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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Kossuth Radio’s programme “Good morning, Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: The demographic summit attended by speakers and guests from 19 countries began yesterday. I’d like to welcome to the studio Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who spoke at the demographic summit yesterday. Why do you think that, in addition to social scientists and demographic experts, so many leading politicians have also accepted the invitation?

Good morning. I’d like to welcome our listeners. There is much traffic in Budapest, not only on our roads, but also in politics. Our friends joined us indeed. We had here – or perhaps he’s still here – the former US Vice President, the Serbian President and the Czech Prime Minister; scientists and politicians take centre stage one after the other. This is an exciting topic, and it was initiated by the President of France with whom we will have a V4 meeting before the end of this year. A debate about the future of Europe has been launched, and what question could be more important – when we think about the future of Europe – than whether Europe will have a future or not. That depends on whether there will be children. Meaning: whether we parents are committed to the continuation of our own lives because this is only possible in one and only way: if we have children, if we are committed to not ending our lives on Earth with our deaths, but have someone to continue them, someone in whom we ourselves can live on. If this faith is lost in people, then there will be no children, there will be no families, there will be no point in talking about the future of Europe. Europe’s future lies not in industry, green policies or digitisation. Naturally, these are all important things, but the future lies in children. Therefore, we mustn’t accept the concept that instead of children of our own Europe should replace the missing children with migration and migrants. It is possible to import workforce, many have already tried that, it is possible to let migrants in, but that country will no longer be what it once was. In other words, if we want to see our own country and our own world also as the future of Europe, then we need families and children. This is why this topic is so exciting and popular as at this point in time the West is unable to sustain itself. Everyone is interested in what we can do against this. We Hungarians keep trying. They come to us because the Hungarian family policy is unorthodox, special, stands out, it is unparalleled in Europe; we spend the largest percentage of our budget on family policy. We’re trying something that others don’t, and everyone wants to know whether it works or not. I was unable to give them a definitive answer in the affirmative because the success of a family policy requires the continuous and persistent functioning of a governmental family policy regime for minimum one, but more like two decades. If it’s disrupted, if it ceases to exist, if there is a change, then regrettably it won’t work, and so far we’ve only had ten years. The number of abortions has fallen by 41 per cent, the number of marriages has increased, the reproduction rate…

…fertility rate?

… the fertility rate which used to be 1.25 – which was an absolute disaster – has now gone up to one point fifty-something, it should be 2.1. This is why I’m saying that we’re only half way there, but the signs are promising.

Many support, but equally many attack this policy, and evidently not only for ideological reasons – as in that you focus on the family – but also because many hope to gain economic advantages from bringing here – to Europe or to territories where populations are declining – a lot of people from remote countries, from different cultures, allegedly, to address the shortage of workforce.

Look, in my mind this is a mathematical approach. It is unacceptable for us that instead of the missing Hungarian children we should bring someone here from the interior of Africa. The sums may add up, but what a difference! Hungary actually says so, but in the West this is no longer allowed. If I had said this on a radio show in the West, I would have been crucified before the end of this morning, I would have been sued, and they would have said that this is hate speech. But I don’t hate anyone, I only love my own people.

The LGBTQ lobby, too, keeps attacking this policy, primarily by relativising the concept of the family. Can we defend ourselves against this? We see that it’s not easy as Brussels is doing everything they can to subject Hungary to infringement proceedings.

I understand people who choose a different way of life, different from the traditional way of life. I also understand people choosing an LGBTQ way of life, and they, too, need a place under the sun. But they can’t demand that they serve as the starting point for general regulation; they’re the exceptions. We must make sure that they have a dignified life, that they are not discriminated against, and that they, too, are able to lead their lives in dignity. So far so good. But this is where the difference begins. We don’t accept that they want to educate our children; we will educate them. We don’t want to accept that they tell us what should happen in schools; we parents will do so. We must make it very clear that a small minority cannot constitute the basis of general regulations, and people choosing a way of life that is different from the traditional family model —  from our way of life — must understand that, too. I’m asking them to be satisfied with the fact that in Hungary there are inclusive policies and opportunities that allow them to lead a dignified life and  do not in any way discriminate against them. But they shouldn’t want to tell us how to live and how to raise our children.

