After announcing the latest decisions of the government, Mr Orbán answered questions from members of the press for more than two hours at a ‘Governmentinfo’ press conference which for the first time in a long while was held not online.
He said 137,000 persons had not received the second dose of the vaccine against the coronavirus. The immunity certificates of those whose deadline for the administration of the second dose expired and have not had the second vaccination will be deleted from the records. This means that the individuals concerned will forfeit their immunity certificates issued after the first vaccination along with the benefits that go with them.
The Prime Minister said, pursuant to the government’s decision, from next week they will change over to a standby vaccination mode.
He also announced that the government had decided to authorise the vaccination of children aged between 12 and 16 years against the coronavirus. They are not organising a campaign for the vaccination of children aged between 12 and 16 years, parents will be free to make a decision. If parents decide to have their children vaccinated, they can register the usual way, and their children can be vaccinated at the vaccination points, he stated.
He also said according to the Interior Minister’s information, we have or will receive 17 million doses of Western vaccines, including 6.1 million doses of Pfizer, 1 million doses of Moderna, 5 million doses of AstraZeneca and 4 million doses of Janssen. This means that Hungary will be able to re-vaccinate everyone not only for a third, but also for a fourth time, he detailed.
He added that there are also Chinese vaccines left, only the Russian vaccine has been “snapped up,” there are only 40,000 to 50,000 doses left.
Hungary is the only country in the EU where there are more vaccines available than there are people having registered for vaccination, he established.
The Prime Minister asked everyone to have themselves vaccinated because the epidemic is only over for those who have had themselves inoculated.
He stressed that “we have conquered the third wave of the epidemic” because the number of new infections is decreasing ever more rapidly, and the percentage of positive test results is low. As regards the number of vaccinations, we are doing very well; we are ranked second regarding first vaccinations, while Hungary is in first place as regards second vaccinations, he stated.
Mr Orbán also announced that everyone who took part in the defence operations against the epidemic will be given ten days of extra paid leave. He said a decree which will be released on Thursday will determine who is eligible for the extra leave. This is the least those who took part in the defence operations deserve, he said, thanking them for their efforts.
Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said this leave cannot be redeemed financially, it has to be taken. The goal is to enable those who have worked hard to have a rest.
The Prime Minister also informed members of the press that the government will launch a national consultation about the restarting of the economy, the creation of a stable economy and the strengthening of the economy. The purpose of the national consultation is to create points of understanding on the most important issues.
Justifying the decision, he said in the case of the management of every crisis they held a national consultation; this was the case during the period after the financial crisis, this was the case with migration, and this will be the case now after the coronavirus pandemic. He also said the government does not envisage the same economy after the crisis that we had before, but instead, drawing the necessary conclusions, they are preparing for a period that could be described as an era of epidemics and mass migration. Therefore, we will need an economy which is able to offer the Hungarian people balanced, stable and safe opportunities not only in peacetime, but equally during the period of epidemics and mass migration.
According to the Prime Minister, in the consultation they will seek the people’s opinions about whether the minimum wage should be increased to HUF 200,000 in one or multiple steps, highlighting at the same time that as a form of compensation, small and medium-sized businesses will have to be given tax benefits. They will have to agree on this with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he indicated.
He also said they would like to seek confirmation regarding the government’s proposal that in 2022 parents raising children should be refunded the taxes they paid in 2021 with an upper limit, meaning that taxes would be refunded up to the level of the average wage, but not beyond.
In the consultation, they would also like to decide about the issue of the credit debt repayment moratorium. He indicated that there are keen technical debates under way between the Banking Association and the government about how to change the credit debt repayment moratorium.
Additionally, he continued, as part of the consultation, they will also ask the people about the climate tax which Brussels would like to levy on vehicles and homes owned by families. If we are opposed to this, he said, Hungary will have to engage in very serious international debates, and the government should only do so if they know for certain that the majority of people share this view. He indicated that according to the Hungarian government’s position, the financial burdens that are necessary in the interest of attaining the climate targets set should be borne by those who are responsible for destroying our climate.
The Prime Minister said the consultation will further feature the issue of the mandatory migration quotas which is on the agenda again and which Hungary has always firmly rejected. In his view, the European scheme of taking in migrants should be suspended for minimum two years, until the epidemic is over definitively.
The form of the national consultation will be similar to those conducted in the past; respondents will be able to complete the questionnaire both by mail and electronically.
