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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: This has never happened before: if the economy grows by 5.5 per cent this year, families with children will get back the personal income tax they’ve paid. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. This may be unprecedented, but isn’t the principle the same as for the pension premium? How do you see this?

Good morning. The pension premium is about ensuring that when the economy grows, pensioners – most of whom, by definition, are no longer in work – don’t miss out on the positive effects of growth. So they’re receiving some kind of bonus. I’m not sure that “pension premium” is the most original term, but that’s more or less the essence of it. We cry together, we laugh together. We have pensioners to thank for the fact that the country has got to where it is today, and the success of the people who are working today also depends on the fact that their parents and grandparents did their work with integrity. So some share of the success of the current generation of workers should also go to pensioners, and this is the thinking behind the pension premium. If growth is high, then of course this amount will also be higher, and now there’s a good chance that if the relaunch is successful, the pension premium will also be much higher than it was before.

But the principle’s the same, isn’t it? If the economy grows, there will be benefits.

Yes, that principle is true, but the difference is that the tax that’s refundable to family members, so we’re talking about a family tax refund, is related to the fact that they’re currently active and that they’ve earned that money. There’s always a question of whether the country is doing well, and it’s not doing so well at the moment, but the return of the economy after the pandemic and the relaunch of the economy could be successful; the period ahead of us up until the end of the year could be really successful. But what is success for? That’s the question now. In other words, what should we do with the resources – the money – that the economy can produce, over and above the amount needed for the country’s normal functioning? And then one’s imagination runs wild, because everyone has a thousand and one ideas about who to give money to, and how. Usually, the people giving such tips don’t leave themselves out of the loop, so it’s a meaningful and stimulating debate. My answer to this question is that the simplest thing to do is to give it back to those who’ve earned it – especially those who’ve borne the brunt of the crisis. And I feel that in Hungary there’s a general consensus that during the crisis the biggest burden was borne by those with families. Therefore those who have children should be given back the money they’ve earned and paid in taxes. Let’s set an upper limit. Everyone can get this amount back, but only up to the amount of the tax on average income, which is the maximum amount they can get back. I think this is an intelligent, fair and innovative idea. But we’ll put this to a national consultation, because with a solution like this, which has never been done before, it’s good if it can get the public’s clear and unequivocal support. There will be a national consultation, which will be launched soon, and this will be one of the important issues.

Yes, that’s what I was going to ask. If it seems such a good idea, and it’s never been done before, why put it in the consultation? But now you’ve explained why it’s necessary.

There will be more discussion on this.

There will be.

Yes. Well, we’re Hungarians…

What other issues will be covered in the consultation, apart from relaunching the economy?

First of all we need to clarify a basic question. When thinking about the future, I’d like the whole country to move within the same system of coordinates. We can have opinions about it being like this, that, or whatever, and different people want different things; but we should at least agree on the system of coordinates according to which we judge what’s good, what’s useful, what’s bad and what’s useless. And therefore the most important question is whether the country agrees that after the crisis – after the pandemic – the world economy won’t be the same and the European economy won’t be the same as they were before the pandemic. Because if the economy won’t be the same, then we shouldn’t do everything in the same way we did it before, but we should adapt to the challenges we’re facing. My understanding is that there will be big changes after the pandemic, so the European economy won’t recover in the same way, it won’t look the same as it did before the pandemic. What’s more, we must be prepared for the fact that this pandemic won’t be the only one in our lifetime. There will be pandemics. I agree with those who say that we’re living in an age of pandemics and migration, and that we need to be prepared for these challenges, for the challenges that they bring. So in this consultation there will be questions about pandemics, about migration and about the economy.

Yes, as you’ve mentioned migration, it seems that with the arrival of good weather there will be an increase in the number of people who want to enter the territory of the European Union – whether at land borders or maritime borders. It’s also clear that the countries that are, so to speak, bearing the greatest burden – Greece, the southern states and Italy – would like to see the issue of mandatory quotas put back on the European Union agenda. Does this mean that people will again need to be asked the question which they answered a few years ago, so that once more the Government has a legitimate mandate for its resistance to Brussels?

