Katalin Nagy: Ninety-two hours of work, twelve hours of rest, zero hours of fun. This is what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted on his social media page on the last day of the extended five-day EU summit. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. The reports didn’t tell us which negotiator raised their voice or perhaps banged their fist on the table, or when that happened. But were the breakpoints and lines of force really perceptible from the beginning?
A very good morning to your listeners. This was an important moment in the history of Hungary, but also in that of the other twenty-six Member States. We tried something that we hadn’t tried before. This was necessitated by the Western European countries’ declining economic performance, quite apart from the pandemic. In combination with that are the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, which threaten to bring the economies of some Western European countries to their knees. It may not mean too much to the listeners, but let me say that in the coming months the state debt of some Member States will rise to 150, 160 or 170 per cent of their gross domestic product. This is a level which comes close to being debt slavery. When we succeeded in forming a national government in Hungary in 2010, our debt was 83–85 per cent. This was something which I personally experienced as a tragedy, because I saw that Hungarians would have to work for many years to be able to pay back the interest on loans they had taken out. It was a depressing feeling, a bad feeling. And how far 85 per cent is from 130, 150 or 160! So there’s a big problem. And this is why they formulated the idea, we formulated the idea, not only to plan our budget for the next seven years, as we usually do, but to bundle it in with a significant – a complex but significant – economic recovery package, and to create these two together. In itself creating a budget for twenty-seven isn’t easy, but together with this package it was an extraordinary task. In this area there are a lot of interests, as you’ve alluded to: Northerners, Southerners, poor, rich, Central Europeans, big and small. There are a lot of them, and so it’s very difficult to find the middle ground that everyone can agree on and feel is good. That’s why there’s this statistic you’ve mentioned about the hours of negotiations and the number of hours of lost sleep; because in such situations one must create all the negotiating conditions that will result in everything leading the participants to agreement. This includes going without sleep. This is what happens in a papal conclave: there, too, people are shut in and only let out when a decision has been made. The same is true in this case. Hungary is lucky, as am I personally, because I was a soldier. I’ve spent half my life in training camps and changing rooms – and while I’m no longer what I was in the old days, I’m still able to plough on with some of these loopy liberals I have to debate with on my back. So I can bear the physical strain of the negotiations better than the average person – and I did bear it. What’s more, this wasn’t my first budget. Seven years ago I was negotiating on behalf of Hungary, and so I had a good idea of what would happen and when, and what action was needed. So to sum up, in this post I didn’t want to either complain or brag about the many hours of work and the lack of sleep: I just wanted to let Hungarians know that important things were happening at the meeting I was involved in. And I wanted to reassure them that the Hungarian prime minister would stand his ground.
Yes, but in a resolution yesterday the European Parliament stated that they didn’t want to accept the agreement in this form, because they feel that very important areas of the budget in the original amount have been left out. And they don’t like the fact that the rule of law hasn’t been kept in the context that they wanted. Doesn’t this dampen the spirits of those who created this agreement?
What happened? Before we decode the meaning of the Parliament’s censure or objection, we need to know what happened. So if we need to express what happened in the negotiations in Eurolanguage or Eurobabble, we could say that we’ve managed to reach agreement on the future of Europe “through sincere dialogue and after serious negotiations”. If we express it in our own language or that of Central Europe, we could say that in Brussels Hungarian and Polish forces halted an attack by the liberal internationalist brigades. These mean the same thing. The Parliament is unhappy because the Poles and the Hungarians – and I’d include the other two V4 countries, although first and foremost we needed to stand up for ourselves – fought off an attempt to allow others to decide on the money due to us. Through a complicated legalistic argument invoking the rule of law, they sought to arrive at a situation in which the Poles and Hungarians get the amount that is now due to them; but countries which are typically pro-immigration and have hated us since [the migration crisis] want to link the use of this money to political conditions. I’m not exaggerating; they have a personal antipathy to us Hungarians, but also to the Poles, because we won’t allow their migration policy to prevail, and migrants from the Balkans won’t be able to enter Europe because Hungary will stop them. They want migrants to come in. All these countries are pro-migration, the prime ministers are pro-migration, and a Hungarian named George Soros stands behind them. This is the situation. They would have liked to have got their hands on an instrument, a financial instrument, with which they could blackmail the Hungarians and the Poles. But, as I’ve said, we fought off these attacks by the united international brigades.
