Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you very much. I would like to welcome you all to our end-of-year international press conference. I would like to say a few words about the year behind us, and then – to start the discussion – a few words about the year ahead.
In the lives of Hungarians, 2021 centred on two things: fighting the virus and relaunching the economy. This has been a very difficult year, which has not only tormented Hungary, but the whole world, We have had to protect ourselves constantly. We offer our condolences to those who have lost family members, we offer our sympathies to those who are now ill, and we hope and pray for their recovery. At the same time, we are glad that in 2021 we have not been as defenceless and powerless in terms of protection as we were in 2020; because in 2020 we could only protect ourselves by isolation and quarantine, and we did not have a truly effective weapon in our armoury. By 2021 that had changed, because – thanks to the world’s scientific community – a vaccine against the coronavirus had been developed, and we were able to switch from the previous defence operation based on containment and quarantine to one based on vaccines, Already by the beginning of 2021 Hungary saw that this would be our future: that we could only protect ourselves with vaccination: that everything else could only buy time, and that victory could only be achieved through vaccination. So, if you remember the debates at the beginning of the year, we obtained available vaccines from all over the world, they were effective, and we were the first in Europe to very quickly reach a vaccination level of 60 per cent of the population: over 5.5 million people. We have not made much progress since then, however, and we now stand at somewhere around 6.2 million, Although we are persuading people, and I would ask you to support vaccination and help in persuading people, it seems that the number of people vaccinated in Hungary does not want to rise much above this. We will continue the vaccine-based defence operation for the rest of the year. Right now the focus is on booster vaccinations and vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds. In this regard we are again the fastest, with somewhere around 32 per cent of the population having accepted their third vaccination, compared with the EU average of 21.5 per cent.
The second major theme and challenge this year has been the relaunch of the economy. I would particularly like to draw the attention of the international press to the fact that an important element – indeed the foremost – in the Hungarian defence operation is consultation: an instrument which we call the “national consultation”. When we established the main rules of the defence operation against the virus and later when we defined the main principles of the economic recovery, in each case we held a national consultation; we designed the defence operation and economic policy while taking into account the directions and principles that we gained from these consultations. A total of over 2 million people responded to our questions in those two consultations. So this, which we can call democratic support, was – and still is – the primary source of the Government’s confidence in the soundness of the direction the defence operation has taken. In line with the views expressed in the consultation on the relaunch of the economy , we have based that relaunch not on welfare payments but on support for investment and job creation. We now have figures that are close to being final. We have spent 1,700 billion forints on investment support, and during this period a total of 1,435 private sector investments have received support, We believe that this is why employment in Hungary has returned to its pre-crisis level, with 4.688 million Hungarians in work today and an unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent. To enable us to evaluate this, I would like to mention that the average European unemployment rate is 6.7 per cent – more than one and a half times that in Hungary. This policy of relaunching investment also explains why the Hungarian economy’s performance first reached the 2019 level, and then exceeded it. So, if we take the pre-crisis level of 2019 as a benchmark, we are talking about a situation in which by the end of the second year of the crisis we have managed to get back to where we were before the crisis. This year we expect growth to be well above 6 per cent; and if I am not mistaken, next year we will be in the 4 to 5 per cent range. So much, perhaps, for 2021.
