Hungary’s election winners and government believe in the concept of the nation state and see the country’s future in the European Union and NATO, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told an international press conference on Wednesday.
The government believes crises like migration, the pandemic and wars are global in scope, while responses to them are always made at the national and local level, Orbán said. “This is why we continue to believe in nation states,” he added.
Another pillar of the government’s vision is Hungary strengthening its alliances, the prime minister said. “We continue to see our future in the European Union and want to play an active role in shaping the European Union of the future,” Orbán said. “We are a NATO member state, we will remain one, and we want to build a much stronger military, which will also strengthen NATO,” he added.
As regards his government’s most urgent tasks, Orbán stressed the need to establish peace in Europe. The first step towards peace is a ceasefire, which should be followed by a European peace conference, he said. Orbán said this needed to happen as soon as possible, because “the war is getting increasingly brutal”. He said there was a risk that unless a ceasefire was agreed soon, “the suffering in that part of the world will continue”, and the suffering and problems would get closer to the core of Europe.
Orbán calls for urgent measures by Brussels to offset effects of high energy prices
At the same press conference, the Hungarian Prime Minister called for urgent measures to be implemented by Brussels to offset the effects of high energy prices.
High energy prices are a consequence of the war in Ukraine and will remain so as long as the war continues, Orbán said, proposing the suspension of the EU’s administrative system “irrespective of the purpose of its introduction”. He also proposed suspending “the complicated system of taxing fossil energy” and the scheme of attaching the price of electricity to that of natural gas. Finally, he proposed scrapping the requirement to blend biofuel additives into fuels.
Speaking in broader terms, Orbán said “a serious economic crisis is unfolding for a number of reasons, with the major one being the sanctions applied on Russia”. “We are going to pay the price of it,” he said.
Orbán said Hungary had a special position “on the eastern border of the western world”, adding that Hungary’s experience showed “how brutal wars can be” while “occupation is not such a rare occurrence in this region”. “We understand this whole thing and know that wars never end as they start, and will become more and more brutal as time goes by,” he said, adding that was why he proposed an immediate ceasefire to Putin. Hungary has an “uncompromising” position concerning peace because Transcarpathia has over 200,000 ethnic Hungarians and “Hungary has a responsibility for their lives.”
Answering a question, Orbán said Russian President Vladimir Putin, former US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tajjip Erdogan had congratulated him by phone on his election win.
Orbán’s take on the war
Asked about developments in Ukraine Orbán said “this is a war that Russia started attacking Ukraine, which is aggression”, adding that it was the European Union’s position “which Hungary shares”. He urged an independent and impartial probe into the atrocities, and said the Turkish president also proposed such investigations. Civilians must be protected and violence against them must be “most firmly condemned”, he said. He warned, however, that “we should not chase illusions” because “neither Russia nor the US recognise the powers of the International Court of Justice in the Hague”.
In his response to a question if Putin asked him to veto European sanctions concerning Russian gas and oil imports, Orbán said Russia was “aware of the situation, in which NATO and EU member Hungary is in opposition to Russia”. “Therefore the Russians will never ask for anything,” he added. Hungary and Russia have built well-functioning ties “which are now being destroyed”, and which the Hungarian government is trying to save “but the sanctions and western pressure could be so strong that there may be nothing left”, the prime minister said.
Answering another question Orbán said Hungary-Russia ties were “fair”, adding that “the Russians have not deceived us and we have not deceived them once” in the past 12 years. He also added that if Russia wants payment in roubles “it will be no problem for us”.
On another subject, Orbán said the West’s decision not to integrate Georgia or Ukraine into NATO back in 2008 had been “an important milestone in policies concerning Russia”, which created a new border between Russia and NATO. “Right now they are coming out of the old Russia policy and they don’t know the new one yet; it is not yet know what security system Europe will have,” he said. “The situation must be monitored and analysed, adopting to new developments, and save whatever can be saved,” he added.
Hungary is not planning to expel Russian diplomats, Orbán said, but added that “we will if we have a reason”. Hungary protects its interests well “not only against Russia but against everybody else, too”, he said. The country “will not expel anybody as part of a political campaign”, he said.
Concerning the International Investment Bank, Orbán said Russia had a minority stake in the bank and the government sought to keep it in Budapest.
On the subject of gas supplies Orbán said the question was not what gas cost “but if it is available”. Long-term supply agreements are not aimed at profits but to ensure supplies, he insisted.
Asked whether Hungary would move to protect the ethnic Hungarian community’s members living in the territory of Ukraine in the instance of a protracted war in the neighbouring country, Orbán said “Hungary is a member of NATO, without a NATO decision we will not move an inch from NATO territory”.
Asked whether he believed “in the renaissance of Ukraine as a nation state”, Orbán said “Ukraine exists, we know them, they are Hungary’s neighbours. They are defending their homeland in a tough fight” which the prime minister said was “no surprise”. “I have always been at the opinion that Ukrainians are good soldiers.”
Asked about his “war of words” with the Ukrainian president, Orbán said when there is a war going on, it is not the time to cite the many instances when Hungarians had been a target of attacks over the past years. “These attacks have put a shadow over the two countries’ relations,” he said, adding that “an intelligent Christian country would not bring such things up in a situation when they [the Ukrainians] are in trouble”.
