Prime minister Viktor Orbán – Photo: PMO

Orbán: Hungary must stick to utility price cuts

The Hungarian government must stick to its utility price cuts, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday. In his regular interview to public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, Orbán said several European countries were facing utility crises because "Brussels bureaucrats" believed rising utility prices were the way to transition to renewable energy sources.

“They’re deliberately raising the prices,” Orbán said, adding that views on the issue were divided along political lines, and that Hungary’s left wing wanted utility prices to be set by the market.

The government has rejected this and protected low utility prices in parliament as well, Orbán said. If the government had accepted the energy prices favoured by the previous Socialist-liberal governments, an average family would be paying over 360,000-370,000 forints (EUR 1,000-1,031) more in utility costs annually, the prime minister said.

Utility prices are a highly sensitive issue for a country like Hungary, because “they can cause Hungarian families a lot of pain”, Orbán said.

“We believe utility prices should be cut and the social situation of families should be protected,” he said, adding that Brussels, on the other hand, believed that if utility prices are raised, economies could be forced to transition to greener energy sources. “Brussels is not the solution, but the problem itself,” the prime minister said.

Orbán said Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were demanding that Brussels repeal the regulations that had led to the current high prices. The three countries have put forward several proposals to this end, and the issue must be discussed again at the next EU summit in two weeks’ time, he said.

The prime minister also said that economic activity in Hungary had returned to pre-pandemic levels, giving the government an opportunity to enact measures that had not been possible until now.

He announced that nurses will receive a wage hike of 21 percent from January next year, while creche workers and employees in the social and cultural sectors will see their salaries rise by 20 percent.

Orbán also noted that Hungary’s pensioners will each receive a bonus of 80,000 forints, while families will receive refunds of their 2021 personal income tax payments.

The government’s personal income tax exemption for Hungarians under 25 will benefit around one million young people, Orbán added.

He said the government was “fighting” to restore the 13th month pension in one go next year. The conditions for this are not yet in place, “but if everyone in the country does their job well over the coming months, it will be possible”, he added.

Orbán said that if the monthly minimum wage is raised to 200,000 forints, it would be higher than the average wage had been under the previous Socialist-liberal governments.

Meanwhile, he said the teachers’ unions were right to be demanding higher wages, given that they were the first sector to receive significant wage hikes around 2013-2014. However, taking inflation and the pay rises in other sectors into account, “they have now fallen down the order”. “This isn’t fair and the teachers are right to demand wage hikes,” he said.

Orbán said teachers could receive a wage hike of 10 percent next year and a more significant hike in January 2023 if the economy continues to perform as it has.

The prime minister said that although the Hungarian economy was in good shape, the public debt-to-GDP ratio was between 75 and 80 percent. “When a country’s public debt is between 75 and 80 percent of GDP, then it’s on thin ice even if the economy is doing well,” he said. “We have to be very careful here, because a flawed economic policy decision or poor timing could cause that ice beneath us to break.”

Orbán said the wage hikes and revenues resulting from the economy’s strong performance needed to be used in a way that allowed the government to reduce the public debt and bring it back to around 50 percent.

On another subject, Orbán said Hungary had still not received the funds it was entitled to from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery package. “This isn’t fair and it means that it’s not a level playing field,” he added.

He said the EU was making the transfer of funds conditional on Hungary allowing LGBTQ activists into schools. “Fortunately the Hungarian economy is performing well, and we don’t want to accept the money at the cost of ceding our right to our children’s sex education,” Orbán said. “We are entitled to this money, it’s just that this disagreement is causing a delay in the transfers.”

Meanwhile, Orbán said he will receive his Covid booster jab next week and advised Hungarians to also get their third jab. Given that the coronavirus is still new, no one knows anything certain about it, but several variants of it have already been identified and more are likely to emerge, he said.

“But what all doctors are certain of is that the vaccine works and it’s preferable to get a booster shot,” Orbán added.

He said that despite not having received a Nobel Prize for her work with mRNA technology, Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko “is our hero and she saved millions of lives”.

“This may not be deserving of a Nobel Prize, but she has done heroic work and we are very proud of her,” Orbán said.

Leave a Reply