The Prime Minister believes the gesture that the athletes of some countries take the knee on football pitches in the spirit of the fight against racism is alien to Hungarian culture.
In answer to a question at the ‘Governmentinfo’ press conference, Mr Orbán said “I’m not in the least supportive of this charade of kneeling down”. There is no place for something like this on sports grounds, sport is about something else, he added.
He said in a Hungarian cultural context, such a gesture is permitted or expected in three instances: Hungarian people should kneel down before God and country, and when they propose to the love of their life. In all other instances, this is alien to Hungarian culture, he added.
He said the Hungarian people perceive these gestures completely differently from the British or the Irish.
The Prime Minister stated that footballers who wear the national strip are expected not to take the knee, but to fight and to win, and if they fail to die standing.
Mr Orbán said there is a reason why gestures of this nature are spreading fast because there are actual moral and historical considerations behind them. They were invented by slave-owning countries, but the burdens that stem from a slave-owning past must be processed by the people concerned. Countries which had no slaves cannot help them, he indicated.
In answer to the question of whether it is OK that Hungarian supporters booed the Irish players who took the knee in a gesture against racism, Mr Orbán said “if you are a guest of a country, you should understand its culture and should not provoke the locals”. We are unable to perceive these gestures as anything other than incomprehensible actions and provocation, he said.
He added that supporters reacted the way people who are provoked react, by not always choosing the most elegant form.
In response to a question about news reports that DK politician Péter Niedermüller posted on his social media account after the Hungary-Ireland match on Tuesday that it was better to be Irish than to be Hungarian, Mr Orbán said electors will state their opinion about what they think about such views. He said he has a wide and inclusive nation concept, and therefore in his view, even those Hungarians are part of the Hungarian nation who would rather be Irish, but for all that they are still Hungarians.
Mr Orbán further mentioned that Hungary is doing better in the restarting of jobs than members of the Eurozone; in the countries of the Eurozone, the rate of unemployment is 8 per cent, while in Hungary it is 4.3 per cent. In Hungary, the number of people with jobs is above 4.5 million which is 50,000 less than it was during the corresponding period of 2019.
He recalled that the government had pledged to create as many jobs as had been destroyed by the coronavirus. However, up to the end of the year it will be possible to create twice as many jobs as were destroyed by the virus, he added.
In answer to a question, he said we will see the success or failure of the restarting of the economy at the end of the year. Then we will see whether we will have managed to restart the country well, and whether we will have managed to increase our economic growth to above five per cent. If the growth is above 5.5 per cent, we will have the economic performance and the resulting budgetary revenue which could constitute the basis of the measures announced.
In the context of the refunding of the personal income tax payments of families raising children, the Prime Minister made it clear that this is “not a case of handing out money,” but it is about the fact that those who worked for that money and paid it to the state should be given that money back with an upper limit fixed at the tax on the average income. He added that no one will be refunded the part above that limit, only the part below the limit, but that part will be refunded to everyone.
He stressed that there are as yet a number of clarifications to be made, and “we don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” and so the details should only be discussed after the national consultation. He indicated at the same time that the tax authority will be the key player of this campaign, this organisation will have to “render a fantastic performance” in order to determine who is eligible for a refund and who is not.
He said according to preliminary calculations, subject to the details of the regulation, this could involve the refunding of taxes worth HUF 530 to 580 billion, and approximately 1.1 million families could receive refunds of smaller or bigger amounts, depending on the rate of the taxes they paid.
He confirmed that the refunding of taxes will be possible if there is a GDP growth higher than the 4.3 per cent planned in the 2021 budget, a minimum 5.5 per cent growth.
He also said this will be a one-off measure which is to be implemented due to the epidemic. In answer to a question, he made it clear that the personal income tax exemption of persons under the age of 25 years will enter into force from 1 January 2022, while the tax refunds of families will relate to 2021, and so the two issues do not clash. In answer to another question, he highlighted that as he has a minor child, he, too, will be eligible for the personal income tax refund.
In answer to a question relating to the credit debt repayment moratorium, he indicated that the present moratorium regime has been extended until 30 September, and so a new agreement “will have to be negotiated” by then; in a case to the contrary, the present system will remain in effect. According to Mr Orbán, there is a keen debate on this issue; banks would like to see people in the largest possible numbers quit the credit moratorium as soon as possible, while the government wants a reasonable schedule.
