The prime minister addressed most of the trending issues in Hungarian public discourse on Friday morning in his weekly radio interview on Kossuth Rádió’s 180 perc (180 minutes). Viktor Orbán defended various controversial planned measures and pronounced compulsory drug tests for politicians and journalists a necessary measure in the “government’s war on the drug mafia.”
On the subject of a new annual fee to use the MO ring road, Orbán said this action ensures Hungarians can use the roads cheaper than those foreigners who are merely traveling through the country. About the dramatic loss in his approval rate (a decrease of 12 points and a loss of 900,000 voters within two months), Orbán said he “does not need popular ministers” and he welcomes the protests against ruling Fidesz as signs that the freedom of assembly is alive and well in Hungary.
When asked to justify the introduction of new motorway charges, Orbán responded:
“We are introducing county-based highway vignettes. According to the new system, those commuting within Pest county will pay a monthly HUF 400 instead of HUF 40,000. This means that the beneficiaries of the new system are the Hungarians. Those living here are entitled to more than those driving through the country, the latter category of course will pay more. In summary, we will defend Hungarians and increase income.”
He said such measures were necessary because the economic crisis caused such a high budget deficit that reducing it still takes a huge effort by the government:
“We can be generous with the budget when we will not have to face a deficit. Even though our economy has produced very good results and our financial situation is stable, in our budget, that will be a really successful budget by European standards, we are still calculating with a deficit. This means the Hungarian economy still cannot produce as much as we are spending. […] Let’s not forget that during the economic crisis in 2008/09 but even in 2010 our budget deficit was 7%. We have brought this number down to 2.4-2.6%.”
Orbán went on to defend all the ideas of the last week, even those that have caused rancour within his own party. He supported 8th district mayor Máté Kocsis’s proposal to introduce compulsory drug tests for politicians and journalists, while making the testing of schoolchildren subject to parental consent. He said these actions are necessary in the framework of Fidesz’s new “war on drugs” policy:
“Drug test is a free service offered by the state. If parents require it [for their children] they have the right to do that. On the other hand, politicians, journalists need to take drug tests, as the drug mafia is exponentially growing. This is a grave danger we are talking about. The government decided to clear out the drug mafia from Hungary this term. Politicians and journalists need to be tested, as we cannot trust those in this fight who consume drugs.”
On the question whether the prime minister is concerned about the dramatic loss of the approval of his party in surveys, he dismissed such findings:
“The government deals with a lot of things but one: its own approval rates. I have declared in the very beginning of our governance that I don’t want popular ministers, I need good ministers.”
Consequently, Orbán added, he does not think anti-government protests of the past two months are really important:
“My attitude to the street protest is dubious. I am not happy about people shouting bad things at me. On the other hand I am happy about the protests. After ‘89 we were trying to achieve the right to free assembly. Now it is working, so we are happy about that.”
On the field of foreign policy, Orbán’s positions were significantly more restrained concerning Hungary’s ties with Russia and energy policy. In Friday’s radio interview the prime minister emphasized energy independence from Russia and the search for new alternatives. About the signing of the Paks II implementation contracts providing for the Russian Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) to design and build two 1200-megawatt reactors in Paks with the help of a EUR 10 billion loan from Russia, Orbán did not rule out the possibility of Russia breaking the contract. In what seemed like a reaction to popular demand of the last weeks, for the first time he also promised transparency in connection with this project:
“In European civilization all contracts can be broken, yet not without consequences. The party breaking the contract should take these consequences. These are clearly included in the contracts we have concluded. I am, however, optimistic, as the Russians signed a contract with Finland a few days before ours that was in every part identical with our Paks II contract. We are not the first, in fact we are the second within the EU building with the same technology. We’d also like to adopt the Finnish regulation of transparency during our project.”
Hungarian press analysis already signified before the interview that leading Fidesz circles are struggling to counter the rapid loss of popularity. Véleményvezér blog opined that this would result in Orbán seeking “new fronts of rhetoric confrontation” in an attempt to rally hardliner Fidesz supporters.
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