Katalin Nagy: As we’ve heard in the news, in all the surrounding countries the virus situation is deteriorating and the number of infections is increasing. The Operational Group has also been in session. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Should we expect further restrictions here in Hungary?
Good morning, and a very good morning to your listeners. They will be necessary, but we don’t yet know what form they’ll take. As we’ve said here a thousand times, and as everyone knows, the situation is that we’ve won a battle, and we’ve broken the first great wave of infection. Now we’re working on mitigating the economic consequences, creating jobs and preparing ourselves for what will happen next. There is no vaccine, and if there’s no vaccine we cannot kill and we cannot destroy the enemy that now presents itself in the form of a virus. So we have to live with it. The numbers are saddening: 242,000 in the United Kingdom, 73,000 in Spain, 61,000 in France, 44,000 in the Netherlands, and 35,000 in Belgium – which is about the same size as us. In Hungary the number is fewer than 800. So far, this looks good. But over the past two weeks the number of infections in Croatia has rapidly increased tenfold, and in Serbia fourfold. And numbers are also on the rise among the Romanians – and even among the Slovenians, who were the most successful in defending themselves. The danger that I can now name for you here is importation of the disease. So the situation in Hungary is under control, but we’ll be affected by what has been happening in Europe, because foreigners are coming, and – especially as the summer is here – we’re coming and going, and importing in the virus. Following the Operational Group’s analyses, I can see that every new infection is associated with some element or factor originating from outside the country. So we must defend ourselves against importation of the disease. The Operational Group has been given a deadline of midday today to table a proposal that includes protection against such importation. Let’s see what others are doing, because in isolation no one can ever be intelligent enough. At times like this the right approach is to see what our neighbours are doing – especially Austria, where a package has been put together that combines quarantine, testing and border controls. The Operational Group will submit a report to me at noon, then we will continue consultations, and I think we can make decisions today or tomorrow. Once again I want to emphasise that Hungary is safe, and the problem is importation. I understand that everyone is going on holiday, and obviously we will do the same. Once a year one should see the sea, but now the slogan should be: “More Lake Balaton, less Adriatic”. In this way the epidemic can be contained.
So the message continues to be that it’s better for us to spend our holidays here in Hungary. A European Union summit will take place next week. What will be the position of the Hungarian government – and you personally – in relation to the future shape of the European Union budget?
Well, we’re experimenting with an unprecedented approach. The EU always has a financial plan for a period of seven years, which we can call a budget. Now, however, the pandemic means that quite a few countries which we’ve considered to be richer than us – and in that we probably weren’t too far off the mark – have been brought to their knees, or could be brought to their knees by September. They’re richer than us, but financially more vulnerable. Early next week, for example, the Prime Minister of Portugal will visit me. I look at Spain’s figures and I see that its debt is above 100 per cent, and the French don’t look particularly robust either. So here there’s a need for urgent, rapid financial assistance. Therefore the European Union is planning to append to the budget a financial and economic relaunch package that for the Hungarian mind is inconceivably large. We’re talking about EUR 750 billion! I don’t even know how much this is in forints, because there are so many zeros that they wouldn’t fit on a single line on a sheet of paper. So now a huge amount of money needs to be injected into the economy to relaunch growth. This money doesn’t exist, however – either among Member States or here at home. Because if it did exist here at home, there would be no problem. This is why – let’s be straight – the large states have decided that we will take out a loan, because there’s credit in the money market, and its owners will supply it if we pay them interest, because that’s what they like. And the EU says that when we take out this large amount of credit we should then distribute it among ourselves, in order to relaunch our economies.
It is unprecedented for the EU to collectively take on debt.
