Judit Tomay (M1): Prime Minister, is it possible to make any predictions regarding the measures you’ve listed – for instance, the last one about the extra ten days’ leave? When will those concerned learn about the details? Could this already have an impact on the summer leave of the workers concerned?
I think it could, but as Gergő – Minister Gulyás – worded the decree, he’ll be able to give you a precise answer.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: All those who have taken part in the defence operation will be eligible for ten extra days of leave. The managers in the given areas will identify the people who have taken part in the defence operation. But it’s also possible for everyone working in a given area to be considered eligible for the extra leave – such as all police officers, civil servants or other regional public administration workers, and naturally nurses and social workers. They’ll be able to take this leave from the date the decree is released up until 31 December next year. This leave can’t be converted into cash, so it will have to be taken. The goal is for those who worked hard to have a rest.
As regards the rest of the measures, as this wasn’t the only one we spoke about, your question is all the more justified; because the success or failure of the economic relaunch of 2021 will emerge at the end of the year. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve determined this as a percentage of the increase in gross domestic product. In reality it’s a little more complex, but this is a suitable indicator to express the degree to which we’ll have managed to relaunch the economy. Therefore at the end of the year we’ll see whether we’ve succeeded in relaunching the country and the economy, and whether we’ve succeeded in raising the country’s rate of economic growth to above 5 per cent. If we manage to raise it to above 5.5 per cent – which will be hard work, but is by no means impossible in economic terms – then we’ll have the economic performance and resulting budgetary revenue that could form the basis of the measures I’ve announced. These measures include, for instance, tax rebates – up to the level of the tax on the average income – for families raising children. But there are other measures, too. At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting we also heard a proposal from the Interior Minister that if the economy does indeed reach 5.5 per cent growth and the country’s economic performance allows it, then so-called “firearms money” – a sum equivalent to six months’ salary paid every three years to soldiers and police officers, to those in the armed services – should be paid not on 1 January 2023, but on 1 January 2022. But I repeat, in order for these measures to be implemented, we need to achieve good economic performance in 2021. Therefore, while we’re able to decide on these measures now, particularly if we’re supported by voters in the national consultation, we’ll only be able to implement these decisions at the end of a fiscal year which we hope will show high growth: at the beginning of 2022. In this regard dates are indeed relevant, but we don’t want to raise unrealistic hopes. I’d like to make it clear that each and every one of the measures we’ve now announced will only be possible if we reach or exceed economic growth of 5.5 per cent.
Judit Tomay (M1): What’s your standpoints, your views, on what happened at the Ireland-Hungary match? Taking the knee or not taking the knee?
I can’t tell you what the Minister’s position on this issue is, but I have a strong opinion on it. To tell you the truth, I can see nothing to like in this knee-bending show. In my view there’s no place for anything like this on sports fields; sport is about something else. And anyway, the meaning of these gestures depends on the culture of a given nation. The cultural context – the cultural context that’s evolved over the history of a nation – determines what’s right to do and what isn’t right to do. We probably perceive gestures of this nature completely differently from the British or the Irish. In a Hungarian cultural context a gesture like this is only permitted – and in fact expected – in three situations: a Hungarian kneels down before God; they kneel to their country; and the third situation is when they propose to the love of their life. In every other situation this is quite simply alien to our culture in Hungary. At the same time, we do not expect our footballers and national teams – not just footballers, but all of our teams who wear our national colours – to kneel. In fact we expect the opposite: we expect them to fight and to win; and if they fail, if that’s how things turn out, they should die on their feet. This is the least we expect of our national team. We do not expect them to kneel. Culturally, this is completely alien to the world in which we live. At the same time it’s true that there’s a reason these gestures are spreading so fast, as underlying them is a real moral and historical consideration. In the final analysis, when we look at who invented this or how it came into our lives, we’ll see that in essence it was invented by former slave-owning countries. And we Hungarians don’t see the weight and burden of this, because Hungary has never been a slave-owning country. But when you think about it, how difficult it must be – morally and historically – for a country to face up to its own slave-owning past, given that the descendants of slaves are now living amidst them. It’s a heavy, grave moral burden, but one that everyone – every nation – must carry for themselves. Not having been slave-owners ourselves, we’re unable to help them carry that burden. There’s no point in them bringing this burden onto the football field, as this won’t relieve them of it. They must deal with it themselves in their own cultural context and with the approaches developed in their own history. I don’t think that this is a solution, and so I agree with the fans. And I think that it’s right for the Hungarian team to fight and want to win; and if necessary they should die standing.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I agree with the Prime Minister, and I won’t tell you my even more radical opinion about Black Lives Matter.
On these matters I’m one of the more moderate members of the Government.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): I’ll have a lot of questions, making the most of the Prime Minister’s presence with us. Regarding the issue of taking or not taking the knee, I’d like to ask you about the booing. Does the Prime Minister think that it’s acceptable for fans to boo players who take action against racism in this way?
My opinion is that if you’re a guest in another country, you should try to understand its culture and avoid provoking the people who live there.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Was the fact that they stood up against racism a provocation to Hungarians?
No, I’ll repeat: if you’re a guest, don’t provoke your host. Looking at them from the viewpoint of our culture, we can’t interpret these gestures as anything other than something incomprehensible, a provocation. And the fans reacted as people tend to react to provocation in general. They don’t always choose the most elegant form, but we must understand the reason for that.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Do you support the proposals of the Directorate General for Hospitals regarding in-patient care? They’ve said that long-term care will remain in only six hospitals, and there will be 2,500 fewer hospital beds.
We’re not familiar with such proposals. Expert recommendations are being prepared all the time, sometimes circulating in state administration by the dozen; but an expert recommendation is one thing, and the opinion or decision of the Government is another. In health care there will be no reorganisation or reform of any kind. I’ve been following healthcare reforms at close quarters for thirty years, and my experience so far is that healthcare reforms usually result in the public faring worse than earlier. So my watchword is “Anything but reform!” It’s another matter that we must prepare health care for further defence operations, and supplies must be accumulated. It’s been revealed that we don’t have enough anaesthetists, and so on. This means that there are a lot of things that we must do to strengthen Hungarian health care. But we don’t need reorganisation.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): So am I right to assume that the plans of the Directorate General for Hospitals will come to nothing?
You’re right to assume that the Government hasn’t discussed such plans. As it hasn’t discussed any such plans, it couldn’t come to any decisions on them. So it won’t happen.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): What about the reorganisation of general practitioners’ consulting hours? Is this on the agenda? In how many places could standby services be eliminated?
We’re expecting a proposal on this, but it’s still only at the level of the experts. When we have a proposal we’ll be happy to inform you, but it’s too early at the moment.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): The person heading the list of the top one hundred richest people in Hungary has been dethroned. What do you think, Prime Minister, about the fact that your childhood friend is now at the top of this list as well?
What I think about issues of this nature in general is that the Government is involved only to the extent that it expects someone who has a lot of money to follow two rules: the first is that they must observe every regulation; and the second is that they must pay all their taxes. So I really hope that everyone pays their taxes. There are many such lists. I’m not particularly well-acquainted with them, but when I see them, all I see is that – if you take a good look – 80 per cent of the top one hundred are still from the Left. We’re a long way from the desired state of balance.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Would it be desirable for people associated with the Right to be in the majority, Prime Minister?
Balance is a good thing.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): During the crisis Lőrinc Mészáros was able to increase his wealth by 185 billion forints. What’s your opinion about this performance?
The rules must be observed and taxes must be paid. More revenues, more taxes. It’s good for the budget.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): How much state funding have Lőrinc Mészáros’s interests received from the state in the past year?
Let me tell you that I’m happy to answer your questions in general. I respect the work of postmen, but I’m not a messenger or courier. So if you want to ask questions related to business actors, you should contact them, as I hardly think this is our task. As this is a regularly recurring question, I can tell you how, in general, the relationship between politics and business should be defined. I can answer this question in general. In Hungary there are two traditions in this regard. On our side – which we should call the national side, or the Right – the rule is that business issues and business in general cannot be mixed with politics. This has always been embodied in our leaders. It was the case with József Antall, with Péter Boross, and also with me. When I’m ninety I’d like to be like Péter Boross, walking into the various areas of public life with my walking cane in hand and dealing with politics. He didn’t join the board of directors of any international company, or even a Hungarian company, like Chancellor Schröder, or like many others in Western Europe. In this respect, the tradition of the Right in Hungary is clear: they expect leaders – including me – to keep politics separate from business. The tradition of the Left in Hungary is different. This is also clearly embodied in their leaders. On that side business and politics aren’t separated, and so leading the Left – and becoming prime ministers of Hungary on behalf of the Left – we regularly see tycoons and businesspeople who are successful in their own way, from Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy through Gordon Bajnai to Ferenc Gyurcsány. That’s a different tradition. I continue our tradition, and point out that we don’t want to deal with business issues. We devise economic policies, make macroeconomic and budget plans, and even create public procurement rules; but business remains within the realm of business. If you still have any questions, please go ahead.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Naturally. State funding is awarded by the state. I think that of the people from the Government in this room you’re the most competent to answer this question. The question was this: in the past year, during the crisis, how much money did Lőrinc Mészáros’s interests receive in the form of state grants?
I suggest that you contact those who are directly involved, because they’re the ones who know about the ownership interests of this or that business actor or company. The Government doesn’t look into that. The Government is only able to decide on funds requested by companies in calls for proposals: the Government has no competence regarding the owners of those businesses and the percentages of the stakes they hold. Therefore I suggest you direct your question to members of the business community.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Prime Minister, do you have a similarly arm’s-length attitude to the wealth acquired by members of your family?
Yes, my position is the same as the one I’ve just outlined.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Fine.
Excuse me, I’m happy to answer your questions, but there are others who would perhaps also like to ask questions.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Of course, I’ll give them a chance, too, but I have one more question, Prime Minister. The Moderna vaccine has also been given approval for commercial distribution. When will it be possible to be vaccinated by private providers?
