Following his state of the nation address at the end of February Prime Minister Viktor Orbán went on a speech spree. At the launch of the new Suzuki Vitara in Esztergom the PM noted the importance of providing employment to anyone willing to work, and he made an unusual comment about fighting bureaucracy within the government. On radio he expressed the need for stricter oversight at brokerages, at the Chamber of Commerce he spoke about higher than projected growth for 2015, while at a meeting of ambassadors he stressed the need to ensure that Hungarian success is in other countries’ interests.
First it was off to Esztergom to mark the introduction of the new Suzuki Vitara. Emphasising the significance of the company, Orbán said Suzuki has been a partner of the Hungarian government since 2010.
Work means everything
He stressed that the objective is for those who want to work to be able to prosper. Having work means everything; it is only jobs that are able to ensure sustainable success and prosperity for the Hungarian people.
Orbán reiterated that the aim of the government is to reach full employment by 2018. He thanked the factory’s employees for their work, because the Hungarian workforce is investors’ most important reason for choosing the country.
He mentioned two promises that the government had made earlier: firstly, that within three years the heavy transport bridge over the Danube at Komárom will be opened. “Preparations for this are ongoing and we will be able to fulfil our commitment within the deadline,” Orbán said.
When it came to the second promise, however, he did something unusual compared to his other public speeches: he expressed dissatisfaction. Regarding the express road connecting Esztergom with the M1 motorway, Orbán said there is still a chance to meet the 2018 deadline but “I have to fight huge battles with Hungarian governance, the bureaucracy of our own governance to make them understand that work must be sped in order for this project to be completed”.
The following day Orbán made an appearance in Kossuth Rádió for an interview and then at the year-opening event of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Concerning the lost Veszprém election, the Prime Minister said that while the previous cycle was rather comfortable in terms of domestic affairs, these four years will be “far more filled with fights over domestic affairs,” in which “we will have to stand strong”.
Evaluating the Veszprém results, Orbán said the reason why some voters may not be satisfied with the government is because on the one hand they expect more consultations and slower decisions, and because “we did not take up the gauntlet”. Fidesz voters were probably of the opinion that “we did not fight well enough”. This is why they expect more readiness to fight, “a straightforward and clear answer to every attack directed against us,” he explained, summarising the issue by saying that the government needs to fight better.
Concerning Fidesz-KDNP losing its two-thirds majority, the PM said they will manage without, and that where there is a need for such a majority they will consult with the opposition. As an example of such an issue he mentioned the matter of Hungarian military participation in Kurdistan. “Whether we can acquire the two-thirds majority on this will emerge in the coming days.”
Continuing with the Buda-Cash case, Orbán pointed out that all brokerage firms must be investigated as a matter of urgency, and “this stable must be cleaned out”. He confirmed that the government is in consultations with the Banking Association and the National Bank on where the system for oversight must be made stricter; we must not allow the most important question to be forgotten: “Where is the people’s money?”
“If I could direct the investigation, those responsible would all be in prison by now,” Orbán said of the fraudulent activities at Buda-Cash, emphasising at the same time that the government cannot exercise control over the judiciary.
In his interview, the Prime Minister announced that the government has made a decision on road toll compensation, and the technical work is already in progress. He also talked about the Electronic Trade and Transport Control System (EKÁER), saying that “It has taken its final form” In his opinion this system is a radical step towards combating VAT fraud.
Elaborating on the advertising tax, Orbán said the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Affairs was already discussing the changes proposed by the European Union; “the bullet is already in the barrel,” he said, describing tax exemptions for the smallest companies as a serious proposal. However, he also announced that there will be an advertising tax, saying he would not want a situation to be established in which otherwise rational and useful decisions are discarded just because a lot of people are against them, because “then the amounts needed would have to be collected from the quieter Hungarians”.
On the proposal for a nine-year elementary school system, he said consultations have not yet been concluded and discussions are ongoing, but he made it clear that the elementary school education system must be reformed, because there are masses of children leaving without adequate preparation for secondary education.
Finally the issue of the planned free trade agreement between the EU and the US was discussed, in relation to which Orbán declared that he will not support an agreement which takes decision-making on economic legal disputes from the Hungarian court system and gives it to some far-off court.
Economic growth in 2015 may turn out higher than the projected 2.5%, Orbán said at the economic policy forum of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry titled “Opening of the Economic Year”.