I’m also concerned about it. After all, in the minds of Hungarians debt is one of the most frightening things there is. Hungary has never been a slave-owning country, and we’ve never wanted to become slaves. This is a major difference between Western European countries and us. But Hungarians have experience of a certain kind of slavery: they associate it with credit, and they use the term “debt slave”. This means that someone will be in debt for the rest of their life. And this is also one of the legacies of communism: let’s not forget that in the 1980s Hungary was deep in debt, and Hungary came close to enslavement by having to pay off – throughout the rest of our lives, and even the lives of our grandchildren – the state debt amassed by the communists. Then when the communists returned in a modern form, as socialists between 2002 and 2010, the same danger came to the fore: families’ foreign currency debt. So on the subject of debt, alarm bells immediately ring in the minds of Hungarians – rightly so, in my opinion. I don’t like this solution, and we’d like to see other solutions too. But the truth is that there are twenty-seven of us in the EU – now that the British have left, there are only twenty-seven of us – and here there are big boys, too: the Germans and the French, who’ve come to an agreement with each other; and this solution is also supported by the Southerners, who are most in need of a rapid financial injection. We could veto it, because we need a unanimous decision and Hungary could say “no”; but we’d find ourselves facing twenty-six countries. And if you’re in a community – and we’re members of the community – this should only be done as a last resort to protect your national interests. Here I see the opportunity for us to borrow, but at the same time for us to try to reduce the risk involved. Let’s say that this money must be spent on the development of economies. And then, once we’ve already collectively created this debt, let no one contribute more than others, and let’s not limit one another’s ability to decide how to use the money; because obviously the relaunch of the economy needs to be implemented in a completely different way in France, while in, say, Hungary, the Czech Republic or Poland there will be other ways of stimulating economies. So let this distribution of money be both fair and flexible. And there’s one thing we must avoid at all costs: introducing politics in the process.
Is this the other condition?
Yes, this is the most serious condition. In the European Union this has become routine, especially for loud-mouthed liberals. The Left tends to do this by constantly threatening countries and political actors whom they don’t like by attempting to link financial sanctions to those countries’ and politicians’ policies; this is an uncivilised approach, but it has also become routine in the European sphere, and also in the European Parliament. Those who are not pro-migration like them are attacked; those who protect families as we protect them, in opposition to them or in a different way from them, are attacked; those who love their nation, who see Christian teaching as still being valid or who try to incorporate it into their policies are also attacked. So this loud-mouthed left-liberal bluster – if I may put it that way – is extremely typical, always seeking to attach political viewpoints, its own ideological viewpoints, to economic issues in the European Union. This is a blind alley. It should not be allowed, because if we link these kinds of ideological and political considerations to the spending of money, that money will certainly be spent badly; and the resulting price will be paid by our children and grandchildren. So it is right to make it clear that economic decisions must not be infused with political conditions.
Yes, but this week the EU Commissioner for Justice and the German Minister of Justice said that it’s very important for the rule of law to always be highlighted as an issue. Moreover, the German chancellor Angela Merkel has said – albeit in reply to a question – that if they have to debate this matter with Viktor Orbán they will pay attention to the issue of the rule of law.
Of course I’d be happy to make myself available, but if I were German I wouldn’t pursue that path so energetically. Our two countries are different from each other, but if any such comparison could be made between the rule of law in Hungary and that in Germany, we Hungarians might emerge victorious. It’s inconceivable, for example, for us to have, say, members of political parties sitting in the Constitutional Court. In other countries – in Germany, say – it’s not only conceivable, but accepted practice. Isn’t this a rule of law problem? So I would be careful about that. I suggest that if we want to talk about the rule of law, we should talk about it seriously: countries should come together and sit down to have a discussion in order to identify those points on which we think objections may arise. Well, here I’d like to call your attention to something that I’ve observed recently: the Dutch prime minister went so far as to say that there’s systemic racism in the Dutch police. Isn’t this a rule of law problem? Or look at the Italians: if now it turns out that Berlusconi was convicted after left-wing party leaders had discussed the case with the judges, isn’t this a rule of law problem? Are they lecturing us? This won’t turn out well. It’s clear that a debate on the rule of law will immediately turn into a political debate, and as Europe is in trouble now and we need to restart the economy, I suggest that we deal with this and that we don’t bring these other debates to the fore. If we mix the two issues, there will be protracted debates, but no economic restart and no budget. I don’t recommend this course of action to the large countries and the states of the European Union that consider themselves to be so modern. Let us now put this debate aside, solve the economic problems, restart our economies and start creating jobs. Then at a later date we can continue those debates on the rule of law. But let us not connect these two things in any way, because that will end with us failing to agree on a budget.
In one half of Europe this seems to be a very important issue, and in the other half they think it would be better to talk about real issues. This week the Foundation for a Civic Hungary launched a video conference called “Europe Uncensored”. Even the title is worth noting, I think. And it’s not only because the Hungarian prime minister, the Slovenian prime minister and the Serbian president took part in this discussion, but also because this debate was moderated by a renowned Frenchman. Obviously this will attract attention. Won’t they be upset that we said – or rather this conference said – that we should speak honestly and free from political correctness?
