Prime Minister Viktor Orbán opened the fall session of parliament with a speech summarizing what he considered to be the main accomplishments of the past six years, namely
- “We sent the IMF home, and repaid the last filler [an old Hungarian currency] of the loan taken by the socialists to the IMF and to the EU as well”
- Wages have been increasing since 2013 and the value of pensions has been protected.
- The government succeeded in bringing down household utility costs, “the results of which we’ve defended for four years.”
- They rescued families from the debt trap.
- They took “additional steps on the road to uniting the nation.”
- The number of people working increased from 3.85 million in summer 2012 to 4.3 million in 2016.
- In under four years the number of unemployed was decreased from 463,000 to 227,000. Meanwhile, over 100,000 jobs are not filled.
- Unemployment has decreased from 10.7 percent to 5 percent, although Hungary’s goal is total employment.
- GDP growth the second half of 2012 was -2.6 percent. In 2016 it was 2.6 percent.
- State debt fell from 78.3 percent of GDP in 2012 to 74.6 percent by the end of 2016.
- Minimum wage has increased from HUF 93,000 to 111,000.
- Average gross wages have increased from HUF 220,000 to HUF 260,000 a month “meanwhile there is practically no inflation.”
Orbán says the country is farther ahead now than it was four years ago, commenting that “finally, we have a future again.”
The head of government then turned to the subject of the EU and its handling of the refugee crisis.
“The EU needs to wake up”
“It wasn’t London but Brussels that gave us a headache,” said the prime minister, calling Brexit the failure of the EU. “They had every means at their disposal to keep the community intact, and they still weren’t able to do it.” The prime minister said it would be “a cheap thing” to pin the blame entirely on Mr. Juncker, “especially as Hungary did not support his nomination [as European Commission president].”
Orbán accused Brussels of a “naiveté” induced by “an intoxication enveloping European institutions in fog” while “Nice and a list of small German towns stand before us as mementos.” He warned that “what happened in Belgium, France, and even Germany could happen elsewhere in the EU” and “the EU needs to wake up.”
He said it was necessary to support a “self-defensive migration policy” at the meeting of the prime ministers of EU Member States scheduled to take place on September 16 in Bratislava. It was necessary for the EU to return to “the concept of a Europe of nations” and it was necessary to strengthen Europe economically, as its share of world GDP had fallen to 22 percent from 30 percent in 2008.
“We don’t want to leave but rather repair what is important to us,” said the prime minister, warning that if the continent failed to create a European army, migration and demographic trends would continuously change the EU in such a way that 30 years from now “we won’t recognize it.”
Migrants as victims of false promises
He blamed Brussels for the immigration and EU bureaucrats for raising hopes that the European good life could be easily attained. “If we encourage the crowds, then they will come.” But “the migrants themselves are also victims,” said Orbán, referring to them as “the victims of politics making false promises.” He called for “a moral and rational solution” to the migration crisis, saying the problem had to be stopped. “ We need to take help there but not bring the problems here,” he said to applause.
The prime minister then warned that “Brussels wants to create an automatic immigration distribution mechanism without upper limits. And the governments and parliaments of Europe have nothing whatsoever to do with these decisions.”
(The implication here that Hungary does not object so much to the temporary settlement of 1,300 asylum seekers in Hungary as it does the “automatic mechanism” represented a sharp departure from the prime minister’s previous rhetoric.-ed.)
Orbán warned that Brussels would settle migrants in “left-wing settlements” and that if refugees are not happy with Hungary or Budapest, then they’ll settle for Salgótarján, Szeged or Budapest’s District 14 (Zugló).
Responding to groans and jeers from the political opposition, the prime minister said “who doesn’t like what I say should read the statement of EP socialist president Martin Schulz”, adding that he merely intended for Hungarian settlements to “be on guard” so that “they can also defend themselves.”
Orbán closed his speech by pointing out that “we are the only European country where the people can express their opinion in a referendum. There is no party matter, only a national matter transcending parties. Let’s not risk Hungary’s future.”
Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP)
MSZP fraction head Bertalan Tóth accused the prime minister of living in another country other than the real world. He pointed out that 4 million Hungarians are living under the subsistence level, and that it is thanks to public works programs and outward migration to other EU countries that unemployment has decreased. Tóth pointed out that 100,000 unfilled jobs is not a success but rather “a shame”.