“In order to present economic prospects we need a realistic assessment of the current situation, and an essential prerequisite for that is knowledge on the four pillars, the four great reforms,” he said. “First we linked demography and the tax system – that is, families and taxation. As evidenced by the most recent demographic data, this is working well: the tax benefit for children and the retirement options for women who have worked for more than 40 years are showing positive effects.”
Apart from the already existing forms of allowances, Orbán talked about supporting home creation and the planned restructuring of the school system. The second major reform is reducing household utility costs, while the third is holding banks accountable. The combined stimulative effect of these measures on consumption could already be seen in growth rates.
As a fourth reform, Orbán identified the “work instead of benefits” programme, the idea of which has obviously made an impact on people, as – up until now – nobody had ever protested for the chance to take part in public works instead of claiming benefits.
Concerning this issue, he stressed that news about reductions in public works is untrue, as “more people will be employed in the public works scheme and we will spend more on public works than we have done up to now.” Orbán reiterated his goal of achieving full employment by 2018 and reducing unemployment to 3% or lower by then. Full employment would not be possible without the Jobs Protection Action Plan, he added.
Diplomats need business insight
On Tuesday Orbán went in front of a televised extraordinary general meeting of ambassadors of Hungary, where he defined the basis of Hungarian foreign policy doctrine – independent foreign policy based on national interests – by saying that Hungary is not looking for uniformity of interests with influential countries, but the aim is to ensure that Hungarian success is in other countries’ interests.
Pursuing an independent foreign policy is sometimes uncomfortable but in the long run only a sovereign foreign policy is profitable, he said. The interests of Hungarian foreign policy do not necessarily coincide with those of the most influential countries, such as Germany or the United States. Consequently, it is natural that uniformity of interests cannot exist in every area. As a result, Hungary’s task is not to seek uniformity of interests – indeed, it frequently already exists – but to ensure that Hungarian success is in Germany’s and America’s interests, he explained.
What was needed to achieve Hungarian success was not academic knowledge but the kind of business insight that is indispensable for converting promising results into solid gains.
The Prime Minister pointed out that as Hungary is part of the Western world there is no need for “westward opening”. In Hungary two referenda had been held – on Hungary’s membership of the EU and of NATO – which reinforced the country’s integration into the West, and therefore no public representative could question that. The most visible area of cooperation with the West is participation in military coalitions, he added.
In his view, the policy of eastward opening has been successful; however, those processes that have been started have to be finished by the end of the year, so he is also planning to visit Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Southward opening has to be implemented in the next year or two, and this new target area for Hungarian foreign policy will be Latin America and Africa – a region which the government expects will undergo stabilisation. Thus he was asking the heads of embassies to adequately prepare the conditions for southward opening. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó will begin his visits to these areas, followed by visits by the Prime Minister in 2016.
Socialists: Orbán humiliated diplomats
The opposition Socialists said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s remarks made at an extraordinary meeting of Hungarian ambassadors “humiliated” the diplomats. Attila Mesterházy, of the Socialist Party’s foreign affairs cabinet, said the government’s approach to the foreign economy lacked “any values of classical diplomacy” and expected diplomats to be merely “sales people” rather than “diplomats having ideas and analytic capabilities”. Hungary’s eastern opening policy has been a failure because the turnover of trade with most countries has dropped, Mesterházy insisted. Radical nationalist Jobbik welcomed the government’s “recognising that Hungary’s room for manoeuvre is determined by more than one pole”. Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s deputy group leader, interpreted Orbán’s remarks as adopting Jobbik’s position of focusing on the “Germany-Turkey-Russia triangle” and not restricting the economy to exports by international companies. On the other hand, Jobbik “firmly rejects” his advocating “the Euro-Atlantic grand coalition of the past 25 years” against the Islamic State, Gyöngyösi said. “We cannot provide military support, since […] the West is responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State,” he insisted. The Együtt (Together) party said the need to hold an extraordinary meeting six months after the regular meeting in itself indicates that the policy announced in August has failed. As examples of the government’s failures in the past few months, Együtt board member Nóra Hajdu referred to international reactions to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Budapest visit, Orbán’s “extremely unsuccessful” talks in Warsaw and an “unprecedented chill” in Hungary-US relations.