As far as 2022 is concerned, much, of course, will depend on the outcome of the election. But there are three important things that we expect to happen in Hungary. First, we will introduce economic policy measures that are unprecedented in Hungary’s history. Some of them are new to us, so they will be major experiments. In Hungary we have not seen, for example, a situation in which people under the age of 25 do not pay income tax, There is only one country in the world that does this: Poland, from where we have adopted it. We know the Polish figures. Next year we will find out how the Hungarian public reacts to all this. At all events, I think it is a major achievement that Hungary is now able to help the youngest – people under 25 – and the oldest: by being able, at the beginning of next year , to restore the entire thirteenth month’s pension, and not only the second week of it. The second important thing will be the continuation of the defence operation. We cannot hope that the virus will leave us, so in the first half of the year we certainly expect to have to mobilise huge efforts in order to protect ourselves – efforts which will continue to be based on vaccines. When preparing to come here to you this morning I asked for what we could call information on inventories. In the past the Government has expected the Operational Group to ensure that there is always enough vaccine in Hungary’s storage centres. Today there are more than 2.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine alone. We have recently ordered 2 million doses for children. At the European summit – the prime ministers’ summit at the end of last week, on Thursday and Friday – the Commission told us that, according to the scientists involved in the European virus defence operation, we will need a new type of antiviral or suppressant for the variant known as Omicron, and that Pfizer has developed a vaccine against that variant. We finally concluded that we will also order 9.5 million doses of that , which we will receive in the second half of 2022 and in 2023. Of these 9.5 million doses, which are vaccines specifically developed for Omicron, 1.5 million will be for children. So, overall, we had enough vaccines, we have enough vaccines, and we will have enough vaccines – for whatever variants rear their heads. And the third major issue that we will have to deal with in 2022 – and I hope that the electorate agrees – is the child protection referendum. We have talked a great deal about this, and I am sure that you are familiar with the issues involved. In brief, this referendum will be about the question of who has the right to exercise control, supervision and authorisation of our children’s education, including on sexual matters: whether or not that right is the exclusive preserve of parents. We think that parents have that exclusive right, but the global trend is different: according to the global trend this is no longer the case, and the European Union itself thinks that parents do not have that exclusive right. But in this area we reject the EU approach and we want to go our own way. Primarily for the benefit of the foreigners here, I would say that – beyond, of course, the economic issues of daily life – the two most important defining issues of our time, of life in the European world today, let us say the two great issues that simultaneously determine the quality of our lives and our intellectual horizons, are on the one hand immigration and on the other the education of children and the concept of society proposed by LGBTQ movements. There are huge debates about these in Europe, and there are also major debates in Hungary. But so far – and I am personally proud of this – on both issues Hungary is the only country that does not want to rely solely on the opinion of elites, activists, politicians and leaders , but sees the need for democratic legitimacy. In other words, alone in Europe, here in Hungary a referendum has decided and will decide on each of the two issues. This was the case with immigration, and it will be the case with the upbringing of children, regardless of what we think about this issue – and I assume that the opinion of many of you is different from mine. The very fact that in Hungary this issue is decided not by the elites but by the people is, in my opinion, certainly an approach worthy of praise and recognition, and a democratic achievement on Hungary’s part,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since this is an international press conference, perhaps I should add to what I have said by touching on one or two foreign policy issues. The first is the European energy crisis. At the European Council meeting on Thursday night we had a heated, frank and earnest debate which went on for hours, You will have noticed that in the document known as the “Council conclusions” there is not a single word about the issue of energy prices, The reason for this is that we could not agree on a common position, and so there was no common position to put in a document and make available to the public and to you. And since we remained divided, no joint text emerged. We expect important events before the end of the year, however. On the subjects of nuclear energy and the use of gas, we expect the publication before the end of the year of a Commission proposal clarifying EU proposals that will be in line with the opinion of the overwhelming majority – an opinion which was also evident in that debate, in the debate there. As far as I can see, the opponents of nuclear energy are not numerous enough to form a blocking minority. So I expect that before the end of the year there will be a clear European position from the Commission stating that climate protection cannot be achieved without nuclear energy, and that nuclear energy will therefore be classified as a sustainable, green energy. In the Brussels bureaucracy this is called “taxonomy”. And, in addition to this, I also expect that the Commission will state by a large and overwhelming majority that energy derived from gas can temporarily be accepted as sustainable. So it will have to be phased out, but – unlike coal – until that is possible projects for producing energy from gas will also be eligible for funding. Nuclear is clearly sustainable, and so developments that could give a big boost to the development of the nuclear industry can finally take place all over Europe. As these technologies are not currently categorised as sustainable , today banks either do not lend for such investments or only do so with a hefty interest rate premium. This is an obstacle which is now being overcome, and we will finally be able to secure Europe’s energy supply in the longer term. Of course these are big and broad-ranging issues, and perhaps people are less interested in them than in the price of energy and the cost of the utilities needed to survive. For the benefit of the foreigners here I will repeat that Hungary is in a special position, because in Hungary household energy prices have been fixed for eight years now: so people pay a fixed price, kept constant regardless of changes in the world market price, There was a big battle before we were able to get this accepted in Brussels, and among economists there is still what we could call a battle of experts over whether this approach is right or wrong. What we can say for sure is that now, when prices have skyrocketed, the system of fixed energy prices is showing its attractive, smiling face, and is at the moment protecting Hungarians from something that has become common in Western Europe: rampant price increases leading to a doubling or tripling of family expenditure simply on utilities, Here I should add that there is another position that is slowly gaining majority approval among the prime ministers. This concerns the extent of the role in the current high energy prices of the new energy price regulation system that Brussels has introduced and intends to introduce in several stages in the future in order to combat climate change, What we are talking about is that today certain energy sources are subject to an extra tax, which in complicated Brussels-speak is called the “ETS system”. So if, for example, a potentially profitable power station produces energy from coal, it is penalised for its carbon dioxide emissions. To compensate for this it must buy quotas , and this makes its production unprofitable. This is affecting several countries throughout Europe, including our own. We are not being penalised the most , but our Mátra power station means that we are affected. Now the Commission is proposing that we should go further and not only penalise power stations, but also impose a punitive tax on car owners and homeowners. They say that using cars and heating homes also produces carbon dioxide emissions, and heavily taxing car owners and homeowners will force them into a different way of thinking. This instrument and method is supported by some countries, but many of us are against it – including all the countries of Central Europe, We also see a rich-poor divide here; but the French, for example, are also clearly opposed to this extension of policy. Over the next two or three months a big question will be whether there will be enough of us in Europe to prevent the introduction of a carbon tax on cars and homes, which will hit families.
