The government’s aim is for the Hungarian economy’s level of development to reach 85 percent of the average development level of the European Union by 2030, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told an international press conference on Thursday.
Commenting on the conflict between Iran and the United States, Orban said the Hungarian troops serving in Iraq were “as safe as soldiers can be”. Some of the military bases with Hungarian soldiers have suffered missile attacks, the prime minister said, adding, however that none of them have been injured. He said a high-ranking Hungarian officer has arrived in Iraq and was now in command of the Hungarian mission. All conditions are in place to evacuate the Hungarian troops if necessary, Orban said. He added however that the Hungarian soldiers are stationed in Iraq on basis of a bilateral agreement, and they would “continue meeting their obligations” until the Iraqi government terminates that accord. He said Hungary’s foreign minister is scheduled to attend a meeting with his EU counterparts on Friday in an effort to agree on a joint European position on the conflict.
On the topic of migration, Orban said the government has decided to send more soldiers and police officers to the Hungarian-Serbian border in light of the increased pressure of migration there. He added the daily average of illegal entry attempts into Hungary topped 100. If necessary the other three Visegrad Group countries are ready to help beef up Hungary’s border security, he said, adding that Hungary stands ready to send a police continent to help patrol the border of North Macedonia.
Citing data from the Turkish authorities, he said some 450,000 illegal migrants had entered Turkey last year, up 70 percent from 2018. The number of migrants en route to Greece has also increased significantly, as has the migration pressure along the Balkan route, he added. But with that route becoming harder to navigate, given the poor weather conditions, more and more migrants are arriving at the Hungarian-Serbian border in an attempt to enter Europe, he said.
In response to a question concerning migration, he said there was no need to change the current border protection system. He said the European Union did not regard migrants being kept in transit zones at the Hungarian border as detention, so the current legal system of border protection need not be changed. In response to a question on migrant quotas, he said a historic tension between pro-migration and anti-migration counties would not disappear because two groups with very different mindsets were fighting each other in Europe. Hungary belongs in the anti-migration group and will continue to protect its position accordingly, he said. The job of the EU is to make sure that countries with different visions for their future should still be able to cooperate politically and intellectually, he said. He added, however, that he expected political disputes on the topic to endure.
On the topic of the economy, Orban said the Hungarian government will continue to reduce unemployment and increase wages because “there is no other way to eliminate poverty”. Orban called it a “fantastic achievement” that the number of jobholders had exceeded 4.5 million “for the first time in thirty years”, up 800,000 compared with 2010. Wages have been growing for 82 consecutive months, and their growth rate has been the fastest for low earners, he added. Orban said the finance minister has been tasked with getting Hungary to catch up with the Czech Republic’s employment rate.
Orban said his goal was for his government be the one to eliminate poverty in Hungary. Citing EU data, he said the number of people living in poverty has decreased by 1.3 million people in the recent period. He said the government will expand its development scheme geared towards the poorest villages to include further municipalities.
The prime minister noted that investments in Hungary had hit a record high in 2019, with Asian investments accounting for 38 percent of the new jobs created.
He said 2020 would be an “exciting” year for the Hungarian economy. The Hungarian economic model differs significantly from the countries of the euro zone in terms of several key elements such as taxation, investment promotion, measures aimed at improving competitiveness and the approach to social policies, Orban said.
The Hungarian model has so far been successful, but the euro zone countries have also achieved growth, he said, adding that this was about to change. Euro-zone growth is expected to remain stagnant in 2020, he said, adding that it was questionable whether the Hungarian model would still “work” amid such circumstances.
Citing Finance Minister Mihaly Varga, Orban said it was impossible for Hungary to maintain a long-term growth rate that is at least 2 percentage points above the EU average without the implementation of a separate action plan to protect the economy. He said he will reveal the details of the next plan at his state-of-the-nation address next month.
Asked about Hungary’s euro-zone aspirations, Orban said the country was not ready to adopt the single currency, but the government is continually examining the matter.
