Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: ‘Commission President made release of further EU funds conditional on LGBTQ, migration issues’

The president of the European Commission has linked Hungary's future EU funding to LGBTQ and migration issues, Gergely Gulyas, the head of the Prime Minister's Office, said on Thursday, adding that the commission and European Parliament were exerting pressure on Hungary's government in respect of two issues "on which Hungarian voters have clearly expressed their opinion".

Wednesday’s European parliamentary debate “made this clear to everyone”, Gulyas said. While the European Commission acknowledged the measures taken by the Hungarian government to ensure judicial independence, the commission’s president made the release of further EU funds contingent on Hungary changing its stance on LGBTQ and migration issues, the minister said.

Gulyas said the first government meeting of the year established that, in line with the agreement reached at the end of last year, EU funds were now forthcoming. Hungary agreed with the European Union in May which of the amendments affecting the judiciary, which, he said, were unjustified according to Hungary’s position, should be adopted in order for the commission to recognise what its president also acknowledged in the EP on Wednesday: Hungarian law guarantees the independence of the judiciary, he said.

It took another six months for the EC to acknowledge this and to release some of the funds due to Hungary, Gulyas said, adding that the commission and the EP were nevertheless putting pressure on the Hungarian government in two cases regarding which Hungarian voters had clearly expressed their opinion.

The anti-migration position received more support than in any previous referendum, and even this was surpassed by the outcome of the referendum on protecting children from LGBTQ propaganda. Gulyas said this showed that there were limitations to an agreement with the commission.

He said that when it came to benign issues, the Hungarian government was willing to reach agreement, but on those on which Hungarians had clearly expressed their opinion, this would be “anti-democratic and unacceptable”, Gulyas said.

For Hungary, allowing the spread of LGBTQ propaganda among children “is unacceptable, even if it is contrary to the will of the commission, just as the position that Hungarians must decide who they want to live together with cannot be given up either, as there have been referendums in both cases,” the minister said.

Gulyas said the debate showed that the Hungarian left wing had not given up its hope of preventing hikes to teachers’ salaries. In addition to the “well-known Hungarian-hater” foreign MEPs, Hungarians, including MEPs of Momentum, also spoke in the debate, voicing their conviction that it was unacceptable for Hungary to receive EU funds, he said.

Nevertheless, the left wing could not prevent the release of the EU funds “that can be spent on raising teacher’s wages”, he added.

He said teachers, kindergarten teachers and vocational training instructors will receive a 32.2 percent pay rise in February, and another 21 percent pay rise can be expected next year. The average wage of teachers will rise to more than 672,000 forints this year, more than 812,000 forints next year and around 880,000 forints in 2026. This means that teachers’ wages can be doubled between 2022 and 2026, he added.

By Jan 30, every teacher will receive the document on their wage increase, Gulyas said.

The money coming from the European Union, he said, was “our money”. “We are not receiving it as a gift,” he said, adding that the pay rise for teacher would cost around 6,000 billion forints, of which 1.77 billion euros or 700 billion forints would be provided by the EU.

Nurses wages will rise by 20 percent from March 1, Gulyas added, so the average wage of nurses will be 715,000 forints. He noted that, in line with the European practice, the government had earlier decided to set nurses’ wages at 37 percent of doctors’ salaries.

As regards the rise in pensions from Jan 1, Gulyas said the government was confident that the 6 percent increase would be significantly outpace inflation this year. He added that pensions were also increased last year — when inflation was very high — by a total of 18.5 percent.

The wages of law enforcement employees rose by 79,500 forints on average, the minister said, following a pay rise of 116,000 forints on average in 2022. The value of the work of law enforcement officers, he said, was shown by the fact that Hungary was one of the safest countries in the world, he said, adding that soldiers’ wages increased by 11 percent on average on Jan 1.

Speaking about family subsidies, he said the child-care benefit increased to 373,000 forints and the child-care benefit of university students increased to 186,000 forints for undergraduates and to 228,200 for master’s students.

He added that the new rules of the system of family subsidies had taken effect from Jan 1, and these were expected to have a positive impact on the property market, especially in smaller settlements.

Gulyas said the government’s economic policy would meet the challenges of inflation and sustaining real wage increases, while the “spectacular” increase in teachers’ salaries may contribute a higher quality of public education.