So far, the Government’s efforts have been focused on accumulating stocks. This issue is more complex than it appears at first sight. We’ve accumulated stocks of ventilators, face masks, personal protective equipment, and we’re now accumulating stocks of therapeutics and vaccines. The question is more complex than one would think, because these supplies are in warehouses, and are unproductive: money has been invested in them, and it’s better if that financial investment is activated. But at the same time, if we don’t have warehouse stock when trouble hits, we’ll find ourselves in trouble. This is what we found with ventilators and face masks – and more recently with vaccines. Therefore, trying to make a judgement by looking to the future, I think we must maintain relatively high stocks of everything – even if we’re not going to use them for some years. This was my point about it making sense to ask the people in the consultation for their opinion on the extent to which we should create and maintain production and warehouse capacities which allow us to prioritise safety in the economy and life in general over straightforward financial considerations. So to date all our efforts have focused on the accumulation of stocks. We haven’t finished doing that. When we have, we won’t be opposed in any way to letting any vaccine become commercially available. I think it’s good if people can choose.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): So at the moment there’s no way of knowing when we could get to that point. In principle is there any view on whether a person who has received an Eastern vaccine could, as a potential third vaccine, receive the Moderna vaccine – say, from a private provider?
I think that this is a virology issue, a technical issue. I try to understand the studies that have been released on this subject, but we mustn’t judge this or reach a conclusion on it. In general, I’d warn all politicians against retraining as virologists. It’s better to stick to our own job, and leave such specialist issues to the experts. For instance, this issue that you’ve brought up is the subject of very lively debate in the relevant international literature: if you’ve received one or two doses of a certain vaccine, whether it’s best to receive a third dose which is the same or different. As far as I can see, the majority of scientists appear to favour mixing vaccines; but the Hungarian scientific community, Hungarian doctors, have yet to adopt a final position. Once they adopt a position, the Government will accept it.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): In such a case, what will happen to the EU vaccination certificate, the green pass? If someone’s received two Eastern vaccines and then a Western one, will they be eligible for a green pass?
For the time being I can only tell you that there’s a Hungarian immunity certificate, but there’s no EU immunity certificate. It only makes sense to talk about what we have, because we Hungarians have immunity certificates, and we can travel with them. We’ve concluded bilateral agreements with thirteen or fourteen countries, on the basis of which we accept their national certificates and they accept ours. These countries represent the majority of tourist destinations for Hungarians – not all, but the majority. The situation is that there will be a common EU travel or immunity certificate that you’ve referred to as a green card. Even in the most optimistic scenario, that won’t happen any sooner than 1 July. What we can do is harmonise the two cards or certificates. The EU immunity certificate won’t be issued by Brussels, but by the Member States on the basis of criteria determined by the EU; this will be our responsibility. We’ve decided that the simplest solution is to harmonise the data content of the Hungarian immunity certificate with the relevant EU requirements: in the electronic version of the Hungarian immunity certificate we’ll enter the data, the additional information, requested by the EU. This work is in progress, and by the deadline of 1 July the digital version of the Hungarian immunity certificate will contain all the information necessary for movement in Europe. At that point we’ll arrive at your question: what will and won’t enable one to move freely. I myself received the Chinese vaccine, and I’m convinced that every vaccine will enable us to travel. We’re gradually getting to that point. At present very many countries are still not regulating travel through immunity certificates, but through test results. So even those who have been vaccinated with Pfizer, say, aren’t allowed into every country without a test. I believe that the other countries will reach a level of immunity and vaccination coverage which, after a while, will enable travel with any vaccine. I hope that this will be the case, because I’m also affected.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Prime Minister, you mentioned just now, and you also mentioned earlier, that every vaccine available in Hungary will enable one to travel freely. If my information is correct, we have bilateral agreements with five EU Member States or so which also allow free entry to those who have received Eastern vaccines. Will this continue to be the case, or when will those who have received Eastern vaccines truly be able to travel freely in the European Union?
At present the main restriction on travel isn’t what kind of vaccine we’ve been vaccinated with, but the fact that some countries aren’t letting anyone in at all, or only with a test result. This is the bottleneck, not the vaccine.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Today there’s no other document with which one can travel as freely as with the Hungarian immunity certificate. Now the Hungarian immunity certificate allows travel to the highest number of places in Europe, and we already have agreements with almost all our neighbours, except for Austria.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Prime Minister, how do you travel with the Chinese vaccine to countries with which there’s no bilateral agreement?
I usually follow the principle – and so far, I’ve managed to observe it more or less – that whatever isn’t available to a Hungarian citizen shouldn’t be available to the Hungarian prime minister either. For instance, the Hungarian Football Federation invited me to matches played behind closed doors; but I didn’t attend a single one, because I thought it wouldn’t be fair. So regarding travel I also usually try to follow the rule that the leaders of Hungary should only be able to do what the citizens of Hungary can do. There are a few exceptions that I can hardly avoid – for instance, there will be a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday. But in that regard too, when I last attended a European Union summit I was required to take a PCR test, despite having been vaccinated – because that’s the only way one can enter Belgium. And the situation was similar most recently, when I went to Britain. So I think I’m more or less able to keep to the principle by which I’ve tried to guide my life and job over the past sixteen months.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): I’d like to ask you about the personal income tax refund…
Are you sure the others [journalists] are willing to tolerate this peacefully?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: There’s no obstacle to arranging an interview with RTL. Please ask a final question, and then allow your counterparts to ask theirs.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Fine, alright. I’ve got out of the habit of live press conferences; earlier we were allowed to ask all our questions, but in that case I’ll ask one last question.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Everyone exercised some self-restraint. Undoubtedly, the opportunity today is a great one, but even so.
Balázs Litauszky (RTL): Yes, the temptation is great, and as regards questions I’m spoilt for choice; but I’ll select one last question. The personal income tax refund. This has been mentioned already. Although the Prime Minister has spoken about a refund, I think there’s a need for some clarification. What’s the situation for those who are normally eligible for personal income tax relief? Will they be refunded the reduced sum or the full sum? Can they expect – as a kind of bonus – a full refund of personal income tax without any reduction reflecting the benefits they’re entitled to? Mothers with four children, for instance.
People will only be refunded what they’ve paid. I’d like to make it clear that we’re not talking about financial handouts. I myself might have great ideas about who should be given money, but that’s not what this is about. We’re talking about the money they’ve paid in – the money they’ve worked for, the money they’ve handed over to the state – being refunded up to an upper limit: the level of tax on the average income. They won’t be refunded tax above that limit, only the part below; but that will be refunded to everyone. This is the fundamental concept. The reason we’re including this in the consultation questionnaire is that while there are many arguments for and against this, we’d like to ask for a view on it. Incidentally, we don’t need just one clarification, but many clarifications; because this is something that we’ve never done before. It’s certain, however, that the key actor in this manoeuvre, in this campaign, will be the tax authority. The tax authority will need to perform fantastically: to have precise records and be able to determine precisely who’s entitled to a refund; and they’ll have to work hard to enable us to refund these sums in good time. I’d like to repeat: we’re returning what is ours, because in the form of taxes we collected the money that belongs to people who worked for it, and this is their money. In that respect this approach is completely different from the principle of handing out money that’s been experienced in the past.
Krisztina Kincses (Magyar Nemzet): After Tuesday’s Hungary-Ireland football match, [DK Member of Parliament] Péter Niedermüller made a rather unpleasant statement on his social media account. Prime Minister, do you really think that on Tuesday evening it was better to be Irish than Hungarian?
The author of that opinion is a mayor, a district mayor in Budapest, and voters will decide what they think about such an opinion. My concept of the nation is a broad and inclusive one: I think that even those people who would rather be Irish belong to the Hungarian community and are part of the Hungarian nation, and they’re still Hungarians.
Krisztina Kincses (Magyar Nemzet): Would the Minister comment on this perhaps?
He has a harsher view, let’s not allow him to state it.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: The order within the Government is clear, and that’s better for everyone.
Krisztina Kincses (Magyar Nemzet): Prime Minister, do you think the fact that Gergely Karácsony and the Left are now suddenly using such anti-China rhetoric could cause foreign policy problems or economic damage?
I don’t think so. Hungarian-Chinese relations are very strong. There are few things from the old world that we’ve remained saddled with that I’d dare to say we aren’t troubled by or haven’t got a problem with. Most of you here today are young; but perhaps we should remind ourselves that back in the day, before you were born, within the communist bloc there were major ideological, foreign policy and power debates. And even back then, in those debates Hungary never sided with Moscow and against China. Hungarian foreign policy was always sensitive to this. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but there’s a reason that Péter Medgyessy, for instance, continuously supports Chinese-Hungarian economic cooperation. The reason for this wasn’t ideological, but rather that even in the old days people thought that our relations with China were in essence not a political or ideological issue, but an economic one. And this is an enormous economic opportunity that everyone wants to take part in, as everyone agrees that the coming decade will be one which witnesses the rise of Eastern economies, countries that will rise dynamically: Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam, to mention another communist country. Within the EU, for instance, there’s a race to develop economic relations with China. I’d like to remind everyone that the Germans are leading this race. We shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity: we must take part in it as best we can, according to our influence and abilities. So what if there’s a political debate about this? We live in Hungary, and what isn’t there a debate about? This doesn’t change the essence of the matter.
Krisztina Kincses (Magyar Nemzet): What’s your view on Jobbik and DK having already concluded agreements with each other in more than a third of the 106 constituencies, before agreements with any other left-wing party?
I’ve so far managed to distance myself from these issues, and I’d like to continue keeping that distance. We don’t want to comment on what we could just call “The Gyurcsány Show” and its intricacies, phenomena and statements. Fidesz will probably do so, but I think it’s possibly best if the Hungarian prime minister doesn’t engage in such debates.
Krisztina Kincses (Magyar Nemzet): And wouldn’t the Minister like to comment?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: I’ve been replaced as Fidesz Vice-President, so I daren’t speak about party affairs.
Krisztina Kincses (Magyar Nemzet): We’ve already heard many things about the personal income tax refund. Is there any information on approximately how many families will be eligible?
Even though the fate of any proposal will be decided by the consultation, regardless of that we must naturally carry out preliminary calculations and estimates for a proposal of such importance. In terms of money, we’re talking about refunding tax revenue of around 530 to 580 billion forints, depending on the details of the rules. In terms of the number of people, as far as we can see, around 1.1 million families could receive refunds of some size, depending on the amount of the tax they’ve paid. So the number of families concerned is certainly more than one million. There’s usually more than one adult in a family; there are at least two, and so it’s easy to do the maths. The number of families is definitely above one million. There are a few details to work out, but I’d rather not involve you or myself in a debate on details which will only be relevant after we’ve concluded the consultation. There is, for instance, the question of those who pay the flat-rate tax: people who pay a monthly flat-rate tax. What should happen in their case? We also have a calculation model for that, but let me repeat: we don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We should first decide whether this is the right direction, and then we can look at the details.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: TV2! TV2 isn’t here…
Dániel Szűcs (Hír TV): Some of my questions have already been asked by my colleagues. Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you about the European Championships, which start on Friday and which will partly be held in Budapest. After the arrest of a Hungarian terrorist last week, are you planning to tighten security measures for the European Championship matches in Hungary?
