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Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: In Hungary the postal votes in the European Parliament election are being counted, and so the final result will soon receive official legal ratification. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Before we analyse the result of the election, what do you have to say about the boat accident on the Danube on Wednesday evening, which was the most serious in Budapest for seventy-five years?

Something like this is devastating. After all, according to the reports I’ve seen, this was an accident in which the passengers had virtually no chance of survival. I would like to take this opportunity to again express my condolences to the families of the victims. I have already done this in person, as I have spoken to the President of South Korea. I have asked the authorities to conduct a strict and thorough investigation into all the circumstances. We want to know precisely what happened and why it happened. And when we are certain of the facts we shall make public the result of the investigation.

Let’s turn to the results of the European Parliament election. Fidesz won the election with 52 per cent of the votes. At the same time the opposition is saying that Fidesz has lost votes.

Let’s call it almost 53 per cent, as we achieved more than 52.5 per cent; and if we round that figure, we should round it upwards, and we should value small amounts – even half a per cent. In politics there’s a huge battle to win the trust of the people. Every vote counts, and the opinion of every person has an impact. We’re very proud to have received such an outstanding level of support. I always say that if you look at the map of Europe, you’ll have to try very hard to find a country which even comes close to Hungary in showing such unity which can be created by people in an election. Furthermore, this was an election in which people voted for party lists. There are various electoral systems in which the real proportions can be distorted in order to make governance possible. Almost every electoral system in Europe has that characteristic, but here the European Parliament elections are the only ones which are pure party list elections. It’s a different type of electoral system, which is clear, simple and transparent. To get more than 50 per cent in such a situation is almost a miracle. Secretly I hoped that more than every second person would give us a vote of confidence in our European struggles. And indeed we received that vote of confidence. We are grateful, and we promise to make good use of it.

Was this good performance enough to enable the attainment of what the Hungarian government would like to achieve, and for which the voters have given their trust? I mean it sounds good to say that parties of the Right won in twenty-one out of twenty-eight countries. But the question is whether all of those parties are against immigration.

We should focus our attention on two areas. One of them is the European Parliament, where matters take shape: fractions come to an end and merge with one another. Parliamentary groups are now being created. The new parliament hasn’t even convened yet, and so a lot could change before then. There’s less for me to do in that regard: that work will be for the elected representatives to do. I will focus my attention on what consequences the election has had in relation to the prime ministers – or our collective body, which we call the European Council. A few governments suffered crushing defeats in the election. The British government was crushed, and the Austrian government has been devastated. In Greece early elections have been announced, and I think that when the results are assessed over the next couple of weeks one or two more governments will stumble. It’s interesting and revealing that the governing parties which posted the best results in the election were from countries which for years have been under continuous attack from the Soros-style system of foundations and civil society organisations, and from the liberal media network. From this point of view we are in the lead position, with a result which was almost 53 per cent of the vote. But the Poles received 46 per cent, and then came the Italians – led by our friend, Interior Minister Salvini – and the Austrians, who are unfairly condemned for forming a government coalition between the centre Right and the Right. So the governing parties which received the greatest trust from people in the form of votes were from those countries which have been under the most attack and have received the most criticism from this liberal network, this liberal mafia. This is a very important lesson for Brussels. This should be analysed over there as well, and lessons should be drawn from it – including lessons regarding individuals.

Yes, but in Brussels direct democracy is not so highly regarded. How many times has there been a referendum – including in Hungary – which was effectively ignored?

But despite that, in such an election it emerges that the most united peoples in the European elections were in countries which have been attacked the most by Brussels – and after all these countries are European countries and European nations. This cannot be called into question. Secondly, Brussels is, after all, the centre of an alliance of Western European states, and democracy matters, votes matter. I can say this – or confirm it – from what I’m now personally experiencing: we won a victory that commands respect, and Hungary has received this respect through me, in the form of the congratulations that I’ve received. Every single European Union leader thought it was important to congratulate me personally on the election victory, which I can only describe as one which commands respect. So in this European election the Hungarians demanded respect – and they received it.

When on Tuesday you attended the first meeting of the heads of state and government after the elections, what was the significance of the mandate that the Hungarian government received here? You had talks with the leaders of the V4, with Mr. Tusk, and with President Macron. Obviously the main question was the identity of the new officials.

