Regarding the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, at the international press conference the Prime Minister said today the main emphasis is on the booster vaccination and the inoculation of children aged between 5 and 11 years.
He said as regards third vaccinations, Hungary is again the fastest: in Hungary 32 per cent of the population have received the third dose of the vaccine, while the EU average is just 21.5 per cent.
The Prime Minister took the view that 2021 has been a very difficult year, it has taken its toll on the whole world, including Hungary, and in the lives of the Hungarian people this year has been about the fight against the virus and the restarting of the economy.
He added that in 2021 the fight against the coronavirus pandemic has not been without a means anymore as members of the global scientific community have developed vaccines against the virus, and so it was possible to change over from the former defence effort that was confined to isolation and quarantine to a vaccination-based defence effort.
He recalled that already at the beginning of 2021 Hungary took the view that this was the way of the future, meaning that we can only put up a meaningful fight against the virus with the aid of the vaccine. With everything else we can only gain time, but we can only win with the vaccine, Mr Orbán said.
Recalling the debates that took place at the beginning of the year, he said from all over the world Hungary procured vaccines which provided effective protection, and Hungary achieved the vaccination of sixty per cent of its population – of 5.5 million people – at record speed.
He added that “from here, however, we haven’t made much progress since,” some 6.2 million people have had themselves vaccinated. They are trying to convince people in vain, the number of vaccinations is not going above that number, he said.
Mr Orbán offered his condolences to those “who have lost loved ones in their families” and also condoled with those who are ill now, wishing them a swift recovery.
He said the government based its policies on the results of the national consultations – in which more than 2 million people took part – both as regarded the fight against the virus and the restarting of the economy.
The Prime Minister stated that the government had spent HUF 1.700 billion on supporting investments, awarded to 1,435 actors of the private sector. As a result, employment now stands almost at 4.7 million, while the rate of unemployment is just 3.9 per cent, in contrast to the EU average of 6.7 per cent. The economic growth rate above 6 per cent this year, which is expected to be somewhere between 4 and 5 per cent next year, is also owing to this.
The Prime Minister further informed members of the press that Fidesz would nominate incumbent Minister without Portfolio for Families Katalin Novák for the position of president of the republic.
The second mandate of incumbent president of the republic János Áder will expire on 10 May 2022. Pursuant to the Fundamental Law, he cannot be re-elected for a second time.
The Prime Minister said he regrets that the Hungarian constitutional rules only allow two terms for the head of state, and then added that forty Members of Parliament are required to make a recommendation for the person of the new head of state. Fidesz’s party leadership debated the issue, and have already made their recommendation officially, Mr Orbán said.
He also said as expected from 1 January the position of minister without portfolio for families will be held by a new person.
He said at Fidesz’s leadership meeting they decided on Katalin Novák from among several candidates, after a thorough discussion. In answer to a question about how the minister for families will be able to represent the unity of the nation as a Fidesz politician, Mr Orbán said János Áder is an excellent president of Hungary, “despite the fact that there was hardly anybody more inside Fidesz than him”. If Árpád Göncz and János Áder managed that feat, why would not Katalin Novák be able to? he asked.
The Prime Minister described the boosting of the economy, the continued fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the child protection referendum as the three most important topics of 2022.
He observed that the government will also implement previously unknown economic policy measures, “ground-breaking experiments,” including the exemption of the under 25s from the payment of personal income tax.
He added that the fight against the pandemic which will remain vaccination-based must be continued.
He said of Pfizer alone Hungary has a stock of more than 2.4 million doses, and the government has also ordered 2 million doses suitable for the vaccination of children. As at the weekend EU summit the European Commission announced that a new type of vaccine will be required for the omicron variant, the government will order 9.5 million doses of the new vaccine; these will arrive in the second half of next year and in 2023, and the consignment will also include 1.5 million doses for the vaccination of children. There were, there are and there will be enough vaccines, Mr Orbán stressed.
In the context of the child protection referendum, the Prime Minister said there is a debate about who should oversee the education of our children, whose permission should be required and what exclusive rights parents have. In this regard, we reject the EU approach, he stated, indicating that similar to the topic of immigration, on this issue, too, Hungarians will be able to state their opinion in a referendum which is, in his view, a democratic measure that deserves respect.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán expects the European Commission to reclassify nuclear energy as green energy and to approve the temporary sustainability of energy gained from gas.
