Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Election 2024 – Gulyas: Election strengthened government

Sunday's local and European parliamentary elections have strengthened the government and given it a strong mandate to continue "spreading the message of peace" in international relations, the head of the Prime Minister's Office told a regular press briefing on Thursday.

Without a boost to its pro-peace stance, the government “would have been unable to keep Hungary out of NATO’s military mission in Ukraine,” Gergely Gulyas said.

The “fair” agreement between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this week, which maintained Hungarian interests, was partly thanks to the election results, Gulyas said.

“Hungary will not participate in the NATO mission in Ukraine with money, weapons or soldiers,” Gulyas said, adding that the government saw the mission as extremely dangerous that could end in the war spreading to larger areas, “in Hungary’s immediate neighbourhood”.

Hungary continues to provide asylum to those fleeing the war, he added.

Speaking about the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union to fine Hungary 200 million euros for not complying with EU legislations on asylum and on returning illegal immigrants to their home countries, Gulyas called the ruling “outrageous, unfair and unacceptable”.

The minister said the ruling contradicted EU law, was incompatible with Hungary’s constitution and penalised the country which had rejected illegal migration from the beginning, protecting its own and Europe’s external borders.

This ruling “could never have been passed by a normal court,” he added.

Gulyas noted that the ruling went beyond the original claim of the complainant. The European Commission requested a condemnation of 7 million euros and a daily fine of 6 million euros until compliance, whereas the court ordered Hungary to pay a lump sum of 200 million euros and a daily fine of 1 million euros, that is seventy times the fine originally requested.

The ruling goes completely against everything we think about European law, the Hungarian constitution, the protection of external borders and effective action against migration, Gulyas said.

Government spokeswoman Eszter Vitalyos said that over the past two weeks, 310 billion forints (EUR 780m) worth of investments, supported with government funds, were opened in Hungary.

Out of 84 large projects, 125 billion forints were spent on public road infrastructure development, including 116 billion forints on a bridge spanning the Danube between Kalocsa and Paks and 2.5 billion forints for an M1 motorway exit at Paty.

Regarding health care, she highlighted Pecs University’s new emergency medical centre for children which received 2.7 billion forints in government support.

A total of 14 billion forints worth of investments were carried out in culture and public education, including 12 billion forints for the revamp of a Tisza castle in Geszt.

She added that a tourism development project has been completed in the Szolnok castle and a 700 metre long bridge dubbed the bridge of national cohesion was opened in Satoraljaujhely.

Company development investments included a 115 billion forint grant to a capacity expansion at an electric parts plant in Szolnok, in central Hungary, a 80 billion forint expansion of energy drink maker Hell’s plant in Szikszó, Vitalyos said. Other grants supported family-friendly and education investments at a pilgrimage site in Matraverebely, in northern Hungary, in Miskolc, Karcag and other localities.

A home renovation programme is also in the works, with the tender opening for the public in July, she said.

Fielding a question on the recount of the votes cast on the Budapest mayor candidates on Sunday, Gulyas said it was in everyone’s interest with such a close race that the result should be legitimate and beyond doubt. He said he expected the recount to clearly decide who won the election.

Gulyas said there were many ways of looking at the election results. Compared to the previous election, the governing parties won less in percentage terms but that came after two challenging years of war, an energy crisis and economic difficulties. After two years like this, “we achieved the best result in Europe and received more votes than ever in a European parliamentary election”, indeed, more than the parties that finished in second, third and fourth places combined, he added.

On the opposition Momentum party’s election result, he said it was good news that a party that “proudly and openly betrayed its country” did not clear the 5 percent parliamentary threshold. On the president of DK, he said Fidesz had been working since 2004 to ensure that Ferenc Gyurcsany plays a decreasing role on the left and his position has finally weakened.

Assessing the result of the European parliamentary election, Gulyas said that on the whole, he could see a shift to the right, but warned that the sovereigntist forces had not yet gained a majority. He said it would be desirable if the sovereigntists could form a party group within the European Parliament, but added that was still questionable.

He said it would become clear in a few weeks which party group Fidesz could join in the European Parliament.

Among the European Conservatives and Reformers, the majority would welcome Fidesz, he said, noting that they had wanted Fidesz to join already after it left the European People’s Party. “It was our decision to try to create a larger right-wing alliance and this still remains our goal but it may not be successful,” he said.

On the election result of the party of French president Emmanuel Macron, Gulyas said that those with the most pro-war position suffered the biggest defeat. It seems the French public could not identify with the plan of sending French soldiers to Ukraine, he said.

Gulyas said the spotlight would come off Hungary if “we joined the supporters of war, opened our borders to migration and were willing to hold gender briefings in kindergartens,” but the government is not willing to do these.

Fielding a question on possible cooperation between Fidesz and Germany’s AfD, he said such a possibility had not even been suggested.

On the European People’s Party, he cited the EPP’s “pro-war position” as the main criticism. It seems the EPP evaluates the election result as a success, partly rightfully so, he said, adding that the EPP was looking for cooperation with the left and the liberals.

Gulyas said it was inconceivable that the Tisza Party could sit in the same party group, the EPP, with KDNP, the junior member of the governing Fidesz-KDNP alliance, in the European Parliament. He said this could happen in two ways: either Tisza is not accepted by the EPP or KDNP leaves the group.

