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

Katalin Nagy: Last night the Hungarian football team won 2:1 against Iceland. The stakes were high. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. How was your night?

Good morning. My night merged into morning, because the match finished late. This is a passion, watching football is an affliction, and at times like this one can’t sleep, one just tosses and turns. I get up at five because the Operational Group’s meeting starts at six. So I didn’t get much sleep, but what does that matter? I think that finally something good has happened. I think I can say that. And we can be proud of our boys, because this wasn’t just a simple football match, but a battle; and defeating Vikings in battle is a great achievement, I think.

For a long time our hopes of a victory weren’t too high, at least in the first half, don’t you think?

It’s not my job to provide expert analysis – although every Hungarian man feels that temptation. But if I take a look at the rankings, the players’ rankings, I can say that the result went according to form. But the reason we love football is that it’s the sport in which the form book can and must be upset. And these Vikings almost did they. So in a dramatic battle we managed to prove the form book correct.

This week you said that there’s a need for the introduction of stronger restrictions, because experts say that without them there’s only a 50 per cent chance that the healthcare system will be able to stand its ground. And you said that we must introduce these restrictions, because as a result the chances of the healthcare system being able to rise to every challenge will increase to as high as 99 per cent.

I say that with the backing of the experts.

That’s right.

Experts who provide me with the relevant data and figures. The situation is that so far we’ve been unable to detach ourselves from Austria: the trends one observes in Austria are also observable in Hungary. On this basis we’re able to make assessments looking forward to the future. We’ve prepared the healthcare system, and all the technical equipment needed for the defence operation is available – including ventilators, beds, face masks and supplies of personal protective equipment. But we only have so many people: doctors and nurses. And it’s more or less possible to estimate – or at least, medical mathematicians have been able to estimate for us – how many patients we’ll be able to provide for with this many doctors and nurses. And not only to provide for them, because we can attend to any number of patients, but provide for them so that they can recover. A lot depends on how many patients there are per doctor and per nurse. In terms of what we can describe as professional care, there’s an upper limit for that number. And we’d have come dangerously close to that limit, or perhaps even have been overwhelmed, if we hadn’t adopted decisions including a curfew – which no one likes, but which is key. We’ve only been living like this for three days. It will be very hard somewhere around day 10 or day 14. So decisions like this must be adopted when the threat of paralysis in the healthcare system is a realistic one. I think we’ve made these decisions at the right time and, in light of evidence from Austria, with sufficient precision. This is why I venture to take full responsibility for the claim that there’s a more than 99 per cent probability that the healthcare system will remain operational and every Hungarian will receive the care they need, with this many people, this many nurses – and it’s true that we must also deploy and mobilise medical students, soldiers and others to provide assistance. This is important, because we don’t want to give up on anybody: every life matters to us, including the lives of the elderly. I see that people sometimes say that those who died were elderly. So what? Every life matters, including the lives of parents and grandparents, and we want to fight for every single person.

We’ve seen some sad images from Naples this week. We’ve seen people standing outside hospitals, patients being treated in their own cars, nurses coming out with oxygen cylinders. I don’t think anyone – either in Austria or Hungary – wants to reach that point.

I came here from a meeting of the Operational Group. Let me consult the notes I took. The situation is that 6,690 people are in hospital, including 518 on ventilators. We’ve also mobilised a lot of students. We’ve mobilised students from the Technical University, to transport – like taxi drivers, if I can put it that way – medical students collecting samples from patients. We’ve mobilised four hundred students to collect samples, and other students to drive them around. We’re providing them with accommodation and three meals a day. And their numbers are continuously increasing. We cannot speak highly enough of those who’ve signed up for this work. Our young people are fantastic: when we need their help they volunteer, turn up and complete their tasks. They make themselves available and complete their tasks. So now I not only salute doctors and nurses, but also our university students.

One reads in the media that the head of the main clinic in Pécs informed you that there was a serious problem, with far more patients than anticipated being hospitalised; and then additional nurses arrived at the department within 24 hours. Indeed they weren’t from Pécs but elsewhere, though help did come within 24 hours.

This is very difficult. Secondment is very difficult. Imagine yourself being transferred to a studio in Gyula, because that’s where you’re needed.

And we recognise this. Flood management personnel also say that this isn’t so extraordinary. If there’s an emergency, they have to respond: if there’s a flood on the River Tisza, water management personnel from the Danube will be deployed there also.