Now we’ll see the start of a wrestling match to decide who will be the leaders in four or five important positions in the EU over the coming five years. We’re talking about the European Commission, which is the European Union’s quasi-governmental executive body. We’re talking about the European Council, the President of the Council, who is the person who manages the work of the council of prime ministers. We’re talking about the position of President of the Parliament. And there’s the European Union’s so-called “high representative”, who represents the European Union in the world of foreign affairs. And there are those who want the same procedure for the position of President of the European Central Bank – and those who don’t. So talks are in progress on the allocation of these five positions. We took a step forward in the meeting late on Tuesday evening, which went on into the night: we declared that, when considering candidates for the post of President of the Commission, the prime ministers will not automatically choose one of the lead candidates put forward by the various parties. The rule is that only we prime ministers may nominate a leader to preside over the Commission, who must then be accepted by the Parliament. So no one may become President of the Commission unless they have first been nominated by us. This was the subject of our first joint discussion, and we agreed that nothing can be regarded as automatic. So the fact that someone was the lead candidate on a particular party’s list in the election campaign does not mean that that person will be nominated by us. I could say that we put them aside.

Did President Macron accept this? Did he approve of this?

I’m not in a position to make an announcement on behalf of the others, because opinions tend to change over the course of such a series of negotiations. I don’t want to put anyone in a position in which it emerges that in the interim they have changed their mind. At any rate, I know what is in Hungary’s interest. I’m enough of an old fox in the Brussels jungle – or in the Brussels forest – to know what kind of President of the Commission would serve Hungary’s interests. What’s more, I have a very clear mandate from the people: I must support a candidate who is opposed to immigration, who has national feelings, and who therefore respects European nations. And I must support a person who personally sees the importance of Christian culture, and who is prepared to protect it.  This mandate comes with fixed conditions: I believe that the people have said that I must stand by only such a candidate. We have more than one such candidate up our sleeve.

Mr. Barnier?

As we’re still at the beginning of the process it’s too early to talk about names. We’ve only just entered the ring for this bout of freestyle wrestling for the selection of suitable candidates. Here in Hungary people should perhaps be aware of the fact that we’re not talking about how much influence Hungary has – although that’s significant: one must account for the combined influence of the V4, the Central European countries.

Will it be possible to arrive at a consensus with them on this issue? 

We’ve come to an agreement. I could also say that my first round of talks on Tuesday was a meeting with the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. We came to agreements, shaking hands on some leadership issues – partly in terms of what we want, and partly in terms of what we don’t want. So we’ll be united throughout the course of the decision-making process related to candidates. We’d like to make it clear to everyone that we’ve seen the end of the era in which important European questions were decided by the Germans and the French through the formation of a kind of axis, with the other Member States only having the chance to modify these decisions one way or another. This has come to an end, because another group of countries has emerged which has performed well both economically and in this election: the Central European group of countries, the V4, which has influence which must be given as much consideration as that of the French and the Germans. We face a long struggle to win our place in the sun and to have that kind of influence in all decisions. But now, with the decisions about candidates for these positions, this process has begun.

These questions about the candidates are the most important. After that will we be able to see which party family Fidesz will belong to, or whether or not the European People’s Party wants it to be a member? 

Another important stage will come before that. During the process of agreeing on candidates, in the background the prime ministers must put together a document called the strategic agenda, which will contain the goals for the coming five years. This is also what happened five years ago, and I took part in discussions on this. I know how this process works. According to the constitution of the European Union – or its constitution-like regulations in the Founding Treaty – the direction of European policy and its essential elements of content are determined by the prime ministers. And after this the Commission must implement this policy direction. From time to time the Commission acquires a life of its own, and looks upon itself as the most important body in the European Union: it launches independent initiatives which challenge the right of the prime ministers to determine the direction of policy. I have seen examples of this. So we can avoid a debate in the five years ahead of us by at the outset clarifying the direction that must be taken by the European Union. There are many different types of country, many different types of prime minister, different party backgrounds, and different individuals at the table who think in many different ways about the future of Europe. Even so we must try to put together a programme which can unite us for the next five years. This work is in progress, and it’s also intellectually challenging. It has great political significance, it will have a major effect on Hungary, and it’s also an extremely challenging task from an intellectual point of view. It’s one of the most exquisite aspects of the work I must do. And once we’ve completed this – when we have leaders and a programme to designate our direction – we can talk about party issues. For example, we can talk about the future of the European People’s Party, that of the Socialists, and that of Fidesz. In the European Union we’ve now seen something that we were expecting: a continuation of the weakening of the two large parties which up until now have dominated European politics: the People’s Party and the Socialists. Earlier the situation would be that the Socialists and the People’s Party would agree on something, and all anybody could say would be “jawohl”, or “I understand”, or something like that. And then a parliamentary majority would be created. But now the Socialists and the People’s Party – including Fidesz – can stand together, and they still won’t be able to form a majority. So in the future we’ll need a more complicated consultation and operational system. Fidesz will need to stake out its own position in this realigning planetary system. Our starting point is that now we are members of the People’s Party. We will see what direction the People’s Party takes in the period ahead of us, and ask ourselves whether we can influence it. Will this satisfy the interests of Hungary and the Hungarian people? If it will, we will stay; if not, then we’ll find a place in a new formation.

