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Prime Minister Clashes With Opposition Leaders As Hungarian Parliament Kicks Off Spring Session

Tamás Székely 2016.02.16.

Hungary’s National Assembly started its spring session with Prime Minister’s address on Monday afternoon, in which he ordered further border protection from migration and said a middle-class standard of living can be established in the country this year. Viktor Orbán’s opening speech was followed by the reactions of the group leaders of the parliamentary parties as the migrant crisis, the country’s economic situation and the ongoing education debate have all remained high on the Hungarian lawmakers’ agenda.

Orbán Viktor; Semjén Zsolt

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

Migrant crisis

Speaking to the lawmakers, PM Viktor Orbán said he had ordered the reinforcement of Hungary’s border fence and preparations for building a new one. According to Orbán, the influx of migrants would probably accelerate and Hungary’s protection and the fight against a mandatory quota for accepting migrants should be “affairs of interest for the whole nation”. In 2016 Hungary must have a diplomatic, legal and political defence in place against Brussels and a military and police defence along its southern borders, he said. Orbán also asked lawmakers to support measures “needed to protect the country and fend off terrorist attacks”. He thanked police, the army and the Visegrad countries of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia for “standing by Hungary” while it was the target of snipes from the whole of Europe. As a result Hungary is now one of the most stable countries of Europe, he said. “It is an obligation to prevent that people should be forced upon Hungarians with whom they do not want to live,” he said, adding that 1.8 million Hungarians support the fight against the mandatory quotas and that Brussels must adhere to laws and respect the will of nations.

Economic issues

After positive economic trends in 2015 Hungary’s goal in 2016 is to start establishing a middle-class standard of living, Orbán said. The government has since 2010 successfully led Hungary out of a financial bankruptcy and reduced debt, he highlighted. Results show that the chosen tools have been effective, he said, after briefing lawmakers about 2015 budget figures, the size of the budget deficit and public debt, and unemployment numbers. Nominally debt is still growing, and to stop this, a “balanced budget” will be needed, Orbán said. The three goals serving the aim of helping “everyone move forward a step” this year are tax cuts, home creation measures and strengthening families, he said, adding that personal income tax was cut by a point as of January this year, and VAT on pork and new homes has been reduced. Families with children receive more tax breaks and wages have been hiked, including the minimum wage. Law enforcement workers received a 30% hike last year and will receive 5% more this year and next, each. In higher education a wage hike of 15% has been administered and teachers, who are treated as priority, have received wage increases each year since 2013, Orbán said.

Education debate

The Hungarian government will support talks now under way with teachers and “aim to reach an agreement”, Viktor Orbán said in reference to teachers’ demonstrations over the weekend. “Hungarians generally trust teachers, which is why we trust them with our most precious possessions, our children, too”, he said. The government spent 12.8 billion forints (EUR 41.3m) on raising the salaries of health-care workers in January, mostly for nurses and doctors, he said. Resident doctors with a specialty received 151,000 forints support a month last year and GPs will get the raise again that they got last year. Orbán added that staff working in public administration in district offices will also get a 30% wage hike from July.

Orbán Viktor; Vona Gábor

Jobbik head Gábor Vona

Opposition reactions

The leaders of opposition parties criticised the Prime Minister’s speech. Addressing parliament as a response to Orbán, radical nationalist Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona said that Hungarians were afraid of migration and terrorism, but they also feared the return of the party state. Vona said that Jobbik will support all measures that strengthen Hungary’s safety, protect it from the EU migrant quota, migration itself and terrorism, but it will not support the ruling parties’ constitutional amendment proposal in its current form. The government proposal would be a step towards North Korea, while the left-wing’s proposals would be a step towards Cologne, he added.

In response to Orbán, the opposition Socialists’ (MSZP) leader called for financial and legal guarantees in public education. József Tóbiás said in his parliamentary address that the participants of a weekend demonstration in Kossuth Square near parliament gave voice to justified demands because the government has destroyed public education and health care. The government’s talks with the protesters do not automatically mean an agreement because responsible government guarantees are needed to regain the trust of employees in the sector, he added.

The group leader of green opposition LMP said the government has set Hungary on a path that involves low wages and incentives favouring multinationals, effectively “turning Hungary into an assembly plant.” András Schiffer said that Hungary’s policies force young people to leave the country, which makes the government a generator of global disequilibrium, a cause for the migration crisis. He criticised the government for drawing away money from education, which he said should be the basis of a developing economy. He called for wage increases for public workers and said that public employees’ wages have been unchanged for eight years.

LMP co-leader András Schiffer

LMP co-leader András Schiffer

The Prime Minister responded to Vona’s statements, saying that Hungary is not threatened by the return of the party state. Viktor Orbán stressed that the very reason many on his side of the political spectrum got into politics was to eradicate the single-party system. Responding to Tóbiás’s criticism of the government’s handling of the education and health-care systems, Orbán said Fidesz inherited bankrupt schools and hospitals from the Socialist government in 2010.

In response to LMP, the prime minister rejected Schiffer’s claims that the government’s economic policy is based on low wages, noting that wages are growing both in the public and private sector. Responding to Schiffer’s statement about the government favouring multinationals, Orbán said Hungary could not sustain its current standard of living without pursuing an export-oriented economic policy. Hungary can therefore not oppose free trade, he added. Orbán said that over the next seven years 60% of public funds allocated to economic development will go to small and medium-sized companies.

via hungarymatters.hu and MTI photos: Noémi Bruzák – MTI

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