That’s right, and I believe that doctors have also accepted this. What remained as a debate for the future – but I think it’s about to be settled – is the possibility of deployment, which is more like transfer in normal times. There’s no need for deployment in times of peace – it’s only required in emergencies or in a war. To inform you about the meeting of the Operational Group, I can tell you that we also reviewed the situation in schools. We’ve changed over to online teaching in five hundred secondary schools. There are approximately 2,950 kindergartens in Hungary. We’ve closed 208 of them due to high numbers of infections. We have around 2,571 elementary schools in Hungary. We haven’t closed them down in general, but because of high numbers of infections we’ve been forced to change over to online teaching in 239 of them. So at present the education system as well as the healthcare system is coping with the pressure.

As part of the special legal order, you’ve decided to facilitate the import of vaccines into Hungary. Won’t this compromise safety?

Just this morning at the Operational Group meeting we had a long discussion on whether we should make certain increasingly popular medicines available only on prescription, or centrally arrange for their distribution to everyone. Alternatively, should they only be available in clinics and hospitals? And if they’re given outside hospitals, should this be by a general practitioner, or any doctor? There’s a debate about this among experts. They will decide, and we will distribute the medicines accordingly. I mention this as an example, because it clearly demonstrates that in Hungary the rules for authorising the distribution of medicines are very strict. They can be eased somewhat, mostly by reducing time limits, but there’s absolutely no possibility of omitting clinical phases. Because when we say that every life matters to us, we’re not just talking about being able to cure those who are ill, but also that no one should be unnecessarily harmed by bad medicines. The Hungarian disease control system – which I sometimes feel to be rigid, inflexible and Prussianist – provides a high level of safety: although it’s inflexible, it guarantees our safety. It’s hard to find the right mixture of flexibility, effectiveness and safety. But this is what Cecília Müller and her people are working on, to change the rules in a way which maintains the right level of safety, but provides more flexibility than normal.

Does the Government have a vaccination plan? The other day Professor Merkely said that as soon as there’s a vaccine, the first people who must be vaccinated are doctors and healthcare workers – simply because they’re the ones who have most contact with patients, and are therefore most at risk.

Yes, they’ll be the first – partly because they’re at risk, and partly because they’re needed most. Both these considerations point in the same direction, towards them. They must be vaccinated first. As regards the vaccine, you should know that as far as we’re concerned, it’s best to have access to as many types of vaccine as possible. We mustn’t turn this into a political issue. But there are some who do, who want to wage a new Cold War, playing “East” against “West”.

“What’s Russian is no good, what’s Chinese is no good.”

Of course. I think we should have them all. People will decide. As vaccination will not be compulsory, if there are several vaccines, everyone will be able to decide for themselves which one they trust most: whether they prefer the business-centred approach of a US corporation, the state-developed Russian vaccine, or the Chinese – which is the even more state-developed, if I may put it that way. Everyone will decide which one they trust. Our task is to help them – the public – to have a choice. Things aren’t going badly, and a vaccine is already on the horizon: we only need to hold out for a few more weeks. There will be a vaccine, even if initially only in limited quantities. And in the end we’ll be victorious, because we’ll be able to protect ourselves against the virus. So I’m asking everyone to hold out until then. Everyone should hold out until the vaccine arrives.

Obviously vaccination won’t be compulsory. But experts say that so far around 10 per cent of the Hungarian population have been infected and have recovered: and to bring the pandemic to an end, experts say that at least 50 per cent of the population must have been infected with the virus. If I subtract ten from fifty, it seems that 40 per cent should be vaccinated. Will there be enough doses? And if someone doesn’t want to be vaccinated, they obviously can’t be forced.

There are different theories. I don’t dare to a position, because there are extremely eminent professors in the scientific community, both here at home and abroad, who support diametrically opposed scientific theories. Anyone who takes a position on this must be sure of themselves, and it’s best if I don’t even try. We’ll see. At times like this one reads things, and back in March I started reading a novel which we all know – or many of us know – by Albert Camus, called The Plague. But there’s also an excellent collection of studies cataloguing the long history of pandemics in Hungary, analysing where they came from and how they passed through the country. One can only do this and listen to experts, and in the end we’ll see what happens. One thing is certain: pandemics come to an end; but from the literature it’s very difficult to deduce exactly why they do so. In some instances a vaccine is discovered, but even if there’s no vaccine, somehow, sooner or later they disappear. But if there’s a vaccine, a pandemic will come to an end much sooner. The more important question is whether the virus disappears altogether after the retreat of a major pandemic, or whether it stays with us as an influenza virus – but one that’s transformed into a more manageable form which we can live with. This is something we don’t know. These are all huge questions for the future, which will earn Nobel Prizes for those who can provide definitive answers.