The other big issue, which I should perhaps briefly touch on here, is the issue of immigration. This is now back on the agenda, because – in addition to the Mediterranean and Balkan routes – a third front has now opened up: from Belarus, towards the Baltic states and Poland. The debate has flared up again: should we let in migrants or not let them in? Hungary’s position is clear. And more and more countries are getting involved in this conflict – not at an ideological and theoretical level, but at a practical level; because this problem is also appearing at their borders. Ever more of us in Europe are saying that migrants’ applications for asylum should not be submitted on the territory of the intended destination country , but outside that country, That is where we say the procedures should be carried out. This is the position of the Hungarian constitution today. And the Hungarian legal system also stipulates that if someone wants to enter from, say, the South, they must go to the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade, submit their application there, wait for the procedure to be carried out, and then either enter or not – depending on the procedure’s final decision. But in any event the procedure must take place outside the Schengen Area, outside the territory of Hungary. This raises two questions, two major debates. The first is whether, if we protect our countries with fences, the EU will be willing to bear the cost of this. The Commission’s staff are suffering, and are doing everything they can to preserve the doctrine they have inherited from Angela Merkel by saying “no fences”. But now they are already willing to finance all sorts of things, including gadgets, and perhaps gates; but not yet fences. But sooner or later the moment must come when this unreasonable distinction is no longer made ; and it must be made clear that Brussels must – in whole or in part – shoulder this burden, the financial burden being borne by those who are defending the interior of Europe. In other words, since we are talking about defending Europe, the Hungarian view is that Brussels must pay at least half of the costs of building the fence, and the operational costs; Brussels must pay half.
The second major issue that we are already familiar with – and which will remain on the agenda in the coming months – is the conflict between national constitutions and the European Court of Justice’s rulings on immigration and migration. There are several ways to resolve this. We know of eight countries in Europe that have previously said that, in terms of constitutional oversight, their national law takes precedence over EU law, Only Poland is being brought to book, but the fact is that there are eight such countries. Recently the Constitutional Court of Hungary has also taken a stand on this issue, and has made it absolutely clear that no matter what the Court of Justice of the European Union decides, Hungary must continue to defend its borders. Following the Constitutional Court’s decision , the Government has therefore examined its options, and we have decided that we shall not do anything to change the way we defend our borders. In other words we shall maintain exactly the same system that we have been operating, even though the Court of Justice of the European Union has called on us to change it. We shall not change it , and we shall not let anyone in. The Constitutional Court of Hungary has made it clear to the Government that it cannot do otherwise. We do not want to; and even if we wanted to, we could not. We are not a gathering of university students , or in the academy, so I will not speak at length about the fact that the Constitutional Court’s decision also contains what I consider to be an innovation of outstandingly high quality, In the period ahead this will be analysed by lawyers , because it has shifted the question of human dignity from what has hitherto been the exclusive, abstract right of the individual to the cultural context: to the cultural environment surrounding the individual. And the Constitutional Court of Hungary has said that protection is not only extended to the abstract , theoretical notion of freedom , but that also implicit in the concept human dignity is the fact that the individual is surrounded by the cultural fabric of the place where he or she lives. And no one has the right to change that cultural fabric. More precisely, the context that surrounds me – culture, language, population – is as much a part of my personal human dignity as my abstract rights of freedom. And governments – at least the Hungarian government – must protect this milieu, this context, I could say that in Hungary the Constitutional Court has protected the fundamental rights of the indigenous citizenry and the cultural fabric, This has many exciting ramifications.
Well, all in all, this is how I see 2021 and 2022. Our intentions – including for the election – are clear, and what we have said about this still holds true: Hungary is going forward, not back. I have already seen a vernacular version of this: “The tomato was red, not black; Hungary is going forward, not back.” So I see that the Hungarian campaign has now reached the world of singalongs at parties. And our position, both in the academy and in the world of singalongs at parties, is clear and unequivocal: Hungary must go forward, not back. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them.