“We agree” that we cannot settle for a life where loans are not being repaid at all; however, Hungary is experiencing the aftermath of a crisis that has taken its toll on the people, families, small and medium-sized businesses alike. Bank themselves cannot possibly want people to go bankrupt, and so instead it is necessary to agree on a schedule which is equally good for the people, businesses and banks, he said.
In answer to a question relating to the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the success of the management of the epidemic can be measured in the number of fatalities. He is of the opinion that the number of people who died due to the coronavirus is high. He added that every week the EU publishes a list about excess deaths, and on this list Hungary is in the middle of the rankings.
He said, in response to an enquiry, that he is expecting “a post-COVID assessment” from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the government’s health care advisors. It is an important question why the epidemic affected Hungary differently from neighbouring countries, he said.
He stated at the same time that those who took part in the fight against the epidemic did their best, worked to the best of their abilities. They made every effort to save as many lives as possible.
In answer to the question as to whether the government is expecting a fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic, Mr Orbán said the government is prepared.
He stressed that the epidemic had ended for those who had had themselves vaccinated. Just because life has now become freer, no one should delude themselves that they are safe, said the Prime Minister, asking everyone to have themselves inoculated. He added that the government had looked into, but had rejected the possibility of mandatory vaccination.
He also said they have not ordered any further vaccines because by the time they are needed, we will already have vaccines developed in Hungary available. He said it may well be that people will have to have themselves vaccinated against the coronavirus every year.
He further mentioned that the government’s resources have been and are being tied up in the accumulation of stocks, including supplies of ventilators, face masks, personal protective equipment, medicines and vaccines. He highlighted that we will have to keep relatively large stocks of everything even if they are not used for years, and also in the national consultation it will be worth asking people to what extent it is reasonable to create production and warehouse capacities that are necessary for a safer economy and life. Once they finish this, they will have no objection to making any vaccine available in commercial circulation, he added.
In answer to the question as to why Hungary will not manufacture a modern vaccine, Mr Orbán said “this is what we are capable of”. If the scientists who are able to develop more modern vaccines moved back to Hungary, we would be happy, but at this time this is what we Hungarians are able to develop, he said.
In his view, the situation is that the Hungarian scientific community is unable to develop a Hungarian vaccine of our own before the end of 2022. He accepts that this is a fine achievement from a scientific point of view, but he is urging them to speed up their efforts.
There was also a question about why Hungary is not taking part in the EU vaccine procurements anymore. Mr Orbán replied that there are many things we do not know about vaccines, and pharmaceutical companies want to sell as many vaccines as possible. Now it seems that the vaccine provides immunity not for six, but for eight months, while the sell-by date of vaccines, too, keeps changing, he observed.
Mr Orbán said they have prepared for every eventuality, this is why we have this many different types of vaccines.
Regarding vaccination certificates, for the time being, we have Hungarian ones, there are no EU certificates yet. Hungary has concluded bilateral agreements with thirteen or fourteen countries about the mutual acceptance of one another’s national immunity certificates. Most Hungarian tourist destinations are among these countries, he said.
According to Mr Orbán, there will be no EU immunity certificates before July, and those, too, will be issued by the Member States according to a set of criteria defined by the EU. The Hungarian government decided the simplest solution is if they enter any further information requested by the EU in the Hungarian immunity certificates. As a result, the digital version of the certificate will contain all information that will be necessary for movement in Europe, the Prime Minister stressed.
He believes that it will be possible to travel with all vaccines, we are getting to this point slowly as for the time being the main restriction on travel is not the kind of vaccine one has been inoculated with, but that some countries are not allowing in foreigners or only with tests. This is the bottleneck, Mr Orbán pointed out.
Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office observed that today there is no other document allowing as much freedom of movement as the Hungarian immunity certificate. At the moment, people can travel to most places in Europe with the Hungarian immunity card. With the exception of Austria, there are agreements with all the neighbouring countries.
Mr Orbán also said he follows the principle that anything that is not available to a Hungarian citizen should not be available to the prime minister either. The Hungarian Football Federation invited him in vain, he did not attend a single match organised behind closed doors, while on his international diplomatic trips he was required to undergo PCR tests the same as anyone else.
In answer to a question, the Prime Minister made it clear that they are not calculating with the possibility that after the ban on the termination of employment coming to an end on 15 June health care workers and police officers will serve their notice in large numbers. He said some cases cannot be ruled out, there is a chance that a few per cent of workers will leave, but assessing the situation realistically, they are not concerned about any threat to the maintenance of services. At the same time, he also indicated that if this were to occur, they will take the necessary measures, meaning that in Hungary neither public security, nor health care security can be curtailed.