This is in the past tense, something that’s already happened. In general, it’s not right to talk about such security issues – or such security details – in public; but when the Interior Minister reported the incident, when it was revealed by the Counter Terrorism Centre, we made decisions about raising the level of security. This has already happened.
Dániel Szűcs (Hír TV): In the past few days we’ve heard and seen contradicting information and news reports about the International Eucharistic Congress and the Pope’s visit. Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you to clarify things once and for all. Will you meet Pope Francis at the International Eucharistic Congress?
What we know for certain is that I’ve already met him. That’s certain. If I remember correctly, I met him not once but twice – in Rome, or near Rome. Now, when it comes to the Pope’s visit to Hungary, we want to put our thoughts in some order. What we must bear in mind is that the Pope is both a head of state and the leader of a church. When he comes here, he’ll also be coming as a head of state, and we must give him the respect that’s due to a head of state. And, as we’re talking about the head of a Christian church, when he comes here as the leader of a church we must receive him with Christian humility. And that’s what we’ll do. This situation is special, however: he’s not coming here for a bilateral meeting with representatives of the Hungarian state, but he’ll be the guest at an international event. Therefore it’s entirely his decision who he meets and who he doesn’t meet. Whatever his decision, we’ll respect it. If we can meet him, we’ll receive him with humility, and it will be an honour.
Dániel Szűcs (Hír TV): What could the consequences be if it turns out that Gergely Karácsony really doesn’t have a foreign language qualification? What might happen if that’s what the Education Office’s investigation reveals, and it turns out that he held a teaching position at Corvinus University in breach of the relevant regulations?
Please help me not to get involved in that.
Dániel Szűcs (Hír TV): Minister, do you have anything to add?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: In general we should adhere to the principle that it’s best if a person fulfils responsibilities that are suited to their qualifications.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, you caused some surprise by agreeing to appear here at this press conference. Are you planning to surprise the Opposition one way or another before the 2022 elections – for instance, by taking part in a debate with their joint candidate for prime minister?
I definitely won’t engage in campaigning before January. An incumbent prime minister has responsibilities towards the country and the electorate, and he must lead the Government. I’d like to start dealing with campaign issues only in January at the earliest. Instead of surprising the opposition, I want to offer security to Hungarian citizens.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Then surprises aside, would you be willing to engage in any debate, Prime Minister? A public debate?
I’m there on the battlefield in Parliament, in case you hadn’t noticed. I don’t know how many times I have to engage in the harshest, most brutal – often even vulgar – debates. You see that yourself. There will be debates.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): I report on them.
Anyway, Hungary has no shortage of political debates.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, at yesterday’s “Világgazdaság” conference you announced that one year’s tax will be refunded to those who are eligible. As 20 May is the deadline for the submission of tax returns, why will you be refunding this tax in January-February, before the elections? Do you think you can win an election with this, Prime Minister?
We have a clear picture of the taxes paid, as we’re talking about personal income tax which is collected by the tax authority at the end of December and the beginning of January. If voters ask for this sum to be refunded later, that’s a possibility.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): I assume not, but my question is whether this is a measure that’s designed to help you win the election in the last stage of the campaign.
Just now I promised you that I’ll only deal with campaign issues from January. If you’ll allow me, however, I’ll tell you that I think that elections can only be won through good governance, and nothing else. You have to govern well. The Hungarian people have a choice, because the Left which is now applying for the job of governance has already governed in Hungary. The national Right which is now in government has also governed. These are governmental performances which can be compared with each other, and so when the time comes voters will be able to make a well-informed decision. So I trust and believe that one must do one’s job well, one must govern well, and then the people will give one the job again. This is how it’s been so far, and this is why we’re in our third term in government.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Will there be any change in your or the Government’s working relationship with Gergely Karácsony, now that he’s announced he’s running to be nominated as the Opposition’s prime-ministerial candidate?
I’ll do everything I can to dissociate myself from that.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, you’ve just announced that another consultation will be held with reference to the relaunch and these very important issues that you’ve mentioned. At the same time, the capital city has also started a consultation about Fudan University, about its establishment here. To what extent will the Government respect the outcome of that consultation and make decisions accordingly?
On that we don’t have much choice, because things are running on a fixed track. In my view, the establishment of a university is a specialist issue of higher education. This is how it’s always been. The Left has decided to turn this into a political issue. Specialist issues can be resolved with specialist decisions. Political issues cannot. This has now become a political issue, which must be decided in a way that’s acceptable to everyone. Once we know what we’re talking about, when we have the plans and the cost estimates the only solution I see is for voters here in Budapest to decide this in a referendum. This is how we can resolve a political issue.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Prime Minister, several times you’ve stated the principle that no project will be built in Budapest without the support of the capital or its leadership. Why don’t you simply withdraw the legislative proposal on Fudan from the parliamentary agenda? Will there be a vote on this next week, next Tuesday?
There will be a vote. At present we don’t have plans and cost estimates: numbers are being thrown about, with people talking about heaven knows how many hundreds of billions of forints, but we don’t yet know precisely what we’re talking about. But when we do, there will also be a referendum. Anyway, these plans won’t be completed…
Minister Gergely Gulyás: [The deadline is] 31 December next year. We’ve attached an amendment of a single sentence to the bill – which at noon today the Legislative Committee will decide on – which will make it clear that the results of the preparations and the plans must be presented to Parliament by 31 December next year. After that – with the costs known – we’ll be in a position to decide, possibly with a Budapest referendum.
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to make a comment related to a matter of principle. Just as the world is changing in terms of the economy, so it is in terms of the related system of training and education. For me this whole issue is about how, in the new economic order that’s being built before our eyes, to help young Hungarians hold their own – not only in the Western economy, but also in the Eastern economy. I’d welcome any university here, be it Japanese, South Korean or – ad absurdum – even Vietnamese, although they have a communist government there, too. In any case, I’d be happy to see them in Hungary. We’re not afraid of communists; we’ve already defeated them once before, so we don’t have a problem with that – we know exactly what to do and how to do it. Therefore we believe that economic cooperation with them is important, as is training and preparing people for that cooperation. Incidentally, all of these countries – including China and Vietnam – begin every international meeting by reassuring us that they only want to develop pragmatic cooperation, and that they don’t want to force their ideological beliefs on us. They don’t say that in return they ask us to also refrain from forcing our beliefs on them, but it’s only right that we don’t. The West doesn’t always reciprocate: we lecture them on issues that I don’t think we should be lecturing anyone on.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Has the Government abandoned its plan for Fudan University? Or if the capital doesn’t want it, will it suit Debrecen?
There will be a referendum. This will be a good opportunity for everyone to present their arguments. I have strong arguments; when the time comes I’d be happy to share them with people, then they can decide, and we’ll accept their decision.
Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV): Naturally I respect the Minister’s request, and the Prime Minister’s even more so, but will this referendum be initiated by the Government, or who?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: It can be initiated either by the City of Budapest or even a party, in accordance with the rules for local referenda. Given that my understanding is that there’s agreement on this issue, we can easily create the necessary conditions.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): On 15 June the ban on resignations of healthcare workers and police officers will come to an end. Does the Government expect a sudden wave of resignations – and if so, how big a wave? Does the Government have any plans for what will happen if people start leaving these professions in large numbers?
We don’t expect such an outcome. It can’t be ruled out and there’s a chance of a few per cent; but realistically speaking we’re not concerned about such a threat. If it were to happen, we’d take the necessary steps to prevent either public security or healthcare security being compromised in Hungary.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): Do we know how many students need to take their final examinations in the resit session because, through no fault of their own, they were in quarantine during the first round of examinations?
We don’t have such a number yet.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): You’ve spoken about the personal income tax refund several times. Prime Minister, which part of the budget which has been adopted will provide this estimated sum of 500 billion forints that you’ve mentioned?
In order to have the necessary funds, we’ve had to link this idea to an economic performance which exceeds that stated in the budget. In the 2021 budget – and I hope I’ve correctly remembered the numbers – we assumed economic growth of 4.3 per cent. If there’s growth of only 4.3 per cent, we’ll have scope for nothing more than what’s laid down in the budget. The reason I say that we must reach, we must push growth higher than that – up to 5.5 per cent – is because if that happens, then there will be extra revenue which isn’t in the current budget. And in that event we must decide what to do with it. I think it’s realistic for us to have growth of over 4.3 per cent. And, if we do our job well, it could be as high as 5.5 per cent; so we’d like to clarify what will happen to the extra money that’s generated. This is what we’re talking about. If the extra revenue generated by our economic growth isn’t enough, then we could use funds from other lines, or from the reserve line of the budget. This is what the Finance Minister told me to say, this is the precise answer from a budgetary point of view.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): Will this be a one-off refund, or could it be repeated later, tied to another GDP growth target?
I believe it’s a one-off, because of the pandemic and the virus. This isn’t how one normally approaches a budget; normally it’s possible to plan ahead with certainty. But when the gross domestic product falls by 5 per cent in one year and could increase by 5.5 the next, we must adopt decisions of this kind. But this isn’t the normal order of life: we need sure and predictable budgets, which cannot include measures like this. Now, however, with the relaunch of the country, such an approach is inevitable.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): As far as we know, people under the age of 25 who enjoy personal income tax exemption won’t be eligible for this refund or the family tax allowances. But does the Government intend to support them in some form if they have families?
The tax exemption for people under 25 – to be more precise, their personal income tax exemption, which we’re very proud of, because we’ve never had anything like this in Hungary – will only enter into force on 1 January 2022. The fiscal year we’re talking about – on the basis of which we could refund tax payments – is 2021, and so the two issues won’t clash.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): Prime Minister, can you give us some details about the responsibilities of the two operational groups you announced yesterday? What will be the tasks of the operational groups responsible for the relaunch of economic and social life? What powers will they have?
They’ll have powers, but please allow them to be the ones to inform you about those powers.
Balázs Ambrus (index.hu): One last question. How many foreign nationals have registered for vaccination to date, and how many of them have been vaccinated? Last week Minister Gulyás said he’d have the answer this week.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: Vaccination is ongoing, and I’ll be able to give you an exact number towards the end of the week. So far, more than 35,000 people – around 35,000 – have registered. Is there anyone from Origo? If not…
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): Prime Minister, what’s the best way of measuring the success of the management of the pandemic: the number of deaths relative to the population, or the number of people who have been vaccinated?