Government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi said a total 1,518,455 people had filled out the government’s latest National Consultation public survey by the Wednesday deadline, expressing their opinion on several issues that fundamentally affected the country’s sovereignty.

Some 84 percent of respondents returned the questionnaire by mail, Szentkiralyi said.

“Hungarians, unlike other EU citizens, had the opportunity to give their opinion on issues that seriously affect them, such as Brussels’ migration plan, weapon deliveries, Ukraine’s EU membership and Ukrainian GMO grain,” she said.

Answering a question, Gulyas said it was “inconceivable” that Hungary could be deprived of its EU presidency in the second half of the year. But, he added, Hungary would be “doing the European Union a favour” by providing “a uniform government, with leadership skills and experience…” he said.

The rotating presidency “is symbolic”, and the Hungarian government “doesn’t attach too much significance to it, but it will do a decent job,” Gulyas added.

Concerning the government’s negotiations with the European Commission concerning frozen community funding, Gulyas said he was “fundamentally optimistic” but “there can be no compromise over migration and child protection.” “We are negotiating on the other areas and we trust that we can strike an agreement,” he said. “Several billion euros” could be obtained even without agreement on the two contested issues, he said, adding that a “raw power struggle was taking place”. “They don’t like the Hungarian government because of those two headings and they will only give us money when they think they have to.”

Regarding the further tightening of the child protection law, Gulyas said that the current system essentially worked, but there was no obstacle in the way of MPs to make “an even better proposal that increases efficacy”.

Concerning the upcoming European parliamentary elections, Gulyas said that “despite differences in political views, Hungary would likely end up with 21 MEPs able to promote Hungary’s interests”. He added that today, however, opposition MEPs were working “to put the commission in a position” in which it could refuse to forward funds to Hungary.

“MEPs of Hungary’s leftist parties are in a clear and sharp opposition to Hungary’s interest,” he insisted.

On the subject of Ukraine, Gulyas said Hungary was “not against supporting Ukraine, as we have provided support indirectly, both bilaterally and on an EU basis”. The Hungarian government, he added, had suggested that the issue should be separated from the EU budget and aid should be provided on a bilateral basis.

Asked about a possible Hungary-Ukraine summit, he said Transcarpathian Hungarians should be on its agenda, because “they have not been restored [their] rights before the first amendment to Ukraine’s education law”.

Asked whether Hungarian tensions with Ukraine could be eased, Gulyas said he could not exclude that possibility. The Hungarian government “has the constitutional obligation to strive for good neighbourly and international relations”, while it also has “a special interest to Transcarpathian Hungarians”.

Concerning a possible meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Gulyas quoted the prime minister as saying that he would not exclude the possibility of such talks “if they have a point … if progress could be made in terms of understanding one another’s positions or moving towards peace.”

On the subject of measures by the new Polish government, Gulyas advised voters “to consider carefully how they vote”. “If anyone has had doubts about the unfair and hypocritical double standards which rule Brussels, it is enough to have a look at developments in Poland…”

“The Hungarian government considers that one of the great weakness of the current EU is that it interferes in domestic affairs,” he added.

In response to a question on Poland-Hungary ties, Gulyas noted that Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his newly appointed Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, had not held a bilateral meeting in recent times but they had met at the recent EU summit.

He also said that Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico had said on a recent visit to that Slovakia stood by Hungary in Brussels, but “they also need Hungary to stand up for Slovakia”.

Commenting on Visegrad Group cooperation, he said its four member states had several joint interests despite differences in political opinion, so “there is scope for pragmatic cooperation”. He expressed hope that the next V4 meeting could take place in the first half of 2024.

Asked about Ursula von der Leyen’s prospects, Gulyas said the current European Commission president had a high chance of remaining in her position.

Commenting on Sweden’s NATO accession, he said “it appears that this is not as important to the Swedes as it is to the NATO secretary general”, who projected its accession date to be in the first half of the year. “Nobody has contacted us about it from Sweden,” he added.

The government, he said, wanted to avoid Hungary being the last country to ratify Sweden’s NATO accession. Some commonly understood concerns must be resolved first, he said, and communication was needed to rebuild trust. He also said that the Turkish parliament had repeatedly announced and then postponed a vote in this matter. “Let’s wait and see when the Turks decide,” he added.

“The more countries, the stronger the force,” he said in response to a question on whether Sweden’s accession would strengthen NATO. At the same time, he said Sweden’s contribution would be “modest”, adding there wasn’t a single conflict in the world where an individual country’s contribution would be decisive, though within the bloc, the power of the US was decisive, he added, and and only a few other countries played a significant role.

