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Strengthening the economy and increasing wages and employment are in focus

He said, after the election year, the next two years will have to be about governing and country-building, and indicated that he is ready for the next candidacy for the post of prime minister in the next elections due to be held in 2022. The Prime Minister spoke about the possible extension of the exemption from the payment of personal income tax to mothers with three children.

Regarding the situation in Iran and Iraq, Mr Orbán highlighted that as much as soldiers can be safe, Hungarian soldiers in Iraq are.

The Prime Minister said military bases hosting US troops had been targeted with ballistic missiles, and at some of these bases there were also Hungarian military personnel, but none of them had been injured.

They have sent a high-ranking military officer to Iraq; he is already on the ground and has taken over command of the troops, he informed the press.

Mr Orbán stressed that all conditions are in place for the immediate evacuation of soldiers, should the need arise. They regard the decision on this as an issue coming under the relevant inter-governmental agreement. The legal basis for stationing Hungarian troops in Iraq is an agreement concluded by the Hungarian government with the Iraqi government about the stationing of Hungarian military personnel in Iraq, and until the Iraqi government terminates this agreement, Hungary will continue to honour its obligations, the Prime Minister said.

He observed that on Friday the Foreign Minister will attend the meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers where they will attempt to reach a common European position on the matter.

Photo: Gergely Botár

The Prime Minister also said that the pressure of migration has significantly intensified on the Hungarian-Serbian border, and therefore the government decided to increase the number of military and police personnel serving there.

He said the daily number of illegal border-crossing attempts on this border section is now above one hundred.

He also informed the press that, should the need arise, the V4 will provide immediate assistance with our border protection efforts, while Hungary is providing immediate help for Macedonia with a contingent of police officers.

Mr Orbán indicated that, according to the data of the Turkish authorities, last year 450,000 illegal border-crossers entered the territory of Turkey which is a 70 per cent rise on 2018. The percentage of migrants heading for Greece has increased drastically, the pressure of migration has also intensified on the Balkans route, and as due to poor weather conditions the route via Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia is ever more difficult to pass, more and more migrants are heading for the Hungarian-Serbian border, he explained.

Talking about economic issues, the Prime Minister said the government intends to keep up the increase in employment and wages because there is no other way to eradicate poverty. He said it is a fantastic achievement that for the first time after thirty years, the number of people in employment has exceeded 4.5 million, and compared with 2010, more than 800,000 more people have jobs. He asked Finance Minister Mihály Varga to ensure that Hungary will catch up with the Czech Republic in terms of its rate of employment.

He added that wages had been continuously on the rise for 82 consecutive months.

He also highlighted that the percentage of pay rises was the highest among those in the lowest income brackets.

The Prime Minister said the goal is for his government to be the government that eradicates poverty in Hungary. He cited EU data which indicates that today there are 1.3 million fewer poor people in Hungary than earlier.

Mr Orbán also observed that they will include further settlements in the programme which seeks to improve the situation of the poorest villages.

He said in 2019 the highest number of investments of all time were implemented in Hungary, and Asian investments accounted for 38 per cent of new jobs created in Hungary which confirms the legitimacy of the government’s easterly opening strategy. The Hungarian economy is one of the most competitive in Europe, he added.

Photo: Gergely Botár

He believes that 2020 will be an exciting year. The Hungarian model is different from that of the Eurozone countries in some material aspects, including as regards the regime of taxation, investment incentivisation, measures seeking to enhance competitiveness and its social policy approach. So far, the Hungarian model has been successful, but meanwhile the countries of the Eurozone have also grown, and this will change now. In 2020 the growth of the Eurozone will come to a halt, and therefore the question is whether the Hungarian model will also work in this new environment, he pointed out.

He said, in the Finance Minister’s view, without a separate economy protection action plan it is impossible to achieve the goal of keeping Hungary’s growth minimum 2 per cent above the European average. He will introduce details of the action plan in his February state-of-the-nation address, he added.

In answer to a question, he said Hungary is not ready for the introduction of the euro, this is not on the agenda, but they are continuously exploring the situation.

Regarding the state of health care, he pointed out that the accumulation of hospital debts must end. The Prime Minister stressed that the State Audit Office had adopted a grave report about the situation; the accumulation of debts is not an excusable sin, but a serious affair, amounting to the assumption of liabilities without financial coverage.

We must end this practice, not a single hospital can be allowed to accumulate debts, he stressed, adding that therefore they asked the competent minister to make a recommendation regarding the means that are necessary for controlling and supervising the management of hospitals. They will make available all necessary means for eliminating hospital debts, he said.