In my opinion – as human life is the most important – the number of deaths.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): Of those vaccinated?
Of those who have died, of course.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): At the beginning of last autumn, you yourself highlighted this as the most important factor, so it remains the most important. How would you describe Hungary’s performance in that area?
It would be difficult to say anything else, because for any normal person the top priority can only be lives. During a pandemic when lives are in danger, they are the most important, and they must be saved. I look at international comparisons. In Hungary there’s a political debate about how many is a lot or a few. In my view a single person dying in a pandemic is one too many. So in that context talking about success or anything like that is positively unpleasant or inappropriate, and it gives one a bad feeling. Every week the European Union releases a list of the excess deaths caused by the pandemic in each country. Hungary is ranked in the middle, fluctuating somewhere between the tenth and seventeenth positions.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): But if we look at the actual number of people who have died of the coronavirus, it’s almost 30,000. As far as that number is concerned, unfortunately we’re among the leaders.
There’s a debate that when we compare… Of course 30,000 is a lot – of course it is. But the question is about the number in an international context, given that we’re talking about a pandemic. In an international context, we follow the European Union’s records, and that indicates that we’re ranked in the middle.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): If I’ve understood you correctly, you said that there are even enough vaccines available to administer fourth doses. Could this be necessary?
We were told that a third one might be required, and as in a crisis situation I follow the logic of the “cautious bulls”, I’ll always make sure that our reserves are enough for one extra dose. This is why I said that we should procure enough vaccine to ensure that there’s enough in storage not only for a probable third dose, but also for a fourth one, that might become necessary for whatever reason. This is why we’ve ordered this much, this is why we’ve ordered more. There are some who have said that even four might not be enough, and that we should order enough for fifth and sixth vaccinations. I don’t think we should do that, however, because a Hungarian vaccine – a self-developed Hungarian vaccine – will also be available; and in that circumstance we’ll no longer be required to procure vaccines from abroad. If a fifth or sixth dose is required, we’ll be able to manufacture the vaccine here in Hungary.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): So from now on will we have to prepare for vaccination once or twice a year?
I’m more optimistic than that, but we’re only guessing. It’s perhaps wrong for a prime minister or people responsible for informing members of the public to make pure guesses. Let’s just say that it’s possible.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): I’ll ask, instead of guessing. Is the Government assuming that there will be a fourth wave of the pandemic during the autumn?
We’re also prepared for a fourth wave.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): The personal income tax refund. Will you also be eligible?
I have a young child, so I’ll be eligible.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): The cost of this measure is approximately 600 billion forints, and if I remember correctly, this is more or less how much it would cost to reduce the personal income tax rate to single digits. In terms of budget revenues, there’s obviously a difference between the effects of a one-off measure and one repeated over the years. But why didn’t you instead opt for, say, reducing the present 15 per cent rate of personal income tax by 3 or 4 per cent? This would set us on the path that you’ve enthused about for so long: the path leading to a single-digit rate of personal income tax.
Yes, I’d like to achieve that, as I think that the best tax rate is zero; but as a life organised by the state necessitates collective expenditure, from the army to public safety to education and health care, we can’t avoid that. But as far as tax rates are concerned, the lower the better, and I’m convinced that the more proportionate they are, the fairer they are. The less ideology and politics we involve in this the better. In my view, the most important aspect of the Hungarian economy’s success is a completely rebuilt economic system, a tax system, operating with low tax rates. What you’re saying – setting out on that path – isn’t impossible, but at present the question isn’t what we can do in the future: the question is what we can do with the extra revenue generated in 2021. Right now we’re talking about a growth rate that in 2021 could exceed all preliminary expectations. Let me repeat: if business actors, workers and employers – and the Government – do their jobs well, the growth rate could be higher than expected. This will result in extra revenues. And I advise against distributing these revenues. There are plenty of ideas for such distribution: there isn’t a single segment of the Hungarian economy – from education to health care and social services – which wouldn’t benefit from more money; and then there’s the area of tax reductions. So funds are required everywhere. The Hungarian economy isn’t as strong and prosperous a welfare state as, say, Germany: here, there’s always something to spend more money on. The question is what we should do now that we have extra revenues. I’ve suggested that we give it back. And we’re giving it back to families, families raising children, because, in my opinion, this pandemic has hit them the hardest. In my opinion they’ve borne the heaviest burden. Therefore, if there’s money to give back, we should give it back to them; instead of distributing that money, we should give it back. This is a completely different logic to finding reasons which answer the question of which particular specialist area should be given this much or that much more money.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): Questions on the minimum wage. You’ve mentioned that small and medium-sized enterprises could receive tax relief. What form would this take? The six-year wage agreement that you concluded with employers in 2016 is about to expire. Is the conclusion of another long-term agreement on the agenda?
I’d like us to be able to do something similar, except with a higher pay rise.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): So you want to further reduce the social contribution tax from the present 12.5 per cent, even to below 10 per cent?
Yesterday I spoke to the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. If I may use a sporting analogy, as I see it he’s flexing his muscles; because there are difficult negotiations ahead, and they always want the same thing. If I may put it this way, they’re training to persuade the Government to somehow reduce contributions and taxes on labour. This isn’t something we’re opposed to, but we’ve got a country to operate, and that also has its limits. The sumo match is about where to set that limit.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): This is what I was referring to: a social contribution of around 10 per cent could be a limit below which state revenue and the provision of basic services in the social security system could be at risk. How much more room for manoeuvre is there for the reduction of employer contributions, and are you thinking in terms of another six-year agreement, or one with a shorter term?
The longer the agreement the happier we’ll be with it. However, there are three parties to these negotiations: trade unions, employers and us. So this will primarily be determined by their opinions. We aim for stability and predictability, so we prefer a long-term arrangement. As far as room for manoeuvre goes, it’s determined not only by mathematics, but also by the performance of the economy. If we manage to remain on a course of high growth over an extended period, we can continue to function with lower tax rates.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): Let me ask you about China; this topic has already been raised here. A number of analyses have been published in the press lately, concluding that agreements of this type have negative consequences for the host country, with China extending its political influence in many regions of the world in this way, through business agreements. I’d like to know how you see this process.
As regards facts, I read in [the weekly magazine] Mandiner that Fudan University cooperates with five universities in Germany, is present in 24 Scandinavian universities, and cooperates with Yale In the United States. This is the situation. If those others can protect their national security interests, I think we can too.
Zoltán Baka (mfor.hu): I wouldn’t confine this issue to education alone. I was clearly talking about this in a broader sense: I’m thinking about economic cooperation in general, such as the development of the Budapest–Belgrade railway line, for instance. Hungary and China are involved in close economic cooperation on a number of points, and in Hungary this is evident in a number of forms. This is what I’m talking about: from a number of countries around the world we hear stories that sooner or later these economic cooperation schemes can lead to increased Chinese influence. Could this threat emerge in Hungary?
As long as Hungary is led by a national government, you can rest assured that there will be no foreign influence here, from any direction. At the same time, Western influence is much stronger. This is necessarily the case, as if you look at our economic data, you’ll see that 80 per cent of Hungarian exports are to the European Union; so the strongest influence comes from there, from the strong states of the EU. They sometimes try to exert a very strong influence on Hungary – one that at times isn’t to our liking. We also engage in very strong cooperation with the US economy, as do the Germans; but the latter didn’t stop the Americans wiretapping the German chancellor – or chancellors, because we don’t know how long that went on for. If anyone says that attempts at exerting influence have a geographically or ideologically identifiable direction, they’re mistaken. This is part of international politics. Everyone strives to assert their interests internationally. We ourselves are players in this; and at times we’re also targets. And when we’re targeted, we defend ourselves – it doesn’t matter if it’s coming from the Germans, the Americans or the Chinese. We defend ourselves against everyone, because we want to defend our national interests.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): Prime Minister, if I’ve understood correctly, we’re close to becoming self-sufficient. You’d like us to be able to supply ourselves not only with vaccines, but also with everything else. This is the direction we’re heading in with the airport, too. I hope we’ll have an airport of our own. Will the airport be followed by our own airline?
First of all, we’re unable to supply ourselves with everything, and therefore participating in international trade continues to be in Hungary’s interest. In fact I’m personally convinced that if we tried to develop a standard of living purely relying on the economic strength of Hungary’s population of ten million, if our living standards relied on that alone, then they’d be much lower than they are at present: we’d be much worse off than we could be with the assistance of our participation in international relations. I’m not a believer in Hungary isolating itself. I strongly support free trade. And while naturally we must build in certain filters to prevent the destruction of our own economy, I think that for us it’s best for there to be an atmosphere in the world that’s characterised not by cold wars, boycotts or sanctions, but by the most dynamic economic cooperation possible. In those conditions we swim like fish in water: that’s what’s good for us. Hungary profits and benefits from this, and it’s the source of its economic strength and higher living standards. This is my first conclusion. My second concerns the fact that there are strategic sectors. We can’t be entirely self-sufficient in those sectors either; there’s not a single strategic sector that I say should be 100 per cent Hungarian-owned. Nevertheless, there are a few strategic sectors which we’d like to be mostly in Hungarian ownership, and in fact where we’ve already achieved that – in your sector, for example. In my opinion it’s not good for a country if the majority of media owners are foreign. In my opinion it’s not good for a country if foreigners are able to exert influence through the media by using the power of information. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be present at all, because they are present: they’re also present in this room, and that’s perfectly natural. But percentages matter. The banking sector is similar. People sometimes say that money has no smell. I remember the 2008–09 crisis, when the majority of Hungary’s banking system was controlled by foreigners. And while money allegedly has no nationality, everyone immediately rushed their own money back to their homelands. All the banks repatriated their money from Hungary, too. What matters most is where you belong. And in that period Hungary was left here, high and dry financially. We mustn’t let that happen again. We must possess the means that are needed to control the most fundamental processes. The energy sector is another one of these sectors. Today no one remembers that when I began in 2010, 25 per cent of [Hungarian oil corporation] MOL was spirited out of the national sphere of interest to Surgutneftegas: a Russian buyer with an unpronounceable name. We first had to fight a major battle to put the brakes on this, and then we had to reacquire it in very tough negotiations in Moscow. If today they weren’t owned by universities, 25 per cent of the shares in MOL would still be owned by Surgutneftegas. So there are sectors, including the energy sector, where let’s say at least 50 per cent of the assets needed to maintain security of supply – the assets needed for the production and transport of energy – must be kept in national hands. In recent years I’ve done a great deal to achieve this, which has been an important task for our government. And if I had to make a long list, it would extend from MOL, say, to the Foreign Trade Bank, or the electricity distributors previously owned by e.on. So we’re unable to become self-sufficient in everything, but in the strategically important sectors we need a dominant Hungarian role.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): The airport and airline are strategic issues.