Migrants, migrant armies are hammering on almost every door in Europe. So they’re hammering on the doors that close off the land route, and they’re hammering on the doors that close off the sea route. I’ve just been going over the Hungarian figures with the experts. This time last year the number of illegal border crossing attempts on Hungary’s southern border was around ten thousand. So far this year it’s been 38,000. And how far off is the end of this year? So the situation is that the migration pressure is increasing, and if you and your listeners watch the reports from Italy and Spain, you’ll see the increase in pressure on the maritime migration route. The issue of the pandemic is retreating for a while, but the issue of migration is returning to the centre of European politics. Hungary’s position is clear, and I’d even like to make Hungary’s position tougher. This is possible, because although our position on migration is very clearly one of opposition to it, I’d now say that we must not only reject illegal migration. In some parts of the world the pandemic hasn’t yet been contained, although we’ve done that here in Hungary and it’s slowly happening in Europe too. And Inn such times, during the pandemic, migration is particularly dangerous. So I’d suggest that for two years, let’s say, we should refuse to allow not only illegal migration, but any migration at all. This will be included in the consultation questions, by the way.

This will obviously spark a great debate. All the more so because this isn’t just about the impacts for health care, not just about the strain on social welfare systems, but also about the fact that many people in Western Europe have lost their jobs. So they need jobs, don’t they?

But of course! Perhaps migration isn’t our main topic today, but let me say that in Hungary there’s always a debate on the issue of migration, and this is somehow linked to the issue of being good people: can we be good people while not allowing migrants into Hungary? Are our hearts made of stone, or are we also flesh and blood human beings? Do we have souls as well as hearts? Therefore when the issue of migration becomes more intense, it’s perhaps worth repeating the basic premise, the starting point: the Hungarian government’s view is that migration is inherently wrong from a philosophical point of view, and that there’s no good migration, but only bad migration. Migration is always about people being born somewhere according to God’s order, and not being able to prosper in the place where they were born. And they decide that since they can’t achieve the life they want for themselves there, they pack up and leave. They may have to flee, or they may simply be looking for another place to live for economic reasons. This isn’t good. What is good is for everyone to be able to prosper in the place where they were born. And if we need to help each other in some way and we can help: within a country, and we can also think of Hungary’s underdeveloped regions; or in a European context, as there are also underdeveloped European regions; or in the context of humanity as a whole. We must help everyone to live a life worthy of human dignity and a life that for them is successful, in the place where they were born. And that’s what we must help them do. Now, of course there are times when war, famine or Heaven knows what act of God means that people have to flee from somewhere. But even then the aim is not for them to come here and stay here. If they have to leave their homes, we should offer them temporary help and then send them back; because the natural order of life is that God has given everyone a place somewhere in the world where they were born, they are responsible for that place, they have to live there, they have to work there, they have to prosper with that people, they have to build a liveable human life in that village or town. This is why migration policy shouldn’t focus on admitting migrants and bringing them here, but on providing temporary assistance and helping them create a decent life in the place they were born. This is why the Hungarian government says that help must be taken to where the problems are, rather than bringing the problems here. And Europe is doing a poor job of that. While we’re letting in migrants, while they’re being let in, we’re not devoting enough energy to rebuilding those countries, to rebuilding those cities, to providing help where there is famine and water shortages. So instead of taking help there and sharing it with others, we’re bringing the problems down on our own heads. This is our starting point, and we don’t want to compromise on that.

Returning to the pandemic and the relaunch of the economy, there are already very precise figures on how much money is represented by this reopening of just over a month that Hungary’s been able to achieve here in Europe. And there’s already been a report or survey of how Hungarian businesspeople have dealt with the crisis and how they’ve tried to survive. And there’s a very interesting finding by the researchers, because they say that during the pandemic there has been a sense of solidarity among businesses. So they’ve felt they aren’t alone, and that’s inspired them to not only focus on themselves, it seems, but also on one another.

Youve asked me a very difficult question. This is one of the fundamental questions of Christian culture: how spiritual brotherhood, cooperation, solidarity and friendship can be created between people. And the fact is that numerous historical cases prove that scarcity and distress don’t lead to isolation, don’t lead to segregation, and don’t strengthen the instinct that “I can only count on myself”. If God wills it, and if we receive some help, then suddenly the relationship systems between people change, relationships become more charitable, and suddenly we can count on our neighbours, our colleagues, or indeed our employers. And in the world of business, there really is something now. And in this the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has played an invaluable role. There’s something to be said for not just getting along individually – although in the harsh, difficult, tough world of business you have to get along individually – but also for helping one another. And the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has come up with some brilliant proposals, especially now that the oil price rises have increased the rate of inflation around the world. You know, the price of oil is above 70 dollars, and not so long ago it was 30 or 40 dollars. This is driving up prices, and so the Central Bank’s ability to provide businesses with cheap credit has been reduced. But now businesspeople have come together, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has brought them together, and they’ve worked out proposals on how the Government can help them to help one another. So businesses can survive this difficult period with cheap, fixed-rate long-term loans; this isn’t normally a task for businesses, because they’re the ones who provide the jobs for everyone. When we talk about small and medium-sized enterprises in Hungary, we’re also talking about the Hungarians who are employed by them, and there will only be work if those enterprises can provide it. I’m counting on the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, under the leadership of President Parragh, to present the Government with ever more new proposals. Most of these are viable, and we can implement them. We’re also now launching a large credit programme, with the help of KAVOSZ.

