Hungarian PM unveils plans to boost birth rates, denounces migration in state of the nation address

Hungarian PM unveils plans to boost birth rates, denounces migration in state of the nation address
Hungarian PM delivers 21st state of the nation address.
By bne IntelliNews February 11, 2019

Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a seven-point family protection action plan to address Hungary's demographic crisis in his state of the nation address on February 10.

Orban’s speech was widely seen as the start of the campaign rally for the European parliamentary elections and he resorted to well-known topics, bashing Brussels, warning of the risk of migration and mocking opposition parties.

Hungary’s right-wing strongman has refused to use immigrants either as a demographic solution or as a solution to address the labour shortage, and has used family programmes to define himself as the defender of Christian values waging war against the EU, which in his view wants to open borders and allow uncontrolled immigration. Orban said the popular family support programmes are his government's answers to migration

Hungary’s 9.8mn population is decreasing by 40,000-50,000 each year and if the trend accelerates it could drop to 8.5mn in 20 years. Although the increase in family support has helped fertility rate rise from 1.2 to 1.5 in the last eight years, the percentage of women of reproductive age will be significantly lower in the future, which makes it a mounting challenge to overcome the demographic trap.

Even though the cabinet's family support schemes favour the upper-middle class families with at least three children, they are backed by some 80% of the population, a fresh survey showed. The generous handouts also helped the Fidesz-led government win the third supermajority at the last election.

On Sunday, Orban announced the extension of many elements of existing schemes, with the launch of a new one. The crowd of invited guests cheered when Orban announced that women who have had and raised at least four children will be exempt from personal income tax payment for the rest of their lives. 

The government planned to grant lifetime abstention from income tax to mothers with three children, but that would have put too much burden on the budget and the finance ministry voted down the proposal.

Orban's new tool against migration

This is Hungary's answer to the challenges, rather than immigration, the prime minister said and he went on to bash what he called pro-migration forces in the European Union.

He said Brussels has worked out a seven-point plan of action for turning Europe into a continent of immigrants after the European Parliament elections.

“Brussels wants to introduce mandatory migrant quotas and curb the member states' rights to defend their border. George Soros made no secret of his plan to defend migrants, an effort hindered by national boundaries,” he noted.

Orban has said earlier that he wants anti-immigration majorities in all EU institutions, not just the European Parliament, and he identified competing political sides not by the tradition left-right divide but whether they supported or rejected immigration

Orban hits at opposition

Hungary's first man did not miss the chance to strike at opposition, whom he called a bunch of pro-immigration politicians who are “kept on a respirator by [US billionaire] George Soros and the EU bureaucrats". Orban said that the forming coalition between the Socialists and the extreme right was kind of political pornography. 

The contested overtime rules have forged unity between opposition parties, who are now planning to cooperate in the European parliamentary elections. The polls show Fidesz with a stable lead, but if opposition parties can agree on a single candidate, they can cause an upset in the upcoming municipal elections in the autumn.

On Sunday night, a joint demonstration was held in the Castle District, the new residency of the prime minister, where opposition party leaders evaluated the state of the nation speech. 

Some 1500 protesters then marched to the headquarters of the State Audit Office (ASZ), which has levied penalties on opposition parties for alleged breaches of financing rules in the 2018 election campaign. 

Protesters placed stickers with the words "Fidesz party headquarters" on the entrance of the ASZ.