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

Katalin Nagy: This week saw the start of the autumn session of Parliament, which will focus on the results so far and possible new measures of the Family Protection Action Plan and the Economy Protection Action Plan. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. What measures can we expect?

Good morning to your listeners. Indeed the National Assembly has reconvened after a break of one hundred days. This is the beginning of the autumn session. A lot of things have happened in those hundred days, and in such circumstances it’s proper to report on these to the Members of Parliament. That is what I did. And as you’ve said, there are two big themes which I needed to report on, and which will determine our work in the coming months. One of them is the Family Protection Action Plan and the other is the Economy Protection Action Plan. I see the latter as the one now demanding the most attention. This is because, in the final analysis, the Family Protection Action Plan depends on us: we’ve launched ourselves into it, we’re implementing it, and it must be seen through. And the results so far are encouraging, because many tens of thousands of people have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the Family Protection Action Plan. In particular, I see that many tens of thousands of people – more than sixty thousand – have applied for childbirth incentive loans. Around ten thousand people are also involved in the scheme to relieve them of mortgage debt, and more than one hundred and ten thousand people are benefiting from “CSOK”: family home creation support. I feel that this is moving forward on its own path. The economy protection plan is more difficult, because unfortunately we’re not the only ones in the frame. When you look at the Hungarian economy, you have to picture us producing a certain amount within a particular year. We also produce an export amount – what we sell abroad – within the year. The latter accounts for more than 80 per cent of Hungary’s total economic performance. So this means that if markets are open, and here in Hungary our workers produce competitive goods, then the Hungarian economy hums with activity, there’s money, there’s revenue and the country experiences development: there will be pension increases, pension premiums, and the Family Protection Action Plan. If there is turbulence in our foreign markets, however, the economy will feel the effects of it very quickly. And now there is turbulence in external markets: Europe’s economy does not look good, and the German economy in particular has stalled. So if we just sit here and wait, and – as was the custom in the past – shrug our shoulders and say “Well, this is what the world economy is like, and we have to adapt to it”, then we’ll be in big trouble. So, in all honesty, the task – and intellectually it’s a major challenge – is to enact in Hungary measures that are capable of sustaining the Hungarian economy’s high level of performance, despite the economic turmoil and the slowdown in Europe as a whole. The question, of course, is what we mean by “high”. The definition of high will be if, say, the European Union as a whole stagnates – has zero growth – but in spite of all this, the performance of the Hungarian economy is 2 per cent higher. If we manage that, then jobs will be preserved, wages will increase, and everything in the country will be as it should be. If we cannot maintain this, then the Hungarian economy will start coughing, and all of us will have to take out our handkerchiefs. This is what we want to avoid.

And are the programme points taking shape on which areas of the economy can be strengthened – say, to increase competitiveness?

Well, these unfavourable external economic signs did not start in the autumn: they were visible in the first half of the year, in fact, and our analysts called our attention to them back then; and so we’ve already launched the first Economy Protection Action Plan. So we’ve reduced taxes and contributions, we’ve significantly increased the amount we spend on research and development, we’ve made it possible for companies to build workers’ accommodation and we’ve supported them in this. So we’ve already enacted several measures, but if the European situation doesn’t change, if the dominant trend in Europe’s economic climate is a continued cooling, then there will be a second action plan, followed by a third. We’re working hard on this: we’re bringing in experts from the Central Bank; the Ministry of Finance under Mihály Varga is working on it; and we have a competitiveness council, which is also headed by the Finance Minister, and which includes Hungarian economic players. We’re also awaiting their recommendations. One such major package of proposals, which was submitted to the Government and accepted by it on Wednesday, is being sent to Parliament: a plan to modernise the Hungarian vocational training system, in order to bring ever better-qualified workers and ever better-prepared young people into the economy. So, overall I see good prospects. I don’t know how what I’ve just said sounded – I didn’t want to encourage a mood of pessimism, but wanted to strike an optimistic note. I believe that Hungary’s economic intellectual elite, the people formulating Hungary’s economic policy – including us, the Hungarian government – are able to think through the steps needed to protect the economy. And I think that Hungarian workers, Hungarian business leaders and small and medium-sized enterprises are well equipped to implement these steps, and will be able to protect their own businesses and jobs.

We have recently had local elections, in which Fidesz won in the country but lost in the capital. Have you identified the reasons for this?