Mr Orbán highlighted that they will regroup development funds, and the refurbishment of hospital waiting rooms, wards and connected facilities will be the number one priority.

He observed that keeping health care workers and nurses in Hungary is an important goal, and they will therefore receive a 72 per cent pay rise over a period of 2.5 to 3 years.

Photo: Gergely Botár

Mr Orbán also informed the press that the government had adopted a national energy and climate protection strategy. He said a climate meltdown in the Carpathian Basin is not a necessarily inevitable outcome; we can maintain “the common lives of Hungarians” in the region. However, this requires us to adapt to climate change in a calm and planned fashion. We must start this adaptation process, he added.

He said there is a plan broken down into steps which seeks to render 90 per cent of Hungary’s electricity generation carbon-neutral by 2030, and consequently, Paks would provide the bulk of the energy, while solar energy would be the second largest source. It is possible for Hungary to join the ranks of countries which target the attainment of a climate-neutral economy by 2050, but this would require HUF 50,000 billion extra funding. Climate protection is important, but it is an expensive business, he pointed out.

Mr Orbán said the government will develop a climate and environmental protection action plan with specific measures. He mentioned among these that only electric buses should be allowed to be commissioned in public transport, illegal waste disposal sites must be eliminated, and rivers must be cleared of plastic bottles.

He underlined that Hungary’s starting point is favourable because there are 21 countries around the world which have been capable of significant economic growth, while reducing their carbon dioxide emissions, and Hungary is among these countries. Hungary is in the vanguard of the climate championships, he added.

He took the view that there will be long debates about this in Europe, and in these debates it is an important consideration for Hungary that “climate destroyers” should primarily pay the costs, energy and food prices paid by families cannot increase, money should not be taken away from poorer countries, and so in the EU budget money should not be taken away from the cohesion fund. It is also important to state that without nuclear energy, it is impossible to build a climate-neutral economy, he said.

Photo: Gergely Botár

Summing up his introduction, he said with the municipal elections, the election year came to an end, and the next more than two years will have to be about governing, not about elections. The campaign period finished, and the government, for its part, will next engage in any campaign after 1 January 2022; until then, the cabinet will concentrate on country-building, he said.

In answer to questions, the Prime Minister said Hungarian energy policy has to date succeeded in keeping itself detached from the country’s alliance policy, and we would like to keep it that way also in the future.

In answer to a question about the impact of the Iran-US conflict on the country’s energy and alliance policies, the Prime Minister said they have so far managed to keep the two issues separate and will seek to do so in the future as well. He would like to see the distance between the positions of the European Union and of Israel and the United States on the issue of Iran reduced.

The Hungarian position is clear: We do not support any extension in the range of countries with nuclear armaments in the case of any country, Mr Orbán pointed out.

He said Hungarian energy independence is in a much better state after their ten years in government than at any time before, though it would bring about “a major improvement” if the exploitation of gas in Romania started within the shortest possible time and if Croatia consented to Hungary becoming a part-owner of the LPG terminal currently under construction.

If these two things happen, Hungarian energy independence will be guaranteed, he pointed out.

According to the Prime Minister, it is good news that, in the company of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated the Black Sea section of the TurkStream gas pipeline. In his view, with this “we will be able to supply gas from a new direction”.

He highlighted that in its energy strategy Hungary wishes to increase the percentage of nuclear energy as well as the percentage of renewable energy, including solar energy, and this also points in the direction of increased energy independence.

There is no evidence to suggest that Russian-built power plants are being used by the Russians for political purposes, and he believes that this can be ruled out as a matter of course, he said.

In answer to a question related to Ukraine, the Prime Minister said despite all Hungarian efforts, they have to date failed to organise a high-level meeting with the new Ukrainian leadership, but he expressed hope that that such a meeting would be held in the future and could give Hungarian-Ukrainian relations – which “significantly deteriorated” during the previous Ukrainian president’s term in office – a new impetus.

Regarding the fact that, in the wake of the municipal elections, several analysts spoke about the need for change within Fidesz, Mr Orbán said “regrettably, Fidesz is not a perfect creature”, it can be improved in many ways, and leading these efforts falls within his remit as party president. He said there is no reason to be surprised at the fact that the opposition, too, won positions in the municipal elections; this is, he said, the essence of democracy.

Wherever the opposition had better candidates, electors voted for the opposition candidates, he said. He added that Fidesz’s victory is not final either, they must win political debates day in, day out. He said if democracy has one benefit, it is that it forces every party to do better and better.

