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PM Orbán's much-awaited press conference: "The government cannot comment on business affairs."
Prime minister Viktor Orbán held a press conference Thursday morning, making good on his July promise to answer questions by journalists before the end of 2018. In a way, he did.
Today was a rare opportunity, as Viktor Orbán does not often talk to journalists outside the pro-government media empire. The last time Index managed to have an interview with him was in 2007, but he has been actively avoiding independent press inquiries since Fidesz's ascent to power, and even now, several news outlets independent from the government were denied accreditation just this morning. Last May, when Index tried to catch the prime minister for a quick question at a public event he was attending, he refused our question by referring to us as a "fake news factory."
Several media outlets independent from the government were denied entrance citing the larger than expected interest. Spokesperson Zoltán Kovács said that no "party press" was allowed at the press conference.
Hungary first, God above all.
Orbán started out with a short monologue touching upon three topics of yesterday's government cabinet meeting. First, he spoke about the report of Minister of Finance Mihály Varga, that says Hungary's 2018 GDP growth was 4.6%, the debt-to-GDP ratio was reduced to 71% and consumption grew by 6%. Viktor Orbán assessed that Hungary "is doing better," making a reference to the government's long-time political slogan. Then he mentioned the ongoing national consultation and the Budapest developments the government decided about yesterday.
Orbán said that migration is going to fundamentally change European politics. Its main divisive line will no longer run between the left and the right but between pro- and anti-immigration powers, and that all liberal democracies are pro-immigration. Orbán said this gives a new interpretation to their ties to Christianity, making the protection of Christian culture a political duty and redefining Christianity as the European lifestyle. Gender equality, religious freedoms are key questions thanks to migration. He said migration also gives a new meaning to the discussions about sovereignty as well. He said the central question is if a nation can decide what people they are willing to live with, or if strange people can be forced upon them by outside forces. He also said pro-immigration forces are not accepting the democratic decision of those who reject immigration.
He warned that migration has the power to disintegrate Europe, as it will have two kinds of civilisations: There will be a mixed civilisation of Christians and Muslims, and there will be a Christian civilisation in Central Europe. His stance is that Europe should belong to Europeans. He added that interestingly his Christian Democratic ideals are currently the best embodied in Brazil, where Orbán attended the inauguration of the new president Jair Bolsonaro. He said Bolsonaro's slogan translates really well into the Hungarian situation:
"Hungary first, God above all."
He said the Hungarian government hopes to see an anti-immigration majority in all European institutions, as migration will be the key issue of the elections.
After his speech, journalists had the opportunity to ask questions, the most sensitive of which were all deflected with seemingly well-practised canned answers, but here are the prime minister's most important points:
- The stake of the European Parliamentary Elections is whether or not anti-migration forces can get the majority in the EP. He said 52% of Hungarians think migration is the most important issue of this election.
- He said Western Europe's question of migration is different than that of Hungary. According to Orbán, Western Europe has to think about how to live with these people, whereas in Hungary, a country that still has the option to defend themselves, the question is how to protect the Christian culture and prevent the situation here that Western Europeans got themselves into.
- When asked about Guy Verhofstadt's comment saying that Orbán is neither a Christian nor a democrat, Orbán said liberals are the greatest enemies of liberty these days, as they are trying to prescribe who gets to be a Christian Democrat.
- With regards to Matteo Salvini, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and what they call the "New European Spring", he called Salvini his personal hero, as he was the first European to stop migration at the sea. He applauded the emergence of the "Italy-Poland axis," but all this means that there is a formation right of the EPP looking for ways to cooperate, and that is good news for EPP, Fidesz's European party family. He said that so far, the EPP was looking for allies amongst pro-migration political forces, now there will be an opportunity to do otherwise.
- He said he'll be watching Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new president of the German CDU party with great professional excitement. He said the separation of the party president and the chancellor is an unusual development. He said there is a dialogue between CDU and Hungary about the current conflicts, the German-Hungarian relations are especially valuable, and cooperation with Germany is a primary goal of Hungarian foreign policy as long as it does not interfere with Hungarian national interests. Today that deep, good, honest relationship is not present according to Orbán, because German politics is not willing to acknowledge that Hungary will not become an immigrant state. Germany is constantly putting pressure on Hungary to accept migrants. "There is no way we can accept that, there is no way we can compromise."