Are the five pillars that you listed as the basis of Hungary’s family policy enough?

The five pillars are enough if we build a big enough building on them. However, the most important one – let’s call it the principal girder or the main pillar – is that if you have children you should have a better life. This is how it once used to be: those who had more children had a better life. This had been so before the modern world invented state-guaranteed health care, state-guaranteed pensions, before the state took over a number of jobs leading to the creation of a safe life. This was different in the past; earlier, only the family was able to give people that security. The more children you had the more secure you were, and the better your chances were that on the whole your family will be richer or will have a better life. This is not the situation today. Therefore, many people think that rather than giving them security, rather than adding to their lives financially, raising children takes something away from their lives because raising children is a lot of trouble, it has costs, it requires effort, you can’t be at home with the children and work at the same time, or at least it’s very difficult. Women try that, but not everyone succeeds. It’s extremely difficult to find a well-paid job whilst raising children, to reconcile career considerations with one’s family. I do admire ladies who try this. I think these tough women – and Hungarian woman are tough – deserve all the respect they can get from men. However, unless the government helps and creates a taxation regime, a support system and labour market regulations that enable women who have children to lead a better life because they took on an extra burden, an extra job, an extra task, the economic motivation behind family and children will disappear. Many would say, especially our Christian brothers and sisters, that this is a heartless approach because a child is more than just money. They’re right, of course they are much more, I myself have a few, and I know that full well. But we must also realise that one needs something to live on. Young people also need economic motivation to seriously commit to family life at an early age. With this the government must provide assistance, and we haven’t yet got to that stage. Meaning the stage, where those who have children have a better life than those who don’t. This is the point we must reach. Earlier, there was a very significant financial difference between those who didn’t have children and those who did – at the expense of the latter. I don’t want to take anything away from those who decide not to have children, but I would like to give a lot to those who decide to have children. I’m fighting for families so that we can reach the stage where we can finally say that if I decide to have children, I have better access to housing, my home is cheaper, I have an advantage at the workplace and earn more. I would like to connect the deep, human and sacred conviction that there is behind the family with an economic advantage. If we manage this, then we’ll be saved, then Hungary’s future will be guaranteed. We’re heading in that direction, but we haven’t yet got there, we still have to fight for it.

On the first day of Parliament’s autumn session, you said – and you also mentioned this at yesterday’s summit – that the points of understanding that developed in the national consultation make it possible for the government to adopt the decisions which are necessary for families to have a better life. I’m referring to the refunding of the personal income tax to families with children if the performance of the economy reaches an appropriate level. There is, however, a new element, one we hadn’t previously heard about. On Monday or Tuesday you said that the owners of small businesses who raise children will also be refunded their personal income tax.

What is this about? It’s about the fact that 2021 has been a very difficult year. It’s been difficult for everyone. The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, but I think it has been most difficult for those who also raise children. I can only speak about the mothers who stayed at home with their children when schools were closed down and tried to switch over to digital education together with them in words of the highest praise. They tried to take over the burdens which had resulted from the closure of schools, and they stood their ground fantastically. So I doff my hat to them. We all know that when we talk about family we primarily think of mothers because in Hungarian life everything revolves around the mother; sooner or later, everyone ends up in the kitchen when your mother or wife is making dinner. I think this is so for everyone, not only in our family. Anyway, they had to bear enormous burdens. And now that the restarting of the economy exceeded all expectations and that the economic policy hallmarked by the names of Péter Szijjártó, Mihály Varga and also the central bank will be able to push our growth to above 5.5 per cent – today, as far as I can see, we have a good chance of that, meaning that despite the pandemic we will have managed to implement enough investments and developments to bring about the desired results – we must make a decision about what to do with the excess money. Naturally, everyone has ideas about what to do with the money; I have yet to see a Hungarian who doesn’t have an idea about that. However, we thought that as the greatest burden had been carried by families, it would be fairest if we repaid families raising children the personal income tax they paid; subject to certain restrictions, but effectively those who paid taxes will be reimbursed some of that money. What I’m saying now relates to people who actually paid taxes and raise children. We will refund a sum to them. I’m happy that the national consultation supported this idea. Technically, this is quite simple if we only take into consideration those who are employees. It’s very difficult to do the same for entrepreneurs, the owners of small businesses. Therefore – I myself sense this problem – the owners of small businesses are often left out of the family support system, despite the fact that these small businesses do an extremely valuable job for Hungary. Finally, we have managed to find a method, a legal procedure, a mathematical model which is just, and entrepreneurs raising children will also be refunded a part of their  taxes paid. This is a new element indeed, I thought we wouldn’t be able to grapple with it, but luckily in Hungary there are many clever people, and they had found a way to calculate it and to make it possible from a legal point of view.