The Prime Minister said at the Thursday meeting of the European Council extending well into the night, the parties were unable to come to an agreement on energy prices. At the same time, he expects that before the end of the year the European Commission will present a proposal reflecting the opinion of the overwhelming majority that became evident also during the debate in Brussels.
Mr Orbán said “those who are opposed to nuclear energy are not sufficient to create a blocking minority”. Therefore, before the end of the year the Prime Minister expects a European position from the Commission that lays down that without nuclear energy our climate protection goals cannot be achieved. Therefore, nuclear energy, too, will be classified as sustainable, green energy, and the Commission will further lay down that energy gained from gas must be accepted as sustainable on a temporary basis.
As a result, it will finally be possible to implement throughout Europe the projects which could give the development of the nuclear industry a huge boost. As at present these technologies are not classified as sustainable, banks either provide no credit or only provide credit with a large surcharge for projects of this kind. With this, “we could make Europe’s energy supply safe also in the longer run,” he added.
He said the reduction of household utility bills in Hungary provoked many debates, but now when prices have “skyrocketed,” this arrangement is showing its “advantageous face,” given that in Western Europe the household utility bills of families have doubled or tripled.
He also spoke about the EU opinion that an extra tax should be levied not only on power stations, but also on property and car owners. Central European countries without exception are opposed to this, but so is France. Whether they will succeed in eventually preventing this from happening will be a question of the next two to three months, he added.
In answer to a question, he said wherever it was possible to restrict prices, the government decided in favour of price regulation. In other cases, they regard a rise in income levels as the best means to counter inflation. He also spoke about pay rises and the re-introduction of the full amount of the thirteenth monthly pension next year.
Changing the subject, the Prime Minister stated that Hungary will not change its border protection protocol, and will not let anyone in.
Mr Orbán recalled that the Hungarian Constitutional Court made it perfectly clear: it does not matter how the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled, Hungary must protect its borders.
He said in the wake of the decision the government explored its opportunities and decided “to do nothing to change the protocol of border protection, meaning that we will maintain the exact same protocol that we have operated so far even if the European Court has called upon us to change it. We won’t change it, and we won’t let anyone in.”
He said while only Poland is being taken to task, there are eight countries in Europe which ruled that, in the event of constitutional regulation, national law takes precedence over EU law.
He also pointed out that the Constitutional Court’s ruling “includes an especially high-quality innovation” as it transferred the issue of human dignity from the realm of individual rights to the realm of the cultural environment that surrounds the individual. Not only the abstract concept of freedom is under protection; human dignity also includes that the individual is surrounded by a cultural environment in the place where he or she lives, and no one has the right to change that, he explained.
The Prime Minister pointed out in the context of the Constitutional Court’s decision: “in Hungary the Constitutional Court extended protection within the meaning of fundamental rights to the indigenous population and the cultural fabric of the indigenous population”.
Regarding immigration, he said, in addition to the Mediterranean and Balkans routes, now a third “front line” has opened from the direction of Belarus towards the Baltic states and Poland.
In his view, ever more countries are becoming involved in this conflict not on an ideological level, but on a practical one as this problem is emerging at their borders, too.
He said Hungary’s position is clear, and there are ever more people in Europe who say that the asylum requests of migrants should be submitted and processed not in the given country’s territory, but outside the Schengen Area, he explained.
Mr Orbán further highlighted that there is a debate about whether when borders are protected with fences the EU is prepared to assume any of the costs involved.
He took the view that “members of the Commission are making every effort” to preserve the doctrine they inherited from Angela Merkel, and to not pay for fences. By contrast, they are ready to finance everything else, including all sorts of gadgets.
According to the Prime Minister, this unreasonable distinction must be brought to an end, and it must be made clear that the financial burdens of those who are protecting the interior of Europe must be assumed by Brussels. He said Brussels should assume the costs of the construction of the fence in full or partially, and Brussels should also foot half of the maintenance costs.
He said in summary that their intentions, including the elections, are clear: Hungary is going forward, not backward.
In answer to a question, the Prime Minister said he would like to avoid having to make the vaccine against the coronavirus compulsory.