After the spring, after the spring lockdown, by the end of the summer, by September, the economy had just started to find its feet. But now it seems that this thirty-day lockdown will affect some sectors very severely. Will the funding, wage support, tax reductions or allowances that the Government decided on be enough, do you think?

I would classify our measures into two groups. We’ve adopted measures for the sectors that are immediately and severely affected by the curfew and the other restrictions which are being implemented. We’re giving them help for thirty days. For hotels, for instance, the state will reimburse 80 per cent of revenue in relation to guests who have already booked but who can’t be accommodated at present. We’ll pay 50 per cent of the wages of restaurant staff, and if restaurant owners pledge not to lay off these staff and guarantee to give them the money received from us, for thirty days they won’t be required to pay social security contributions in relation to those employees. These are bridging measures. Yesterday, in response to a proposal from the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I adopted a decision to reduce VAT on takeaway meals to 5 per cent. Every day there will be measures like these seeking to make these thirty days easier. And there’s another group of decisions: another action plan, an economic growth action plan. There’s a task force at the Prime Minister’s Office working on more long-term decisions through which we’ll restore dynamism to the economy – decisions with longer-term effects, designed to stay in place over an extended period. In essence these are tax reductions, as our philosophy is based on work: we believe in an economy based on work. When there’s work there’s everything. If there’s no work there’s nothing. So even now we’re not abandoning this philosophy. Jobs are mostly provided by private businesses. So now we must enable businesses, companies and entrepreneurs to retain employees and to develop so that they can hire more people. I’ll keep my promise that we shall create as many jobs as the virus destroys.

It’s very good that you mention this new government measure reducing VAT on takeaway meals to 5 per cent. A good hour ago I spoke to the head of the restaurant and hotel industry trade association, and he said that this would be very important, that it would be very good if it happened.

It was presented to my task force, and then came to me; I’ll probably sign it this morning.

Any further ideas from the Chamber of Commerce? László Parragh has said that he’s suggested to the Government the suspension of the local business tax. This is something that local governments are very anxious about, however.

This applies to both local business tax and corporation tax. I’d say that’s a tough challenge, but one which we might be able to rise to – although we need to find the right proportions. Tax reductions are indispensable, however, because if we don’t reduce taxes there won’t be any jobs. I’m committed to introducing tangible tax reductions in 2021 – in relation to the central budget if necessary, and also the budgets of local governments if necessary. Naturally we’ll also need to finance the general operations of local governments and central government, but right now that’s not as important as preserving jobs.

Last week we spoke about an agreement that had been concluded within the European Union. The German presidency decided that they would, after all, link disbursements to “rule of law” criteria. Earlier this week you sent a letter to the EU’s top leaders, in which you said the following. Hungary is naturally ready to engage in talks about the introduction of a new mechanism, a rule of law mechanism. If the presidency doesn’t want to engage in talks, however, and conveniently forgets that in the summer the European Council agreed that this wouldn’t be included in the agreement, then Hungary and Poland are prepared to veto the adoption of this budget. There have already been a couple of reactions from Germany which don’t exactly show much understanding: they say that if this law isn’t adopted they’ll hold Hungary responsible.