If  the minimum wage is raised to 200,000 forints, then that will also help families and the raising of children indirectly as, for instance, the amount of the maternity benefit, too, will increase, given that all benefits are tied to the minimum wage.

Look, I always thought that we have two main objectives, we have two major debts to repay. It’s true that we’re repaying them instead of someone else, but the government has two big debts to repay. The Gyurcsány-Bajnai Governments had bankrupted the country by 2010, and had taken salaries and pensions away from the people. I thought that while naturally we can talk about nation building and family is important, the most important priority is to make it clear to the people that that era is over. Our government, which is a civic, national, Christian democratic government, will rectify the mistakes that were made by the Gyurcsány-Bajnai Governments. After all, this is why the people voted for us. We must give back at least a one-monthly salary and we must give back at least a one-monthly pension. You can give salaries back through wage increases. In Hungary, it is not the government that decides on the minimum wage, but instead employers come to an agreement with workers; meaning employers and trade unions. If they’re unable to come to an agreement, it is then the government’s turn to determine the minimum wage itself. This has worked well so far, they have agreed with one another. It’s true, let me just add, that they came to an agreement at the government’s expense because they always asked the government to reduce taxes in return for a higher minimum wage, but Mihály Varga has always been able to take care of this. We have an agreement covering multiple years which has been observed year after year by trade unions, employers and the government, too. Taxes have been reduced, and the minimum wage has increased. Now we want to take a big step. We’re talking about an almost 20 per cent minimum wage increase which is rather unprecedented in modern Western economies, and which is a burden primarily for small businesses. It’s not like we can have a minimum wage of any amount because someone has to make that money. We must create and operate businesses that are able to pay the increased amount of the minimum wage. This is a problem for small- and medium-sized businesses if the government doesn’t help. This is where we come in, and in return for the minimum wage increase we will reduce their taxes, and then they will be able to pay those higher wages, they won’t have to shut down, they won’t have to fire people. If you make a mistake in raising the minimum wage, that could result in unemployment. This is why we must always come to an agreement with employers about how to do this well. But as far as I can see, we’re making good progress, and in fact, the guaranteed wage minimum – which is the minimum wage of qualified workforce – will also increase significantly. Most people are in that bracket. This means that we will have completed the reparation that we pledged to offer in the wake of the destruction of the Gyurcsány-Bajnai Governments. As far as I can see, in Hungary on 1 January 2022 the minimum wage will be higher than the average wage was during the Gyurcsány-Bajnai era. So we have delivered on that pledge. We have yet to repay a debt to pensioners because so far we have only been able to pursue an economic policy that allowed us last year to give back a single weekly pension, over and above the normal pension. From 1 January, we will want to give back the second instalment. It is perhaps too early to talk about this, but I’m fighting for speeding things up. That pensioners should receive not only the second weekly, but also the third and perhaps even the fourth weekly instalments, and so in the next elections I can stand before the people and say that we have given back, down to the last penny, everything that the Gyurcsány-Bajnai Governments took away from pensioners. We must fight for this because from credit and from promises we mustn’t increase either wages or pensions; there must be actual performance behind any raise. I’m fighting for the implementation of the investments and developments that will raise the funds that will enable us to give back more swiftly the thirteenth monthly pension that was taken away.

In the past few days, the number of new infections has been around 500; we’re in the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. Serbia can be a warning example for us because in the beginning they managed to start the administration of vaccines very swiftly. They were very good at procuring vaccines, people could choose from among four different vaccines, but now they have somehow fallen behind, people’s willingness to have themselves vaccinated has declined. As a result, they’re not in a good situation right now. Serbia is smaller than Hungary, but the number of daily infections is between 1,000 and 1,500. Aren’t you concerned that we could be faced with the same situation?