I regret that there are several settlements across the country which have elected mayors different from the ones we recommended, but there’s nothing we can do about that: the people have decided, and although I can express my regrets, they’ve decided what they want. From the point of view of governance, I’ve focused my attention on just one point: I’ve paid great attention to whether the Government still has the support needed to continue our work. We might have seen results similar to those I’ve seen in many other countries – in which a government does its job, local elections come along, and the entire governing party grouping and government candidates don’t get the support they need to continue their work. This is because at times like this the people also give their verdict on whether or not things are going in the right direction. And according to the results that come out, a government might have to change course. Here in Hungary 52 to 53 per cent of those who went to the polls voted for a pro-government candidate in some form or other, so I think they voted for the Government – albeit indirectly. So now we’re free of such a problem, we have no such complication. As a result, at a plenary sitting of Parliament I was able to establish that the Government has received a renewed mandate to continue the work it has begun; and so we shall continue moving in the same direction.

The capital is a great loss though, because it has lost a very resolute and successful mayor. Now there will be a new mayor, and many may think that there are reasons for Fidesz losing votes – or not gaining enough – in the capital, for example. Many people cite the Zsolt Borkai scandal as a reason. What’s your view on that?

There’s a debate about the role this Borkai factor played in the election, but no one can establish it. We can guess, but one thing is sure: something like this doesn’t help. After all, it shocks people, it appals them. So it definitely has an effect on people, and I wouldn’t call it an uplifting effect. We’ll never know if this feeling was expressed in votes. In any case, it would be good for us to put this behind us as soon as possible, because there’s something pathetically depressing about having to debate about it and people talking about what’s happening in the bedroom – or God only knows where exactly – of a mayor or a politician, with the whole country peeping through the keyhole. So this is not a good thing, no matter what the situation is, whoever thinks whatever about it, and I find it sad. We will have to somehow move on from this.

But how can one move on from this? 

The teachings which people – myself included – try to adjust their lives to tell us that there’s no such thing as a perfect person, there’s no such thing as a person without sin. So such things creep into people’s lives, no matter how hard people fight against them. The teachings tell us that at times like this there is a process one must follow. If you’ve done something wrong, you first have to admit to it, then you must repent, then accept your punishment, and finally you must make amends. And then you can somehow free yourself from it. The time for making amends has not yet come, but that is where we must get to.

Yes, but the Right expects the politicians it supports to be role models. In these terms, some voters on the Right now feel that they’ve been defeated.  

Not them, I hope. But that’s not the point. No one ever said that in the political wrestling match or struggle there are only perfect people in one corner of the ring and only sinners in the other corner. Life is more complex and difficult than that. Now that we’re talking about voters for the Right, I believe that it’s important that we mustn’t lower our standards. The worst thing that could happen would be if we said that it’s not so important, or that we can simply put it behind us. So there’s a bar which we sometimes can’t clear and knock off. But there’s a big difference between our lowering it and trying to put it back at its previous level, redoubling our efforts and clearing the bar. So I advise our own political community – people on the right with national and Christian sentiments – not to lower the bar. Indeed we should instead continue right down the path we’re on. I think this is what will happen. In my view, the people of Győr will make the decisions that are necessary for the whole country not simply to put this incident behind us, but to put it behind us with the feeling that we are a country of consequence, and that what has happened is what should have happened in such a situation.

If we look beyond the country’s borders, we see…

Sorry, let’s talk a little more about Budapest, because the events we’re talking about didn’t happen in Budapest. I’ve been a Member of Parliament for thirty years. I was in opposition for sixteen years, and if God and the electorate allow me to complete this term, then I will also have been Prime Minister for sixteen years. I’ve seen a great many things. And I live here in the capital. So far I’ve seen two eras here: I’ve seen the Demszky era and I’ve seen the Tarlós era. Now of course voters can decide what they want from the future; and I think that today many people believe that they’ve found someone better than István Tarlós, and they clearly hope that the new mayor will lead the city better than István Tarlós did. I hope that this is the case and that they’re proven right – even though I voted differently and I see the situation differently. But as far as the past is concerned, I won’t yield an inch on my position. I’ve seen what I’ve seen, if I may put it that way. I saw how, during the Demszky era, Budapest became a filthy, foul-smelling, disorganised city which was contaminated with crime and which had stopped developing. I saw how it had become unworthy to serve as the country’s capital city. But Budapest is the nation’s capital, and so Budapest must be worthy of Hungary. Budapest cannot be just any city. It doesn’t matter whether we live in the smallest village somewhere in the remotest corner of the country; this city is still the capital for the people living there, too. So it must be worthy. And I have to say that it was not worthy. I think everyone remembers how it was robbed blind, how developments came to a halt, and so on. And then along came István Tarlós and brought order. It’s true that he also needed the Government’s help, because Budapest was up to its eyeballs in debt. If my memory serves me, the Government had to assume debt of more than 231 billion forints from the City of Budapest alone – not including the district authorities. This was despite the fact that this is Hungary’s richest city. The task at hand was not rescuing some small village in the Nyírség region, or a small town in southern Hungary at an average level of development, but relieving the country’s richest settlement of debt totalling more than two hundred billion forints. After this, I don’t understand how there could ever even be a proposal that Gábor Demszky be awarded an official honour. Is he being decorated for bankrupting the city or for ruining it? And trying to humiliate István Tarlós by making him stand next to Demszky is the ultimate in barefaced effrontery. The whole thing might appear to be a cunningly generous gesture, but when you think about it you will see how absurd the whole situation is. István Tarlós came along, rescued this city from bankruptcy, put things in order, and now the city is developing. The developments which have been completed are worth more than 1,800 billion forints, and there are ongoing projects in the city worth a total of more than 4,000 billion. And Budapest is not simply the country’s richest city, but also one of the most dynamically developing cities in Europe. I don’t like exaggerations, so I won’t say that half the world is coming here to marvel at this city. That’s not true, but it is true that across the world Budapest’s performance is spoken of highly. Now I’m hoping that Budapest stays this way, and that there is no return to the Demszky era.

