PM Viktor Orbán held yesterday an international press conference on which journalists could practically ask anything they wanter from him. Asked about a scarf he had worn at a soccer match, which depicted pre-WW1 “greater Hungary”, Orbán said “Hungary is a 1,100-year-old country, we are surrounded by historical symbols which symbolise national unity as part of our everyday life”. He said he did not accept any opinion which regards an ethnically homogenous community less valuable than an ethnically mixed one.
The prime minister hailed that Benjamin Netanyahu has been reelected as Israel’s new prime minister. “Netanyahu was the first Israeli prime minister to pay an official visit to Budapest in 2017 after 30 years,” Orbán said, adding that the visit “opened a whole new chapter in Hungarian-Israeli relations”. Asked about his future plans, Orbán said he had been in opposition for sixteen years before and now it is his seventeenth year in power as government head. “So, I don’t feel it is time for me to retire [from politics],” the prime minister said.
Asked about Hungary’s border fence, Orbán said that even though the authorities had thwarted 250,000 illegal entry attempts this year, some migrants are still successful in breaking through the fence. And even though some 2,500 people smugglers have been jailed, there will be further people embarking on the trade, he added.
Orbán noted the recent establishment of the border patrol regiment. Hungary welcomes Croatia’s accession to the passport-free Schengen zone, he said, noting that this will allow the country to move patrols to the Hungary-Serbia border, “which means that we’ll be more effective than before”. The prime minister also said that Hungary had reached an agreement with Serbia and Austria on forming a border protection alliance. Their first task, he said, would be to push the line of defence on the Serbia-Hungary border to the North Macedonia-Serbia border. The plan is to strengthen the Serbia-Bulgaria border the same way, he added.
Orbán stressed that the existence of an independent and sovereign Ukraine was also in Hungary’s national interest. Hungary does not have an interest in the permanent separation of the European and the Russian economies, so an attempt should be made to save whatever can be from the economic cooperation with Russia, he added. Hungary does not want to get dragged into the war, but wants to give Ukraine the help dictated by humanity, he said.
As regards Hungary’s relations with Poland, Orbán said the two nations shared a common fate on the basis of history, which gave them a strong friendship. Also, Hungary and Poland agree on the strategic goal of the war to ensure that Russia is not a threat to European security as well as on the need for a sovereign Ukraine between Russia and the rest of Europe, he said. But the Poles believe that the Ukrainians are also fighting for their freedom and security, Orbán said, adding that in his view, Ukrainians were “fighting heroically” for their own homeland. Hungary is not protected by Ukraine, but by itself and NATO, he said.
Asked if the Hungarian government maintained its offer to host ceasefire or peace talks, Orbán said the offer was open, but added that such talks were not hindered “by a lack of venue” but “because of the warring parties or the powers behind them have not yet made such a decision”. “Basically US-Russia talks are needed … without such talks there will be no peace,” he said.
Hungary participates in providing training for Ukrainian military health personnel for a humanitarian reason, Orbán said.
The prime minister said he was not planning on a visit to Kyiv. He added that he had personally met Russian President Vladimir Putin in February for the last time, and that they had not talked by phone since the late Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s funeral.
On another subject, Orbán said Hungary and Qatar had signed an energy and investment deal, but it would soon be followed by “longer, inter-governmental talks touching upon strategic areas, too”.
The government aims to reduce Hungary’s dependence on energy imports, Orbán said, adding that nuclear energy involved the least such dependence, that is why the government had decided on upgrading the Paks nuclear plant. The outcome of the project will depend on the government’s efforts to “prevent the entire nuclear energy industry from being included in the (EU’s) sanctions list,” he added.
Once the Paks upgrade is complete, Hungary will be able to significantly reduce its gas consumption, Orbán said, and suggested that attempts at such reductions so far, like reducing the gas consumption in public institutions had been insufficient. He noted the recent agreement with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania on building an electric cable, while pipeline connections were being upgraded and the government was also studying opportunities to receive LNG delivered by sea.
