Hungary’s economic growth rate in 2018 is expected to reach 4.6%, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said, adding that the public debt to GDP ratio fell to 71% at the end of last year and the budget deficit was 2% of GDP. According to the finance minister’s briefing to the cabinet on Wednesday, household consumption grew by 6% last year and gross wages by an average of 11%, Orbán told an international news conference. The Hungarian economy is stable and is expected to remain so this year, he said. “Hungary is performing better,” he said, adding that the government would do “everything it its power” to help the economy achieve 4% growth this year. If the government fails to enact measures aimed at promoting growth in the first quarter, the growth rate will be below 4%, Orbán said. “The number of people who can work and want to work in Hungary could stabilise at 4.5-5 million in the long term, which is near full employment,” the prime minister said, noting that there are 4.5 million Hungarians working today, up from 3.7 million in 2010. This was why, he added, it was not worth implementing an economic policy that required a bigger workforce. The Hungarian economy needs to grow at a pace that can be supported by a workforce of this size, he said.
Asked about Hungarians working abroad, Orbán said their rate—6% of the total workforce—was the lowest in this region. “These people send home money and show a lot of courage, and they deserve a great deal of appreciation for standing their ground and succeeding in a foreign-language environment,” he said. Asked about the expiry of central bank governor György Matolcsy’s six-year term, the prime minister said there were “no surprises to be expected”.
Concerning the question of whether Hungary would adopt the euro, Orbán said Hungary had no target date for two reasons. “Right now no one sees the future of the single currency clearly and no one knows what direction the euro zone will take in the coming period,” he said.
Meanwhile, Orbán said fully 1.382 million “national consultation” questionnaires on the government’s family protection measures have been returned. The participation rate was the third highest so far, so “the situation of families, willingness to have children and demographics are important issues not just for the government but for the whole country, too.” The prime minister expressed hope that in his state-of-the-nation speech scheduled for Feb. 10, he would be able to present the planned government measures based on the survey’s results. “The country’s future lies in families,” he said.
Orbán said Hungary would dedicate a memorial year to its transition to democracy 30 years ago. Speaker of Parliament László Kövér will be asked to chair the memorial committee, and prime minister’s office chief Gergely Gulyás to represent the government in it.
Asked about the upgrade of the Paks nuclear power plant, Orbán said the government was making efforts to minimise the delay which was partly explained by the complicated European public procurement process.
In response to a question about the recent amendment to the labour code, Orbán said the amendment on overtime was needed because companies, mainly small and medium-sized ventures, were forced to look for loopholes to fill overtime. The new measures “will give employees freedom” to manoeuvre. Employees will be paid accordingly, and if they want to do overtime, they will be able to clarify the conditions in advance, he said. “This change in the law provides an opportunity,” he said. “There’ll be those who take advantage and those who don’t, but it’s a good law.”
Asked about the enrichment of his family members and friends, the prime minister said he would not comment since the separation of politics and business was an important first principle of Hungarian politics. “If a businessman wants to get into politics even he’ll have little chance of doing so,” Orbán added.
Answering a journalist’s question concerning the level of corruption in Hungary, Orbán said there was no acceptable level of corruption and there was zero tolerance of it. He said “the fact that Hungary is performing better each year” belied the assertion that corruption in Hungary was above the European average. He said that the most stringent law on lawmakers’ asset declarations in Europe was in force in Hungary.
Asked about the new right-wing media foundation operating in Hungary, Orbán insisted that it was a “fact” that the dominant media in Hungary today was controlled by leftist, liberal, anti-government forces. He insisted that the biggest television station, the largest-circulation weekly, the largest internet platform and “perhaps even the largest national political newspaper”, is critical of the government and left-wing or liberal, he said. “There are more of you against me than with me,” he told the journalist.
Commenting on the opposition campaign at the headquarters of public media company MTVA in December, the prime minister said MPs did not stand above the law but they had the right to go to any public institution asking for information. “They do not have the right, however, to disrupt its operations and to decide what is read out and what is not.” Orbán said everyone had the right to demonstrate and go on strike but breaking the law could not be permitted. He said no one should resort to violence and he added that he was worried that MPs would use physical force to disbar the speaker from accessing his podium.
Orbán said he was observing current protests and he understood that they disagreed with the government on many issues, but these had been debated and “no one should question the fact that in a democracy, the majority in parliament makes the decisions”.
Commenting on the move to the Buda Castle district of the cabinet office, the PM said that the housing of the executive in the building of the legislature in Hungary was a legacy of the Communist regime and “it’s good to finally rid ourselves of it”. The symbol of the thousand-year-old Hungarian statehood is in the Castle and the symbol of Hungarian democracy is Kossuth Square, he added.
In reply to another question that Europe’s political values were liberal in spirit, he said this era had come to an end and a whole range of issues had come to the fore and many people disagreed with the media’s representation of them. “Hopefully, power relations will change within the media, too,” he said.