The question itself shows that this is a complicated matter, with many ramifications. Indeed, I’ve written several letters on this – and I’m beginning to feel like the protagonist in a novel by Tolstoy. But this is the season for writing letters. At least they’ll survive, and historians will have an easier task in reconstructing this complex debate extending across the whole of Europe. At any rate, the Hungarian position has always been clear, transparent and predictable. Today I’m still saying what I said in the summer months, and for me this is all the more possible – and indeed easy – because the Hungarian parliament has adopted decisions on the matter. Since negotiations started in July, the Hungarian parliament has hammered a few stakes into the ground, marking out what scenario would allow Hungary to consent to any change in the rules. I’m adhering to this: I’ve adhered to it so far, and I’ll continue to do so in the future. Therefore I didn’t have to unilaterally exercise my veto, because the Hungarian parliament decided, and that was the veto; I simply confirmed this fact. Yesterday I spoke to the German chancellor at length about these issues, and also about the economy. And I can tell you – as I told her – that, first of all, Hungarians’ money cannot be taken away. I’d like to reassure everyone of that. While the technical debates carry on in the background, there will be money, the economy will work and developments will start. These debates won’t affect Hungarian projects, Hungarian calls for proposals, major Hungarian reforms, green projects, digitalisation, the promotion of businesses, the construction of roads and railway developments. Hungarians’ money cannot be taken away; this is the number one point, this is the standpoint from which all this should be viewed. At the same time, the proposed new legislation developed under the Germans’ leadership – which on the face of it seems to hinge on a legal issue, because it’s snobbishly referred to as “rule of law” – is in fact not about the law, but about politics. And yesterday I also had to make it very clear that if this legislation jointly developed by the European Parliament and the German presidency is indeed adopted – it requires a two-thirds majority, so we can’t veto it – then well have turned the European Union into a second Soviet Union. Because in the Soviet Union it was customary to set a condition without objective criteria. Following this a committee would be set up to call people to account over these non-objective criteria on an ideological basis. If anyone diverged from this ideological line, they’d be warned. Anyone who failed to toe the line would be punished. There was no appeal process: “Suck it up and shut your mouths!” That was the Soviet Union. When I read this draft legislation, I see that it’s exactly the same: they want to blackmail countries on ideological grounds without objective criteria and without the possibility of appeal. This isn’t what we wanted; the EU wasn’t established in order to create a second Soviet Union. Everyone must face up to this fact. This is our conviction, but I’m not surprised if someone from France, Belgium or the Netherlands doesn’t understand this, because they never had communism and were never under Soviet influence.

Yes, but Chancellor Merkel ought to have some experience of that.

Indeed, and I told her so. But in the old days, in the communist era, this used to be called “anti-Soviet activity”, and on those grounds it was punished. It’s exactly the same today: it’s “anti-European activity”, and they want to punish Member States. I also make it very clear that we can talk about the European Parliament and accord it all due respect, we can talk about the European Commission and accord it respect, and likewise talk about the European Council and accord it respect; but the constituent units of the European Union are not the European institutions or Brussels, but the Member States. The only things that can happen in the EU are those that the Member States want; and what they don’t want won’t happen.

László Kövér, the Speaker of Parliament, has said that Hungary wouldn’t object to starting the negotiations again; if the European Commission wants new “rule of law” criteria, we can talk about them, but this would necessitate amendment of the Treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon. But this isn’t what they want: they want a different kind of mechanism within the current framework, the Lisbon framework.

Naturally we can talk about everything. It wouldn’t harm for the dialogue to be meaningful, but at present this isn’t our biggest problem, this isn’t what we should be talking about – or if it is, it should be left to the experts. What we should be talking about at present is how many people are dying, how to keep our healthcare systems alive, how to speed up the vaccine, how to revive the economy, and how to save jobs as well as people’s lives. How to guarantee the European people’s economic future. These are the topics, this is what we should be talking about, this is what we should be dealing with, this is what we should be adopting decisions about. At the same time, we must immediately send money to those countries whose sovereign debt is over 100 per cent – which are typically the Southern states. Otherwise there will be problems. And as we’re in a union, if there are problems there, there will also be problems here. Hungary will solve its own problems; how much of the debt collectively assumed will be given to us is neither here nor there for us, because we can assume debt ourselves. Only yesterday, we easily secured a loan of 2.5 billion euros on the money markets. This isn’t about us, but about countries where the sovereign debt is more than 100 per cent of annual gross domestic product. They are the ones that need an injection of funds. This is what we must deal with. Politics, ideology and the rule of law all fall into a different category, and it’s completely incomprehensible that serious people in Brussels are reversing these priorities. We must restore the normal order of life. Let’s solve the problem that’s banging on the doors of us all.

In the news yesterday we heard that the European Commission has presented its LGBTQ strategy.

Well, now!

And the European Parliament spoke about how the restrictions introduced in the spring affected human rights.

Yes. Well, I’m not saying that this is entirely unnecessary. We should have such task forces; there are enough lawyers to fill the River Rhine, so let’s allow them to work. But decision-makers – in other words us – should show more sense as regards timing. It’s important for professors to expose, establish and at the appropriate time systematically present to decision-makers their findings with regards to the mechanism by which one measure or another impacts on human rights. All this is reasonable. But we decision-makers – on whose decisions people’s lives really do depend – do not need to be reading such studies now. We must instead do our job: we must do the work we’ve been given to do. We must make decisions. We must save people’s lives in the physical sense, and also their livelihoods in an economic sense.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.