Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (l) - Photo: PMO

Orbán: Multinational supermarkets raising prices are ‘speculators’

Supermarkets are acting like speculators by raising prices when there is no basis to do so, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told public radio on Friday. The government's job is to bring inflation down with measures such as price caps, the interest rate freeze on loans, the online price-monitoring platform, mandatory discounts for supermarkets and allowing the SZEP voucher to be used for food purchases in stores, Orbán said.

“It appears that the process which we call defeating inflation has begun, and the goal of pushing it below 10 percent by the end of the year is achievable,” he added.

While the country is fighting inflation, especially food price rises, “there are those who aren’t participating in the battle and are indeed taking advantage of the situation”, he said.

Hiking prices of imported food, he added, was “totally unjustified and unacceptable”. Action would be taken against price-gouging, even if this may cause the government problems with the EU, he said.

Brussels, Orbán insisted, was undermining government attempts to “protect the people”, and speculators were “colluding with Brussels bureaucrats”.

He said consumer protection authorities had already levied 3 billion forints (EUR 8m) in fines, adding that action must be intensified.

“We can’t accept such unjustified speculation with food prices just because we’re living in a time of higher inflation,” Orbán said. “This is outrageous, wrong and we must take action against it.”

Commenting on reactions to his recent speech at the Balvanyos Free Summer University, Orbán said Baile Tusnad (Tusnadfurdo) in central Romania had become an “iconic place” for the nationally-minded side of Hungarian politics, and it was impossible to categorise the type of speeches that were given there. He said he used his opportunities to speak at the event to offer a shared way of thinking, which always made the reactions “more exciting that what I have to say”.

As regards domestic politics, Orbán said the left and the liberals had become “provincial” political forces who “don’t read, don’t keep up with current events, have lost their freshness, don’t accept new things and keep reciting the old mantra”.

“There are so many new things happening in the world, some of which are dangerous, others inspiring,” Orbán said. “The whole thing is attractive; there’s intellectual spirit in domestic politics, but it’s not reflected in the Hungarian left’s reactions.”

Meanwhile, Orbán said Hungarian cooperation with Romania and Slovakia carried “great potential” and “we could do a lot of nice things together in the coming period”. He said he had met his Romanian counterpart and was keen to develop a good relationship with him. He said the new prime minister was “young, strong and agile”, and “I think we can do some serious things together,” he added.

Commenting on Slovakia, Orbán noted the country would be staging a general election in September.

Referring to conflicting interpretations of post-war history, the prime minister said the two countries would not be able to “grind the mill” towards a harmonious position and the matter was best left to historians. It would be a mistake to allows this issue to dominate Slovakia-Hungary relations, he added.

Slovakia’s approach to the matter was completely different from Hungary’s, he said. Hungarians, he added, did not draw lines between eras. “We Hungarians have been in a flow state for 1,100 years; this isn’t broken up for us, it’s all one story.”

Meanwhile, Orbán also said that it appeared that the Czechs were “debating each other”. He said he had to go by what the Czech European affairs minister said, which was that Czechia “supports the united states of Europe”. This is the position of fedaralism against the Hungarian and Polish concept of sovereignty, the prime minister said, adding that this debate would be settled in the coming years once the EU’s fate was decided.

Concerning the economy, Orbán said Hungary had “come up against two different meteors” recently in the form of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Covid, he said, had been a “very painful year and a half for Hungary” with many people dying. Hungary had to fight to save lives and job opportunities, he noted.

The war, however, was different because it did not pose a threat to jobs at the moment, Orbán said. Hungary enjoyed full employment prior to the war, “and the war couldn’t dislodge us from this”, he said.

But, he added, the war was instead “suffocating Hungarians” through inflation due to increased energy prices and the sanctions imposed by Brussels, so the government was trying to protect Hungarian families by keeping energy prices low.

Hungarian families pay the lowest utility prices in all of Europe, “a big achievement for the Hungarian economy”, he said.