He emphasised that Fidesz had no plans to cooperate with Tisza in the Budapest City Council.

On the composition of the City Council and the ability to obtain the majority necessary for passing the budget, for example, he said there were many parties that won enough votes to send deputies into the City Council and some of these had loose party affiliations, so it could be expected that there could still be many changes in the assembly and it would not be impossible at all to obtain a majority for a budget.

On Fidesz-KDNP’s candidate for Budapest mayor, he said Alexandra Szentkiralyi wished to continue to work on the affairs of Budapest in future so she was expected to become the leader of Fidesz’s group in the City Council. On Szentkiralyi’s withdrawal from the race, he said she had withdrawn voluntarily and unilaterally and David Vitezy could rightly say that he had not asked for this and did not owe the governing parties anything.

Gulyas assessed Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony’s performance in the past five years as a complete failure, he said Vitezy could only do better in comparison.

He said they did not plan to limit the powers of the mayors who were defeated in the municipal elections before their successors take office in October, and this would not be constitutional anyway.

Concerning Ilaria Salis’s winning a mandate in the EP, Gulyas said the election of the antifa activist, a “common law criminal” being prosecuted for violent acts in Budapest “does not present a too positive image of Italian democracy and part of their voters”. He said if the EP suspended the immunity of its new member, the proceedings could be continued against her; should the EP fail to do so, the proceedings will be interrupted.

Asked about Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s earlier remarks calling for “occupying Brussels” in the light of the EP election’s results, Gulyas said “we have set foot; we have not occupied it yet, but we are in” adding that “perhaps at least another EP election will be needed” to complete “the great military manoeuvre”.

Concerning Hungary’s upcoming EU presidency, Gulyas said it would give increased focus to the community’s competitiveness, agricultural and cohesion policies as well as to demographic challenges.

Referring to a visit by the NATO chief to Budapest on Wednesday, Gulyas said Jens Stoltenberg’s talks with the prime minister had yielded “maximum results” as “Hungary could maintain its “pro-peace position”. He said NATO was mulling training troops for the war and providing equipment to them, but “the military mission would probably not end there and those participating in it will be obliged to contribute to common defence under (NATO’s) Article 5, which could involve armed operations outside the country,” Gulyas said.

Without a fast peace agreement, NATO will under its Ukrainian mission “enter Ukraine’s western parts possibly as a peace keeper”, Gulyas said but insisted that “Hungary will not participate”. He also said, however, that if Russia should attack another NATO country on its own territory “and the conflict is not linked to NATO’s Ukraine mission, Hungary will participate in that.”

“Hungary’s NATO membership is a good thing and the government does not want to quit; Hungary … is meeting its NATO commitments,” Gulyas said, but added, however, that “NATO has overstepped the boundaries a defence alliance should not cross”.

Gulyas excluded the possibility of sending Lynx armoured vehicles, manufactured also in Hungary, to Ukraine “in the foreseeable future”.

He said “there is no sign” of other NATO members staying away from the Ukraine mission, adding that Stoltenberg’s Wednesday agreement would be binding for the next NATO chief, too. He also said Wednesday’s talks had not touched upon Stoltenberg’s successor. “If the other members insist on Dutch PM Mark Rutte, he will have to do something to get Hungary’s support,” Gulyas added.

Asked if Hungary would refrain from vetoing the EU’s decisions concerning Ukraine after its agreement with NATO, Gulyas said “the two things are not connected”.

Gulyas was also asked when Hungarian troops would be sent to Chad. He said there wasn’t any “exact timetable” prepared. He said talks were under way “aimed at having a (Hungarian) military mission in Chad”.

Asked about Hungary’s recent repurchasing majority ownership in Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport, Gulyas said the national economy ministry and the owners would provide information about the project in early July. He said the objective was to build a new terminal with the aim to increase the number of foreign tourists to over 20 million, adding that “with a well-developed infrastructure including a fast train service between the city and the airport, the goal of even 30 million visitors can be achieved”. Gulyas said that at times of war, posing a national security risk “it is reassuring” to have the a majority ownership in the airport.

Asked whether further plans still involved selling 29 percent of the airport to investors from Qatar, Gulyas said “the ownership structure is currently not like that.”

“The state part of the transaction will be closer to the ranges of 1,000 billion forints,” he added.

Speaking about restoring the balance of the central budget, Gulyas said the word austerity “is not included in the government’s vocabulary”.

Asked to comment on the recent weakening of the forint, he noted “a hectic volatility of the euro-forint exchange rate”, adding that “a return to economic growth will in the long term ensure that such hectic changes should not occur at all or occur only a lot less frequently”.

Commenting on the recent resignation of the culture and innovation minister, Gulyas said it was not related to the elections. He said the prime minister had not planned any further reshuffle in the cabinet.

Regarding the European import duties imposed on Chinese electric vehicles and opposed by Hungary, Gulyas said that “Europe will not win but loose on the whole issue, if China introduces similar duties”.

Asked about the planned national vaccine production plant in Debrecen, he said it was in the ownership of Debrecen University and “will be completed soon” in the city in eastern Hungary.

Speaking about the upcoming peace conference on Ukraine to be held by Switzerland, Gulyas said Hungary would be represented by the foreign minister.

Asked about the possibility of a meeting between the Ukrainian president and the Hungarian prime minister, he said “it will not be on the agenda as long as no results can be expected from it”.

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