Describing the third booster shot as key, Mr Orbán said “ordering compulsory vaccination would be an evident solution” – as it is being considered in other countries. However, given the Hungarian cultural environment, the Hungarian mindset, this would result in even greater resistance.
It is easier to reach people’s hearts and minds with convincing arguments than with compulsory regulations, and so the government will do everything it can to convince the Hungarian people, the Prime Minister stated.
Mr Orbán said if warranted by the situation, they will introduce restrictions for New Year’s Eve, but at this time he believes that the epidemic data are improving.
At the same time, they are planning to tie the validity of the immunity certificate to the third dose of the vaccine at the end of January at the latest, meaning that the documents issued earlier after two vaccinations will cease to be valid if the second dose of the vaccine is not followed by a third one.
In answer to a question relating to claims that experts had serious concerns at the time of the authorisation of the Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines, the Prime Minister said the World Health Organization had approved the Sinopharm vaccine.
At the same time, as regards Sputnik, Hungarian experts visited two separate factories, he added. In his view, they proceeded with due care.
He also highlighted that Hungary is a part of the European wave of the epidemic: what will happen in the EU will also happen in Hungary.
Regarding the fight against the epidemic, he took the view that they had done everything that was humanly possible.
According to the Prime Minister, the prices of coronavirus rapid tests must be investigated by the competition authority; he himself does not understand why tests cost twice as much in Hungary as in Western Europe.
“The present situation is not acceptable under any circumstances,” he said in summary.
The Prime Minister was asked about the 16,000 ventilators procured at the beginning of the pandemic. He recalled that when “the virus first struck” experts estimated the necessary number of ventilators, based on a worst-case scenario, to be somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000, and so the government, aiming for maximum security, decided to procure as many as 15,000 to 16,000 ventilators as quickly as possible.
“Because you can’t play games with people’s health, and especially with people’s lives, and so procurements must always be over-planned, rather than under-planned,” he added.
In answer to a question about how much money the government stood to lose on the procurements, he said “we believe that we have gained many hundreds of lives”.
Mr Orbán was asked about the difference between the numbers of the Hungarian government and Frontex in connection with migration. The Prime Minister said Hungary keeps a record of the number of border-crossing attempts, and so far this year there have been as many as a hundred thousand.
In answer to the question of whether he would be willing to accept any compromise if a daily fine were to be imposed on Hungary, Mr Orbán said the EU rules currently in effect were adopted before 2015, the start of mass migration, not in relation to the present situation.
Hungary is a victim of this: it was condemned on the basis of regulations adopted during peacetime, and as a result, Hungary could even be penalised financially. Meanwhile, the reality now accepted by everyone is that migrants cannot be allowed in, he said.
In his view, this contradiction can be resolved if the European rules of migration are changed and are adapted to reality. The Prime Minister said a few months ago the European Council asked the European Commission to change “the regulations conceived in peacetime”.
Mr Orbán expressed hope that the European Union would see sense and would not impose a fine on Hungary in the meantime.
Hungary is defending not only its own territory, but also that of Europe. This is the historical mission of the Hungarian people, he observed.
He took the view that today the European Union’s mainstream is observing migration on philosophical grounds, as the best thing in the existing world today.
By contrast, Hungary is firmly rooted in reality, being at the front line, and is unable to philosophise because it must protect its borders, he said.
Regarding the retention of the disbursement of funds from the EU recovery fund, Mr Orbán said the European Union has taken out a loan on behalf of all the Member States which is then distributed to the Member States either in the form of credit or in the form of grants.
As Hungary, too, assumes responsibility for this credit facility, no one has the right to “not give us the money that we’re entitled to on the basis of the regulations,” he said.
According to Mr Orbán, the Commission’s conduct amounts to “a brutal act of sabotage” from the viewpoint of the European Union’s unity and future.
“This is a short-sighted, ideologically driven decision on the Commission’s part that is under party-political influence,” the purpose of which is to help the opposition to government in the spring elections. Additionally, the retention of funds frustrates fair competition among the Member States as others were given access to funds already in June, while Hungary has still not received its share in December. At the same time, as there are no legal grounds for the Commission’s decision, sooner or later, Hungary, too, will receive the funds it is entitled to, he said.