As you’ve mentioned realignment, here at home in Hungary after the European Parliament election it also seems as though the power structures within the opposition are undergoing a transformation.  We can see the MSZP initiating talks with DK, with the aim of merging the two parties. What’s your opinion on this?

First of all it would not be in good taste for me to judge the performance of the opposition parties. I’d rather just congratulate them on their results in the election. Perhaps I can just say that I approve of the situation as it is. We can see that the mood in Hungary is for a change of opposition. In recent years I’ve felt that increases in the minimum wage, job creation, family support, national pride and the strengthening of cohesion are government policies which are supported by the people. Of course anyone who works also makes mistakes: we’ve made mistakes, and we could be much better than we are. But even so, in the course of the campaign I felt that people feel that the Government is on their side, it’s dealing with the problems, and it’s working on the construction and organisation of a country which is in line with their conceptions. It’s important for people to get on in life and to receive opportunities. So alongside the mistakes, people feel that the Government is working on something like this. So I didn’t think that we would suffer big losses. On the contrary, I secretly hoped that we would strengthen. This was the fourth European Parliament election in Hungary, and our result in it was far stronger than five years ago. So we strengthened. In every democracy one must think about what the situation would be if the current government wasn’t in office and if someone else replaced it. This “someone” is called the opposition, but the people are dissatisfied with them. Therefore I think that the mood is rather for a change in the opposition, and that within the opposition this election will cause a major realignment. But if you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about how that will happen, because it’s not my business. I can definitely see that the most support has been given to those forces with which I have wrestled enough…

Very familiar old faces…

…over the past thirty years. It was due to them that the Hungarian people brought us – and me personally – back to power. I lost an election in Hungary – Fidesz lost the election in 2002 – when the Hungarian people wanted something better than what we had offered them. Then in 2010 they brought us back. This was no accident. We weren’t any younger or more beautiful – that’s not how it works: they brought us back to power because in the meantime those who had been trusted to govern had ruined the country. And those who had ruined the country had doubled the national debt, had condemned people to unemployment, had tricked people into foreign currency debt traps, and had deprived people of part of their pensions and earnings. Now these forces have strengthened within the opposition. So be it: this is how opposition voters have decided, and that’s a matter for them.

Mihály Varga has announced the Economy Protection Action Plan, a 13+1-point plan which has been decided on by the Government. Hungary’s economic figures for the first quarter of the year are so good that this plan will be needed in order to protect these good results – even if the European economy as a whole is not performing as well as economies in this region.

At its meeting on Wednesday the Government accepted the Economy Protection Action Plan for two reasons. The first of these was that while the performance of the Hungarian economy is improving and accelerating, with a high rate of growth, we can meanwhile see a slowdown in Europe: there the rate of economic growth is slowing, and in time it will fade to nothing. So the acceleration in Hungarian growth is occurring in a European economic area in which growth is slowing down. We are part of this area, where we sell our goods and services – and sometimes our labour. And so sooner or later the Hungarian economy’s potential will be affected by conditions in this economic area – directly or indirectly, intensely or more mildly. We feel that we are in good shape: people have work, the minimum wage and the average wage are rising; and I can see that people see the point in work and want to get on in life, wanting to make a living through work. In Hungary this has not always been the case. So now there is growth potential and development resources in the Hungarian economy. In order for this to be sustained and fulfilled, we now need to make some changes. This is the first reason for the Economy Protection Action Plan. The other reason – and I hope that after these elections we will change this, but up until now this has been the case – is that Brussels continually makes economic decisions which are disadvantageous for the Hungarian economy. So bad economic decisions made in Brussels have made it necessary for us to introduce the Economy Protection Action Plan, in order to protect the economic growth potential in the Hungarian economy. Therefore this action plan – a 13+1-point plan introduced yesterday which incorporates developments and tax reductions – mostly comprises elements intended to stimulate growth.

There are analysts who say that this can really help small and medium-sized enterprises, albeit gradually, and that those are, after all, the businesses which most need to increase their competitiveness.