There will be no reorganisation or reform of any kind in health care, the government has not discussed any such plans, Mr Orbán confirmed in answer to a question relating to the recommendations of the Directorate General for Hospitals, adding that expert documents “are sometimes circulated in state administration by the dozen”. He said no proposal has been tabled yet regarding the reorganisation of the duty services of general practitioners.
The Prime Minister was asked several questions about foreign policy. In the context of relations between the United States and China, he argued that the Cold War is a bad thing, and therefore Hungary has a vested interest in China and the United States forging a form of cooperation which is good for Central Europe and the Hungarian people, and will lead not to another Cold War, but to trade, investments and growth. He indicated that a NATO summit will be held soon where they will hear US President Joe Biden’s proposals to NATO for the coming years.
Mr Orbán was asked whether he thought that China was extending its political influence through trade agreements. He said the Fudan University is present at five German and 24 Scandinavian universities, and in the United States they cooperate with Yale University. In his view, if these countries are able to protect their national security interests, so is Hungary.
The Prime Minister stated that as long as there is a national government in Hungary, no foreign influence will be enforced. He said Western influence is much stronger which is also more necessary as 80 per cent of Hungary’s exports are bound for the EU.
Anyone who thinks that attempts to exert influence have a geographically or ideologically definable direction is wrong. This is part of international politics, everyone strives to enforce their interests internationally, he explained. He added that Hungary, too, is both a player and target in this, and if the country is targeted, it defends itself against such attempts, be those German, American or Chinese.
He said he is not a fan of Hungary isolating itself. It is best if there is an atmosphere in the world which is characterised not by Cold Wars, boycotts and sanctions, but by vivid cooperation between as many countries as possible.
While Hungary is unable to be fully independent in some strategic sectors, there are a few – such as the media, the banking sector and the energy sector – where they are striving for majority national ownership. The airport is one of these, but an airline is not necessarily, he added.
In response to the question as to whether Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony and the Left’s anti-China rhetoric could cause foreign policy problems or quantifiable economic losses, Mr Orbán said this is not likely in his view. Hungarian-Chinese relations are very strong; there are few things left over from the old world that “I venture to say” we do not regret or we do not have a problem with, he said.
He recalled that when there were great ideological, foreign policy and power debates within the communist bloc, Hungary never chose a side even against China and on the side of Moscow. In his view, neither is it a coincidence that former Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy continuously advocates Chinese-Hungarian economic cooperation.
In his view, there was no ideological reason for this; instead, people in the past, too, shared the incumbent government’s view that the relationship with China is fundamentally not a political or ideological, but an economic issue. Everyone agrees that the next decade will be the decade of the rise of Eastern economies, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam will be the winners of this ascension. According to the Prime Minister, this is an enormous economic opportunity that everyone wants to take part in, and also within the EU there is a race for Chinese economic relations. The Germans are the fastest in this race, and Hungary itself should not be left out of this opportunity, but should take part in it according to its weight and abilities, he stated.
Regarding the Fudan University, he said the issue of the establishment of a university is a higher education issue. However, it has been turned into a political issue by the Left, and an issue like that cannot be resolved with a purely professional solution. Therefore, he sees no other solution than that the people should decide in a referendum once the plans have been completed, he underlined.
He said the question is how young people can be helped to stand their ground in the new economic order not only in the Western, but also in the Eastern system. “We are not afraid of the communists” as “we have already defeated them once before,” and business cooperation with them is clearly important, he highlighted.
In the context of the European Union, he stressed that wherever possible, in the EU he follows the policy of cooperation. However, wherever the threat of the violation of our national interests emerges, we must engage in a fight and stand up for the Hungarian people, the Prime Minister underlined. In his view, the number of these issues is increasing, the migration debate is returning again, we can expect a household utility bill dispute in connection with who should foot the bill of environmental protection, and the Germans have recently started a debate about the restriction of the range of issues requiring a unanimous decision.
Regarding the latter, according to Mr Orbán, the Treaties of the EU lay down which issues require unanimity and which ones can be decided with a majority. These can only be changed through the amendment of the Treaties which requires unanimity. We have told them already in advance that they should not even start, he pointed out, adding that the problem is not that Brussels does not have enough powers, but that it has too many. In order for the EU to function well, rather than giving further decision-making powers to Brussels, we should take some back from them, Mr Orbán stated.