To answer your question, yes, I think the airport is also one of those, but not necessarily airlines. Incidentally we have a Hungarian airline, and we’re proud of it. As far as I see, it does well every year. In fact its owners occupy prominent positions on the list that someone here mentioned earlier; and I’d like them to move even further up to the top of the rankings. This is because we all have an interest in a successful airline – even if it’s not owned by the state, but privately and is traded on the stock exchange.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): There’s a religious war in progress across the world, with Christians being killed, Jews being killed, and so on. Yet yesterday the international media learnt to perfectly spell the name of the town of Berettyóújfalu. Berettyóújfalu, which isn’t far from Debrecen, saw the opening of a synagogue which had been renovated at a cost of 2.5 billion forints. I don’t want to complain about my colleagues, but interestingly I didn’t see adequate coverage of this in the Hungarian media. Is this because they don’t want to talk about it? Or for some other reason? This is something we can only be proud of.
No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s because you live here in Budapest. Just wait: this week we’ll be opening the Páva utca synagogue, which has turned out to be fantastic, and which we’re very proud of. Just wait, and I’m sure there will be much more coverage of the opening of that one, because this is a Budapest-centred country. The people of Berettyóújfalu also deserve more attention, but for the time being this is something we have to accept. I don’t think there’s any ideological or political motive behind this, and I’m sure that the Hungarian public will be able to learn about the Páva utca synagogue in all its beauty.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): I don’t like to correct the Prime Minister, but it’s not the Páva utca synagogue, it’s…
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): The one in Rumbach utca – today indeed. Naturally Heti Televízió will cover the inauguration, live from 2.30 p.m.
Thank you for the correction, but to save my blushes let me just add that we renovated the synagogue in Páva utca earlier.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): Yes, we were there. Mr. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, has arrived in Hungary. Will you meet him? He, too, has come to attend this event.
I meet him – I usually meet him – when he’s in Hungary. I hope that also on this occasion he’ll honour me with a visit. We usually have sparkling conversations. I greatly appreciate his intellectual courage. I admire the work he does, but on certain issues, he’s a particularly enjoyable partner to talk to. I truly hope that he’ll also visit me on this occasion.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): I don’t want to convert anyone to religion, but one of the main topics of the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe is interfaith dialogue. What are the Government’s plans? I think it’s very important that Hungary stands up for almost everyone, and for freedom of religion. So let me ask you my last question on that subject. A slap in the face was delivered in Paris. A few minutes ago, answering a question from my colleague Ildikó Csuhaj, you said that you don’t want to take part in any campaigning just yet. As preparations for the election are already well under way, what will you do – and what will the Hungarian government do – in order to prevent any slapping incidents as the situation intensifies?
Well, that slap was delivered in France.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): In Paris.
Yes, and the French are a revolutionary people. In general, if you look at the manifestations of political emotion over there, their intensity is several times that of those of Hungary; so just because something’s happened over there, it doesn’t mean that it will happen here, too. I’d like the election to take place in a calm and peaceful atmosphere, with the clash and presentation of arguments, but without any physical trials of strength. You asked about interfaith dialogue. This year we won’t be holding our event in Tusnádfürdő, but I’d been preparing an address in which I’d try to clarify the meaning of Christian Hungary, the meaning of Hungarian politics built on the foundations of Judeo-Christian traditions, how this should be envisaged in today’s modern secularised world, what makes a society Christian and what doesn’t. This year that stage won’t be available to me, so when I’ve finished preparing it, perhaps I could sum it up in a written text. If the Holy Father meets me, I’d also like to tell him the answer to your question: that we preserve our identity which is based on Judeo-Christian traditions, and that for us Christianity isn’t a matter of choice, but of predestination. This is the special character of Central European Christianity, and within it Hungarian Christianity. When he’s here we’d like the Holy Father to feel that here we’re not talking about choice, but predestination. This is our fate. Christianity isn’t a chosen worldview: in addition to the fact that naturally it’s a religion, it’s the cultural environment which we were given, which was predestined for us, in which we must live well and in which we must try to gracefully accommodate ourselves. This is our approach. As a possible answer to your question, it follows from this that interfaith dialogue is something to be cherished. And Hungary takes part in this process, always and everywhere. Wherever we have foundations, influence and institutions, we strive to put the issue of interfaith dialogue on the agenda, because – whatever their faith – good people are able to agree on how to live well and correctly. And interfaith dialogue can bring us closer to this. These are very difficult questions, but we can only find answers to these questions through dialogue.
Péter Breuer (Heti Tv and Breuerpress): Will you fight for our veto? Or is it possible that the Germans will succeed in stopping or nullifying our right to exercise a veto if we disagree with something on foreign affairs issues?
First of all, I don’t seek out conflict. Wherever possible, we follow the policy of cooperation, the policy of loyal cooperation within the European Union. But we must engage in a battle wherever the threat of the violation of our national interests emerges. The size or influence of the country doesn’t matter: we must engage in these battles, and the Hungarian people must stand up for themselves. As I see it, unfortunately the number of these issues is increasing, because the migration debate is now returning: the Italian prime minister has announced that he’ll have it put on the agenda of the next summit. There’s also a battle about household utility charges, and who should pay the bill for climate protection. And there’s the debate initiated by the Germans about whether or not there should be limits placed on the range of issues and decisions requiring unanimity. It’s on this third issue that we Hungarians are doing best, because we have treaties: the European Union has treaties, and these lay down precisely what requires unanimity and what can be decided with simply a majority. And in order for anyone to change these, they’ll also have to amend the Treaties of the European Union. That, in turn, can only be done with unanimity. So we’ve told them in advance that they shouldn’t even start this. The problem today isn’t that Brussels doesn’t have enough powers, but that it has too many. For the European Union to function well, instead of giving Brussels decision-making powers, we should take back decision-making powers. But this debate, too, is only just beginning. The debate on the future of the European Union has started, and soon Hungary will publish its own keynote statement. On 19 June there will be an event marking the thirtieth anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. On that day we’ll introduce the thoughts with which Hungary – or, to be more precise, the Hungarian government and the Hungarian governing parties – would like to participate in the debate about the future of the European Union.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): Prime Minister, when did you decide to take part in today’s press conference?
When yesterday the Government decided to approve and support the tax refund, and to launch a national consultation.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): Can we count on you appearing unexpectedly at these press conferences in the future, or is there no system?
There is a system. Every year, at the beginning of January, I’m happy to host the last or first press conference of the year. I’m happy to meet you then. I’m also happy to give interviews to people with whom I can conduct a meaningful conversation. So I ask you to be satisfied with this much from me.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): In fact that’s what I wanted to ask you – whether members of the press will have more opportunities to interview you as the election approaches. So yes, maybe. Now that you’ve mentioned the tax refund – as this must be called a tax refund – does this also mean that it won’t reduce the tax base?
We’ve yet to determine the exact name, because it’s so complex and difficult to say as it is; but we haven’t yet found a better definition than that we’ll refund the tax that families with children paid in 2021, up to a certain upper limit.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): You mentioned a sum of approximately 580 billion. What about the 1 per cent that taxpayers are allowed to donate to civil society and other organisations? Of course that could be around 5.8 billion. What will happen to that sum, once taxpayers have given their instructions and now they could be refunded this next…
This is one of many details on a long list, and we’ll answer them after the consultation. If in the consultation people approve the concept, we can then discuss the details. There are quite a few others.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): Fudan University. Earlier Gergely Gulyás mentioned that at present the issue of the Fudan University isn’t in a form which is suited to public debate. Do you agree?
First of all, with all due respect to the Minister, regrettably it’s not our task to decide what is a form that’s suited for a public debate: it’s your task. If people talk about something, it’s already in a form suited to debate. Whether or not that debate is meaningful is another matter. In my opinion, for a debate you need some basic information, and we don’t have that yet.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): But in part perhaps society doesn’t have that information because the Government isn’t sharing the details.
That’s a possible assumption; but if you’ll indulge us, we have a better opinion of ourselves. We think that a government is something serious, and that it should speak when it’s able to say something of sufficient gravity and seriousness. For instance, there’s the question of how much it would cost. On this subject we can see all sorts of proposals and expert documents and heaven knows what; but at this point in time there’s not a single estimate that could be taken seriously, because that would require plans. I’ve made one request to Minister Palkovics, who’s responsible for commissioning the plans: instead of dreaming up some cube, they should contact architects who are able to somehow give aesthetic expression to the fact that this is a joint Chinese-Hungarian university. So they should somehow represent this aesthetically. I don’t know how this should be done, because I’m not an architect, but I just wanted to ask them to depart from the usual approach of cubes and straight lines – you know these modern buildings – and to put some love, some spirit, some invention into it that lends it power. Therefore at the moment we’re unable to say with any degree of seriousness how much the construction of such a university would cost. And neither are we able to say whether the Hungarian budget is able to foot the bill. And if it is, we’re also unable to say how many phases the implementation of the project would require: one phase, two phases, three phases or four. I’m also unable to tell you where funding from the project should come from, because that depends on the sums needed. Perhaps the Hungarian budget can afford it, perhaps not. But all these are questions…
Nyilas Gergely (telex.hu): Isn’t it certain that there will be a Chinese loan?
…these are all questions which we can talk about meaningfully and seriously once we see the plans. Therefore I ask everyone to wait for them; I’m also waiting for all that information.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): What we do know, however, is that there was a plan for a student quarter which was officially approved, and we also know that the Fudan University campus will definitely encroach on the site of the planned student quarter.
Yes, according to our present knowledge, but there will be a referendum. Perhaps people will reject it, and then we’ll have to ask whether that means that they don’t want it there or anywhere else. I think that at present these are rather… We’re at a very early stage, and you’re jumping the gun. Let’s first decide exactly what we’re talking about. For that we need plans, and that will take time. It’s certain, however, that after that the people will decide.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): What led to the idea of a referendum?