Yes, but this week Ursula von der Leyen said that they hadn’t forgotten about this, the attitude towards European values: it’s still considered to be important. So there will be some kind of, after all there will be some kind of…
They’ll keep trying, because they’re hard workers – they have to work for their money. They’ll keep coming, and we’ll have to score one success after another. We haven’t won a war: we’ve simply won a very important battle. But let me repeat: in Europe there are two competing views about the future. One of them seeks to consign Christianity and the era of national cultures to the past. They believe that multitudes of people from many different cultures should be allowed into countries: it is good if people mix, resulting in a special way of life with a culture superior to our old Christian national way of life; this is progress, another step upwards on the stairway of history. This is their vision. We, on the other hand, believe the following: “Thank you very much, that’s your destiny, and those are your countries as you want them to be. This is our country here, and we don’t want to do what you’re doing, because we like security, we like order and we don’t want terrorism. We don’t want to have to mix with people from foreign cultures so that in the end – as in your countries – we have to adapt to newcomers instead of them adapting to us. Because already this is the situation in the West. We don’t want to go down that path. We wish you every success, but we don’t want to step onto that path.” Meanwhile their way of thinking is to not grant us the gesture or give us the opportunity of arranging life in our own country in accordance with our own preferences, customs and traditions. They want to tell us that Europe must be uniform everywhere, and we must adapt our appearance to match theirs. This is the bone of contention. And this dispute has not yet been decided, because they haven’t abandoned this demand: they’ll keep trying to push their pro-migration ideology, the complete reinterpretation of the concept of family, constructed families and same-sex marriage. So they’ll keep trying to push things that are somewhat alien to us. Therefore we must prepare for the Hungarian prime minister being compelled to fight these battles not only in the coming year or two, but continuously throughout the coming decade. In this there are pivotal moments such as the most recent one in Brussels, as well as more mundane periods. But in the next ten years the country must only be led by a government, a national government, and a prime minister with an understanding of these interrelationships, a clear view of this battle, and the ability to stand up for Hungary.
Hungary will receive more money than was in the original plans. According to estimates in the business portal portfolio.hu, in the previous seven-year financial framework now coming to an end Hungary received EUR 39 billion, while in the period from 2021 to 2027 Hungary will receive EUR 52.8 billion: more than 30 per cent more. How did you manage to achieve this?
This raises a number of questions. Naturally I was negotiating, but behind me there was a whole army of brainpower, intelligence and Hungarian ingenuity – as you can never be smart enough on your own, and you can never win such a complex battle on your own. So with due modesty and restraint, but honestly recounting what happened, during the five days of talks – in five days – my negotiating team and I together secured a little over three billion euros for Hungary. Converting that into the language of our brothers and sisters, at the current exchange rate it’s the equivalent of 1,000 to 1,100 billion forints. When we arrived at the talks, my calculation was that on the table we had a proposed agreement on how much each country would be required to contribute and how much they could receive from the EU for various reasons. From Hungary’s point of view this was a deeply flawed and unfair proposal, and this had to be corrected through all sorts of agreements, background agreements, shrewd arguments and by inducing certain situations – as one does in negotiations. And we succeeded in this. All in all, we can say that in five days we earned Hungary more than one thousand billion forints. That’s not a bad hourly rate.
Funds allocated to certain areas in the budget for the next seven years have been cut. These include research and development and the green programme – important areas which will clearly feel the reduction in funding. At the same time Ursula von der Leyen said that we must accept that there’s no such thing as a budget without an upper limit, and so we must distribute what we have.
That’s one way of looking at it, but let’s leave that to those in high positions, who speak on behalf of the twenty-seven countries. This is what Ursula von der Leyen has to do, as President of the Commission. I’m just looking at this matter from Hungary’s point of view. What is my calculation? Naturally at times like this economists throw their hands in the air, but economists only understand numbers. Here one needs to understand a country; and this is a different discipline, a different profession. According to my reckoning, Hungary is part of an international division of labour, a large European market. There are no borders and there are no customs tariffs. At the same time we’ve inherited a great disadvantage from communism; and if we had also been allowed to remain a communist-free zone after World War Two like the countries to the west of us, our economy would also be in a better condition. So we have an inherited historical disadvantage. If we open our borders and there are no protective customs tariffs, the businesses of countries with more fortunate pasts – countries which are consequently richer and have more capital to invest – will come here. They will create a very difficult competitive situation for Hungarian businesses, and so they’ll make large profits. When I do my calculations, I look at the profit generated by the money brought here by foreigners, and the proportion of that profit taken out of the country by them every year. There is a sum that they take out of the country in dividends, for every kind of cleverly devised reason. They take this money out of the country. Ever since I first became a Member of Parliament in 1990, over the past thirty years my priority has been to make sure that we make at least as much money out of them as they make out of us. This means that I have to make adjustments, the Government and I have to find a solution ensuring that an equivalent amount of money flows into the country. How does money flow into Hungary? Money comes into Hungary in the form of EU funding, like the funding we’ve just secured. Hungarians working abroad send money home. And Hungarian businesses with investments abroad repatriate their profits. If the combined sum of EU funding, earnings sent home from abroad and the profits of Hungarian businesses investing abroad reaches the amount that Westerners take out of the country, then I can say that Hungary has done well. This is a good match: it’s good for the foreigners, and it’s good for us too – after all we have modern technologies here, and jobs are being created. We may not make more money out of them, but neither do they make more money out of us. Of course later on when we gain in strength we’ll get ahead, but for the time being we must fight to achieve equilibrium; and we’re not far from that.
