Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you very much for coming to today’s “kormányinfó” government briefing. The two of us will try to rise to the challenge. Yesterday I made some announcements on the relaunch of the economy, and I think it would be worth talking about them again. And at its meeting yesterday the Government also made some decisions on the pandemic, which I’d like to present myself, given that we’re entering a whole new phase in the defence operation. I’ve asked the Minister to be here, because there may be specific details on which he has knowledge that I don’t have.
First of all, the change in the situation is best illustrated by the fact that we can finally meet you in person again. At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the Minister of Interior presented the latest figures on the epidemiological situation, and we were able to see confirmation that the number of new infections is falling at an accelerating rate. The proportion of positive tests has fallen to a very low level, to 1.32 per cent of all tests, which is good news. We can now say with confidence that this shows that we’ve defeated the third wave of the pandemic. Yesterday the Government also reviewed the vaccination situation, and we saw that 5,311,475 people have been vaccinated, with 4,112,876 having received their second vaccination. Internationally this means that we’re in second place for first vaccinations and in first place for total vaccination coverage. We don’t see vaccination as a competition, because we’re talking about human lives, but there’s no doubt that to vaccinate a country to this extent demands performance, good performance. So we can say that, to the best of our knowledge, Hungary is the only country in the EU where the number of available doses of vaccine is higher than the number of people who have applied for vaccination. This is important, because up until the point at which there are enough vaccines, vaccination is the state’s responsibility: there’s a shortage to be eliminated, and citizens themselves can’t eliminate that vaccine shortage, so it’s the state’s responsibility. But when we arrive at the point at which there are more vaccines than people who have applied for vaccination, then vaccination becomes the responsibility of the individual: anyone who’s vaccinated wants to be; and whoever wants to be, can be. Therefore I’d like to call on everyone, all Hungarian citizens, to take advantage of this opportunity, because the pandemic has not ended in general, but the pandemic has ended for those who have been vaccinated. Those who haven’t been vaccinated are at risk, and sometimes – depending on their general state of health – at risk of dying. No one can help them but they themselves. So I urge them to come forward and have themselves vaccinated. The Interior Minister has also informed us about the situation regarding vaccine reserves. We have – or will definitely receive – 17 million doses of Western vaccines: 6.1 million from Pfizer; 1 million from Moderna; 5 million from AstraZeneca; and 4 million from Janssen. This means that we’ll be able to vaccinate everyone not just a third time, but a fourth time if necessary. In addition to this, we have Chinese vaccines. Only the Russian Sputnik vaccine has been snapped up, so to speak: I see that we still have forty to fifty thousand doses of it, but it will be the first to run out. Yesterday the Government decided to allow vaccination of 12- to 16-year-olds. We’re not campaigning on this, and it will be up to parents to make the decision. If parents decide they want their children to be vaccinated, they can register in the usual way, and vaccinations can be received at the vaccination centres in the usual way. There are 137,000 of our compatriots who haven’t received their second vaccination. They’ve received the first one and they should have received the second one, because the deadline has come; but they haven’t done so. The question is what to do with them; and we’ve decided that those who have missed the deadline for the second vaccination and haven’t received it will be removed from the immunity certificate registration database. So you’ll lose the immunity certificate you were issued after the first vaccination and you won’t be able to go to places that you would have been able to go if you’d taken your second vaccination. In light of all this, the Government has decided that next week we’ll move to a standby vaccination regime. So we’ll have a standby vaccination regime instead of the mass vaccination regime that we’ve had so far. This is an appropriate moment at which to thank everyone who’s been involved in the defence operation. I’m not going to list everyone, from doctors and nurses to transport workers and those in public administration, but I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped us to get this far.
If I can say a few words to you about the speed of the country’s reopening, I have to say that, even at a conservative estimate, we’re one to one and a half months ahead of all the other European countries – or at least most of them. We’ve been able to open everything earlier. This lead of one and a half months in vaccination – which, I repeat, is based on a conservative calculation – translates into an additional 1 per cent in terms of gross domestic product, in GDP; and a two-month lead means an increase of almost 2 per cent. By international comparison, yesterday the Government concluded that the unemployment rate in the eurozone countries is 8 per cent, while in Hungary it’s 4.3 per cent; so in terms of reopening and relaunching workplaces we’re better off than the eurozone Member States. In specific terms, this means that the number of people in work is over 4.5 million – 50,000 fewer than in the equivalent period for 2019. We’ve pledged to create as many jobs as the virus destroys. Today I see that not only will that happen in the upcoming quarter, but that by the end of the year there will be an opportunity to create twice as many jobs as the virus has destroyed. The implication is that economic protection will be replaced by economic relaunch. Here again, related to economic protection I have a lot of people to thank, from the Minister of Finance to the Governor of the Central Bank, from the staff of the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank to representatives of the banking system, the heads of companies, and the workers who up until the last minute persisted in going to work in order to preserve their jobs. I’d also like to thank those who, although they hadn’t planned to do so, continued in their jobs by working from home.
