this is why I support these programmes.
Jelena Bokun (N1 TV): My first question regards the Croatians’ JANAF Adria pipeline. Both Croatian and Hungarian media have been talking about the fact that Hungary has asked – requested – both Croatia and the European Commission for a cheaper price for oil transport through JANAF. But there has been some speculation that the price isn’t going to be cheaper: that it’s going to be higher – supposedly 80 per cent, says Hungarian media. How do you comment on that? And I have to say the Croatian Minister of Economy Davor Filipović has yesterday said that Croatia has the capacity to fulfil – to meet – all the needs of Hungary, but that it has to be paid “fairly”, to quote him.
We want to pay a fair price and you want to get a fair price; these two things aren’t in line, and therefore they need to be negotiated. We’ve empowered the Foreign Minister to negotiate with you, and we’re trying to convince you that our understanding of a fair price isn’t detrimental to you – or is at least acceptable.
Jelena Bokun (N1 TV): Did you get any answer from the European Commission? You were there … no?
Jelena Bokun (N1 TV): My second question regards the EUMAM mission of the European Union, which among other [things] regards training of the Ukrainian soldiers on the soil of the EU Member States. Hungary isn’t a part of it, Croatia isn’t also: the Croatian Parliament voted “no” and rejected it. What do you think of the decision of Croatia? And I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but the Croatian president Zoran Milanović agrees with you, and the Prime Minister thinks we should have been a part of this initiative.
I think that Croatia is a sovereign country with a long, long history. So it’s your decision. I don’t think that Hungary can serve any measure to [judge] any Croatian decisions, so it must be good or bad on your own basis. Just probably one small correction: we are taking part in one, small piece of the training process. I don’t know whether this word is working in the Croat language: szanitéc [army medical personnel]. So we’re training army medical personnel. We haven’t undertaken to train Ukrainian armed forces, but we’ll train medical staff working in the Ukrainian army, because we see it as a training programme for a humanitarian cause.
Jelena Bokun (N1 TV): Can I ask you what was the main reason that you declined the training of the soldiers in Hungary?
We don’t believe in any weaponry. We would not like to finance the military equipment either, because the Hungarian position is that this isn’t our war, and we would like to urge everybody to have as soon as possible peace talks: ceasefire, and then peace talks. So therefore Hungary is always remaining out of the military aspect of this conflict.
Jelena Bokun (N1 TV): Okay, and I have to ask you one last question. In November you attended a friendly football match – between, if I’m not mistaken, Hungary and Greece. And you wore a scarf with the design of a Greater Hungary, which contains also parts of Croatia: modern-day Croatia. That happened in November. So what was the reason behind it? There was a lot of criticism, of course.
[Looking around the room] No, no, the reason that I’m just looking around is that you should know that it was nothing special. So it’s a 1,100-year-old country, so we are living surrounded by historical symbols. Even if you look at it here [pointing to a depiction of Hungary’s official coat of arms] you could protest against that, you know, because that symbol’s coming from 200 years ago; or probably here [gesturing to the backdrop to the stage] you could see some symbols which were used in the previous centuries. So that’s the reason why on my behalf I always make a clear difference between what you call Big Hungary and what I call Historical Hungary. So Big Hungary is an intellectual creation of how you could be bigger than you are. But I’m not part of that position, I’m part of the historical position: Hungary was – it’s a historical country which was – like the symbol shows. Go to the Hungarian parliament; nobody ever protested why these symbols are there, because it’s an old country. That belongs to history. So that expresses the national unity, and so on and so on. So therefore historical symbols are a normal part of our life: it’s nothing extraordinary, nothing special. Business as usual, may I say.
Jelena Bokun (N1 TV): You didn’t do it to provoke anyone?
I would have had far better ideas to do those – to provoke anybody. Not that small one.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press): This [his asking the last question] has become a tradition. Prime Minister, our journalist colleague from China asked his question before me, but even so I’ll also ask about China. The Member States of the European Union are negotiating with China through backdoor routes, each envious of the other. But won’t the same problem arise as with Paks II? Isn’t it the case that we aren’t fighting hard enough to ensure that the Silk Road programme and the opportunities for our investments – and those of China – are implemented as soon as possible?