The coronavirus pandemic. The situation in neighbouring countries is getting increasingly serious. The Romanian health minister has said that recently Romania has become the leper of Europe, because there have been days when as many as one thousand new coronavirus infections have been recorded. What can be done? Will you have to introduce restrictions again?
When I wake up every morning the first thing I do is look at the numbers. To be frank, I always look at the number of deaths first. Coronavirus is an unpleasant disease: younger people pull through it more easily, while older people have more difficulty; there are some who fall seriously ill, and it can also kill. So first I look to see whether we’ve lost anyone. This is the most important number. Of course older people are affected most seriously, and so we must pay special attention to them. From what I’ve seen, recently we’ve begun to do quite well in terms of the number of deaths. Infections are also important, because infections can become fatalities. There’s a connection between the two. So this is what I look at. Now I can see that there are problems in neighbouring countries. And one would have to be extremely dim-witted to think that one can maintain a favourable situation while infection rates everywhere in our surroundings are on the rise, and that this won’t come into Hungary. It’s certain that if we do nothing the virus will be introduced into the country – indeed we ourselves will bring it in as we’re coming and going. Therefore we must now ensure that at border crossing points there are very clear, simple and precise rules which are obeyed by people, by Hungarians, which are enforced by Hungarian police officers, and which foreigners also obey. This is why we’ve enacted all sorts of measures. Transit through the country is only allowed along designated corridors. The body temperature of people entering the country is checked, and they’re required to complete questionnaires. But the most important thing is that last week the Operational Group decided to classify countries into three categories – red, yellow and green – and to assign different protective rules to each of the categories. There is free movement to and from green countries, there are restrictions on travel from yellow countries, and those coming in from red countries have to enter quarantine. Those coming from countries in the yellow category are also required to enter quarantine, but by testing negative the period of quarantine can be shortened. Up until 1 August the state will cover the cost of the test, while after 1 August individuals themselves will be required to pay this cost. If they travel abroad they should include this in their likely travel costs. If we’re not alert, if we don’t follow the rules, if we don’t inform ourselves before travelling abroad, we could easily harm ourselves and the country. I ask everyone to be thoroughly informed before travelling abroad. There’s a dedicated website which provides help in this regard. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of going on holiday abroad; because I know that one needs to see the sea – I myself belong to that group – and one needs to spend a day or two by the water. That’s fine, but all the same let’s have more Lake Balaton and less Adriatic. Let’s keep the proportions in balance, and keep Hungary at the heart of our holiday plans.
It’s 24 July, and at this time of year children don’t like hearing mention of school, but I believe parents may have been reassured by the news that from now on – from September – every pupil will receive textbooks free of charge. At the same time it’s reassuring news for schools that they’ll have the option of employing school guards, because we’ve seen what’s happened in places where students have forgotten how to behave well. At the same time, we also know that the teaching profession is dominated by women, meaning that there are very many female teachers who hope that school guards will be able to discipline badly-behaved children.