On the subject of the migration crisis, he noted that while Orbán whips the left wing, Fidesz belongs to the same European political party as EC president Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Jobbik chairman and parliamentary delegation head Gábor Vona said he was happy that the government had adopted Jobbik’s European concept and “joined us”. He criticized the prime minister for threatening to settle immigrants in left-wing settlements and for “playing Eugene of Savoy in Europe while his soldiers loot the country.”
“If Roland Mengyi is Voldemort, then who is Lőrinc Mészáros, Sauron?” asked the Jobbik leader, referring to the Fidesz MP accused of corruption, and Orbán’s close friend with a penchant for winning lucrative state contracts.
While Jobbik shares the government’s opposition to the temporary settlement of asylum seekers in Hungary, Vona warned that the October 2 referendum could backfire if it failed to yield a valid “no” result.
Politics Can Be Different (LMP)
LMP fraction leader Erzsébet Schmuck spoke of the lack of social security in Hungary and referred to the “lying, hypocritical billboard campaign“. She acknowledged that the migration issue poses a serious problem, but rejected Orbán’s hypercritical answers, noting that while the government is attacking Brussels for wanting to settle a small city’s worth of migrants, it allowed three small cities worth of migrants to settle in Hungary with the sale of settlement bonds.
Referring to remarks made by European Parliament president Martin Schulz published by German weekly magazine Stern in March of this year, Fidesz fraction head Lajos Kósa said there are cities in Hungary that do not take orders from the government.
“Szeged is one such city. A devoted left-wing city, any refugee can be sent there. What did Schulz mean by this remark?” asked the Fidesz senior politician.
Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP)
The head of the KDNP parliamentary group asked (rather bizarrely) “why do we only want to help Christian communities in the Middle East? We are responsible for every person but this responsibility manifests itself in concentric rings. Thus the Christian communities come first.”
Orbán responded to criticism by saying that “only those with malicious political intentions can say that Hungary is not developing, and that those who think the numbers are not good know that they are lying, and that for this reason there is no point to engaging in such a debate”. He said he was only answering his critics “out of courtesy.”
Pointing out that income inequality in Hungary is much less than the EU average, Orbán called on Erzsébet Schmuck to take back her “defeatist declaration” with regard to the impossibility of stopping the wave of migration.
“That is surrender. Don’t do that. Such statements are hugely damaging. For it is possible to stop it. If the United States succeeded in closing their southern border, then we will also succeed, just as this is made possible from an ethical and defensive point of view, and by technology.”
Orbán accused Jobbik of being politically inexperienced. He said that even an invalid referendum could serve as a moral basis, referring to the 2006 referendum on dual citizenry which, despite being invalid, had emboldened every parliamentary delegation to support it in 2010.
(The first act of the second Orbán government was to give Hungarians living abroad the right to obtain Hungarian citizenship and vote in elections. To this day it remains the only bill introduced since Fidesz returned to power in 2010 to enjoy the support of all parliamentary delegations-ed.).
Orbán accused Bertalan Tóth of attacking public workers and those “abandoned by the country. We should be happy they are not sitting at home and awaiting aid, and that they want to work,” said the prime minister, adding that, “the Hungarian government protects workers abroad as well as those engaged in public work, if necessary, from the Socialists as well.”
Returning to Schulz’s statement, Orbán had the following words for the MSZP delegation:
“You did not protest against this. If I understand well, you are holding us responsible for Merkel and Juncker. Has it not occurred to you that we are arguing with them? Have you not noticed? Is that possible? Blaming us for European politicians supporting the refugees does not seem sportsmanlike.”
The prime minister accused MSZP of not knowing what it was talking about.
Bait and switch?
“You say there is no decision to be changed with the referendum? A decision was May 2016. Was it not apparent that the European Commission decided on an unlimited, automatic distribution? Are you aware of the EC’s decision? We are gathering allies to change this!”
(Again, the prime minister’s comments represent a departure. To date, the “subject” of the referendum has been the burden-sharing decision taken by the European Council to distribute asylum seekers among EU member states, not an EC decision taken in May of this year. This would seem to lend credence to critics who argue that the referendum question is unclear, and that a “no” result could be used to justify any number of actions-ed.)
New MPs sworn in
Following the question-and-answer period, two new MPs were sworn in: Ákos Hadházy, who replaced András Schiffer as LMP (Politics Can Be Different) party co-chairman, and Tamas Pintér, who replaced Előd Novak who resigned his mandate earlier this year at Gábor Vona’s insistence.