The Prime Minister was also asked about the capital. In that context, Mr Orbán said everyone is entitled to a hundred days, the elected mayors and Budapest mayor “must learn the ropes”, and they are in a particularly difficult situation as they will also have to adopt their budgets at the beginning of the year.

Regarding the Dunaújváros by-election and extremist politicians, he said it is the duty of electors, not of politicians to decide which party qualifies as extremist. If someone runs in the elections and is given a mandate by electors, they have a legitimate reason to take part in politics, even if some may not like this, he highlighted.

In the context of migration, there is no need for changing the legal system of border protection, Mr Orbán stated in answer to another question.

He said as the European Union did not conclude that accommodating migrants in the transit zone created at the Hungarian border qualifies as detention, there is no need for changing the current legal system regarding border protection.

In answer to a question relating to resettlement quotas, Mr Orbán said the historical tension in Europe between pro-immigration and anti-immigration countries will not disappear in the future either as two country groups with different mindsets are struggling with each other in Europe. One of them is pro-immigration, the other one is not. Hungary belongs to the latter, and will defend its position on that matter, he stressed.

He added that it is the duty of the European Union to provide for the cooperation of the countries with two different visions of the future politically and intellectually. In this regard, he will continue to expect political debates.

Regarding George Soros’s activities, the Prime Minister said “we have no Soros phobia” but “we find ourselves up against” a group led by George Soros whose goal is to influence European politics. According to Mr Orbán, in contrast to Hungary, in many countries these activities are not criticised. In actual fact, he said, the European Union financially supports these organisations.

On issues concerning the country’s sovereignty, we must engage in and conclude these debates and struggles, Mr Orbán stressed.

Speaking about the elections held in Hungary last year, the Prime Minister said last year was an election year, the campaign period came to an end, and so the next two years will have to be about governing.

The government will next engage in a political campaign after January 2022, until then they will concentrate all their time and effort on “the little chores of everyday life”.

The Prime Minister highlighted that since 2010 the government has been in a country-building era, and they would like to accelerate and enhance these efforts. He described the period ahead as two busy years of hard work.

He indicated that he is ready for the next candidacy for the office of prime minister. However, within Fidesz no decision has been reached yet regarding the person of the candidate for prime minister in the 2022 parliamentary elections.

Mr Orbán also spoke about the possibility of a new Christian democratic initiative when asked a question in connection with the European People’s Party (EPP).

He stressed that that Fidesz has no interest in the European People’s Party in its present form, and so there is a need for change within the party family.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the People’s Party is shrinking, and is losing its influence, positions and seats because it is heading in a flawed, liberal, socialist, centrist direction. The question is whether within the People’s Party Fidesz has sufficient influence to force or initiate a change, he added.

If the European People’s Party is unable to change direction, there is a need for a new European Christian democratic initiative in European party life because the rise of French President Macron’s left-wing movement must be balanced out, Mr Orbán said.

Mr Orbán said in answer to another question that those who say that Fidesz’s politics has been more combative in the past two years than earlier are right, but he recalled that this was part of an ongoing, two-year-long campaign.

“The campaign is now over, we must return to our former political line, for instance, we must resume national consultations,” he said.

He took the view that the political campaign – this combative, feisty, confrontational period – had been too long. People do not like it, find it hard to cope with it; “I myself am not happy about it”. He added that this period must be brought to a conclusion, and they must return to consultations, of which the Prime Minister is planning to hold minimum two in 2020.

In answer to a question about possible government reshuffling, he said government is a risky and responsible job, and without pressing circumstances, there is no need for change. Stability is an important value, but if there is something to be rectified, it must be dealt with.

In response to criticisms voiced by István Stumpf, Tibor Navracsics and János Lázár, Mr Orbán said he is impartial to all three of them, they were his cabinet ministers, and remain his friends to this day.

He listens to and asks for István Stumpf’s opinions with the utmost respect, and he will rely on Tibor Navracsics’s contribution also in the future as he was the only Fidesz member of the European Commission. In his words, he as well as the country need his inestimable experience. János Lázár has great merits in making the government more dynamic, but now his duty is to recapture the City of Hódmezővásárhely, he added.

In answer to a question about the Central European Press and Media Foundation (Kesma), he pointed out that he had not signed any foundation document. It is a private foundation whose operations should be assessed by the board of trustees, not by politicians. Every now and then, he speaks up in one case or another, but he does not wish to pass judgement regarding a single media player, the Prime Minister said.

