Granting special emergency powers to the government was “one of the best decisions” since it allowed for timely action, without “having to fight the leftist opposition”, thereby avoiding mass infections in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in an interview to public broadcaster Kossuth Radio on Friday.
Hungarians have come together to fight the novel coronavirus epidemic, bar the left wing, which “has gone missing in action”, he added.
Orbán said “discipline and cooperation” had been key to the success of Hungary’s protection efforts. But all the leftist parties were capable of doing was criticising hospitals and the staff coordinating those efforts before taking “shameful leave”, he said.
The prime minister singled out Miklós Kásler, the minister of human resources, for praise, saying he and his team heading health-care staff had acted promptly. Kásler, acting on his “good instinct”, set up his team “when everybody was still in a slumber” and Hungary “gained one or two weeks ahead of everyone else”, Orbán added.
He said the danger had not passed, however, and everyone should remain alert and prepared, adding that the central board coordinating efforts against the epidemic would continue its operations.
Orbán insisted that successful protection measures had saved thousands of lives of the elderly.
The prime minister said that those mayors who had taken “instructions from the leftist parties” and lambasted the government had poor results to show for it. Those, however, who recognised that the epidemic went beyond party politics, and were willing to cooperate, had “done well”, he said.
Meanwhile, more than one million employees have received some kind of government help, ensuring they can retain their jobs, he said.
The government must help people get and retain jobs rather than benefits, Orbán said.
Currently, over 101,000 people receive jobless benefits, while 71,000 have been unemployed for more than three months and have applied for a subsidy for their lost income.
“There are 173,000 Hungarians who’d like to work but haven’t found a job and have turned to the government for help,” he said. The government, he said, has increased the number of jobs in public works schemes to 200,000, and is planning to recruit a further 3,000 paid soldiers. In addition, a “huge amount” of assistance is being provided to companies that create new jobs, he said.
Concerning the economic outlook, Orbán said he expected “an April with difficult figures” but a return to “earlier levels of economic performance much sooner than we first thought”. “I can see the steps of that process,” Orbán said, adding that he planned to set up a body of economic experts similar to the central operative board that handles the epidemic. “Energies in the next few months will be focused on protecting jobs, restarting the economy and re-introducing the 13th month pension.”
Orbán said he may personally head the new board coordinating economic rescue measures.
On the topic of transit zones, Orbán said “the Brussels bureaucrats” had been “resurrected” due to the European Court of Justice’s ruling, which was “dangerous” not only for Hungary’s security but for that of Europe as a whole. Migrants will now have to wait “beyond the fence” from now on, he added.
The prime minister said that 130,000 migrants were gathered along the so-called Balkan route, so pressure on Hungary’s border was increasing. “We’re facing a difficult few months.”
If migrants want to enter Hungary, they must now lodge an application at a Hungarian embassy, he said. The situation for migrants will be worse than before the European court ruling, he added.
“But if the Brussels bureaucrats insist, we’ll meet their need,” he said.
The prime minister said the European Union was unlikely to leave the situation as its stands because they wanted migrants to be able to wait in Hungary.
But anyone applying for asylum will not be allowed to stay in Hungary without the proper controls in place, Orbán added.
At the same time, Hungary’s self-defence must not be at the expense of neighbouring countries, he said. If Serbia, say, asks for help in protecting its southern border, “we will go tomorrow morning”. “If the Croats … or even if the Romanians ask for help, we stand ready”.
Orbán accused “Brussels bureaucrats” of being “in the pocket of [financier] George Soros“.
“They need a migrant crisis,” he said, adding that governments under pressure needed credit, and financiers were only too happy to lend it with interest. He said Soros was a “great master” when it came to “plundering” countries.
Featured photo illustration by Balázs Mohai/MTI