Concerning Croatia’s increasing the transit fee for using the Adria oil pipeline, Orbán said that “Hungary wants to pay a fair price and Croatia wants a fair price, too, therefore talks are necessary”. The European Commission has not yet made a position on the matter, he said.
On the subject of China, Orbán said its significance as an investor had increased in recent years and called endeavours to “isolate” China “ill-advised”. “Everything must be done in the interest of the best possible ties between China and Europe, and China and Hungary,” he said. Hungary needs Chinese technology and skills, he added. Answering a question on the Fudan University campus in Budapest, he said building good ties required “a knowledge of eastern economic philosophy” adding that “all university training coming from Asia is an asset”.
Although Hungary disagrees with other EU countries on a number of issues, this does not mean isolation, the prime minister said. Isolation implies that someone stays away from common decision making; Hungary, however, takes part in all decisions that determine the future of the community, he added.
While belonging to a community and therefore not being isolated, Hungary is arguing at full strength against the formation of blocks, Orbán said, noting that whenever military or economic blocks had been formed over the past thousand years, Hungary ended up on the loser’s side. “If there are blocks, we are the eastern periphery of the Western world. If there is East-West cooperation, we are the centre of the world,” he said.
Orbán called the rule-of-law procedure designed by Brussels a failure, saying that rule of law would require clear definitions and standards, ones that are missing from Europe because of the different cultures and traditions.
Orbán said he did not question the good intentions behind the creation of the rule-of-procedure but added that it “is in fact dismantling and disintegrating the European Union”. If the question is raised in the form whether we remain Hungarians and fight, then we will remain Hungarians and fight, he said.
Asked about foreign support for the left-wing media, Orbán said he saw no difference between left-wing parties and the media. It follows, he said, that this support qualifies as political support.
Orbán said “we oppose all sanctions. We are generally against the policy of sanctions. If it were up to us, there were no policy of sanctions at all”. This instrument, he added, could only be used in a narrower, more targeted and more carefully planned way.
Hungary has not supported and would not support the EU packages either in the future but “we cannot veto them at every moment without destroying the community of the EU”, he said.
Concerning the 18 billion euro support for Ukraine, Orbán called it a “bad solution” that the financial assistance was not provided on an intergovernmental basis but through the EU institutions. Hungary did not support the idea of a debt community, he said, adding that finally an intermediate solution was found.
The prime minister attributed inflation to several factors, some of which, he said, may affect the government. These include exchange rate movements, economic productivity and public debt.
“If energy were not a matter of Brussels sanctions, Hungary’s rate of inflation would perhaps fall by half,” he said.
The prime minister said it is hard to understand how any price cap could generate inflation. He added that bankers had protested every price regulation the government had rolled out over the past ten years.
“Price caps were not introduced for bankers, but for people in need,” he added.
Orbán conceded that fluctuations in the forint’s exchange rate form an argument for adopting the euro, but said accession to the euro zone would cause economic growth to slow. “If Hungary’s economy is to grow and there is to be convergence, it’s better to stay outside of the euro zone. If stability is more important than convergence, then it’s better to join,” he explained, adding that he takes the position that convergence is more important.
Orbán said the government does not plan to reduce the value-added tax. The prime minister called it a “key to the success of the Hungarian taxation system that the country has the lowest labour taxes in Europe. The central budget, he said, collects the money it needs through consumption rather than through labour taxes. “This is a tax philosophy and we don’t want to change it,” the prime minister said.
Orbán said the government was not planning to negotiate with the IMF on taking out a loan because the conditions attached to such loans “usually hurt people”. The best money is always the one raised from the money market, he said.
Asked about troubled steel maker Dunaferr, Orbán said the government would try to “save what can be saved”, but added that the situation is “chaotic” as even identifying Dunaferr’s owner is problematic. He added that Dunaferr has about 500 billion forints in liabilities.