Katalin Nagy: we’re at the end of the second vaccination action week, and in Hungary during this campaign about one million vaccines have been administered. To the west and in the countries around us there are lockdowns, and in many places they want to make vaccination compulsory. Meanwhile in Hungary vaccination has been made easier. I Welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. How does the Government assess this result?
Good morning to your listeners. The numbers speak for themselves. In the last two weeks, up to yesterday evening – I’m giving you the totals which were updated early this morning – we’ve administered one million vaccinations at the vaccination points. Of those one million vaccinations, 800,000 were booster shots, or third vaccinations, and 115,000 were first vaccinations. This means that 115,000 people who for some mysterious reason hadn’t been vaccinated have now decided to accept the vaccine. Thanks to vaccination, in the last two weeks the safety of people in Hungary has increased significantly. And as far as the third vaccination is concerned, we’re speeding or galloping ahead. We’re doing well. So 2.6 million people – 27 per cent of the population – have now had the third vaccination. The EU average is around 10 per cent. Most recently the Operational Group looked at when the effectiveness of the first and second vaccines starts to decline. The current conventional wisdom is that this happens after six months, but with the third vaccination the immunity level can be brought back above 90 per cent. We’ve also looked at who has been vaccinated when, so we see the rate at which people who have been vaccinated are losing their immunity due to the decline in vaccine effectiveness that starts after six months. This is why we’ve started this vaccination week, and even made new decisions. The Operational Group thinks – and I share this view – that this year the greatest gift we can give our loved ones is to ensure that we’re all vaccinated. So we’re going to launch another campaign.
Isn’t the setting up of action points – which was mentioned in the Government spokesperson’s briefing – too much of a burden on the healthcare system, or are you trying to do this with extra assistance?
I don’t know if it’s too much, but so far everyone’s battled fantastically. So far everyone has fought well: doctors, nurses, GPs, police and soldiers who have been drafted in, and those in state administration who are organising the defence operation. So they’ve borne a heavy burden, but it hasn’t been too heavy for them; if it had been too heavy, they would have collapsed, but they haven’t. The reverse is true: the capacity of the Hungarian healthcare system is holding up well. In Austria, for example, there has had to be another lockdown because the number of beds available for a pandemic situation is much lower than in Hungary: there the hospital capacity is weaker than it is in Hungary. The Hungarian healthcare system is coping well. In part this is because we have well-equipped hospitals; but it’s also because we have superb, excellent people in our hospitals, who take their oath seriously. So what we’re planning now is for the Government to approach everyone personally. There’s no need to be alarmed, we won’t knock on every door or burst in on people; that’s not what it’s about, but with digitalisation we can now contact people by email, SMS and letter. So we’ll inform anyone whose period of immunity has come to an end, or for whom we think the effect of their earlier vaccination has now weakened. There are a lot of people who have had two vaccinations, but don’t know that they aren’t effective for the rest of their life, and who don’t know that currently science says that their effect – the degree of immunity they give – decreases after the sixth month. So we’ll alert them to the fact that this will happen to them, and we’ll ask them to get the third vaccination. In the next month and a half we’ll organise vaccination action days in every settlement, and we’ll individually inform everyone about this. I expect that the result of this will be a warp-speed increase in the number of people getting the third vaccination.
The teachers’ union fears that there will be a shortage of teachers, as supposedly there are teachers who don’t want to have the vaccine. Is this cause for alarm? What do the numbers show?
Of course a shortage of teachers isn’t a pleasant thing, but it’s a much bigger problem if our children fall ill, and fall seriously ill; teachers are important, of course, but our children are most important of all. We would respectfully ask teachers to understand or accept that for us parents, children are the most important; and we want those dealing with our children to put our children first. In such a situation we’re asking them to take the third vaccination – if not the third, if they’re not there yet, to take the first and the second. So – giving our teachers all due respect, but placing a legitimate expectation upon them from parents – I feel that if they’re dealing with our children, they should do everything they can for the health of our children: they should accept the vaccination.
Another variant has appeared. One has a sense of déjà vu, because this time last year we were very afraid of the British mutation – and, of course, that’s why there was a lockdown in Britain, for example. Now opinions are divided, and we very much hope that those who say that there’s no need to be frightened will be proved right, because although this Omicron variant spreads rapidly, it doesn’t cause such severe symptoms. Still, it seems as if the situation we were in a year ago is repeating itself. Do you agree?
Here I dare not take a firm position on medical matters, because in consultations with doctors and in discussions with epidemiologists I sense scientific or professional uncertainty. So the scientific community has no generally accepted position on the question of how much more dangerous this new thing – this new variant called Omicron – is in comparison with early ones, how much faster it spreads, whether it causes more harm or whether it just spreads faster. I hear one thing and then another when I receive reports from the Minister, who regularly briefs the Government on international scientific findings, giving us an overview of ongoing debates. I think what I’d venture to say now is that the alarm of the first day or two seems to have been greater than is justified by this new variant’s strength. But then again, after having burnt your mouth with hot milk, you even blow on cold water when you drink it. So now we’re the same, feeling that it’s better to be cautious.