The truth is that the idea itself comes from the French president, who a good year ago said that a frank debate should be launched, that consultations should be launched on the future of Europe, because there are problems in Europe. There are indeed, that fact cannot be denied. These problems are serious enough for us to talk about them. They are serious enough for us to talk about them without censorship, and without ideological prattle about the rule of law. Thirty years ago the Member States of the European Union accounted for roughly 25 per cent of the world’s total economic output. Today that figure is 15 to 16 per cent. In Europe our daily experience is demographic decline, the steady decline in the number of children being born. Our defence expenditures have fallen from 2 to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product to well below 2 per cent, so we can’t provide for our security either. We’re living through a migration crisis, and we cannot settle the fate of the regions from which migration is coming to Europe: from our near abroad – from Libya, say, to mention one. And there is war in Ukraine, our next-door neighbour. So the EU’s capacity for crisis management has also diminished. I don’t use the blanket term “decline” for Europe, because I’m not a child of today, and I remember when in the communist era the Communist Party and Moscow perpetually spoke about “the decline of the West”. When we travelled there it was so amusing: we saw that the shelves in shops were full, and that people were much happier and freer than we were. Meanwhile at home they talked about the decline of the West. It was completely absurd. So someone of my generation will avoid that term. I’d rather say that the European Union is backsliding, it’s regressing or backsliding; and this is why we need to talk about the problems. Furthermore, any such consultation is an excellent opportunity for Hungary to gather friends. After all, Hungary has been isolated for a hundred years, since the First World War. An iron ring around Hungary known as the Little Entente was created, representing a kind of quarantine for us. And it brought Hungary one hundred years of solitude. We had no friends in the region except the Poles, who have been our friends since ancient times. But in our immediate neighbourhood we had none. Now that era is over, a lot has changed and it’s very important and necessary for us to find and accumulate friends. This is why we have the V4. Let’s call them – from Hungary’s point of view – our “northern friends”, as these are countries to the north of us; but we also need friends to the south, and cooperation with the Slovenes and the Serbs is excellent. It would be the same with the Croats, but Croatian-Hungarian relations are sometimes soured by one specific Croatian politician or another. Our system of friendly relations with Slovenia and Serbia, our alliance relationship, is building nicely, however. And such a consultation on the future of Europe gave us the opportunity to think together in public with the Serbs and Slovenes, so that everyone sees that these countries envision their futures in similar ways. There’s an iron law at work here. We don’t usually say this so bluntly, but it’s early in the morning, so maybe it’s permitted to do so. So there’s this world – our world – standing between, say, the world of the Germans and the world of the Russians. This is a geographical area, and throughout history the question put to us – and the peoples like us – has been about who will organise this world between the Russian and German territories, and how they will organise it. And let’s remember that up until, say, the end of World War II, the Germans tried to organise this; and then the communists came here with the Soviet Union, and then they tried to organise it from the East. The lesson is that, instead of one or other of these, we should try to organise this region ourselves, for the peoples living here. Hungary is a good partner in this, and we’re looking for countries with which we can collectively organise the life of this economic and political region. And regional talks, negotiations and exchanges focused on this kind of Europe are taking us in this direction. For the Hungarian national interest this is a good direction.
Spending the huge amount of money that you mentioned on economic development is in fact also supported by the international credit rating agencies, as in their assessment Central Europe is actually in a far more stable economic and financial situation than Western Europe. And the latest available employment data, for the second half of June, shows that the number of people in work in Hungary is on the increase. So the economy protection measures that the Government has enacted really do seem to have produced tangible results.
There has been a breakthrough. This is my good news for today, compared to – or following – many question marks. In an economy of this size – ten million people in Hungary – it’s very difficult to keep track of the changes in economic life. But now I can see that in Hungary before the virus about 4.5 million people were in employment. This is a fantastic achievement, because ten years earlier only 3.6 million were in work. So in the last ten years the Hungarians have done a great deal to be in work. But then the virus came and started to undermine this. Now, in the depths of the pandemic, I saw that there were 4.37 people in work. So 130,000 jobs were lost: 130,000 fewer people were working, and were out of work for months; so more people had left the labour market than entered it. Therefore unemployment has risen and the number of people in employment has fallen to 4.37 million. But last week we emerged from this, and soon for a second week we can see the signs that the trend has been reversed: more people are entering the world of work than are leaving it. This means that the number of people living off work has started to increase and the number of jobs has started to increase. I don’t think that this is a transitory, short, one- or two-week phenomenon. Underlying it I see structural reasons. We’ve saved the jobs of more than a million people through government intervention. By supporting developments we’ve created between 70,000 and 80,000 jobs. There are about 90,000 people in public work projects, who are also in state employment. So the state has introduced all the instruments needed to protect jobs and create new ones. And I see that we’ve intervened in the right places, we’ve made decisions at the right pace, and the results can be seen. So the Hungarian economy has revived and, most importantly, everyone will have work again.
