Speaking about his telephone conversation with the US President-elect, the Prime Minister said that Hungary’s position has improved significantly, and Donald Trump made it clear that he thinks highly of Hungary. The Prime Minister told the newspaper: “My impression was that he knows that the Hungarian people is a brave, freedom-fighting nation, which has achieved outstanding economic results over the past six years. He invited me to Washington, and in reply I told him that I haven’t been there for a long time, as they had treated me as a black sheep. He laughed at this, and said that he knows the feeling”.
Mr. Orbán said that “America will now have a president who is not ideologically hidebound; he is an open man, and is far more interested in success, efficiency and results than in political theories”. He added this is to Budapest’s advantage, as the facts are on its side.
With regard to the wage agreement signed on Thursday, he said that its most important message is that in Hungary work is financially worthwhile.
He stated that the fact that an agreement was reached relatively quickly with groups in society indicates that “there is still common sense among the players in the Hungarian economy”. It is likewise clear, he said, that the representatives of the interested groups have a historical perspective, and remember the situation in 2010, when the talk was mainly about the collapse of the economy.
He said that the basis of the agreement is that Hungarians are able to work more, and to higher standards. They believe that they do not always need look for loopholes in the system, and that a way of life based on work is preferable to one which relies on handouts and benefits.
The Prime Minister said that six years ago even hardworking people could see that one could make a better living by bending the rules and shrewdly exploiting the welfare benefits and family support system. That was the starting point from which Hungary had to aim for the world of a work-based society.
When asked whether this agreement means that Hungary has started catching up with EU wages, Mr. Orbán pointed out that he has never seen EU wages as the benchmark. While experts and some politicians “constantly measure everything against wages in the other Member States”, in his view they mean very little.
He said that it is only partly true that higher wages lead many Hungarians to seek work abroad. As Hungary has become a part of the common EU labour market, he said, “people around here will always come and go”.
In his opinion, young people cannot – and, indeed, should not – be held back. Those who have the courage should go and see the world, but it is important that in the background there is always a country to which they can return, he added.
The Prime Minister remarked that it is impossible to express everything in monetary terms: public security in Hungary, GMO-free food production and the fact that Hungary has not experienced mass immigration are priceless, as these things cannot be readily converted into forints, but can only be expressed in terms of the quality of life. “If in a few years’ time the results of our health promotion investments begin to emerge, and the cycle routes and other recreational developments are completed, Hungary will be one of the countries with the best quality of life”, he said.
He continued by saying that he will only regard his own and his Government’s work as successful if members of the lower middle-class can be assisted towards success, and if the doors are also opened to groups at the lowest levels in society, to provide them with the opportunity of joining the middle class.
Mr. Orbán said that the widely-held belief that Hungary’s competitive advantage stems from low wages is not true. So far the reason there have been lower wages in Hungary has been lack of economic growth, and lack of improvement in efficiency. Competitive wages require competitive businesses, he said, or else businesses will have to close.
“It is not only a historical fact, but also an economic fact that Hungary is a thousand-year-old state with forms of government which have always been part of the mainstream of the Western world – except for the period of the communist experiment. We are at the heart of Europe: in other words, Hungary is crossed not only by military routes, but also by trade routes. And out of this a government must create precious capital – for instance, through the development of its infrastructure”, the Prime Minister said.
Regarding competitiveness, he said that one of the most important factors is for Hungary to be able to supply electricity to stakeholders in the economy more cheaply than the other Western European states. Therefore, he said, he is a committed supporter of the development of the Paks nuclear power plant.
He added that the Visegrád Four’s increasing role within the European Union should also be taken into consideration.
On the subject of senior citizens, Mr. Orbán said that an agreement on preserving their pensions’ purchasing power has been arrived at with their representatives. This undertaking has been honoured – and, indeed, surpassed – as pensions have grown in real terms, he pointed out.
He said that at present the limits of the pension system cannot be stretched. What they can do is reduce the cost of living, in which a reduction in the rate of Value Added Tax plays a major part. Furthermore, he added, the wage agreement now concluded makes it possible to raise the rate of next year’s pension increase from 0.9 per cent to 1.6 per cent.
The Prime Minister said that reducing personal income tax to nine per cent has been close to his heart for a long time. There is no scope for this at present, however, “So the intention is there, but implementation will depend on economic performance over the next few years”, he said.