We need to pay attention to two things at the same time. Incidentally, this Economy Protection Action Plan – which placed major intellectual demands upon its authors, and is after all a programme of important economic policy decisions – had to be put together in parallel with the election campaign. So the past two or three months have drained our energies. This has also been true for me personally, because a campaign had to be waged, one had to focus on European affairs, and meanwhile – together with the Finance Minister and other relevant members of the Government – one had to work quietly and carefully on a comprehensive economy protection action plan which could withstand the challenges of real life and political debates. We had to pay attention to two things. One of these was the need for foreign investments in Hungary which employ the most modern technology. Globally capital flows from one area of the world to another, and those who are left out of the global competition to attract capital for high-quality production and development – and the related knowledge, technology and investment – will be at a disadvantage: those countries will lag behind, their development will slow down, and people there will definitely be worse off in the coming period. So we must compete for investments which embody modern technology. There are Hungarian examples of this, but the majority are still foreign. Meanwhile, however, we mustn’t forget that we are the Hungarian government, and this is Hungary, so our primary duty is to support Hungarian small and medium-sized enterprises. Therefore we seek those instruments with which we can assist Hungarian businesses, as Hungarian businesses operate in Hungary, give work to Hungarian people, and thus contribute to sustaining Hungarian families. Therefore the Economy Protection Action Plan contains many such measures: tax reductions for small and medium-sized businesses; increased tax incentives for development; and increased capital for various agricultural and non-agricultural guarantee funds. These will be able to assist in the development of the Hungarian economy through guaranteeing loans taken out by small and medium-sized businesses. Therefore the Hungarian economy should after all be a Hungarian economy. We are integrating into the world economy and foreign companies are being incorporated into the Hungarian economy, but in the final analysis the principal beneficiaries of the operation of the Hungarian economy must be Hungarians. The benefit from the opportunities offered by Hungary’s economic development can be enjoyed by Hungarians principally through the strengthening of small and medium-sized enterprises. In addition, of course, we’re now also introducing something else: we will be issuing a special government security – a “government security plus” – which has a higher yield than was previously available, and which is specifically designed for Hungarian individuals. It is also flexible, as Hungarians trust in the state, and at the same time don’t trust in it: they’d like to receive more money from it; but if possible, and if they fall on hard times, they want to withdraw from financial agreements made with the state. This is what we’re like, so such a government security must be flexible and offer a high return. This means that now people have money, and all available research shows that they’re looking for an opportunity to invest their savings. Now with this new initiative we’re offering them the opportunity to buy government securities, and they’ll be able to receive a respectable rate of interest, the money will be secure, and meanwhile the entire community will benefit. Because if we don’t need to finance the Hungarian national debt from abroad or from the banking sector, but we Hungarians pool our money in order to finance the operation of the state – and meanwhile ordinary people profit through the interest on their money – then everyone will benefit: the community and Hungarian families. So now we’re launching such a government security. We’ve committed ourselves to quite a serious advertising campaign, so that every household will be informed about this opportunity, because government securities can be bought for smaller sums than was previously the norm.

We have one minute left. The question of whether these reductions – these tax reductions – will reduce the country’s revenue is an important one. In other words, can the Hungarian budget – which will be submitted in the near future – sustain these? Will it be able to cope with these reductions?

This is a tricky question, but it’s one that always accompanies the Government’s activities, as we are a government of tax reduction. In 2010, when the Hungarian economy was in deep trouble and in effect had collapsed, we introduced tax reductions and the opposition said that the Hungarian economy could not sustain them. I say that if we correctly implement tax reductions, then of course there will always be a more difficult transitional period of a few months or one or two years. Now I think that this period will last a few months. If we’ve correctly chosen the areas in which we’re applying tax reductions, and if the country’s competitiveness has been improved by these tax reductions, then after a few months the community and the budget will receive more revenue from lower taxes than it did earlier from higher taxes. This is because people place more faith in an economy and are more active in an economy in which they see that taxes are lower. Where taxes are higher they of course try to conceal their income, cheat the tax authority and retreat into the grey economy. Confidence will also be lower. So I think that now people can have faith in the Hungarian economy, and therefore, if we implement them correctly, within one or two months the tax reductions could lead to spectacular results. Since we’ve done this well a few times so far, why shouldn’t we believe that this is how it will be now? And if this is how it will be, then we’ll achieve our goal, which is none other than a growth rate for the Hungarian economy of 2 per cent above the European average. This is an ambitious goal, but I think that it’s achievable.

Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.