The problem is more serious than one would think, and it’s unpleasant to talk about it; because, after all, parents and children who break the rules are also part of our nation, our community. And one doesn’t relish talking about one’s own weaknesses. This phenomenon is a weakness in our shared Hungarian life – one that can be criticised, and one that sometimes we should be ashamed of. But if we want to resolve this situation somehow, we must talk about it – however unpleasant and unsettling that may be. There are places in the country – so what we’re talking about also has a geographical aspect – where things have become particularly unruly and where fundamental rules of social behaviour have been disregarded. The extent of this is making it impossible to guarantee that parents and children respect teachers who work so that children – or kids in the language of our childhood – are able to learn to read and write, learn trades, generally prosper in adult life and become healthy, happy people. This is what teachers work for, in the interest of our children. Despite this, not only do children sometimes fail to understand this, but regrettably the same is also sometimes true for parents. It’s not only children who cause problems, but also parents who storm into schools, shouting and behaving violently. So there are places in the country where, as you said, teachers, female teachers – and although we’d like a 50-50 male-female ratio among teachers, and we’re working on achieving that, we’re not there yet – do indeed feel themselves to be in a vulnerable situation. This is unacceptable. A prime minister is responsible for the condition of a country, and I’m not prepared to tolerate a situation in which teachers – people working for children to have happier lives – are terrorised or in fear while they do their jobs for the benefit of others. Spiritually and morally this is an unacceptable situation. The ways of disciplining children that were customary in my time – and that perhaps weren’t wrong in terms of outcomes – have fallen out of fashion. The same is true for allowing parents into schools: it used to be clear that in schools there are teachers and children, with parents being invited in when necessary because there were problems with a child, or when there was a parents’ evening. Today there are places where parents believe that they can enter schools in groups, rant, verbally abuse and threaten teachers. This is unacceptable, and this must not happen in Hungary. And if it does – as has been the case in some places – we must act immediately. Perhaps we should have acted earlier, but I don’t want to wait any longer, and this is why we’re introducing school guards. I knew there would be fierce debate, because the liberal intelligentsia will immediately say that you need psychologists and not police personnel, that we must talk to parents and not discipline them, and that we must conduct open dialogue with them. I also think this is very important, and there is truth in all of it. But there is a line, and if it’s crossed either by pupils or parents, what’s needed is not discussion, but the restoration of order. Therefore the police will supply school police officers, or school guards. These people will serve on the staff of schools, on school premises. We will only send school guards to those schools which request this service. At present there are 491 schools to which we’ll send such guards, and the duty of these men will be to take action and maintain order. We must send a clear message to children – and also to parents – that there is freedom and there is democracy, anything can be discussed, anything can be brought up with teachers, but there is a boundary that must not be crossed. In schools there must be order, because schools are not clubs or meeting places, but educational institutions maintained for children, and places where work must be done – not by one individual or another, but also by all one’s classmates. No one must be allowed to cause disruption or prevent their classmates from doing their work. So there must be a certain order, and we will maintain this with any means necessary. I could say that in this sense Hungary will not be America.
We have one more minute. The [national] consultation. The deadline for sending back questionnaires is 15 August, and figures released this Tuesday showed that 725,000 people have already completed and returned them. There has been a great response, which seems to disprove the Opposition’s claim that this kind of consultation with the public is unnecessary. What’s your opinion on this?
First of all, sad as this may be, I think that we can’t rely on the Left in times of trouble – whether that trouble is financial, migration-related or a pandemic. To me the fact that they cannot rise above their party interests and ambitions for power is incomprehensible. When the country is in trouble, we must stand together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the Right or the Left, whether you’re a socialist or a Fidesz member: if there is trouble, there is trouble. In my view, those who undertake to represent the people in Parliament – say members of a parliamentary party – standing together is a moral duty. The Left in Hungary today are not fulfilling this duty. In fact they’re even trying to prevent the Government from successfully uniting the country, and successfully mounting a collective defence against the virus. What’s the point of stealing questionnaires out of people’s letter boxes, and thereby preventing them from deciding for themselves whether or not they want to state their opinion? Hungarian people aren’t children: they’re adults, citizens, they’re self-aware, they have minds of their own. They understand precisely what’s happening in Hungary. People who don’t want to fill in the consultation questionnaire won’t do so. Those who hate the Government will write all sorts of abuse on the questionnaires. This is also what happens sometimes. Those who want to join forces with others in order to protect Hungary will complete the questionnaire. We need this because we can see that in neighbouring countries the second wave has already arrived. We will also be facing the same threat. The defence operation not only depends on the Government competently organising the necessary work, or local governments and the Operational Group doing their jobs well; it also depends on the extent to which people are prepared to accept certain measures. We want to know what measures people see as most important for when the second wave arrives here. I’d say that if there’s trouble we must create points of understanding which can be accepted by as many people as possible. Once we have these we can rely on these points of understanding, we can make good decisions and we can implement them together with the public. And then we’ll escape trouble. This is how we escaped the financial crisis. This is how we survived, defended against and warded off the migration crisis. And this is how we will defend the country from the pandemic.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.