He added that the Commission will not achieve its goal by paralysing a programme as in the last fourth quarter alone transfers worth EUR 1.4 billion have been received by Hungary from other EU funds.
In connection with the long-term Russian gas supply agreement, the Prime Minister did not reveal the specific price stated in the agreement, but merely stated that it was a favourable one. He observed that while the suppliers of liquefied gas do not always observe agreements, Russia does.
Regarding the deficit of the budget, the Prime Minister said only a negligible part of the deficit is attributable to the maintenance of the reduction of household utility bills.
The government is required to provide compensation for the losses of the Hungarian electricity company Magyar Villamos Művek and the Mátra Power plant, amounting to tens of billions of forints, he added.
In continuation, he said the adjustments made to the budget are in the magnitude of hundreds of billions of forints in order to reduce the 5.9 per cent deficit planned for 2022 to at least 4.9 per cent.
They are able to take care of this by rescheduling a few acquisitions due for next year, including that of the Budapest airport, as well as some developments, but no plans will be abandoned, he said.
He said explaining the change in the deficit target that the average of the fiscal deficit of EU Member States will be lower than planned earlier, and the government does not want to risk the country’s financial stability. Therefore, they have decided to adhere to the mean deficit target of Member States.
In answer to another question about how to take care of the pay rises of the mayors of settlements in the absence of excess funds, Mr Orbán said “they’re smart, they’ll work it out”.
Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said in the case of the local
governments of settlements with a population of less than 25,000, the government will provide full compensation for the reduction of the local trade tax, while in the case of settlements with a population of more than 25,000, the 20 per cent increase in the pay of mayors is an imperceptible item.
Mr Orbán added that the government had not taken the local trade tax away; it is still there in every settlement, except not with local governments, but with small- and medium-sized businesses.
Regarding the pay rise of teachers, the Prime Minister said “teachers are right” in that a ten per cent rise does not solve their problem.
There are two options to make a change: either they will implement ongoing raises or there will be a comprehensive pay rise. Mr Orbán believes the latter would be a better solution, but he is only able to make a promise regarding that once they see the performance of the economy in the second half of the year and if they win the elections.
He was also asked about the Hungarian position related to Ukraine. Mr Orbán said in this regard they have two points to consider. One of them is the position of the V4, including Poland in particular, meaning that wherever and as far as possible, Hungary cooperates with the Polish – who have a rather feisty and clear opinion – on this matter.
The Prime Minister mentioned as the other point to consider the position of the European Council which, in his view, last week outlined a moderate opinion as the EU gave Ukraine no encouragement of any kind concerning NATO or EU membership.
He also said Hungary makes every effort to detach its Russia policy from its Ukraine policy. He pointed out that Hungary supports Ukraine’s independence, but is not happy about the sanctions against Russia.
He indicated that also at the beginning of next year there will be a Hungarian-Russian summit with President Vladimir Putin “somewhere in Russia”.
Mr Orbán was asked about the fact that the Slovak foreign minister does not like the Hungarian government’s “constant references to Brussels in a negative light”. The Prime Minister said of the four Visegrád countries three are not members of the Eurozone, while Slovakia is.
Therefore, the situation of the Slovaks is different, their room for manoeuvre is different, Hungary is more sovereign because it has its own currency, he explained.
He said he had not seen any evidence to the effect that Russia was behind the Belarusian migrant crisis.
In answer to a question relating to the enlargement of the EU, Mr Orbán said “the constellation is not right, but then again it never was”.
The Prime Minister stressed that he would do everything he could to convince the leaders of Europe that the security of the Balkans was key for them, too.
The stability of the region must be made a pan-European interest. If they succeed in doing that, it will be possible to convince the big countries of Europe about the EU’s enlargement. If they do not, Hungary will still have to do everything it can to offer the countries of the Western Balkans, even in the absence of membership rights, every possible opportunity to connect to the European economy via the Hungarian economy, he stressed.
Regarding the Völner case, he said he has known the former state secretary since his student days, and very much regrets the situation that has evolved. Mr Orbán said he himself does not know what the situation is, and until a court ruling is adopted, he is not prepared to deliberate this issue even in his own mind.
The fact that the prosecution service pressed charges is a serious matter, he said.