It’s not a miracle, but it’s absolutely obvious that Hungary has been able to open earlier because of the vaccine policy that it’s pursued. Obviously, this is the consequence. But there are still 137,000 people here who haven’t received their second vaccination after their first one. Now it’s been said that when the deadline for the second vaccination has passed these people’s names will be struck off the list. Do you think that this will put enough pressure on them to ensure that they go to get their second dose?

We don’t know yet. We’re talking about adults, so I’m wary of exerting pressure like that; because after all we’re grown-ups, we’re responsible for our own fate, and we’re responsible for our children. So I think that the Hungarian people have a sense of responsibility – although it seems that not everyone has. Because I see that there are over 131,000 people who have taken the first vaccination and then said, “Well, things have improved, I’m fine, the first vaccination can give over 80 per cent protection, and I don’t want to take the second one”. Of course there are some exceptions: those who probably didn’t take the second vaccination because, say, they had some kind of problem – not from the vaccine, but independent of that – and their general practitioner has told them to wait, so of course they wait. I think that among this 137,000 there are people who are waiting for health reasons, but I don’t think that the vast majority are. Of course, there’s no exact figure for that. Now we’re asking everyone who’s taken their first vaccination to take the second one too, because if they haven’t, we’ll have to cancel their immunity card and take them off the immunity list. Of course if someone is in this situation for health reasons, we won’t strike them off, but something has to be done. And I repeat, it’s not the job of the Government to push people, but in a situation like this it’s perhaps acceptable to have some kind of incentive. In this case, such a measure would seem to be removal from the list of safe, vaccinated people.

Now that we seem to have got through the worst period – although we must remain cautious – the Government is enacting the special measure of offering an extra ten days’ paid leave to people who have been involved in the serious and difficult work of the defence operation. Calculations suggest this is around 170,000 people – from nurses to police officers and social workers, everyone who has worked in this. They’ll be very happy to receive this extra ten days’ leave, but one has to ask whether they’ll actually be able to take it. Because there’s obviously work to be done now as well.

These people we’re talking about have worked very hard over the last sixteen months. The crisis has taken its toll not only on those who have found themselves in direct financial difficulties because of shrinking economic opportunities, who have seen the restaurant or hotel where they worked closed, and so on. It’s also hit those who haven’t lost their jobs, and even those who are earning more now than they were before the crisis. But the work that has needed to be done has been much more, much more arduous, and done in conditions which have been dangerous for all of us. I myself have been working sixteen hours a day, my salary hasn’t changed, or perhaps increased a little, but it took its toll on me too – because working sixteen hours a day is very wearing. And I think there are a lot of us in this country, especially those of us who have had to work on the defence operation, who have had no Sundays, no weekends and no time for children. So we’ve really had to work, especially when the wave, the pandemic wave, was trending upwards: there was no way around it, everybody had to contribute to the fight. So people have grown tired. And now we can do this, because now it looks like we’ve conquered the third wave; we can do this, we can give this ten days’ leave, and I’m asking people to take it. So it’s one thing for us to give it; but take it – we can all do with these extra ten days.

What role do you think the agreement with the Chamber of Commerce will play in achieving this minimum wage of 200,000 forints? The minimum wage is now 167,000 forints. This means an increase of around 33,000 forints.

This is a strange question. Back in 1998, when I first became prime minister at a poetically young age, the minimum wage was something disgracefully low…

It was 28,500 forints, and it then increased to 50,000.