Just yesterday I read that Honvéd [football] fans are very worried about Gergely Karácsony’s statement that he will call a halt to stadium-building projects. Honvéd fans are now very concerned about what will happen to the Bozsik Stadium.

First of all, let us thank God and praise those whose speedy work means that the Fradi [Ferencváros] Stadium cannot be cancelled and demolished. Vasas supporters likewise have nothing to worry about, because they got what they were entitled to; and MTK supporters also have no reason to worry. It’s the people in Kispest who are now in trouble with their Bozsik Stadium. And, of course, fortunately we’ll soon be inaugurating the Puskás Stadium, and I trust that the City Assembly won’t decide to have it demolished. So it’s those in Kispest who are in trouble now. Three stadiums are currently being built in Budapest: the Bozsik Stadium in Kispest; an athletics stadium where we want or wanted – I don’t even know what the correct tense is – to host the world championships in 2023; and a handball stadium, as we’re hosting the European Handball Championships at the beginning of 2022 I think – or we would like to host it, we were going to host it, but we’re waiting for a decision from the City Assembly. We’ll have to wait for the decision of the City Assembly. The situation is similar with regard to cultural projects. I maintain the Government’s position – which I think is correct both morally and in principle – that we mustn’t carry out any developments in a city without the agreement of the elected leaders of that city. I wouldn’t want to demolish anything. I understand there might be a demand for that, but I feel that would be going too far. There are also costs attached to the termination of ongoing projects, and if we decide to stop something we’ll have to negotiate on who pays the resulting costs and how they do so. But if we have to stop, we will stop. At the same time, there are projects which are about to begin. If the City Assembly says it doesn’t want them, then we won’t implement them – or not in Budapest. The Liget project, in particular, is one such project: there are one or two buildings there on which construction work hasn’t begun yet. They will remain as torsos. The area has been cleared, and we’ll see what will happen. What’s important is that Budapest City Assembly comes to a decision as soon as possible. I’ve already asked them to do so, given that we have international obligations – particularly in connection with world sporting events. Together with István Tarlós, we’ve turned Budapest into one of the sporting capitals of Europe – and, with only a little exaggeration, of the world. And there is a schedule we are following. If the new city leadership doesn’t want Budapest to be one of the world’s sporting capitals, it will have to make a clear decision to that effect, and the Government will adapt to that situation.

Let’s move on then. For three years we’ve been hearing that Brexit will happen at some point, that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. You’ve already said that Hungarian citizens must not be disadvantaged as a result. Do you think this situation – that they’ve extended the deadline again – shows that the elite in Britain or the European Union are actually listening to what the people want? They voted to leave the European Union three years ago.