Commenting on a recent Hungarian visit to the Sahel, he said the African region was currently one of the deepest sources of migration, and Hungary’s position was that help must be taken to where it is needed. The Hungary Helps programme aims at this purpose, he added.

In response to another question, he said a military mission in Chad was making good progress.

Commenting on the visit of the Latin patriarch to Hungary, he said the most important subject was how Hungary could effectively help Christians in the Holy Land and the victims of the Israeli-Hamas conflict under the arrangements of the Hungary Helps programme.

Commenting on German farmers’ protests, he said his personal view was that green policies launched in the past were currently being forced on people beyond the bounds of common sense. “Imposing a twentieth extra tax on famers using diesel is obviously difficult to accept,” he added. He said Germany was characterised by domestic political instability that the country had never witnessed before, and public opinion of the German chancellor had never been as poor as it was today. “The three-party coalition is marred by disagreements on many issues, and its public support is only around 30 percent, which would have been inconceivable in the past,” he added.

Commenting on the EU digital directive entering force in the next month, he said it would be useful and necessary to formulate common European action concerning big-tech companies like Facebook and YouTube.

“At the same time, it should be noted that currently the EU also accepts restrictions on the freedom of speech and some constitutional restrictions that the Hungarian government — which reprersents a classic liberal position — does not find acceptable,” he said.

The Hungarian government will be represented in the body reviewing regulations ranging from tax obligations to the “extremely questionable” rules of comment restriction, he said.

Asked about this year’s mayoral elections, Gulyas said the elections were on the schedule of next week’s Fidesz board meeting, and Fidesz would have its own candidate.

In response to a question about the budget, Gulyas said that last year both the deficit and the public debt had narrowed, and the goal was to achieve the same again this year and return to normal fiscal management, which, he added, had always characterised the Fidesz government in the absence of an external crisis. Even the war taking place in Ukraine no longer had such a harsh and direct effect as it had done last year, Gulyas said.

Asked about the state-backed purchase of Budapest Airport, Gulyas said the announcement of a deal was “extremely close” and would hopefully take place before the end of February. As soon as the sale and purchase of the airport is concluded, the next stage would be to build a direct rail link between the airport and the city centre, he said.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said a possible restriction of the distribution of energy drinks had already been discussed at a government meeting, but no decision had been taken yet. The issue is expected to be discussed at the parliamentary group meeting, as the Christian Democrats have a proposal to that effect, he added.

In response to a question on a possible EU probe into the planned investment of Chinese automotive company BYD in Szeged, and whether it could jeopardise the success of the investment, he said he hoped that the European Commission would “remain on the side of common sense”, and there would be no external influence to sever ties between China and Europe.

Regarding the employment of guest workers, the minister said there were clear rules in Hungary: foreign workers can be employed only if a Hungarian is not available for the given job. He said “the regulation precluded the possibility of abuses” as Hungarian applicants must be favoured before hiring guest workers.

In response to a question on neo-Nazi marches expected early in February, he said the right to assemble had clear limits in Hungary: if a demonstration has a purpose that clearly violates human dignity, it can be banned. He added that the Hungarian authorities were cooperating with foreign secret services to filter out extremists from abroad.

In response to a question on the planned Jewish House of Fates museum, Gulyas noted that there had never been a financial obstacle to opening the institution. The government believed it was the right thing to do to open a museum commemorating the child victims of the Holocaust, he said, adding that the opening of the centre had been impeded by “an unworthy and petty dispute” among Hungarian Jewish organisations. “We are waiting for a consensus,” he said.

In response to a question on the issue of adoption by same-sex couples, Gulyas said a child who did not have a mother and a father was “obviously at a disadvantage”. “This is why we try to guarantee this,” he added.

It can also happen, he noted, that somebody starts a homosexual relationship after the dissolution of a marriage, in which case he or she naturally keeps the right of custody over the child, as does the other parent, in the case of joint custody.

Regarding same-sex civil partnerships, he said there are 403 in Hungary at present, adding that the government had no plans to ease adoption rules.

In response to a question on the transfer of assets of members of the government to trust management, he said it would make no sense to exclude successful people in business from joining the government, and any future government should be able to accept members who have acquired significant assets through their businesses transparently.

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