We could, and there will be a fourth wave. The question is what we can do. If you have an opponent – this is equally true in politics, in economic competition, and most definitely in sports – then the question, the key question is who will get to know the other better. Now the situation is that for a long time the virus knew us better than we knew the virus, and so the virus was winning. But now we’re beginning to truly understand the virus, and we know it almost as well as it knows us. And we have learnt that only vaccine helps. The problem is that there are Hungarians who believe this and there are those who don’t. Those who believe it have had themselves vaccinated, and they’re safe. Even if the fourth wave reaches them, it will torment them much less than if they hadn’t been vaccinated, and will pose a much lesser risk to their lives – because you can die of the virus – than if they hadn’t been vaccinated. The problem is with those – if I may put it that way – who haven’t had themselves vaccinated because their lives are in danger, or at least they’re exposed to the risk of severe illness. However, Hungarians are of the brave kind, and until trouble knocks on their door they don’t take it seriously. I’m asking everyone to take this seriously, to believe that their lives are in danger; that they risk a severe illness involving hospitalisation, and risk the health of those living around them. You should have yourselves vaccinated! But this is where my opportunities end because there would be only one other step left: making vaccination compulsory, but I said before that this would meet with resistance in Hungary. People perhaps accept – in fact, from what I can see they support – that  vaccines should be compulsory for health care workers as they meet sick or potentially sick people day in day out, and they can’t be a source of risk, rather than a source of help. So in their case it is perhaps accepted. From what I see, Hungarians even accept that employers should have a right of some sort to guide their workers towards vaccination; that one employer or another should be allowed to require their employees to have themselves inoculated. This is already more difficult, there is an ongoing debate about this, we will bring it to a conclusion soon. This might work, though I’m not even sure about that. But beyond this Hungarians do not tolerate any further interference in their lives, and the government must accept that. We’re not yet at the stage where people accept that  vaccines against the coronavirus are compulsory just as the vaccines we received against other illnesses at a young age. We’re not there yet. So my feeling is that other than trying to convince people to have themselves vaccinated the government has no further means. The decision is not in our hands now, it is in the hands of the people. Our responsibility was and is to have enough vaccines and vaccination points. Up to the end of the year, we will have around 17 to 18 million doses in storage, we’ll be able to vaccinate everyone, be that the first, second or third dose. There are steadfast people who have already received the third dose; their number is now above six hundred thousand. This is a colourful country. It has a section which doesn’t want to have itself vaccinated, while there is another, a careful and responsible section that has already had the third dose of the vaccine. De Gaulle once said when he complained about how difficult it was to be a good political leader in France that it’s impossible to govern well a country that has more than three hundred types of cheese. Perhaps, in Hungary we don’t have three hundred types of cheese, but as regards the range of colours and will, our world is at least as complex as that of the French, and that is reflected in the issue of vaccination.

Yes, complexity and diversity are well and good, but if there are more people who don’t believe that a vaccine is the solution and refuse to have themselves vaccinated, then restrictions must be introduced. Is there a number of daily infections beyond which the government will consider the introduction of restrictions?

Look, what is my approach to this problem? In my view, we must be fair. We mustn’t introduce restrictions which anyone would see as unfair. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be fair if we started restricting two thirds of the country, the six million people who have been vaccinated just because a smaller part of the country refuse to have themselves vaccinated. I’m not a fan of lockdowns and restrictions because they would be unfair on those who have done everything they could to lead a free life while others refuse to follow suit. Those who have done everything they could cannot be on the receiving end. And lockdowns would affect them primarily. Therefore, I’ll keep arguing against lockdowns until the last moment, as long as possible. It’s true that this is an epidemiological issue; it’s not for the prime minister to decide, but for experts. But until a situation develops where it is clear to experts that lockdowns and restrictions are required there won’t be any. In fact, if there are any restrictions, I will propose a return to the use of the vaccination certificate which differentiates between those who have taken responsibility and had themselves vaccinated, and those who haven’t taken such responsibility. We should restrict those who haven’t had themselves vaccinated, and should give as free a life as possible to those who have. I believe that this is what the principle of fairness dictates.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.