Meanwhile, Orbán said the war in Ukraine could not be resolved on the battlefield, only through diplomacy and talks, and the first step would be an immediate ceasefire.

He said Hungary must be persistent in urging peace. “If they throw us out the window, we must come back through the door, and if they push us out the door, we must come back through the window,” he added.

He said the war was very costly and Ukraine had run out of money, and it was barely surviving. Its army was operational owing purely to western money, he added.

“There are two questions: one concerns a decision by the president of the United States on how long they will be spending billions here in eastern Europe, and the other is how long Europe can endure,” Orbán said.

The EU can generate money if member states “throw their money into shared coffers”, Orbán said. The question, however, remained: “how long can we last when the European economy is in trouble and we cannot see any end to the war?”

“We have already given more than 70 billion euros, but we can’t see how this has been spent; the accounts have not been done,” Orbán said. In this situation, at the halfway point of the 7-year budget cycle, the European Commission is asking member states to contribute a total of 100 billion euros, he added.

At the same time, the EU cannot fulfil its obligations to member states, he said. The EU owes Hungary around 2 billion euros for border protection and the construction of the border fence, he added.

They also owe 800 billion forints to teachers because they have promised their help to speed up the salary increase for teachers, he added. Additionally, they owe payments from the recovery fund set up, partly with Hungary’s contribution, for fast post-Covid economic recovery, he said.

“There is a good reason to ask whether this money is still owed to us because it has been spent on other purposes, for instance on Ukraine,” he said.

Asked whether Hungary could refuse to approve the amendment of the EU budget until it receives its EU monies, Orbán said: “This would be very unfriendly…” He said member states could be expected to demonstrate loyal cooperation, but linking various matters that did not belong together was on the verge of what was lawful. “There can be a coincidence in timing, when decisions requiring unanimous support coincide with decisions involving monies for Hungary,” he added.

The EU and its member states, too, are at the margins of their strength, he said. Asked whether Europe could be left alone with a war being fought next door, he said that as soon as that happened, Europe would immediately turn pro-peace.

Orbán said public opinion increasingly questioning the rationale for financing the war and politicians still insisting on their earlier decisions was an “impossible situation”. Whereas the people could not be replaced, governments could, he added.

An error made at the starting point of the war, he said. When Russia attacked Ukraine, Europe had two choices: one was to try to localise the conflict, as in the case of Crimea, and this was Hungary’s recommendation; or become fully involved, in which case the conflict would have global consequences. “This has happened … the war is weighing on the entire world economy.”

The main advantage of the global economy, which Hungary also benefited from, was free trade, he said. “Hungary was training for thirty years in the gym so as to participate in global trade and the manufacturing race,” he added. “Finally we have developed our muscles and then a war comes along…”

Global economic trends are increasingly characterised by seclusion, isolation and “a kind of ghettoization,” he said, adding that instead connection, cooperation and division of labour would be better for production and economic growth.

He said the entire issue had been mishandled from the start and a new approach involving a return to the negotiating table was needed.

Meanwhile, Orbán said Hungarians did not want migrant quotas and migrant ghettos “and if we don’t want them, they will not happen”.

He said it had been an unexpected coincidence that Italy, after going against mandatory quotas and migrant ghettos for a long time, had changed its position and only a few weeks later, it received 19 billion euros from the post-Covid recovery fund, which Hungary still has not benefited from.

“It is obviously an accidental coincidence,” Orbán said, adding that there were some complicated games being played in the background. “I am not a fan of these,” he said, adding that he did not consider migration a tactical or strategic matter but a historical matter which must be handled at that level.

“If migrants are allowed to enter, the countries will lose control over who is allowed to enter and who is not allowed,” posing security risks, he said. Human smugglers “will push them in”, their number will increase and they will come from countries where families are stronger than here in the Christian world, he added. It can ruin a country if the number of new arrivals, keen to preserve their cultural identity, grow in number partly as a result of migration and partly because of the high number of their offspring, Orbán said.

Leave a Reply