As I said yesterday, two operational groups will be set up in the next few days. One of these operational groups will be responsible for relaunching the economy, and the other for relaunching the life of society in general. They’ll be led by Minister Szijjártó and Minister Novák respectively, and budget funding is available for this work.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
After this, yesterday the Government again reviewed the most important issues for relaunching the economy, and I’d also like to inform you about these. First of all, the Government has noted that over the course of fifteen years three very serious crises have shaken the whole of Europe, including Hungary: the financial crisis of 2008-09, the migration crisis that’s still with us, and now the coronavirus pandemic. So when the Government decides to relaunch, it doesn’t want to create the same economy, it doesn’t want to see the same economy, it doesn’t imagine the Hungarian economy after the crisis being the same as the Hungarian economy was before the crisis, but it wants to draw the lessons from these crises. This also means that the Government doesn’t believe that this series of pandemics and population movements – and crises in general – has come to an end. So we’re preparing for a decade that could be called an era of pandemics and population movement. And we’ll need an economy that can provide a balanced, stable, secure opportunity for the citizens of Hungary – not just in times of peace, but also in an era of pandemics and mass migration. This is our starting point. This is why we’ll take some decisions that weren’t part of Hungarian economic policy earlier.
Here I’d like to announce that we’ll launch a national consultation. In dealing with each of these crises, when we had to adapt Hungary to changed circumstances, what we’ve done is hold national consultations on the most important issues. This was the case after the financial crisis, it was the case with migration, and now it will be the case with the end of the coronavirus pandemic. We want to make some decisions with the help of the consultation, and we want those subsequent government decisions to enjoy the widest possible agreement and be as firmly based as possible. The national consultation will be about creating points of agreement on the most important issues. So now we’ll launch a national consultation on economic recovery, on creating a stable economy and on strengthening the Hungarian economy – including the proposals I announced yesterday at the Világgazdaság forum, at that conference.
It’s important that we agree on the minimum wage. We’d like people’s opinions to confirm our decision to take on the difficult task of raising the minimum wage to 200,000 forints in one or more steps, knowing that this must be tempered by the need to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises – which can’t cope with such a large minimum wage increase – don’t go bankrupt. We’ll have to reach an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and in order to achieve such a large minimum wage increase, we’ll probably have to give tax breaks – probably substantial ones – to small and medium-sized enterprises. Yesterday I sent the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry an invitation to these negotiations.
Similarly, we’d like to receive confirmation, have a discussion and reach agreement on our idea for parents with children to get back in 2022 the tax they paid in 2021. Our idea is that after the 2021 tax year comes to an end, in 2022 we’ll give back the tax paid by parents raising children, with the upper limit for eligibility being the average wage. All those earning up to that amount would receive the rebate, but no one earning more than that would. We also want to hear the views of respondents to the consultation on whether this is the right thing to do.
With the consultation we’d also like to decide on the issue of the debt repayment moratorium. There are fierce professional debates between the banking association and the Government – and among economic policy makers in general – on how the debt repayment moratorium should be continued and transformed. I’d also like to see clarity on this issue, and therefore this will be one of the questions in the consultation.
A very heated debate on the climate tax is coming up, and it’s already on our doorstep. If we oppose the climate tax – the tax which Brussels would like to impose on families’ cars and homes – then Hungary will have to engage in a very serious international debate. And we should only do this if we’re sure that the majority of people – the more the better – share this position, and that the Government is fighting for something in Brussels that enjoys the broadest possible support among Hungarians. The European Commission’s draft regulations – about a dozen of them – will be published soon, by mid-July, and they’ll stipulate who should bear the financial burden when attempting to achieve the climate targets. Our position is that the burden should be borne by the climate destroyers, but the proposals – and this was made clear at the last discussion among the prime ministers in the European Council – will seek to impose a climate tax, a European climate tax, on cars and homes used by families. Personally I don’t agree with this, but that’s not the issue at the moment. What really matters is whether Hungary should enter into a serious international dispute in order to defend the interests of the Hungarian people – whether we should, if you like, open up another household utility bill dispute with Brussels.
Also included in the consultation will be the issue of the mandatory refugee and migration quota, which will be on the agenda again. The situation in the South is getting more difficult, with southern countries saying they want to call for a new decision on the migrants that they’ve accumulated being distributed among European Union Member States. Hungary has always been adamantly opposed to this. In my opinion it’s not only illegal migrants who shouldn’t be admitted during a pandemic: I believe that no one with migration status should be admitted during a pandemic. So I think that we should suspend the entire European migrant admission process for at least two years, until we’ve completely overcome the pandemic. But this is also a difficult issue that will lead to international debates, and we should only enter into them if we know and feel that the majority of the electorate shares this view.
The format of the national consultation will be similar to what you’ve already seen: there will be a traditional consultation form sent by post, in envelopes, and consultation forms can also be completed electronically.
These were the Government’s most important decisions. Perhaps it’s also worth saying, Minister, that yesterday we decided to give ten days’ special paid leave to those who have taken part in the defence operation. The details of exactly who this will cover – health, social services personnel, those in public administration, police, soldiers and so on – will be set out in a decree. This decree will be published today, if the working group chaired by the Minister can finalise it, and then ten days’ paid leave will be granted to those who have been involved in the defence operation. This is the least they deserve.
I think that’s all there was in the Cabinet meeting.