On the topic of health care, the prime minister said the government would prevent hospitals from amassing debt. He noted that the State Audit Office had found serious problems, adding that amassing huge debts was “not a remissible sin but a serious issue”. “This practice needs to be eliminated; no hospital can be allowed to amass debts,” the prime minister said, adding that the minister in charge had been asked to come up with a proposal aimed at controlling the finances of hospitals. He also added that the government will provide the means to settle hospitals’ current payables.
Orban said that the state’s health-care administration will channel resources into renovating hospital wards, waiting rooms and related communal spaces as a top priority.
He said it was important for hospitals to retain their staff, adding that health-care professionals and nurses would receive a 72 percent wage increase over the next 2.5-3 years.
Orban said the government’s national energy and climate protection strategy strove to maintain the “common life of Hungarians” in the Carpathian Basin while adapting to climate change calmly and systematically. The plan is to gradually achieve 90 percent carbon-neutral electricity by 2030, with the Paks nuclear power plant providing the bulk of generation and solar most of the rest, he said. Hungary, he added, belonged to a group of countries that aimed for a climate-neutral economy by 2050, but this, he said, would cost 50,000 billion forints (EUR 152bn) to achieve.
Among substantive measures to achieve such goals will be putting electric buses into circulation and eliminating all illegal landfill sites, while getting rid of plastic bottles from rivers, Orban said. Hungary is one of 21 countries have managed major economic growth while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, he said.
Orban said that amid the protracted debates in Europe, it was important to keep the costs of adapting to “climate change” topmost in mind. The household costs of energy and food should not rise, he said. Further, poorer countries should not be deprived of their funding, such as money from the EU’s cohesion fund, he said. Moreover, he said that it should be recognised that creating a climate-neutral economy without nuclear power would be “impossible”.
Meanwhile, Orban said that now that the local elections had passed, the two years would be about governance rather than electioneering.
Orban said several people in Fidesz had pressed for change. “Sadly, Fidesz is not the only formation that isn’t perfect,” he said, adding there was room for improvement in many areas, and this tied in with his job as party leader. Orban said it was unsurprising that the opposition had made gains in the local elections. This, he added, was the essence of democracy. Wherever the opposition candidates were better, voters voted for the opposition, he said, adding that Fidesz had to win political debates every single day. “The usefulness of democracy is in forcing all parties to do better over and over again,” he said.
Asked about the impact of the US-Iran conflict on Hungary’s energy policy as well as its diplomacy as part of the western alliance, the prime minister said the gap between the EU and the Israeli-American position on Iran should be narrowed. Orban added that Hungary does not support the adoption of nuclear weapons by any country.
Orban said Hungary’s energy independence was in better shape than ten years ago. He added that it would be desirable for gas exploration to start in Romania as soon as possible and for Croatia to facilitate the partial purchase by Hungary of the LPG terminal being built on the Adriatic. Hungarian energy independence will be guaranteed given the fulfilment of both scenarios, he said.
Orban welcomed the inauguration of the Black Sea section of the Turkish gas pipeline by the Russian, Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian leaders. “We’ll be able to transport gas from a new direction,” he added. Also, the more nuclear and renewables in the mix, the greater Hungary’s energy independence, he said.
On the subject of Ukraine, Orban said a high-level meeting with the new Ukrainian leadership had not yet materialised despite all Hungary’s efforts. Hopefully a meeting will take place soon, giving new impetus to Hungarian-Ukrainian relations, he said.
Commenting on the political activities of US financier George Soros, Orban said “we do not have Soros-phobia” but “we stand against” the group led by Soros which, he said, aimed to exert influence on European policymaking. Orban said many countries, unlike Hungary, were keeping quiet on the issue and the EU was actually funding the organisations in this group. “The debates and battles concerning the sovereignty of the country must be fought,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of “a new Christian democratic initiative” in connection with the European People’s Party, he said Fidesz was not interested in EPP in its current form, and a change was needed within the party family. “The EPP is shrinking and losing influence, positions and seats because it is heading in the wrong direction, a liberal, Socialist, centrist direction,” Orban said. The question is whether Fidesz has enough influence within the EPP to force through or initiate a change, he added. Orban said that if the EPP were unable to change direction, then a new Christian democratic initiative would be needed in European politics. It would be necessary, he added, to create a counterweight to the rise of French President Macron’s “left-wing movement”.
Source and photo: MTI