He also said regarding the Pope’s visit to Hungary that we must bear in mind that he is at once a head of state and the leader of a church, and must be given all at once the respect that is due to a head of state and the Christian humility that is due to the leader of a church. The Pope will be the guest of a world event, and it is his decision which meetings he will attend. However, if they do meet, it will be a great honour and he will be received with humility, he said.
Regarding inter-church dialogue, he said “for us Christianity is not a question of choice, but predestination,” and he would like the Holy Father to feel this when he arrives in Hungary. Concerning Pope Francis, he observed that he has already met him twice, he is the head of the Catholic Church, and he can only talk about him with the greatest humility and respect.
Answering questions about internal politics, the Prime Minister said regarding the summer holidays of members of the government that some who can afford to may well go yachting, this is none of the government’s business. In Hungary, there are rules relating to conflicts of interest which must be observed by everyone, he stated.
Concerning (his son-in-law) István Tiborcz’s status, as to whether he qualifies as a public actor or not is a question not for him, but for the Hungarian courts.
Regarding the fact that Lőrinc Mészáros leads the list of the one hundred richest Hungarians, the Prime Minister said if someone has a lot of money, the government expects two things of them: to comply with all the rules and to pay all their taxes. He added that 80 per cent of the top hundred richest persons are still from the Left, “we are far from a state of balance”. He observed that on the Right it is not customary to mix business issues with politics.
The Prime Minister was asked whether György Simonka (MP for Fidesz) who has been prosecuted in a criminal procedure will be a candidate for Member of Parliament. The Prime Minister said the Fidesz group in the constituency will decide on his candidacy.
In answer to another question, the Prime Minister added that Árpád Habony does give him advice from time to time, but this is entirely free of charge unless, he said in irony, his advice “proves to be costly otherwise”.
When asked what he would think if he found himself in opposition and the family of the next prime minister made billions from EU and state funds, Mr Orbán said “I would suggest that they pay their taxes and observe the rules”.
He also mentioned that he would like to “phase out” the state of danger regulation as soon as possible. This could take place sometime after the European Football Championship. He said the state of danger should be maintained until the end of the championship because they do not know whether another wave of the epidemic will start.
He hopes that there will be no fourth wave, and then he will hand back this power immediately, the Prime Minister said.
Regarding the slap delivered to President Emmanuel Macron’s face in France, he observed that the manifestation of emotions tends to be more intense in France than in Hungary. He would like the parliamentary elections to be held in Hungary next year to take place in a calm and peaceful atmosphere where only arguments clash, and would rather do without trials of a physical nature.
When asked about Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony’s language certificate affair, the Prime Minister asked to be left out of this, while Mr Gulyás merely observed that it is best if a person fulfils responsibilities suited to their qualifications.
Mr Orbán stated that he will not deal with campaign issues before January, while in Parliament he takes part in the debates on an ongoing basis.
He also said an election can be won with good governance, and as the Left now applying for the job also governed before, the performances of the two sides can be compared.
The Prime Minister likewise did not want to comment on the election deals of Jobbik and DK. He confirmed that he would like to continue to keep a distance from the “Gyurcsány show”. He indicated that Fidesz will probably respond, however, he believes it would not be right for the Hungarian prime minister to engage in such debates.
In answer to a question relating to the outcome of the elections, Mr Orbán said they have been in government for 16 years and in opposition for 16 years, and they have always served the country. “If the Lord installs me in this position and the will of the electors installs me here, I will stand my ground here, if I’m installed on the other side, I will stand my ground there,” he said.
He said as long as he has his “wits about” himself and does not lose the ability to think, he will continue this job, provided that Hungarian electors want this and those younger than himself help him onto the party’s election list.
“Victory is never final, defeat is never fatal, those who don’t understand this shouldn’t become politicians,” he said.
In answer to a question relating to the low standard of parliamentary debates, he said they are making efforts to keep standards higher, but it is difficult “when others keep performing somersaults and cartwheels”. In his view, the whole thing has “turned into a temporary show” which is sad, but he hopes that it is indeed only temporary.
Mr Orbán said in response to the question as to whether there are any incumbent opposition Members of Parliament he respects that naturally there are some whom he respects, but as he does not want to cause them harm, he would rather not name them.
Mr Orbán also said he decided on Wednesday to attend this ‘Governmentinfo’ press conference, but in the future members of the press should not expect him to appear unexpectedly again because he attends this event once annually.