In Parliament a majority voted for a referendum on child protection. The Opposition withdrew, of course, and refused to vote on the matter. At the same time, it’s quite clear that the European Commission has been protesting against this law from the outset. Don’t you find it strange that the European Commission is constantly attacking the Hungarian government on account of this legislation, and yet the Venice Commission didn’t consider it to be legally incompatible with community law?
There’s indeed a jostling, confused cacophony over which international organisation says what about this. But between you and me, I confess that I’m not interested in that at all: they can say what they like. And in this I don’t think I’m alone in Hungary. We have our own opinion on the education of our own children. I don’t want the Venice Commission, the European Commission or anyone else to have any say in how we Hungarians – I personally, for example, or you personally – raise our children. So we should be guided by our own ideas. And in order to get one’s bearings in this international debate, here are a few simple things to note. I think it’s important that my children should be Hungarian. I think it’s important not only for me to think this, but for as many Hungarians as possible to think that it’s important for their children to be Hungarian, that they should pass on our culture, and that in the future we want Hungarians to be living in Hungary. This is the starting point. Once we’ve taken this position, from then on it doesn’t matter who says what, because we’ll defend this position. And I believe that we have the right to think this way about our own lives, about our children’s lives, and about our country. And if we think this way, we must defend these positions. In Western Europe there’s a wave – I say it’s a craze, but I don’t want to offend anyone – which quite simply doesn’t respect the right of parents, the exclusive right of parents, to raise their children for full adulthood, including in terms of sex education. So we must avoid a situation in which we send our children to school – which is compulsory, as in Hungary we’re obliged to send our children to school – and then find that there are all kinds of activists promoting all kinds of lifestyles and ideas, concepts and notions about important issues in life, such as how to grow to sexual maturity, which I as a parent completely disagree with. So I think that the right of parents – the right of parents to educate their own children on these issues – comes before everything else: before Brussels, the Venice Commission and this unholy mess in international politics. Here we must quite simply stand up for the protection of our own children. We shall stand up for our children, and this is why there will be a referendum in Hungary, because we’re under enormous pressure. Now that we’re struggling here with the pandemic and the energy crisis and the battle over utility prices, as far as politics is concerned those things are probably occupying people’s attention. But somewhere behind these issues – and perhaps it’s good for everyone in Hungary to know this – there’s another struggle, a bitter struggle: about our future, about our longer-term future, for the souls and minds of our children – in other words, for the future. And, whatever we do, the Government will not on its own be able to defend the interests of the Hungarians, unless the Hungarians themselves take a stand so that we can defend Hungary’s interests together. This is why we need a referendum. It’s worked once before, because immigration is a major, similarly important issue which determines our future. It’s worked once before, when we were almost overwhelmed by Brussels, and then we strengthened our position with a referendum; and you can see that to this day no mandatory quota or settlement of foreigners here has been possible, because Hungary defended itself with the help of the people through a referendum. Now we must do the same – or at least I suggest to the Hungarian people that we do the same – for the future of our children.
It might be the case that many parents agree with you, but what will happen if they withdraw money from us, as since the summer Brussels has been unable to sign off on the plan that Hungary submitted?
The fact is that we are truly being blackmailed. But what’s due to us is due to us. We are members of the European Union, and we pay into it the sums that we’re obliged to pay into it. We’ve made our economy part of the European single market, so we’re letting in foreigners – both as investors and as traders. We have rights, the money is due to us, and we’ll squeeze it out of them. So I have no doubt that the illegality of being blackmailed with financial instruments cannot be sustained in the long term. We shall win this dispute, and the money will arrive here. In the meantime the budget will provide bridging finance, so there will be no break in the development of the economy. But we need to stand firm. This is also a game of nerves: the other side is threatening, and there’s no doubt that they outnumber us; but they have their limitations, and they can’t afford to do just anything they like. And if we Hungarians hold out, on the issue of educating our children we shall win – just as we did on immigration.
But if they can start a rule of law procedure, couldn’t that be changed? Now the EU adviser to the European Court of Justice has said that the applications from Hungary and Poland should be rejected, and that if certain conditions aren’t met, they can indeed take the money from us.
Yes, but we’ll do our job properly and we’ll fulfil the necessary conditions, which is what we’ve done so far. There’s no factual basis for this blackmail, so we’ll defend Hungary’s positions on economic and financial issues too.
But the Hungarian opposition and its left-wing candidate for prime minister are also saying that in Hungary the LGBTQ problem isn’t really a problem, and that kindergarten children don’t want to change sex without their parents’ consent.
That’s because the law prohibits it. Hungary is a normal country, so at the moment the rules we have give the Government the opportunity to protect our children at school and in kindergarten. But the pressure to change this is enormous. If the issue weren’t so important the European Union wouldn’t be trying to persuade us to repeal the Child Protection Act – through means which include financial blackmail. If this isn’t an important issue, why is the European Union blackmailing us? If it isn’t important, why is Brussels trying to force the Hungarians to repeal the Child Protection Act? It’s because it is important – it’s very important. They have plans for Hungary, and they expect us to adopt the Western European culture that allows so-called LGBTQ activists into schools. We oppose this. But we haven’t attacked anyone: we don’t want to tell Brussels how children should be educated in Brussels or in Berlin; we’re only defending our right to say how it should be done here – which is something within national competence. But they want to take away from us a very important law which defines the way, the method and the limits of bringing up children in Hungary. They want to force us to repeal this law. This is an important issue. If it weren’t important, Brussels wouldn’t be making such a fuss about it. So it’s precisely the intensity of the Brussels attack and the pressure it’s imposing that invalidates the Hungarian opposition’s dismissive position.