Regarding media percentages in Hungary, Mr Orbán said “my experience is that there is no love lost between you and the incumbent government”. He observed that if there was a secret ballot in the press conference room about whether the government should continue its work, they would lose 80 to 20. Today, in his view, there is liberal dominance in the world of the media, but today the situation is much more balanced. In his personal opinion, today the media are split 50:50.

In response to an observation about his age, he said in politics youth does not mean age, but dynamism and courage. If we look at politics from that angle, today, the youngest politicians in the world are Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, he remarked.

The Hungarian economy’s state of advancement is continuously improving; the government’s goal is for Hungary to reach 85 per cent of the EU average by 2030, he said changing the subject.

He indicated that in 2010 this indicator was 63 per cent, while at present it stands at 71 per cent. He said it is general practice for the government to regroup developments and projects which the EU finds in any way objectionable to local fiscal funding. He pointed out that in his mind there is no material difference between European and domestic funds.

He said the more advanced a country, the less European funding it is eligible for, and so parallel with the reduction of these funds, it is necessary to increase the dividends brought back to Hungary from abroad by Hungarian private businesses. In this, we must find a balance, the Prime Minister added.

Mr Orbán highlighted that in terms of contributions to the European Union, we are ahead of some richer countries. He mentioned as an example that in relation to the gross domestic product per capita, Hungarians pay more to the EU than the Netherlands or Sweden.

In his view, we must avoid disputes, in consequence of which our financial opportunities could be curtailed.

He stressed that the government wishes to pursue a continued increase in employment and wages as there is no other way to eradicate poverty.

He said it is a fantastic achievement that, for the first time after thirty years, the number of people in employment has exceeded 4.5 million, while wages have been continuously on the rise for 82 consecutive months, he added.

He highlighted that the percentage of pay rises was the highest among those in the lowest income brackets.

Medicines used in fertility treatment will be free already from the first of February, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced.

He pointed out that at present the state covers 90 per cent of the cost of these medicines, and after a minor initial complication, the government decided that, instead of the first of July – the date released earlier –, these medicines will be available free of charge from the first of February.

He added that rather than being nationalised, fertility centres – with the exception of one where talks are still ongoing – had been purchased by the state. They did so, on the one hand, for bioethical reasons, in order to make what happens to the fertilised eggs fully transparent during the entire process. On the other hand, they would like to make this service free.

Mr Orbán stressed that in the future fertility treatment in Hungary will not be run on a market basis. Minister for Human Capacities Miklós Kásler has developed a system regarding the types of centres to be created around the country, relying on the knowledge and equipment of the purchased companies.

Regarding the acquisition of the Mátra Power Plant, the Prime Minister said Hungary’s lignite supplies are a strategic issue also from the viewpoint of national sovereignty. He added that the acquisition is taking place as a transparent transaction, based on the evaluation of an international appraiser company.

He also said that the Hungarian Villages Programme will continue. It is the government’s goal “to be able to preserve the village as a way of life”.

In answer to another question about Hungarian foreign policy, he confirmed that it must rest on the foundations of national interests. “An exclusively value-based foreign policy which entirely dispenses with pragmatism […] necessarily leads to a policy that is incapable of compromise,” he argued, stating that in foreign policy results can only be achieved through compromise because other than compromise, countries only have two other options: “isolation and war”.

He said Hungary does not give up its principles when it comes to agreements with Turkey or any Asian power, “but pursues a foreign policy”. He does not accept a foreign policy that is based purely on values because that would “completely disarm” Hungary. “Hungarian national interests must be our starting point,” he pointed out, also observing that “whatever others might say, they do the same”.

In this context, he also highlighted that he regards Central Asia as a key region from the viewpoint of the next few decades; these countries have “a positive bias” for Hungary, and represent a major opportunity.

In answer to another journalist’s question, he also said that Hungary is very active in doing all it can for helping persecuted Christians. Their protection requires diplomatic action which Hungary takes “modestly and in secret”.

He finally informed members of the press that there are ongoing consultations about the extension of personal income tax exemption to mothers with three children in continuation of the family protection action plan.

According to the Prime Minister, demographic challenges present the greatest problems for Hungary. If “we want Hungarian children, not immigrants” and the Hungarian economy is able to generate the necessary resources, the only solution is to use as much as possible of the available resources for supporting families and the raising of children.

Mr Orbán would like to extend exemption from the payment of personal income tax originally offered to mothers with four children to mothers with three children as well. The goal is for the family protection action plan to lay down that from the first of January 2021 women who gave birth to and raise three children should be exempt from the payment of personal income tax for the rest of their lives. He added that they are engaged in intensive professional consultations regarding this measure with Finance Minister Mihály Varga.