Heger (left) and Orbán – Photo: Facebook

Orbán: Ties with Slovakia better than ever

Taking the past ten years into account, ties with Slovakia have never been better than they are today, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said after talks with Slovak counterpart Eduard Heger in his office on Tuesday. With trade turnover of over 10 billion euros, Slovakia is Hungary's third biggest trading partner, trailing only Germany and Austria, Orbán told a joint press conference. He added that the year-on-year increase exceeded 9 percent so far this year.

The government is happy to see Slovak investors show an increased interest in Hungary, Orbán said. He welcomed that Hungary continued to see investments from Slovakia in 2020 as well.

“We’ve looked at the last ten years of our partnership,” the prime minister said. “We must say that our ties have never been better than they are today.”

This, Orbán said, required a meeting of two successful countries. He praised the last ten years of Slovakia’s economic achievements as a “fantastic success story”, noting that the two countries also had “shared success stories”.

In terms of the EU’s enlargement with the Western Balkan countries, Hungary and Slovakia “are playing from the same score”, Orbán said, adding that the two countries have an identical approach to the issue of migration and have a high regard for Visegrad cooperation. The V4 are set to meet in Katowice, in south-western Poland, on Wednesday, he said, adding that Hungary would aim to do “the best job possible” in coordinating the cooperation among the four countries.

Concerning Hungary and Slovakia’s shared achievements, Orbán noted the inauguration of a new bridge spanning the Danube between Hungary and Slovakia near Komarom, northern Hungary and the construction of a motorway connecting Miskolc in north-eastern Hungary and Kosice (Kassa) in eastern Slovakia. Also, construction of a new bridge across the River Ipoly is set to begin next week, he said, adding that the two countries will open six new border crossing points between them by 2023.

Furthermore, Hungary and Slovakia have linked their electricity grids and gas pipelines, he said. Plans are also underway to establish a high-speed rail link between Budapest and Bratislava which will also connect to Prague and Warsaw, Orbán added.

As regards ethnic communities, Orbán said Slovaks living in Hungary would receive all the support they need to preserve their cultural, educational and political identity, adding that the government will also contribute to the establishment of a Slovak cultural centre in Budapest.

Orbán thanked Heger for his “generosity” when it comes to the situation of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, expressing hope that Hungarian and Slovak ethnic minorities would serve as a bridge between the two nations.

“Now all that’s needed is a bit of luck and we’ll be able to show the world something that few would predict when we reopen our economies,” the prime minister said.

“For now, the vaccine remains the key factor, since the pandemic is only over for those who have been vaccinated,” Orbán said. “Sadly many in Hungary are deciding not to get the jab and remain at risk to the infection.” Orbán expressed hope that both countries would be successful in rebooting their economies so that they could “share another success story”.

Answering a question, Orbán said the Hungarian government will have to make “unexpected, forceful and serious decisions” with regard to the Hungarian economy in order to achieve 5.5 percent GDP growth in 2021, in which case it will be able to afford a tax refund for families.

Orbán warned that developments over the coming weeks would be crucial in achieving that goal. “Unless the operative body overseeing the relaunch of the Hungarian economy, headed by [Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade] Peter Szijjarto, submits 15-20 forceful and occasionally surprising measures to the government in the coming weeks, the 5.5 percent growth will not be achieved,” he said.

Orbán also noted “serious problems” in the construction industry, saying that steep rises in the price of materials had “syphoned away” government support for home reconstruction from families and into the pockets of manufacturers. Countermeasures could be discussed in government as soon as this week, he added.

Asked about the EU’s climate protection goals and a planned carbon tax, Orbán said the government disagreed with taxing households in the interest of climate protection. The V4 have so far been united in their opposition to such a plan, he said, adding that hopefully they would remain that way.

Asked about the debate on the future of the EU, Orbán said Hungary will be an active participant in it. Advertisements the government has put out in foreign papers reflect its official position in the debate, he said, adding that parliament is expected to approve a resolution regarding the future of the bloc in the autumn.

The prime minister said he hoped that the debate will be followed up with some sort of European convention for talks on possible amendments to the bloc’s founding treaty.

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