What you’re pointing out – regardless of the specific case – is an existing political problem in any liberal political system: that it has great difficulty in avoiding hypocrisy or sanctimony. Because it’s strongly focused on values, while reality is often different. On human rights grounds they criticise, let’s say, a country where, for example, there’s a major sporting event; and then they go and buy natural gas from them.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press): And they insult them.
And then they insult them. And I can give you many examples. So it’s not easy to be a liberal. So if you’re such a liberal democrat, if you look at the world through exclusivist eyes, and you’re always trying to prove the rightness of your position, then you run head-on into Realpolitik. And then they don’t admit that they’ve collided head-on and from then on put those principles aside and conclude a practical agreement on the principles of Realpolitik; instead they try to explain the inexplicable, and this ends up in hypocrisy. I bring this up here because this is also what’s happening with China. If I look at the statistics of who’s increased their trade with China, I find some of the countries that are the most vocal in attacking China. So these aren’t good things. It should be made clear that there’s a place for principles and a place for pragmatic cooperation. The two mustn’t be confused. Our argument for China is that if Europe doesn’t cooperate with the Chinese economy, it will lose its competitiveness. This is why we must cooperate with China, and Hungary will do its utmost to make its voice heard in this debate, which is an open debate in Europe, on whether there should be cooperation – and if so, to what extent.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press): The Prime Minister has just said that there are two important things: physical education and religious education. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many in your government, civil society organisations in Hungary have performed very well over the last two years – in the COVID crisis, in the economic crisis, and during the war. Despite the economic situation, is there any hope that next year the Government will support these civil society and church organisations as it did last year, so that they can perform as well?
I’d be careful on that. We’ve known each other for a long time, and you know that I’m obsessed with the need to create a strong Hungary. So I don’t like any approach to problems that weakens the country. I always look for ways of solving a problem in such a way that we end up stronger, so that we come out of every crisis stronger than we went into it. But anyone who’s played a sport knows that there are two possible ways of getting stronger: one is increasing muscle mass – which is what we’ve done so far; and the other is increasing lean muscle – and now’s the time for that.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press): So here’s the last strength-training question. Youve said that you’re not going to Kiev. But there’s one friendly country where Hungary plays a very positive role, and which on many occasions also highlights the hypocrisy of the European Union: the Jewish state. When will you visit, and when will you congratulate your prospective old – and probably new – colleague on his success? And how much will the two countries strengthen their economic and other relations? This is all the more relevant because you’re the same as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in saying that you won’t intervene in this war and will only give medical and humanitarian aid – apart from the fact that migration must be resolved there. It’s as if you’ve been talking to each other, because you’re literally saying the same thing. When will relations get even closer, and when will you visit Jerusalem?
The nature of international politics is that you lose friends and then you regain them. And there’s nothing better than welcoming an old comrade-in-arms back on board. So we’re not revealing any great secrets when we say that, while we respect Israel’s sovereignty to the fullest extent and certainly don’t want to interfere in how the people there decide their own destiny, we were very happy with the result that occurred. Because when Netanyahu was Prime Minister in Israel, Israeli-Hungarian relations reached extraordinary heights. He was the prime minister who, after thirty years – an Israeli prime minister hadn’t come to Hungary for thirty years – came here, sometime in 2016–17, and opened up a whole new phase in Israeli-Hungarian relations.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press): But you also went there.
Since then economic relations, military cooperation, security cooperation and cyber cooperation have all been going well. I’ve congratulated him, of course, and we’ve even exchanged views on international political issues. We’re waiting for him to be sworn into office and form his government.
Péter Breuer (Breuer Press): This will happen during the holidays…
And as soon as we’re invited, of course we’ll go. And we’re preparing one or two steps that will raise Israeli-Hungarian relations to a higher level.