In answer to an earlier question I said that this was a professional debate, a higher education debate. The Left decided to turn it into a political debate. And as the city is led by the Left and the Government is of the Right, we can’t decide this debate in any way other than a referendum.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): I see. In April the Government published a chart of vaccines, which attracted a lot of professional criticism. Katalin Karikó also said that it was far too vague to allow any meaningful conclusions on the efficacy of vaccines. Recently the Government has released another chart which is also rather vague, but it shows that the percentage of people who have been vaccinated but then fall ill and die is higher in Hungary than in the United States. We’re talking about small numbers, but here the percentage of people falling ill and dying is higher. What could be the explanation for this? Are you looking for a possible reason for this difference? As I said, these are small base numbers, but the difference is perceivable. What could be the reason for this?
If you’ll allow me, the most important thing I can say is that under no circumstances should we put ourselves in the position of causing alarm to the public. Today the clear professional, scientific position – that the Government itself accepts – is that the only effective defence against the virus is the vaccine. There’s always some microscopic particle of truth in news reports which question the efficacy of vaccines – claiming that this or that may not be the case, or people may still die after having been vaccinated. But that’s dwarfed by the colossal fact that the vaccine is the only possible escape, the only defence against the virus. So I ask everyone to avoid debating minor details that could whip up a storm and create the impression that the expectations and hopes attached to the effectiveness of vaccines are being called into question. We shouldn’t do that under any circumstances. Therefore what you said about a very small number of cases is important, and you yourself are aware that when the numbers are very small, even one or two cases could significantly change the percentages. And so I’d like to ask you to also exercise some caution. What the Government can do is to try, in the most precise and reliable form it can, to publish as much information as possible about what experts – not the Government, but experts – are experiencing after people are vaccinated with one vaccine or another. We’re publishing that information, which is medically and professionally approved and well-founded. I don’t want to put scientists in an uncomfortable situation, however; because they’re doing a difficult job, investigating, analysing and trying to quantify something we haven’t seen before. So I ask everyone to also show some understanding and cooperation to the scientific community.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): At the beginning of May Minister Kásler mentioned that there would be an investigation into the efficacy of vaccines, and that this would be concluded at the end of May. What do we know about this investigation and its findings? When will they be published? Do you have them already?
At every Cabinet meeting we receive a status report from the Minister about the progress of this investigation, and we’re also urging for its completion.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): But at present there’s no date. I didn’t want to ask you about taking the knee, but you’ve mentioned that you regard it as a provocation. What values do you think this gesture embodies? What’s the meaning of taking the knee in a football stadium – where the Irish team also took the knee?
Something that’s definitely alien to Hungary, because this isn’t part of our culture.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): But you know what it means, what this taking the knee is about, how it started: that it was primarily protesting against the oppression of black people, for equal rights and the recognition of shared human values.
But there must be some misunderstanding, because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the fact that there are countries which in the past kept people as slaves – not only black people, not only African Americans, but also others – and which are struggling with the resulting legacy. We, however, never kept slaves of any colour. We’re not struggling with that problem. I don’t want to talk about this at length because I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, but it’s widely known that the first President of the United States was a slave owner. I’ve been to his house, I’ve seen it. He was a great man, an outstanding statesman, and I think the whole world owes him a debt of gratitude. I went there, I saw this. Now they’re struggling with this. But this isn’t our problem; how is this anything to do with us? We live here, we’re Hungarians, and we’ve never kept slaves. We didn’t even have colonies. What’s this got to do with us? I understand that they’re struggling with this problem, and I wish them well; but what’s this got to do with us? This is simply irrelevant to our cultural environment, and so I can’t see this as anything other than an impolite provocation.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): And what would qualify as impoliteness as hosts? What would it have taken for you to say that these vehement supporters were impolite as hosts?
Let me just ask you this. What business is this of the Hungarian prime minister?
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): You mentioned a provocation, there’s an international event, we invite a team, we know that…
This isn’t a Hungarian Football Federation press conference. I’m happy to answer this question, but I’m not the relevant person to do so. I’ve said what I could say, and perhaps more than I should have.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: If you have a final question, just go ahead…
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): I have. Then I’ll ask my final question. It’s about gravel pits…
Minister Gergely Gulyás: A question related to the Prime Minister’s remit. Please go ahead.
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): I would have asked you about the fact that in pro-government media outlets we’ve heard that the Pope is anti-Christian. What’s your opinion about the Pope allegedly being anti-Christian? What’s your opinion on that? We heard it on the programme “Press Club”, in a conversation between Bencsik and Bayer. But as I’m not going to ask that, my real question is about gravel pits. A decree has made it possible for the Government to invite restricted tenders for gravel pits, among other things. The reason cited for this change was the coronavirus. Indeed, mining concessions can be leased as well as sold through a restricted procedure. This is what happened with three or four gravel pits in Kiskunlacháza and Délegyháza. On its website at the beginning of May, Hungarian National Asset Management Inc. published a call for tenders, which turned out to be restricted. This is the first one of its kind. There was also a question in Parliament related to this, and we tried to find out what justified a restricted tendering procedure; this is the first time that this happened. Whom did you invite, what was the result, what was the final price and who was the winning applicant? These questions are also important because the prices of raw materials are continuously increasing, and many representatives of the sector think that if businesses had been allowed to bid in an open tender, the state could have received a much higher price than with restricted tendering without bidding. Furthermore, with the mining concessions only being leased, rather than sold…
What’s your question?
Gergely Nyilas (telex.hu): What was the justification for this? What parties were involved? What was the sale price?
According to the information I’ve received from the Minister, there’s no decision yet. A decision might be reached in the next few days at the earliest, because the Government doesn’t deal with this issue. The minister responsible for the sector is in charge. You seem to have mentioned multiple cases, and I’ve only dealt with one – because it was put before the Cabinet. That involved someone who had rights to a site in Hungary for the extraction of raw materials which they hadn’t operated for many years. From this we concluded that they bought it not to operate for the benefit of the Hungarian economy, but in order to exclude others from competition. And that’s not right. We wanted to, and will, create a rule to the effect that if someone acquires the right to exploit raw materials on a site – in this case, we’re talking about an important raw material for the construction industry – and doesn’t operate it for a certain amount of time, there must be some possibility to intervene in the interests of the Hungarian economy. Hungarian law grants that possibility; and there was also a court decision, if I’m not mistaken, which ruled that in such a case the right of use will be returned to the state. And quite rightly the Hungarian government decided that we didn’t want to fall into that trap again. Therefore we’re only inviting tenders from businesses which will operate the sites, because there’s no other way of guaranteeing that we won’t find ourselves in the same situation again: seeing someone not actually operating a site for ten years, having acquired the concession only so that they can exclude their rivals. This is bad for the Hungarian economy. And we prevented this bad practice by only inviting businesses which want to operate that site for the extraction of raw materials. This is the reason, and I think it’s a good decision.
Csaba Horváth (24.hu): Prime Minister, you mentioned that when Hungarian vaccine production starts, there will be no need for foreign vaccines. Regardless of that, if this does happen will people continue to have access to Western vaccines?
Commercially, of course they will: Hungary won’t in any way prevent or restrict the commercial distribution of pharmaceutical products – including vaccines – which have the necessary international licences and have been approved by the Hungarian authorities.
Csaba Horváth (24.hu): Commercial distribution…
Csaba Horváth (24.hu): Will György Simonka be standing for Fidesz In the 2022 election? Prime Minister, what do you think about his prosecution?
If I understand correctly, the case in question is still in progress and there hasn’t been a verdict yet, so I’d rather not state an opinion – I’d rather wait for the verdict. As regards candidates, the local groups will decide. We have a constituency system, and the group in each constituency decides on whom they’d like to nominate. I’ll be able to answer your question once they’ve made that decision. That will happen in January, and so until then I ask for your patience.
Csaba Horváth (24.hu): Does Árpád Habony still give you advice, and if so, how much does it cost?
There’s no cost involved, unless his advice ends up having cost consequences. And yes, he does give me advice.
Csaba Horváth (24.hu): So he still does. If you were to find yourselves in opposition and the family of the next prime minister were to earn, say, 15 billion forints in seven years, most of which originated from EU and state funds, what would you say about that?
I’d suggest that they pay their taxes and keep to the rules.
Csaba Horváth (24.hu): At present, the various government agencies have 90 days to respond to freedom of information requests. When will this time limit be reduced back to the original time limit of 15+15 days?
A return to that is justified, as 90 days is a very long time. We’ll return to the old arrangement as soon as possible. I’d like to put an end to the whole state of danger regulation as soon as possible. We received authorisation for this from Parliament. I very much hope that when the European Championships have come to an end the legal situation will be returned to one which matches reality. Because in reality you can see that Hungary is already operating as a normal democracy: ours is a post-crisis, democratic country with all the possibilities for public assembly, free association and local government activity. I’d like the legal situation to be brought back into harmony with this as soon as possible. It makes sense to maintain restrictions until the end of the European Championships, because we don’t know whether or not a new wave will start, with people coming here and large numbers of people gathering together. I’d like to wait until we’ve managed to come to a final position regarding possible new infections. I hope there will be no such thing, and if there isn’t I’d like to hand back these powers immediately. It would also be easier for me. Parliament would be better able to plan its work, and I think that would also be true for the Opposition. I don’t know if that’s an important consideration, but as they’re also citizens of this country, it also matters. So I think everyone would welcome this.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): I’d like to return to the number of lives claimed by the pandemic in Hungary. In September you said that Hungary measures the success of its defence operations in human lives, and just now you were talking about this success – in this case, we should use the terms “success” and “lack of success”. But in September you continued this sentence, saying that “as I see it, in that respect we’ve won the first battle. In Sweden – which has roughly the same population, I think – the death rate is ten times that of Hungary’s”. And in May, you claimed that we were among the countries with the most successful defence operations. You also based that claim on the number of deaths in proportion to the total population. Now, however, in relation to the total population, we’re in the worst position in Europe. What happened, when did this situation change? Since May or September that percentage is much worse than it was earlier, and we’re no longer counting it.
We’re counting it.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): So what’s happened? What are we doing differently compared with, say, Austria, which you refer to as “a laboratory”? So far 10,000 people have died there, while over here 30,000 have. Prime Minister, we know that several times you mentioned that we were paying close attention to what was happening in Austria. Where did we depart from the path they were following? With fewer people vaccinated there were fewer deaths in Austria, while we had very many vaccinated people and a very large number of deaths.