- Orbán named László Trócsányi (his current Minister of Justice) as his candidate for the European Commission. The question about the minister's replacement is "not timely yet" as he said.
- He said he supports Manfred Weber despite his "yes" vote on Judith Sargentini's report condemning Hungary over the situation regarding the rule of law because sometimes "it happens that your friends get lead on." He said Weber misunderstood the matter with CEU (though he consistently referred to it as "the Soros-university"), and that CEU could not have been chased away as some of CEU's activity stayed in Hungary, which - in Orbán's mind - is proof that there was no political persecution. He added that "their owner, Soros" is not the sort of person one can chase away.
Regarding Hungarian media
- Orbán kept to his usual guns as he maintained that the overpowering majority of the media is leftist-liberal. He said he wakes up every day knowing he is going to be fighting uphill battles.
- As we reported earlier, Viktor Orbán signed a government decree that made the giant right-wing media conglomerate assembled from oligarchs' donations in November a "merger of strategic importance at a national level," thus exempting it from competition law investigations. He said the reason for its strategic importance for the nation is the "nonprofit nature" of the conglomerate. He said if the left-wing media were to do the same thing, he'd make the same decision.
- As to why Orbán does not give interviews to critical media outlets, he said he is not willing to "go on a bullfight with a journalist," he will not go into situations where there is an "ill-meaning person on the other side of the table asking questions filled with prejudice."
- He also said we are at the turn of eras - "the determining historical viewpoints, dominant assessments of political situations, and the governing sets of values all stemmed from liberalism. Today, Europe has a dominantly liberal interpretation of the world. This is a historical legacy, but this era is now over." Conservative outlets are likely to get more support from now on, and also the topics in the public discourse make people of Europe reject liberalism. "Migration is going to shift this balance of power in the world of politics and hopefully in the world of media as well."
Regarding corruption, oligarchs, private jets
- Orbán said that there is no acceptable level of corruption - there is zero tolerance. He claimed that the economy in itself is proof of the low corruption in Hungary. He said corruption must have been high before 2010 because" growth was low and the deficit was up, now growth is high and the deficit is down." Part of the fight against corruption according to Orbán is the separation of the state and the business world. He said politics in Hungary do not require money, as the operation of political parties is covered by the state budget.
- A journalist inquired about Orbán's role in the amazing riches of his close friend and former schoolmate Lőrinc Mészáros and the wealth of his son-in-law. Orbán's reply: "The government cannot comment on business affairs." - He used this sentence to deflect similar questions several more times throughout the press conference, remarking he will not be "provoked into an answer."
- When asked about his regular journeys on private jets of oligarchs, he simply said that everyone can calm down since nobody's applying pressure on him and that the Parliament's immunity committee found nothing wrong with those trips.
Regarding the economy and the Overtime Act
- Orbán said that they just passed the Overtime Act, the debates are over, and there are no changes on the agenda.
- He said the labour shortage has nothing to do with the Overtime Act, if anything, the shortage gives workers better leverage. He used that increased leverage to explain how everyone will still get paid for their overtime at the end of each month - despite the fact that the Overtime Act permits a 36-month overtime banking period in case the collective agreement between an employer and its employees permit that. Viktor Orbán said the workers are strong enough to make sure they get paid.
- Orbán did not specify when, if at all, Hungary will adopt the Euro. He said that the Euro changed since Hungary's EU accession, and he prefers to leave the question open, as he can't see the future of the Eurozone clearly.
Regarding domestic politics
- A reporter asked why Orbán disregards the topics of the ongoing Hungarian protests, namely the Overtime Act, the new administrative courts that will operate under ministerial oversight, and the state of the public media. Orbán responded saying migration is the main question that will decide about Europe's fate in the next twenty years. He said the populations of Asia and Africa are on the rise while the ability of these areas to retain their population is on the decline.
- He said Hungarians have a basically illiberal stance: they reject migration, believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and have a strong Christian conviction. He added that the word "liberal" means different things in the English-speaking world, in Europe, and in Hungary.
- The constitutional revision promised previously is on its way, but it is in the early stages.
- When asked if he feels any responsibility for the horrible state of the Hungarian public discourse (with one side blaming everything on Soros and the other calling Orbán unspeakable things), he said no. "Hungarians are all adults, everyone is responsible for their actions, and nobody can push the responsibility for their words onto others."
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