Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, addressing an international press briefing on Wednesday, hailed Hungary’s “exceptional performance” in what he called the country’s “most difficult year” since its change of regime. He also said there were arguments for introducing the euro in Hungary but cons outweigh them.
Among the country’s extraordinary achievements this year, Orbán mentioned the general election in the spring, the country’s managing to stay out of the war in Ukraine, as well as its withstanding the pressure of migration. He also mentioned Hungary’s ability to finance higher energy prices, preserve its work-based society, and strike an agreement with the European Union concerning community funding. Staying out of the war in Ukraine will continue to be of paramount importance for the country, Orbán said, adding that another top priority was to ensure economic growth as opposed to recession elsewhere in Europe.
Concerning the April elections, Orbán said voters had rejected “foreign interference” as well as the “dollar-financed left”, adding that “I don’t think this will change anytime soon.” He said the vote had been a “real freedom fight” in which Hungary had to “defend its independence and sovereignty” because “international players participated in the vote with unprecedented force”. “Some three billion dollars were up against three million voters and the latter won,” he said. Voters achieved “the most important thing: a stable, capable and predictable government”, he said, adding that “it is the greatest asset in hard times”.
The prime minister also noted that Hungary was the only country in Europe not to have had early elections since 1990, adding that “Hungary is first in terms of stability and predictability”. He said the outcome of the vote was even more valuable in light of the fact that “Brussels and the liberal world wanted to see a leftist government”. That is why, he said, the Hungarian government had not been able to negotiate agreements with the EU as early as the summer of 2021, because “the EU wanted a change of government and would not give [Hungary] money before the elections”. He added that “the goal now is the same with Poland” where “Brussels also wants to see a leftist government”.
Concerning the war, Orbán said Hungary “must stay out” of it, partly because of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, “partly because war is always bad … several hundred [ethnic] Hungarians have died already as soldiers in the Ukrainian army,” he said. So far, he said “the war has only made losers” with both adversaries and also the European economy on the losing side.
Hungary has suffered serious damage and paid “sanctions-related surcharges”, he said, adding that in 2023 nearly all European countries would face the challenge of how to avoid recession “arising directly from the war and Europe’s participation in the war which they call sanctions”. Hungary must “not allow itself to be dragged into the war”, while a large part of Europe “has been dragged into it”, he said. Countries sending weapons to the warring countries are in the war “ankle-deep” and those training soldiers of one of the adversaries are “knee-deep”, while those providing operational training are “up to the waist” in the conflict, he said. Those financing one of the countries in terms of not only its war-related costs “but the operations of the state, as the EU is doing with 18 billion euros” are “in the war up to the shoulders”, he insisted, adding he hoped that Europe would not get involved “up to the neck”.
Despite huge international pressure, Hungary has maintained its position calling for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks, he said. Meanwhile, Hungary has met its “humanitarian and Christian” obligations to help those in trouble and the country launched its so far largest humanitarian programme to help the Ukrainian people, the prime minister said. Orbán also highlighted Hungary’s halting migration and the protection of price caps on household utility bills among the country’s achievements in 2022. Hungary is the only European country that is simultaneously under migration pressure from two directions, the prime minister said, noting the pressure on the southern border and the influx of refugees from Ukraine. Orbán called it a “fantastic achievement” that the Hungarian authorities had thwarted more than a quarter of a million illegal entry attempts.
He said it was also a success that Hungary had been capable of financing the increased energy prices, noting that the country this year has had to pay 17 billion euros for energy compared with 7 billion last year. Hungary was able to cover these costs while upholding the essence of the price caps on utility bills, Orbán said, adding that this would also be the case in 2023.
Hungary this year succeeded in preserving its work-based society, Orbán said, adding that employment in the country had never been as high as in 2022. Employment is at a 30-year high, with 74.6 percent of Hungarians working, he said. Though 2022 was an election year, Hungary still managed to reduce its budget deficit, “which is very rare in European politics, but not unprecedented in Hungary”, he said, noting that the same had happened in 2018.
The government has also restored the 13th month pension, families were refunded a significant portion of their taxes and a tax exemption was introduced for Hungarians under the age of 25, he noted. Orbán said it was also an “exceptional achievement” that Hungary had reached an agreement with the European Union, overcoming the “hungarophobia” which he said had taken hold in the liberal world. The prime minister expressed hope that the agreements reached with the EU would be signed in the next couple of days.
As regards Hungary’s goals for 2023, Orbán said: “We will be on the defensive in 2023 but won’t give up on our great objectives.” Staying out of the war in Ukraine will continue to be of paramount importance for the country, Orbán said, adding that another top priority was to ensure economic growth as opposed to recession elsewhere in Europe. The government also wants to ensure that inflation is brought down to the single digits by the end of 2023, he said.
Speaking ahead of a government session later on Wednesday, Orbán said the government was expected to decide on extending young people’s personal income tax exemption from 25 years of age to 30 in the case of mothers. “Sovereignty, freedom, full employment and assistance to families — those are the great goals we won’t give up even under predictably difficult conditions,” Orbán said. Asked about the corruption scandal in the European Parliament, Orbán said Hungary, as a member of the EU, could not view the issue as an outsider. “Fortunately, the case doesn’t concern Hungarians, but it’s bad news for all EU member states,” he added.
Orbán said Hungary had disagreements with European institutions, which he said the country wanted to transform, but these institutions’ loss of credibility makes the community which Hungary is a part of weaker. He said the case vindicated the Hungarian parliament’s decision regarding the future of the EU, namely that the EP in its current form needed to be wound up and the body should comprise representatives delegated by member states. The prime minister argued that lawmakers in national parliaments were under much stricter supervision. He noted that the EP in the past had been made up of lawmakers delegated by national parliaments, adding that it would be worthwhile to return to that system.
As regards his political view on the case, Orbán said the only solution against swamping was to “drain the swamp”. Orbán said it could not be declared that corruption was only present on the left side of the political spectrum, referring to reports that more and more European People’s Party politicians were being implicated in the corruption scandal. This is a danger that threatens democratic politics everywhere and which must be fended off, he said. The question is why there weren’t any defence mechanisms in place given that “everyone in Brussels knew that this didn’t just start now,” he added.
Concerning education being the responsibility of the interior ministry, Orbán said leaders had to be competent in leadership and could rely on experts when it came to various professional areas. Leaders must integrate knowledge into the area they control, he added. The government’s intention had been to consult with unions on matters concerning financial demands and with teachers on professional matters, the prime minister said.
Orbán said that in 2007, the dismantling of cordons by then-opposition Fidesz officials had been an act of protest against the “police government” which he said had violated freedoms and the law on the right to assembly. He said in connection with protests by teachers that all public sector employees needed to respect the legal forms of protesting, “otherwise they harm those who don’t deserve it”. In the public sector it is twice as important not to approach things from a political aspect, but rather to stick to the law, he added.
As regards the state of public education, Orbán said the prime minister should listen to parents, students and teachers rather than pass his own judgment. The knowledge young people bring to their first job is also important, he added. Orbán also said that what mattered most was young people’s physical and mental health, noting that the government had addressed this by increasing the number of physical education classes and introducing religious education classes. The prime minister said he was on the side of teachers on the issue of pay rises, noting that following the recovery from the financial crisis after 2010, education had been the first area where the government introduced the career model. He added that a more significant pay rise was needed to correct the disproportionality in “unacceptably low entry salaries”.