I think this is a very important question. I’ve spoken to the President of the Academy [of Sciences] and a smaller group of scientists about it, and I’ve asked them to prepare an analysis, so that after the pandemic – which we hope will come to an end soon – we can adopt a healthcare position on the reasons that Hungarian society is clearly more vulnerable than others, and on how we could build this into decisions in the near future. What should we do differently, what should we do better, what should we pay more attention to? I expect a kind of post-COVID assessment from the Academy and the Government’s healthcare advisory bodies.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Did you investigate whether the Government was in any way responsible for this? Belated lockdowns, or anything that could have caused this?
It’s not good for us to investigate ourselves, because we’re convinced that we stretched every sinew, worked to the limit of our capacities and tried to make the best possible decisions. There are, of course, calculations about how many thousands of lives we’ve saved with our rapid vaccination programme compared with how things would have been if people had been vaccinated later, but I’d rather not go into those; instead I’d leave it to experts, statisticians and scientists to evaluate that. I also think it is important to ask why a pandemic of this type affects Hungary differently from one or two neighbouring countries, for example.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): There’s another figure that you refer to, namely the number of excess deaths. According to data from the Central Statistical Office, however, in Hungary 40 per cent more people died in April than one year earlier. Such a high figure surely isn’t in the European middle ranks, but at the very top of that sad list.
All I can tell you is that sixteen months ago a pandemic broke out which – as far as I can see – we’ve finally conquered. Between the two dates, during that period of sixteen months, a certain number of people died in every European country – in the pandemic or otherwise. The pandemic resulted in an increase in the number of people dying, and the European Union calculates this difference as excess mortality. This is also what we do, and in this regard Hungary is in the middle ranks. But despite that, as I said earlier, we need studies and evaluations – and all the more so because being in the middle ranks isn’t good enough. In a pandemic, in a defence operation, when saving lives, one must be at the top of the rankings, not in the middle. In preparation for the next pandemic, we want to precisely determine what we’ve learnt from this pandemic; and then we’ll need to act accordingly. As regards the performance of the Government, all I can say is that I’ve been to many places, and my experience has shown me that everyone – government officials, hospital directors, doctors and nurses – has fought to the best of their abilities. If it didn’t seem immodest, I’d include myself. But believe me, we did absolutely everything we could to save as many lives as possible, and the result has been in the middle ranks. And I have to say that during the next pandemic the whole country will have to be better prepared: the whole country will have to do better.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): This European middle-ranking result relates to 2020, when the excess death rate was 8 per cent. According to data from the Central Statistical Office, however, up to April there was a 21 per cent excess death rate in Hungary. This means that this year the numbers will be worse than they were in 2020 – especially due to the extremely devastating third wave. This is the comparison.
Let’s take a look at these numbers later.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): I’d like to ask you about your announcement that we won’t order any more Pfizer vaccines within the common European procurement programme, because by the second half of 2022 we’ll have our own vaccine factory. If I’ve correctly understood what you said yesterday, you find progress on the latter a little too slow. But there will be a transitional period between these two, during which our existing vaccine stocks will expire – according to the latest data, at least. I don’t know the shelf life of the Pfizer vaccine, but initially it was said to be six months. How will our vaccine procurement be dealt with during this transitional period?
First of all, what we do know is what you yourself pointed out: that our knowledge – including that of pharmaceutical companies – is limited. I naturally understand that everyone wants to sell as many vaccines as possible, and they want to revaccinate us as quickly as possible. I understand that, but there are other things in the world aside from business: there’s also science and analyses. I think that this shelf-life estimate is being extended. First we were told that a person can only be regarded as immune for six months; but now hasn’t it emerged that we’re already estimating around eight months? I think that period will turn out to be even longer. And the shelf life of vaccines is also continuously increasing. So all I’m saying is that the only thing we know for certain is that our knowledge is limited. We’ve prepared for every eventuality, which is why we have so many different types of vaccine. How were the vaccines ordered? In the final analysis experts took every criterion into consideration, and then we had to make a decision about how many doses of each type of vaccine we should order. Although we ordered more doses of Pfizer than any other, instead of ordering a very large number of a single type of vaccine, we sought to order as many different types as possible. This is why we’ve ordered 4 million doses of Janssen, which they’ve promised to deliver by the end of the year; they won’t arrive any sooner than that. If they deliver them at the end of the year, however, from then on – say from 1 January 2022 – those vaccines can be used for six, nine or who knows how many months. This is why we’ve ordered another 5 million doses of AstraZeneca, another 1 million doses of Moderna, and another 6.1 million doses of Pfizer. And we also have Chinese vaccines. The only one that we’ve run out of – or will run out of soon – is the Russian vaccine. It’s no accident that we’ve ordered some of every vaccine, because there’s been no scientific evidence leading us to conclude that this or that vaccine is the most effective or has the longest shelf life. So we’ve ordered some of every type. But, assuming a normal stock management system, we’ve ordered what should be a sufficient quantity. And the new Hungarian vaccine factory will start production sometime towards the end of 2022. It will have two capabilities: it will be able to manufacture vaccines developed in other countries under licence; and it will also be able to manufacture our own Hungarian-developed vaccines. So I think that then we’ll be safe. Indeed in that situation we’ll be selling vaccines rather than buying them. And we had a plan which for a while was secret, but was then made public. I don’t know if that plan will survive the political storms in Israel, but I came to an agreement with the Israeli prime minister; we also included the Czechs in that agreement, and the Israeli prime minister wanted to involve other states. There were five of us who said that it would be worth jointly building a vaccine factory in Israel, which we’d also jointly own, because it would be outside the territory of the EU. The one being built in Hungary is, to some extent, subject to EU legislation, but we must also have a foothold outside the EU – at least in terms of vaccines; and in this we found a good partner in Israel. I even came to an agreement on this with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and negotiations started. I very much hope that this plan will be kept alive.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): In April you said that by now the number of Hungarians who are vaccinated could be – or should be – around 6 to 7 million. The Government seems to have given up on that. There are still 3 million unvaccinated adults. What’s your plan for them? How can they be convinced to accept the vaccine? The number is so large that it might even cause problems.
Indeed, the pandemic has come to an end for those who have been vaccinated. Those who haven’t can still fall ill, and even die. This is a serious matter. I ask them not to deceive themselves into believing that the virus can’t find them out, simply because life has suddenly become freer and more human. It can find them out, and then there will be trouble. So I ask them to accept the vaccine. All we can do is ask. The Government has also explored the possibility of mandatory vaccination, and there are situations in which we make vaccination mandatory – generally, or for some occupational groups. We explored this idea, but discarded it. We believe that, culturally speaking, Hungarians would be unable to accept a mandatory vaccination regime that would, after all, vaccinate these three million people. So we had to give up on that. We’ll keep trying to convince them.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Summer is here. This summer, can we expect to again see ministers on board the yachts of businesspeople who have been awarded billions in public procurement tenders?
It may well be that people will go sailing if they’re able to, on the yachts available to them. I can’t rule that out at all; and I don’t want to, because it’s not a matter for the Government.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Don’t you think it’s a problem for a minister to go sailing with a businessman who’s doing business with the state?
In Hungary there are rules relating to conflicts of interest; everyone must observe the rules.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): Do you regard István Tiborcz as a public figure?
Luckily I have absolutely no need to take a position on that question, as that’s something for the Hungarian courts. I don’t want to curtail the powers of the Hungarian courts.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): And one last question, that my colleague was unable to ask you. What’s your view on Pope Francis being referred to as anti-Christian in the pro-government media?
I’ve met him twice. He’s the head of the Catholic Church.
Zoltán Haszán (444.hu): But do you think he’s anti-Christian?
He’s the head of the Catholic Church, and I can only talk about him with humility and respect. I don’t want to engage in an ontological debate – which would be exciting, but not appropriate here – about who has the right to decide whether or not the head of a Christian church is Christian. That’s a difficult question. I’m afraid that no one except God can answer that.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): US president Joe Biden has arrived in Europe, and next week there will be an EU summit and a NATO summit. Prime Minister, will you attend both of those? The US president’s publicly declared goal is to create a bloc against China, and that’s one of the main goals of his tour. What options are open to Hungarian foreign policy in this situation between our most powerful ally and another great power that you see as the economic guarantor of the future? If you had the chance to speak to President Biden, what topic would you raise? In recent decades your approach to China has changed several times. What do you think would best serve Hungary’s interests in this situation?
As regards the part related to principles, or concerning national interests, I tried to sum it up in a “samizdat” article, in which I stated that cold wars are bad. They’re bad in general, I think they’re bad for the whole of humanity; but what’s at least as much of a problem is that they’re also bad for us Hungarians. We have experience, we know about this, and so it’s in our interest to see the development of some kind of cooperation between China and America that’s good for Central Europe and good for the Hungarian people – one that leads not to a cold war, but to trade, investment and growth. This is our basic position. As to what the US President will propose and how, we’ll find out. There will be a NATO summit – next Monday in Brussels, as I recall. The President of the United States will attend, we’ll listen to what he has to say with the greatest respect, and he’ll tell us in person what he proposes for NATO – it’s a military and security organisation – in the coming years. We satisfied the request made by President Trump. The then President of the United States – the largest NATO member country – respectfully asked member countries to increase their expenditure on defence – on the defence industry, on armaments, on the operation of armies – to 2 per cent of gross domestic product as soon as possible. Some respectfully rejected this request, while others accepted it; we’re among those who accepted it. Firmly committed to the spirit of the agreement concluded with the Americans, Hungary has accelerated the pace of its effort to reach that limit, and we’ve honoured that agreement to the letter. We’ll see what the new president has to say, and whether or not he’ll bring about any changes.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Were you completely satisfied with the performance of the previous commander-in-chief of the Hungarian Defence Forces? What can you tell us about the reasons for his departure?
He’s an excellent man. An excellent man, and I hope I’ll be able to work with him for a long time to come.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Were you also satisfied with his professional work?
Of course I was. But now another phase is about to begin. If you look at the state of the Hungarian army and the Hungarian defence industry two or three years ago and the state they’re in now, I think you can’t help seeing the difference; and that’s his achievement.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Regarding the relaunch of the economy, will there be any assistance or restriction on banks that could help borrowers when the debt repayment moratorium ends?