Asked whether remarks he made on the eve of Sunday’s ballot about Volodymyr Zelensky “were unfortunate”, Orbán said the Ukrainian president “has a bad habit which is that he wants to tell everybody what they ought to do”.
“I think it would be better to quit that habit, especially when asking for help,” Orbán said.
Concerning the upgrade of Hungary’s Paks nuclear plant, Orbán said that Hungary had a general objection against the sanctions, but “since unity within the EU is important, Hungary approves such measures unless they do not impact vital Hungarian interests”. Current plans for EU sanctions “affect no component of nuclear energy” therefore the Paks project “could continue under the agreements made earlier”, he said. The project, he added, had “suffered many attacks” without which the upgraded plant could have been operational by 2023 and “Hungary could take the current energy crisis more easily”.
On the subject of Hungary-Poland relations Orbán said that some issues such as around an aviation ban or extending sanctions to energy might make those ties more difficult, but added that “the Visegrad cooperation is not a geo-political alliance aimed at making joint foreign policies but to promote their interests more efficiently within the EU”. “In this latter area cooperation continues to be smooth,” he added.
Asked about the EU’s rule of law mechanism against Hungary, Orbán said that reinforcing Hungary’s ties with Poland was paramount. “Alone you cannot stand such a storm, but who knows… better not try,” he said. Hungary and Poland is an “alliance of mutual protection” and one will not allow the other to be excluded from European decision making, he said. The two countries may have a number of differences in foreign policy but their cooperation should be active in the area where it can be most successful and that is “self-defence within the EU”, he insisted. Orbán said he had not received a letter concerning the EU launching the mechanism. He said he did “not understand” the move as Hungary had not received “a single cent” from the recovery fund “therefore it has not been in a position to spend it unlawfully”. Irrespective of the letter, “one thing is certain, Hungary will not send weapons to Ukraine and will not give in to any pressure aimed at rolling out sanctions against Russia to gas and oil, nor will it give in concerning gender issues,” he said.
‘Fidesz-led alliance secures all-time biggest win’
Talking about Sunday’s election, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance achieved its all-time best result in the general election, scoring the most votes since Hungary’s change in regime.
The alliance garnered 54 percent of the votes cast, which translates into more than two thirds of parliamentary seats, he told an international press conference.
Orbán attributed the victory to three factors. Firstly, Hungarians wanted peace and, in view of the war raging in their neighbourhood, backed the political force that provided a bigger guarantee for peace, the prime minister said. Secondly, Hungary is a successful country, and finally, the opponent was a “coalition for power” which is basically a “disrespectful approach” to the electorate, he said.
The ruling alliance, in turn, represented a “programme of heart and passion” in the election campaign, he said.
Orbán’s planned measures, composition of new gov’t
Asked about the government’s planned measures, Orbán said the government would give priority to maintaining financial stability. Keeping the country’s GDP growth over the EU average is another goal, he said, adding that the government would take further measures to improve demography figures.
Orbán said the government plans to extend the system of family support measures, but added that in Europe’s current economic situation timing is still an issue.
Asked about Hungary’s next government, Orbán said the newly elected parliament should convene by May 3 and ask the prime minister to form a government. “It is not stated by law that the leader of the winning party should be asked to, but I have certain hopes of this kind,” he said.
Orbán said the new government cannot be formed before the end of May. He did not rule out that János Lázár, his former chief of staff and winner in Hódmezővásárhely, would return to the government and would be assigned with the task of increasing Hungarian ownership in retail chains to above 50 percent.
Asked if Péter Szijjártó remains foreign minister, Orbán said he would like to keep him in the government but it depends on the minister’s own decision.
Asked if the caps on fuel prices and interest rates would be maintained, Orbán said the government would make every possible effort to protect the people and families from price increases. The caps will remain in effect until the deadlines announced previously, and the government will seek to extend them, he said, adding that negotiations with fuel traders, banks, food producers and retailers are under way. Orbán said he saw a chance of maintaining price caps on utilities.
If the Paks nuclear power plant is upgraded and solar energy use increased as planned, the share of gas in Hungary’s energy mix can be reduced to 10 percent by 2030, he said.
Orbán confirmed the government’s commitment to maintaining financial stability. He noted that the budget deficit and the government debt had been reduced even during the election campaign. The situation of Hungary’s economy will depend on the depth of the European crisis, he added.
In reply to a question, Orbán ruled out that the government would take austerity measures and raise taxes affecting the public. However, there might be a need for special taxes to be imposed on multinational companies and others, similar to the ones introduced in 2010, he said, adding that such measures would depend on the EU’s ability to halt energy price rises.
Asked about the EU’s recovery and resilience funds, Orbán said that Hungary has access to a variety of other funds on the money markets because its economy is in a good shape. “It is inconceivable for Hungary to remain without money,” he said.
Orbán said in legal terms the April 3 referendum on child protection proved to be invalid but “never before had so many Hungarians adopted a uniform stance on an issue”.
“The outcome of the referendum unambiguously implies a political obligation,” he said.
Featured photo by Benko Vivien Cher/PM’s Press Office/MTI