In response to the suggestion that former state secretary Pál Völner may have also accepted bribes to authorise the tapping of phones, Mr Orbán said in Hungary each and every procedure is initiated by the Ministry of Interior; these procedures do not fall within the competence of the Ministry of Justice.
Regarding Justice Minister Judit Varga’s possible responsibility, he said the Minister’s responsibility in the case has not even emerged in his mind, he is not aware of any circumstance that would give rise to that. He also said he became aware of the case when the chief prosecutor published it on his website.
He added that the government has no competence to investigate the case, it must wait for the completion of the investigation and the pressing of charges. Once that happens will they be able to take further steps.
In answer to the question of whether it is true that the telephone conversations of János Áder’s bodyguards were tapped, the Prime Minister said when he wants to learn anything about the head of state, he asks him in person, and he has more faith in that than in any other “gadget”.
In answer to another question about whether he gave instructions to tap the telephone conversations of journalists, politicians and civilians with the Pegasus software, Mr Orbán said the use of all secret service means and methods falls within the interior minister’s remit.
The minister has a single compass to follow: whatever capabilities other countries in Europe have Hungary must also have. Sándor Pintér confirmed on a number of occasions that in Hungary there had been no illegal monitoring of any kind since 2010, he stated.
He described the opposition’s idea to change the Fundamental Law with a simple majority as not serious, a mere political bluff. He added that in Hungary there is firm constitutional order, “this is not some cheap, untidy joint”.
The Prime Minister stated in answer to a question that, based on the procedural order laid down in the Constitution, the Fudan referendum cannot be held before the elections.
In answer to a question about possible American attempts to interfere with next year’s elections, Mr Orbán said Hungary is not afraid of anyone as it is a state of 1,100 years.
We have already seen everything, and we are still here, he said, adding that “Uncle George is coming, and he’s not coming alone, he’s bringing all his mates”.
He was asked about whether the fact that the Portuguese company Alpac Capital is buying a majority stake in Euronews can be regarded as an attempt of business circles connected to Fidesz to influence the public. Mr Orbán said “Fidesz are not making plans to forge global empires, I can tell you that much for sure”. He indicated that he knows well the father of the acquiring company’s executive because they were vice presidents in the European People’s Party together, and also at present they are both vice presidents of the Centrist Democrat International.
There was a question about the fairness of next year’s elections if the public service media are not impartial. The Prime Minister said the government is not an authority which oversees public service media, and so it does not and will not influence them. He said he is certain that the elections will be fair, and stated that the government party would never exert pressure on public service media about what they should and what they should not do.
He took the view that Hungarian media are pluralistic, while Western media are hegemonistic. In his view, 50 per cent of Hungarian media are Christian democratic and conservative, while the other 50 per cent are progressive, liberal and left-wing.
What we have here is seen as not normal because it is not an exact copy of what there is in Western societies which in turn “we regard as not normal,” he said.
In his opinion, he would be heavily and rightly criticised if he tried to exert pressure on any media.
The Prime Minister also mentioned that Fidesz will not take part in the establishment of a new party family in the EU and will not join any European party family before the presidential elections in France.
Regarding the new German and the new Israeli governments, he said “lately I haven’t been dealt a good hand” in international politics, his friends have been defeated. He said Hungary had not been invited to the democracy summit because “Trump’s friends were not invited”.
He also said the Hungarian government wants to convince Berlin that the Western Balkans must be integrated, helped and admitted to Europe, rather than penalised and sanctioned because by doing the latter they might cause a big problem.
The Prime Minister pointed out that they had not yet officially contacted the new Berlin government, but he had already initiated a meeting for the leaders of the Visegrád Four and Germany.
He added that while due to differing ideological approaches “we are not on the same page” with the new Berlin government, relations between the two countries are distinguished. There is plenty to build upon, and it would not be right if these foundations were destroyed by party political considerations, Mr Orbán said, taking the view that in light of this it is not impossible, despite the very different party positions, that German-Hungarian relations will prosper in the coming years.
The Hungarian government’s migration policy will not change, Hungary continues to take the view that “there would be a need for a regulated immigration policy” which is based on permits being issued prior to entry. However, Brussels is not willing to adopt such a policy, the Prime Minister stated.
In answer to a question, he said the government is planning to implement further welfare measures, but he did not reveal any details.