There’s a major debate under way, but I don’t want to go into the details of an ongoing negotiation. Banks would like as many people as possible to leave the debt repayment moratorium scheme as soon as possible, as quickly as possible. At the same time, the Government wants a sensible timetable. We agree that you can’t be allowed to settle into a life in which the loans you take out aren’t repaid at all. You work for a business magazine, and I don’t need to explain to you what consequences that would have. But at the same time, we had a crisis which shook us, and which took its toll on the people, on families, on small and medium-sized businesses alike. No one wants them to go under, and banks themselves can’t possibly want people to be financially ruined. Instead we must develop a timetable which is good for individuals, for businesses and for banks. There are differences of opinion – significant professional differences of opinion – between the banks and us. This is why we decided to include the question of the moratorium in the consultation. I’d like to boost our negotiating position and the people’s support for us in this debate with banks.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Is there some approximate deadline? When do you think you could come to an agreement?
We have a deadline, because we’ve extended the present moratorium until 30 September. We’ve done so because it would have expired on 1 July, if I remember correctly. We’ve extended it to gain two or three months, in order to negotiate an agreement with the banks. Therefore we’ll have to negotiate an agreement of some kind by 30 September, and to introduce a new system; otherwise the present system will remain in effect.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Regarding health care, you said there won’t be hospital reform. At the same time, the recovery plan submitted to the EU says that in-patient care must be strengthened, and you’ve proposed the centralisation of some healthcare services in counties and regions. Some hospitals could focus more on rehabilitation and chronic care. If this isn’t reform, what is it?
I try to avoid the word “reform”. I don’t want to repeat myself, and I think that by now we’re all tired; but anyway, anything but reform! In the past thirty years I’ve seen so many reforms that I’m fed up with them. If you recall, even back in 2010 I didn’t promise reform, and we didn’t undertake to reform Hungary. It’s no accident that we used a different word. We said that we’d renew Hungary, we’d renew it completely. In Hungary, the word reform has a negative connotation, as it’s always linked to austerity. When reforms are implemented, funding is generally withdrawn from the sub-systems. This is what Hungarians have learnt, and this is how we understand it. Therefore we must avoid this. We have a plan to strengthen Hungarian health care and to build a “superhospital”, for instance – the costs of which we’d like to be at least partially covered by the EU. Our plans include pay rises for doctors, the first tranche of which we’ve already implemented, and we’d like to see that through. It would be good if the EU agreed to play some part in that, too. We’d also like to improve our stock of medical equipment. After refurbishing operating theatres, we’re currently in the process of doing the same for all waiting rooms and social spaces. Our hospitals got to such a state that operating theatres were tolerable, but when you sat in a waiting room or used the toilet, you were faced with unacceptable conditions. Therefore we’re now in the process of sorting that out. We’re doing very many things, but I wouldn’t call it reform. I’d rather use the word “strengthen”: we’re strengthening Hungarian health care.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Hungarian vaccine production. Why will you base the Hungarian vaccine factory on the production of the old type of vaccine? Why not on the most modern type, in the development of which scientists of Hungarian origin were involved?
This is what we’re capable of doing.
Ádám Bihari (HVG): Is this a question of money?
No, I don’t think so. This is what we’re capable of. We’d be happy if the scientists who are able to develop more modern vaccines moved back home, but for the time being this is the type of vaccine we Hungarians are able to develop. This has been in progress for months. When the pandemic first hit, I spoke to [Chief Medical Officer] Cecília Müller about the fact that it’s fine to rush to procure vaccines, but what about our Hungarian scientists? We involved scientists in Pécs in the project; and as far as I can see, the Pécs team are involved in a rather promising experiment together with the Austrians, which could result in a more modern type of vaccine. So this work is proceeding under the supervision of Cecília Müller. At the time, there was no point in talking about this in public, but at the meetings of the Operational Group I was kept regularly informed about the progress of the development of the Hungarian vaccine. For a while I even had hopes of a miracle: that we’d be able to develop a vaccine in far less time than those developed in the West. But there are no miracles in science, and that didn’t happen. We have to go through all the phases; I don’t want to joke about this, but we even received reports about the well-being and general condition of the mice being used in the animal experiments for the Hungarian vaccine. Their condition varies, but the essence is that regrettably the Hungarian scientific community is unable to produce our own Hungarian-developed vaccine before the end of 2022. They say this isn’t a bad result, and that in fact being capable of this at all is a fine achievement. I accept that from a scientific point of view this is a fine achievement, but I keep rushing them, because we should have had the vaccine yesterday and we might need it tomorrow morning. This is all we can do today. And we’ll manufacture the type of vaccine that we’re capable of manufacturing. We’ll manufacture the most modern vaccine that our scientists are able to develop. What’s more, another important consideration is that we’re building a factory where we’ll be able to manufacture not only Hungarian vaccines, but also – if there’s free capacity – other vaccines under licence.
Gábor Nagy (Magyar Hírlap): During the present “grace period”, is the Government planning any kind of immunity monitoring or screening?
For the time being, it seems as if the role of screening has been replaced by vaccination. Earlier we defended ourselves by isolating people who were infected. We needed to identify those who were infected and tried to isolate them; for a while this was the logic of our defence operation. Then we got the vaccine, and after that we no longer needed to try to isolate people who were infected – although of course we never entirely gave up on it. Instead the acceleration of the vaccination programme proved to be the best method, and as vaccinations increased, infections fell. Therefore, screening has been replaced by vaccination. If everyone was vaccinated, screening would still be performed, but only in the mandatory, normal routine of healthcare services; screening would no longer be the main means of defence, but far more a means of monitoring. Clearly screening must continue for monitoring purposes – not only in the present pandemic situation, but in general.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): If we accept the PCR test as a quasi-diagnostic tool for quarantining people and releasing them from quarantine, then why isn’t a PCR test enough for the issuance of immunity certificates – especially now that a negative PCR test will also be enough for the EU COVID certificate?
I’ll let the relief battalion take that one.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: The situation is that the guarantee that someone’s negative which is offered by a PCR test only lasts for a few days. Meanwhile the immunity given by the vaccine lasts for a longer period, as does that resulting from a previous infection, which is said to last 4 to 6 months. This is the difference between the two.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): What’s the Government’s position within the Council of the European Union? How will you vote on the plan for the COVID certificate?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: The plan for the COVID certificate enjoys a solid majority. We’re happy with the Hungarian government’s success in ensuring that, alongside the obligation for everyone to accept and allow entry to all those who have received vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, it’s also possible to accept people who have received other vaccines. Many countries have already indicated that, based on the WHO’s recommendation, they’ll also accept those who have been vaccinated with the Sputnik vaccine.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): Wasn’t it originally true that the Member States were allowed to accept those vaccines on an individual basis?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: That was the case originally, but the European Parliament wanted it to be otherwise.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): If this EU COVID certificate is indeed introduced, will the Hungarian government be planning to reduce the official price of PCR tests somewhat, so that those who want to obtain an EU COVID certificate with a PCR test can do so more easily?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: We’ve introduced a mandatory official price in order to reduce it.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): Prime Minister, in May there was a major scandal in the media of the Balkan countries about an alleged Slovenian non-paper which proposed redrawing the borders of the Balkan countries. Several media outlets in the region say that you were one of the authors. Let’s clear things up. Did you play any part in this? If so, what was your role and what’s your opinion on this matter?
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): In Parliament, you said – I won’t be able to quote you verbatim, but this is the essence – that even if they come to power the current opposition Members of Parliament won’t get rid of you, because you’ll still be there as a Member of Parliament. Does this mean that you see a realistic possibility of Fidesz–KDNP not winning in 2022?
We’ve been in government for sixteen years – when we complete this term, we’ll have been in government for sixteen years in total – and we were in opposition for 16 years. We serve our country. If God and the will of the electorate install me here, I’ll serve here; if there, I’ll serve there. As for me personally, as long as I retain mental acuity and I have the ability to think, I’ll continue this work – provided that Hungarian voters want this and provided that those younger than me help me onto the party’s election list. These are my hopes. So that’s the situation. This is what I said in the Hungarian parliament. As regards my view on victory and defeat, as I said last time I took my oath in Parliament, victory is never final and defeat is never fatal. Those who don’t understand this shouldn’t become politicians.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): How much of a role do you think the governing parties have in the fact that debates in the Hungarian National Assembly have sunk as low as they have?
We try to keep standards higher, but please accept that it’s difficult when others in the chamber keep performing somersaults and cartwheels. The whole thing has turned into a show. It’s sad. And I truly hope that this will only be a temporary situation.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): Don’t you contribute to this – when you refuse to attend committee meetings and plenary sessions, for instance?
The temptation is great, but we try to keep straight faces.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): Is there any opposition Member of Parliament you respect? Anyone that you think is worth listening to when they take the floor, regardless of the content, anyone who doesn’t bring to mind somersaults and cartwheels?
First of all, when anyone pays me the respect of speaking to me, you journalists included, my starting point is that I take them seriously – you and Members of Parliament included. Then, based on what they say or ask, I decide what I think. If I look at the situation in Parliament from this angle, I have to say that of course there are opposition Members of Parliament that I respect. And as I respect them, I don’t want to make life difficult for them by naming them.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): At the last government press conference Mr. Gulyás said that the date when immunity certificates are no longer needed when using certain services will depend on the rate of infection. What does this mean in specific terms? What infection numbers will the Government need for this?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: This means that the Government is continuously monitoring the infection data, and won’t retain the immunity certificate requirement for a minute longer than is necessary. But at present we believe that this is still necessary for the reason mentioned by one of your colleagues: that there are still 2.5 million Hungarians who haven’t been vaccinated.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): But will the number of new infections need to remain below fifty or twenty for two weeks or a month? How should we envisage this?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: As our knowledge of virology is limited, we’ll consult the experts in that field.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): Finally, which legal rule enables the Government to exclude from its press conferences those journalists who don’t have immunity certificates? Right now it was stipulated that only those with immunity certificates could attend.
Minister Gergely Gulyás: You need to read the decree, which includes “other events”. In a legal sense, these press conferences fall into that category. This is for your protection.
Regardless of this specific situation, to clarify the relationship between us, let me just add that we not only speak to Members of Parliament – even from the Left – and you journalists with due seriousness, but also as equals. For the Right, for the national side, it’s very important that we speak to one another with due seriousness, as equals. We don’t exclude anyone from anywhere. There are rules that we ask everyone to observe, and we ourselves observe them. This is what I call treating people as equals.
Rafael Petróczi (azonnali.hu): In order to treat journalists as equals, wouldn’t it be simpler to find an outdoor venue for the press conference?
Minister Gergely Gulyás: We’ll consider it. Thank you very much.