Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (l) - Photo: PMO

Orbán: EU ‘making excuses to win time’

Whereas the former Socialist government of Ferenc Gyurcsany "took a month's pension away from pensioners", the current government "hasn't taken away a single penny" from the elderly despite the pandemic and the war, the prime minister told public radio on Friday. Orbán said that Hungary has fulfilled all its commitments to the European Union, but Brussels does not want to disburse the funding it has withheld and it was "making up excuses to win time".

Asked if the budget could afford the newly announced 190 billion forint pension supplement, Viktor Orbán said it could not, but the government had a duty to “take on the impossible at times”.

The state budget is always prepared with a deficit which somehow has to be covered, for instance by a loan, “which the country then keeps kicking down the road for a long time”, Orbán said.

“We’ll be a very strong and happy country when the budget has a surplus, but right now it doesn’t,” he said, adding that the budget had been “ruined sometime in during the communist regime”.

“Looking at it through the eyes of an economist … this money shouldn’t be given to the people, but we can’t do that to those who have gone grey doing honest work,” he said.

Orbán said he wanted Hungary “to feel some pride” over the fact that it can maintain the security of pensioners even in times of war. This does not happen in every country, he said, adding that in many places pension rises were not keeping up with inflation.

Orbán noted that the government had vowed in 2010 to preserve the value of pensions. In addition, the government has restored the 13th month pension that was taken away from the elderly by the Gyurcsany government, he said.

The pension supplement to be paid in November will be incorporated into pensions and will be taken into account when the next pension increase is calculated in January, the prime minister said.

Orbán said this year “is about curbing inflation” while 2024 “will be the year of a return to growth”.

The “textbook method” is to have the central bank use its own policy tools to control inflation, “but we eventually had to admit that this wasn’t going to work”, he said. Orbán said the central bank had failed in its fight against inflation, and because the government was the one with the tools needed to tackle it, it had taken over this task.

Detailing the measures implemented by the government, Orbán noted the introduction of price caps, the freeze on interest rates, mandatory discounts in supermarkets and the online price-monitoring system. The government “has taken a big axe to inflation” and has “grabbed multinationals by the ear over unjustified price increases”, he said.

The world “doesn’t welcome these measures” because it is used to seeing central banks handle inflation and expects governments to be cautious rather than “action heroes”, Orbán said. But the Hungarian government could not afford that because Hungary is the most exposed to energy prices in all of Europe, so direct intervention was necessary, he added.

The government “will be successful” in making sure that inflation is brought down this year, he said, arguing that it would be pushed into the single digits by the end of 2023, while the central bank sees it falling into the 4-6 percent range next year.

Meanwhile, wages have begun rising, and wage growth was certain to outpace inflation in September, the prime minister said. Economic growth would also return in the third and fourth quarters, he added.

Hungarian businesses have adapted well to the energy crisis and are increasingly more productive, which has made the Hungarian economy more competitive in the past year, he said.

“It is hopeful that 2024 will be the year we return to growth,” Orbán said.

Meanwhile, Orbán said Hungary would be proven right on the matter of the war in Ukraine, and the West had failed to “calmly assess” the situation there.

The conflict must be isolated, but Western countries want to globalise the war, Orbán said.

“You can only enter into war if you have a clear goal and know what tools you will use. Otherwise, politics cannot account for the lives lost,” he said.

The prime minister said he had “the worst feeling” in connection with the war. The frontlines are frozen, yet tens of thousands are dying without there being any indication of when the conflict will end, he said.

“At the same time, they are deploying increasingly dangerous weapons which could reach those of us who are pro-peace,” he added.

As regards Ukraine’s potential European Union membership, Orbán said he would be cautious with such plans, noting that it required the approval of all 27 member states, and he had not seen “an irresistible desire” by Hungary’s parliament to approve it within the next two years.

There is no way of evading the question of whether the bloc can start negotiations with a country that is locked in a territorial war, making the size of its territory and population unknown, Orbán said. He argued that “the entire system of the EU”, such the distribution of funds, was based on these kinds of data.

Orbán said further support for Ukraine would mean member states paying more into the joint coffers and while receiving less. Hungary currently has a surplus of 2 billion euros in its payments to the EU, he said.

The monies given to Ukraine will mean dwindling resources for Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Croatia, he said.

The EU’s solution is to take out loans, he noted. “But if we give those monies to someone who is never going to be able to pay it back, rather than spending it on developing the European economy, then we are squandering the money and future of our children and grandchildren on someone else,” he said.

In response to a question on the EU funding withheld from Hungary, Orbán said “some of that money may be in Ukraine already”. Since EU lacks the money it has promised to Kyiv while promising renewed support, “it stands to reason to think that the money they have promised but not delivered [to a member state] is already gone”. “We don’t know for sure, because Brussels is not speaking clearly on the issue.”

Orbán said the EU owed some 3 billion euros to Hungary “because we pay what we owe but the money they should be giving us is not on its way.”

The EU recently sent a list of nine questions on the state of Hungary’s judiciary, “on the office space for judges for example”, Orbán said. “The questions are laughable, and the whole debate by now is absurd.”

Hungary has fulfilled all its commitments to the European Union, but Brussels does not want to disburse the funding it has withheld, Orbán said, adding that it was “making up excuses to win time”.

“Brussels wants to topple the Polish government,” Orbán said, adding that it was waiting for the result of the upcoming elections there. “They are doing everything they can, and we don’t know if they will succeed.”

He said the EU was hoping that “Hungary will be left on its own” if a leftist government wins the elections in mid-October in Poland, “so it will be easier to defeat us”.

While Poland’s conservative government is in power, the two countries “will always defend each other, and Brussels must give way,” he said.

Regarding the EU’s migration policy, Orbán said the migration pact was a “step backwards”.

Populations grow “in a different rhythm on either side of the Mediterranean”, Orbán said. “We are now in a phase when they are coming [to Europe] and we are constantly threatened,” he said.

The European Union can’t tackle that challenge because it sees it as a “humanitarian issue rather than from the viewpoint of our children and grandchildren.”

Migration is “bad and dangerous”, involving crime, acts of terrorism and clashes between peoples with different outlooks on life, Orbán said.

Whereas this was assumed for a long time, since the migration “invasion” in 2015, day-to-day experiences “show that this is not an assumption but a fact”, he said, referring to “crime, violence, an inability to live together and unmanageable conflicts”.

Orbán said Hungary wanted to avoid this, and thanks to a brave Hungarian government, “we have so far succeeded in protecting ourselves against migration”.

He said politics was divided on the issue, and the left wing was “pro-migration”.

The prime minister said only people who have submitted an asylum application in advance, and the application has been evaluated and approved, should be allowed into the country.

As long as Europe allows migrants into the bloc and starts the procedures afterwards, migrants cannot be sent away, he said.

Meanwhile, by “saying no”, the EU can prevent migrants leaving their home countries and so prevent the personal tragedies on the way to Europe, he said. “We shouldn’t import trouble, we should export aid.”

Hungary is ready to take part in stabilising the Sahel and other vulnerable regions, and to provide economic, health-care and military aid, he said.

Speaking of changes in the approach to migration in Europe, Orbán said: “Germany’s defection, seeing as their independence has been limited since the second world war, is not the most painful one.” Slovakia’s “defection” had been unexpected, however, as that country had always stood by Poland and Hungary on the matter, he said.

The Hungarian-Polish anti-migration cooperation will succeed only if the two countries can “guarantee geographic continuity … a migration frontline.” A country that leaves that line “is a problem”, he said.

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