Yes, and with tremendously hard work we managed to increase it over four years. By the way, despite this we lost the following election, of course, so raising the minimum wage doesn’t in itself bring political success. But we still raised it a lot. And then in 2010 the low minimum wage level was also unacceptable – and perhaps even more unacceptable because of the desperate situation related to foreign currency loans. So we raised it a lot, but it still wasn’t enough. So I have to say that if it’s true that after the pandemic our most important expectation from the economy is that it should provide security for families, that it should provide security in terms of jobs, that it should provide security in terms of health – with our own vaccines, for example – and if we want to see a more secure, less fragile economy, then families should also have greater financial security. And those who earn the least are always in the most precarious position. So if we’re talking about a secure economy, they need to be strengthened and the minimum wage needs to be raised. The problem is that if it were just a question of will it would be easy: it would probably never have been low. But it’s very difficult to find the balance between trying to give a high minimum wage and preventing small and medium-sized enterprises from going out of business. The big ones won’t if the economy is doing well; and it will do well if Péter Szijjártó and his team handle the relaunch well – and why wouldn’t they? So if there’s a big minimum wage increase, people who are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises could lose their jobs, because if a business can’t cover its costs, including its wage costs, then it will lay off its workers. So good intentions can easily lead to the opposite of the intended result. This is why, when the minimum wage is raised, we must at the same time reach an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and with the representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises, to see whether they can manage this – and if they can’t, we must ask what help they need from the state to enable them to manage it. Over the course of several years I used to negotiate this with Sándor Demján, God rest his soul, who represented the Hungarian business community. We’d spend many weeks discussing what percentage payroll taxes should be, and by how much wages could increase if the Government reduced them. And with great effort we were able to find a path whereby the minimum wage could increase significantly without a single person having to be made redundant. Now that’s the challenge here. I think that a minimum wage of 200,000 forints is the limit that we all want. Years ago nobody thought that this would ever be achieved, that the minimum wage in Hungary could exceed 200,000 forints, but now we’re working on it. In addition to this, if the minimum wage reaches 200,000 forints, the guaranteed wage minimum – which applies to people with qualifications – will be even higher. And together these two effects – the minimum wage and the guaranteed minimum wage – will push up wages in Hungary in general. But it can never push them enough, because wages can never be high enough. I’ve never heard of such a phrase as “enough pay”: you can always go higher, and you can always add one to any figure. And this is good, and we must strive to ensure that people can earn as much as possible.

The European Football Championship starts today. Aren’t you concerned that this tournament won’t be about the games, but about who kneels on the pitch and who doesn’t?

There have been several threats to this tournament. This is a great event for all of Europe. We’re all in it together. For the Hungarians, after being out of it for a long time, being there is a huge achievement. We got ourselves off the hook here against Iceland – who are a very likeable team by the way, and we used to cheer them on, but we’ve absolutely no regrets about them not making it to the Euros. So it’s hard to get here, and this time we’ve done it. The first thing that threatened this great pan-European tournament was the pandemic. It seems perhaps that God is on our side, certainly in Hungary, given that we can go to the matches provided we’ve been vaccinated. The situation isn’t the same in Western Europe, where there will be restrictions. We Hungarians will also be playing in Munich, where, as far as I can see, although they have a huge arena, they’ll only allow in a fraction of the number of people who want to go. So the event has been threatened by the pandemic. Then it’s been threatened by the ideological upheaval which I understand is the result of the spiritual inheritance of the former slave-owning societies and states. The result of this spiritual inheritance, which oppresses them, is this knee-bending. Football is about sport, isn’t it, and things that don’t belong there shouldn’t be allowed on the pitch. So I can understand that some countries, especially now, are salving their troubled consciences through something resembling a political movement, and are somehow trying to bear this moral burden. They obviously think that if everyone shoulders some of this burden, then they’ll be able to bear it more easily. But this isn’t how it is. Because it’s their burden. We Hungarians, for example, have never been either colonialists or slave owners. We have no moral problems or guilty consciences in this regard. We wish them well in coping with this, but they shouldn’t bring it onto the football pitch, because it has no place there. Moreover, in the Hungarian cultural milieu all this knee-bending means something completely different. Kneeling on a sports field, for example, is a problem for Hungarians – and I think it’s a problem not only for us, but for all Central European countries. This is because people here are proud. We don’t expect a player wearing the national shirt to surrender. We expect them to go out there and fight. If they can, they should win; and if they can’t, because that’s how things happen, they must face up to it, and die on their feet. But they must not kneel. They must die standing. They represent their nation because they’re the ones who can do it, they’re better than us. We can’t ask them to behave in a weaker manner than we would behave ourselves. So this whole knee-bending show is, in my opinion, a wrongheaded idea – although at its core is the guilty conscience of slave-owning and colonial peoples arising from very serious historical and philosophical problems. How good it is that we have at least avoided this problem, and have never been one of those countries!

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