Of course this comes at a price, doesn’t it? The budget has had to be restructured.
Right. If we’d left it as it was…
There’s no alternative?
If we’d left the economy to its own devices and started explaining what we can’t do, then of course now we’d be in the same kind of trouble as quite a few other European countries which don’t have the same kind of figures as those found in Hungary. In those countries there are still large numbers of people out of work, and unemployment is growing. I’d still advise caution in Hungary: I don’t want to get involved in complicated explanations so early in the morning, but I’ve seen a number of financial and economic crises in the past, and I’ve observed that there’s both a direct, immediate effect – like the one we’re experiencing now – and a delayed effect. The latter usually occurs after about five or six months. So we’re already working on this: the Economic Operational Group, led by Mihály Varga, is working to prepare for the fact that sometime around January there will be another trial for us to face, which won’t be caused by new developments, but will have its roots in the current crisis and the delayed impact on the economy that it manifests. We shall prepare for this. We shall deal with this. The Government will also meet in the summer, and it will discuss proposals related to this. In our profession I can honestly say that experience is crucial. So it’s important for a person to look good in front of the cameras, to be able to answer your questions intelligently, to be a pleasant person, and indeed for people to feel that they’re working on their behalf. But after all the most important thing is still experience. Because there are always ever newer decision-making situations, and what is a good or bad decision cannot be discovered in textbooks or from pure reasoning. What is needed is experience: how many times one has seen this or that situation. It’s from this that conclusions must be drawn. As we often say to one another, we’re no longer young enough to know the answer to everything. Which you know means that a young person thinks they know the answer to everything. That’s often true. I was prime minister at the age of 35, and I had enough confidence to take on the job, even though back then I didn’t have much experience behind me. So it’s possible to do serious work at a young age. But as one sees ever more crises one after the other, one comes to increasingly value the experience, experiences and knowledge of our elders and people who are older than us. Because I also feel that now that this crisis is here, I’m benefiting much more from the decisions we and I made in previous crises than from newer analyses. So I think that the good news is that we now have a government whose members didn’t start their careers yesterday: I’ve been working with the Interior Minister for fourteen years; with Mihály Varga since time immemorial; the central bank is still led by a tried and tested man; although he’s a young man, Péter Szijjártó didn’t enter this profession yesterday; the minister dealing with issues related to national assets is an experienced banking expert; and we brought Mr. Palkovics in from the world of business. So I feel that there are so many people in government right now who in their own personal careers have seen difficult situations, crisis situations, and don’t take fright when the water gets choppy.
There’s a very sensitive question at the end of our conversation. What’s your opinion on the Gábor Kaleta paedophile case, and the fact that an independent Hungarian court gave him a suspended prison sentence of one year?
I’d say that this sentence, this lenient sentence, is proof that neither the prosecutor’s office nor the court are under the Government’s influence. Because if they were, that would not be that sentence: it would be five times longer. I try to talk calmly about this, although this specifically is a case in which it’s very difficult to do so. I don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary to talk calmly, because after all this is about children. I have five, and I already have grandchildren. When one hears about such a case, one first of all thinks of one’s own children, and that they, too, could be victims. From my childhood I remember what my parents and neighbours said in cases like this, about what they’d do if someone touched their child. The men said, for example, that they would break their back, while the women more or less said they’d flay them alive. So this is the emotional situation which is one’s starting point; if one sees the like of this then one thinks of one’s own children. And in such situations no punishment seems excessive. The court and the prosecutors have followed due process, but I don’t want to leave it at that. This matter isn’t over, and I don’t want the country to feel that it has a government that explains why it doesn’t take action in a morally compelling situation. So we can’t bring the prosecutor’s office and the court under control – and I don’t propose that, because that’s not how things are done in the world right now. Things could be different, but now these are the rules by which we live our lives, and the Constitution also delineates these frameworks. Therefore we’ll use the instruments available to the Government and Parliament. There are such instruments and legislation, and we will introduce laws under the broad, inclusive category of child protection, which can provide parents with reassuring answers to paedophilia, child exploitation, drugs, the dangers lying in wait for us on the internet, and quite a few other issues. We’ve set up such a working group, and I think that by the autumn there will be a proposal on this. I consider one of the most important issues in the autumn legislation to be the creation or amendment of laws on the protection of children, and the tightening of laws, adjusted to established practice or recorded precedent. We need to talk this through calmly and moderately, but we must not compromise: we must protect our children.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.