Good afternoon. Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Prime Minister, Dear Andrej,
Finally. Perhaps with this one word I can sum up the feeling I have now that diplomacy has at last resumed, and there can be meetings again among the leaders and experts from states with close relations, or even alliances. This clearly shows that the pandemic has entered a new stage: we now have vaccines. Meetings no longer centre on how to curb the spread of the pandemic, although that is still on the agenda, but more about how to procure vaccines, how to vaccinate people as rapidly as possible, and how to save as many lives as possible. This is why the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and his wide-ranging expert delegation are visiting our country. We are grateful, Prime Minister, for your visit to us.
In Hungary the Czech Republic is seen as having a certain aura. Let me say a few words about this. The Prime Minister also possesses such an aura, because everyone knows that he was Europe’s best finance minister, and we ourselves learnt from him regarding how to bring order to a wayward budget. So the Czech Republic has a certain aura. I told the Prime Minister that late last night I turned on the TV, and there was a Miloš Forman film. This clearly shows that Czech culture – including the period of Czech culture in the 1960s and ‘70s – has not been forgotten by the Hungarian people: it’s here with us, it’s part of Hungarian culture. We don’t normally talk about the fact that there are 15,000 Hungarians living in the Czech Republic. They have an association which coordinates their activities, and as 15,000 is a sizeable number, it’s also important for them that the relations between our two countries are good. We have two superb capital cities. The Hungarians admire Prague, and we’re happy that the Czechs admire Budapest. In the history of football World Cups we have each lost two World Cup finals, and this represents a shared fate between our countries. Therefore, before turning to the agenda for the day, when we sit down to talk we always talk about culture and history; and our meeting today was no exception to this.
You must know that our two countries are allies within the Visegrád 4; but we don’t hide the fact that we’re engaged in a noble contest with the Czechs and the Czech Republic, because they’re doing better than Hungary in a number of areas which are important for us. They represent a kind of yardstick for us, for instance in terms of their performance in reducing unemployment, on which they’re ahead of us – even if only by a nose. We’re talking about the country with Europe’s lowest unemployment rate. I believe that Germany is in second place, followed by Hungary in third place. But I’d also draw your attention to something that is little discussed in Hungary: while over the past twenty or thirty years the Hungarian population has shrunk by more than half a million, the number of Czech citizens has increased by more than half a million. So we also have much to learn from the Czech Republic in terms of demography. We’re therefore trying to somehow eliminate our slight disadvantages in terms of demography, industrial culture, unemployment and GDP growth. I truly hope that in the coming years this noble contest will continue. Rather than defeating them, we simply want to catch up with them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now let me also say a few words about today’s meeting. First of all, I told the Prime Minister that we Hungarians believe that speed is of the essence: those who are swift save lives, while those who are slow lose lives. Therefore we cannot afford to wait for Brussels, because the procurement of vaccines in Brussels is simply too slow. We didn’t come together to criticise, as this isn’t the time for that; instead we want to learn from each other about how we can accelerate the procurement of vaccines. Already last autumn – when we saw that we could expect international battles like those we’d seen in the race for ventilators – Hungary started procurement efforts focusing on Russia and China; this is how we’ve been able to already conclude the necessary contracts. Today we’ve shared all our experience on this with the Czech Republic. Our Czech friends now know everything about how we procure vaccines and from whom, with what methods, what tests enable us to guarantee safety, how these vaccines can be distributed, and how they can be administered. We revealed all the details during our talks, and didn’t keep a single secret to ourselves. Prime Minister, I really hope that you’ll be able to use this information. We also highlighted that in one respect Hungary is performing outstandingly well by European standards, and that is compliance with the legislation that’s been adopted. If someone had told me this ten years ago, I would have surely laughed heartily, because Hungarians are not famous for observing rules; we’re normally better at finding loopholes. But as far as I can see, when there’s trouble, we become more serious, and my experience is that, even by European standards, the Hungarian people are showing exceptional compliance with the rules laid down by our various authorities, the Operational Group and the police. This may relate to the fact that in crisis management we also employed our system of consultation: whenever we could, we asked people what was still acceptable and what wasn’t, what was still bearable and what wasn’t. And we tried to take this into consideration when adopting rules. The same will be true for the lifting of restrictions. God willing, and provided that the numbers don’t deteriorate and we can ease the restrictions, we’d now like to start lifting restrictions from the beginning of March, and this will be preceded by a consultation. Should restrictions be lifted all at once, or in stages? Should the easing of restrictions apply to everyone, or only to a certain category of people? Anyway, there are a number of important questions that we’ll be able to discuss between mid-February and the beginning of March, and then we’ll be able to adopt new decisions at the beginning of March. I certainly have one advantage over the Prime Minister: while he needs to lead a coalition government, I don’t bear that burden on my shoulders. I tried that in the past, but it was a long time ago, between 1998 and 2002, when I had to lead a four-party government. Since then God hasn’t challenged us with that burden, and therefore our decision-making can be relatively smooth and effective.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We also spoke briefly about Serbia, as some of Hungary’s knowledge comes from that country, where both the Chinese and Russian vaccines are already being used in large quantities. So we’ve shared the experiences that we’ve gathered from Serbia; and I specifically advised the Prime Minister to use Serbia’s experience, because this has worked in Hungary.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We also told the Prime Minister – but on this occasion there was no time to discuss this in detail, because we were primarily focusing our attention on the pandemic and the vaccine – that Hungary has ended its defence operation, and in the economy we’re no longer in defence mode, but have switched to attack mode. We’ve started our economy relaunch action plan, having already introduced its first measures, with subsequent measures following one after another. I truly hope that when we next meet, Honourable Prime Minister, we’ll be able to share experiences gained in the process of relaunching our economies. We now have European data on development of gross domestic product, national debt and budget deficits. Looking at the numbers, I can see that the Czech Republic is performing very strongly, Hungary is also doing well, the Polish are strong, and it seems that the Slovaks won’t fall behind either. On the whole this means that the countries of the V4 could come out of this trial with very high economic hopes. We Hungarians call this “trying to overtake on a bend”. I’m convinced that over the next few years we’ll be able to make even faster progress in reducing the disadvantage – compared with the more fortunate half of Europe – that history imposed on us.
Thank you very much for your attention. Prime Minister, we are grateful for your visit here.