Yes, this is a sore point in European politics, and an enormous failure of the departing European leadership. The sad story of a country leaving the European Union for the first time in EU history is, at the end of the day, linked to the term of the departing President Juncker and his commission. In the past five years two grave errors have been made, which are linked to the name of President Juncker. One of them is that we haven’t been able to keep Britain in. The other is that we have let migrants in. Both errors should be corrected. We can’t undo the latter, the letting in of migrants either, but under the leadership of the new Commission we could at least stop further influxes. Britain’s withdrawal is now a fact. The British people, the people of the islands have made a decision, and we must acknowledge this decision. I think we have made some progress, as last week we concluded an agreement. At this point in time there is an agreement between Britain and the European Union, an agreement signed by both parties: the Government of the United Kingdom and the prime ministers of the European Union. This exists. I also signed it, or accepted it. This is an agreement which protects the interests of Hungarians in Britain, so they don’t need to be afraid that they’ll be discriminated against. I will always stand up for their interests, and will fight for them. At the same time this will obviously have economic impacts. No one can tell what those impacts will be, but when something is going well and there’s a change, it’s natural to be concerned that it may change things for the worse. The listeners may not be aware that Britain is among Hungary’s ten most important investors and trade partners. There are 750 British-owned companies in Hungary, and these 750 British businesses employ 60,000 people, meaning that there are 60,000 people with families earning their living in British-owned companies operating in Hungary. It is in our interest for these jobs to continue to exist, for these companies to stay here, and for the Hungarians working for them to continue to have livelihoods. I’ve signed an agreement which provides a chance of this. Now the question is what the British parliament will do with it. But there, too, an important step has been taken, as the fundamental principles of the agreement have been approved. I believe that from now on this question is merely one of technicalities. We can confidently say that in essence Britain is outside the European Union.

Turkey’s Military operations in northern Syria. We hear two arguments being made against the Hungarian position. One of them asks why we can’t just fall in line, and if the European Union says we should condemn the Turkish aggression, then we should rush to do so. The other argument asks why we should always see all international conflicts in exactly the same way as the leading powers in the European Union.

First of all, let’s take a look at the situation itself, and then your question on how one could and should think about it. It’s very difficult to see through the smokescreen of fake news and politically manipulated reports, but let’s concentrate on the heart of the matter. After all, what happened was that as NATO’s largest member state, the United States – and we are also a member of NATO – withdrew its troops from a region. Following this, NATO’s second largest military force invaded that region. Everyone was shocked. And once the invading power had achieved its military objectives, the United States immediately came to an agreement with it. Whenever anyone tries to argue about a foreign policy issue on moral grounds, it’s first worth examining how NATO’s largest and second largest military powers settled this matter, and then only later discussing what moral yardstick Hungary should use. At the end of the day, we’re talking about our two largest military allies. And as the United States came to an agreement with Turkey, I believe that in terms of foreign policy there’s nothing more for us to do. Quite simply, we must agree with our two most important NATO allies, who are NATO’s two largest military powers. In a situation like this, what should we think? In politics there are different kinds of people: there are ideologically-minded people, there are philosophically-minded people, and there are people who think in terms of the logic of adapting to international groupings. Sometimes there are people in the pay of foreign powers. In Hungarian history we have seen everything, and the 20th century was a long one. My thinking is that when I first examine a foreign policy conflict, I look at whether a Hungarian interest is involved. I ask whether there is any kind of Hungarian interest in the whole situation unfolding, or if this is a conflict – as it’s outside Hungary – in which there’s no Hungarian interest, and which can therefore be approached with other considerations in mind. I’m only willing to act on the basis of Hungarian considerations. This is also what I did in this instance. I explored whether there was any Hungarian interest in this conflict, because it’s happening in places which seem to be far from us: in Syria, in Damascus, in Turkey. The average Hungarian sits down at the kitchen table in the morning, listens to your news reports, and thinks that these places are far from us. But in reality the Hungarian interest can be found in the fact that there are more than three million migrants in Turkey – two and a half million of whom, I think, have definitely come from Syria. Turkey announced – perhaps only yesterday the Turkish president announced – that they will not put up with this any more: unless the European Union provides money, unless the world assumes some of these burdens, unless they at least send money, he will let these people out of Turkey. Now migrants can leave Turkey in two directions. One of these directions is towards Syria: towards home, if you like. Naturally, this first requires the military stabilisation of the territories that they can return to. If I’m not mistaken, this is what has just happened. It has involved conflict and battle, but there has been the creation of a safe zone to which migrants can now return from Turkey. If they don’t return there, Turkey will open its gates on Europe. This means that hundreds of thousands of migrants will come from Turkey to Greece, from Greece to the Balkans, and from the Balkans either to Hungary, to the borders of Hungary, or to the borders of Croatia. I believe it is a fundamental Hungarian interest for this not to happen. One Röszke [a crossing-point on the Hungarian-Serbian border] was enough – and back then there were only a few hundred people. But what will happen if there are tens of thousands? So this is what I’m taking into consideration. Therefore it is in our interest for Turkey to decide to open its gates on Syria. I’ve also advised the EU that we should give Turkey money: not in general, but for cities, hospitals, schools and housing to be built in the stabilised, occupied territories, so that people can move back there. And then Hungary will escape a very grave danger. This is the Hungarian interest, and I think this is what the Hungarian government should pursue.

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