But they’re using this to try to interfere in next year’s Hungarian parliamentary election.
Well, an election is a serious matter – it isn’t a coffee morning or an afternoon outing. An election is about what will happen to us, what will happen to our future in the coming years, what it will be like. And of course they want to intervene, because they want Brussels to have a free hand over the next four years in imposing its will in the areas of immigration, energy price rises and the education of our children. Today it cannot do so, because Hungary has a national government. We defend our national interests: if something is in the interests of the Hungarians, we cooperate with Brussels; if they want something that isn’t good for Hungarians, we resist. In Brussels that’s something they’ve become unaccustomed to. They want a government in Hungary that only says “Jawohl!” But our government isn’t that kind of government: it’s a Hungarian government, and we’re the ones who will decide what we agree with and what we disagree with. We’ll adopt those things that are good for the Hungarians, and when we see things that aren’t good, we’ll follow our own path.
You’ve mentioned energy prices, on which there’s another dispute with Brussels. The Left would like to see energy prices – whether gas or electricity – determined by the laws of the market. But Hungary hasn’t stopped at providing its citizens with an official price: it’s said that it will also offer this opportunity to small businesses and certain local governments. Where will the money for this come from?
This will have to be paid by the energy suppliers. If you ask me so brutally, I have to give you a simple answer: someone has to absorb the loss. My position is that when things are going well, these huge international corporations make a lot of money; but there are times when things don’t go well, and then they have to cover the losses. It isn’t possible to pass this on to Hungarians. It may be possible to pursue such a policy in Brussels and other European countries, but since 2012–13, when the national government fought and won its battle in Brussels to reduce the price of electricity, it’s been clear that we have the right to regulate prices as we’ve been doing. In Hungary since then this kind of loss has had to be borne by the big international corporations, because they’ve already made their profits many times over. Well, on Wednesday the Government did indeed make a decision, and it wasn’t a simple one. This affects about 33,000 small businesses, which in the period ahead will be put in the more favourable energy price category, or allowed to enter a more favourable energy price category. This will be on the condition that their contracts don’t commit them to a different direction – in other words they haven’t signed long-term contracts. That would be another situation, but those who haven’t concluded such contracts can enter this new and more favourable price regime – also provided that they don’t employ more than ten people and that their annual revenue doesn’t exceed 4 billion forints. So a small business that employs ten people or fewer and has annual revenue of less than 4 billion forints can apply to enter the new energy and electricity system with its more favourable tariffs. This involves costs. The truth is that it isn’t just the big international corporations that will have to swallow this: there’s also a large Hungarian state electricity company, MVM, which will certainly have to absorb some of this loss. We’re also making sure that the electricity network in Hungary operates well. It’s one of the largest companies in Hungary, and it bears a large share of the responsibility for energy supply. It has stood strong so far, and I hope it will continue to do so in the future. At Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting we looked at international price comparisons, and I can see that electricity and gas prices in Hungary are the lowest or the second lowest [in Europe]. Prices [for electricity] in Vienna are double those in Budapest, and in Berlin they’re three and a half times higher. People in Vienna pay three times as much for their gas as Hungarians do, and in Stockholm they pay eight times as much. And we’ve fixed the price of vehicle fuel at 480 forints per litre, which also offers protection. There’s a major energy crisis across the whole of Europe, and this is causing inflation – as is also the case in Hungary. But we can curb this inflation by capping the price of petrol at 480 forints per litre. The debate that you’re referring to – the fact that there’s a debate between the Left and us about whether the market or the state should set the price of electricity and energy – is a very elegant way of putting it. Expressing it in simple Hungarian, I could say that it’s about us wanting people to pay less for electricity, gas and petrol, and the Left wanting people to pay more for gas, electricity and petrol. Of course it’s all very well to have a debate about the market and regulatory principles, but the reality is that when you pay, our position is that it’s right for you to pay less, and the Left says that it’s right for you to pay more. In Hungary this debate has been going on for many, many years. The entire Left is united on this, and they don’t disguise or conceal their position in public. In a way this is commendable, because at least we know where we stand with each other.
What do you think about the fact that Budapest and Hódmezővásárhely would also like to join in what they’ve called a “political stunt”, since as municipalities they’ve also applied for eligibility for cheaper electricity tariffs?
When we think about a local government, we should never think only about the leaders, but also about the people who live in the settlement. I think it’s good for those living in Budapest and Hódmezővásárhely if people pay less for electricity and gas. The Government has created the possibility for this and, just like small businesses, local governments can also join a more favourable price system. We’re happy to be able to help.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.