Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine “only had losers so far”, Hungary’s prime minister said on Wednesday, stating that “both sides and the European economy” have all taken a hit from Moscow’s aggression and using the opportunity to blast Brussels for the sanctions once again.
The nearly three-hour news conference, held annually, is nearly the only occasion of the year when Victor Orban fields questions from the international media or critical Hungarian outlets.
The illiberal right-wing leader, who won a fourth straight term in office in April, has engaged in frequent battles with the EU, which accuses him of violating democratic norms and overseeing large-scale official corruption.
But on Wednesday, Orban blasted the European Parliament for recent revelations of a cash-for-favours corruption scandal that allegedly involves Qatar and borrowed a phrase from former US President Donald Trump, saying it was time to “drain the swamp” in Brussels.
The scandal, Orban said, had drawn into question the credibility of the institution and that he supports abolishing the body as it currently exists.
Orban also called for the European Parliament members to be delegated by national parliaments instead of being elected.
“The Hungarians would like for the European Parliament to be dissolved in its current form,” Orban said.
“The degree to which the reputation of the European Parliament in Hungary has been damaged is easy to answer: not at all, because it couldn’t have been any lower.”
Concerns over illiberal backsliding or ‘Hungarophobia’?
Wednesday’s news conference came as the EU has frozen more than €12 billion in funding to Hungary over concerns that Orban’s government has cracked down on judicial independence, overseen official corruption and abridged minority rights.
In September, the European Parliament declared that Hungary could no longer be considered a democracy and would become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” under Orban’s leadership — a charge his government has rejected.
During the press conference, Orban blamed the keyed-up relations on “Hungarophobia” within the bloc instead.
However, the tensions between Budapest and Brussels have been made increasingly worse by the Hungarian government’s lobbying against sanctions on Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
Orban — who is considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest EU allies — claims sanctions have been ineffective in pressuring the Kremlin to end the war and that they have inflicted more damage on European economies than on Moscow.
The new year will pose “a challenge for almost all European countries to avoid an economic downturn or recession resulting directly from war and European participation in the war, called sanctions,” Orban added.
“If it were up to us, there would not be a sanctions policy,” Orban said Wednesday, adding that he would not support any additional sanctions packages against Russia in the future but would not stand in the way of the EU passing them.
“It is not in our interest to permanently divide the European and Russian economies into two, so we are trying to save what can be saved from our economic cooperation with the Russians,” he said.
Orban has made a number of concessions in order to secure delivery of badly needed EU funds, but the European Commission — the bloc’s executive arm — has insisted on further reforms if Budapest is to gain access to the money.
Hungary is struggling with among the highest inflation rates in Europe and a floundering currency which has caused skyrocketing prices.
In November, the inflation rate was over 22%, and the forint currency was down nearly 10% against the euro since the beginning of the year.
Orban said the government had plans to reduce inflation to single digits by next December and would soon unveil a program which would eliminate income taxes until the age of 30 for women who have children.