Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Government ready to designate service providers for petrol stations threatened by closure

The state is ready to intervene and exercise its right to designate new operators for petrol stations that face closure in areas where, as a result, fuel would become unavailable within a 5 km radius of a settlement, the prime minister's chief of staff told a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

Commenting on press reports that some petrol station operators are facing bankruptcy due to government imposed fuel price caps, Gergely Gulyas said Hungarian oil and gas company MOL was ready to step in to provide services instead.

The government so far knows of no settlement in the country where it is not possible to buy fuel within 5 km, he said, but it was possible there may be 3-4 such locations.

Under the government decree on the fuel price caps, petrol stations do not have a right to limit the amount of fuel motorists can put in their cars, Gulyas said, adding that tax authority NAV will monitor their compliance with the decree. Stations can only limit the amount of fuel people buy for later use to 10 litres, he added.

Gulyas said that while inflation was rising across the globe, consumer price growth in Hungary had slowed by 3 percentage points thanks to the price caps and the mortgage freeze introduced by the government. He said the trusted the central bank’s forecast which sees inflation falling to between 2-4 percent by the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said Hungary’s 2021 economic growth rate of 7.1 percent was the most rapid since the country’s change of regime in 1990.

The record growth rate is not just a result of Hungary’s effective drawdown of European Union funds, but also the government’s economic policies that have yielded record investments, continuous wage growth and rising consumption, he said.

The 7.1 percent growth rate is the second highest in the EU behind that of Poland, whose economy last year grew by 7.7 percent, Gulyas added.

“It’s possible to pursue revenge campaigns against certain countries, but if an economic policy is successful, it has consequences,” he said.

In response to a question, Gulyas said holding a referendum on Hungary’s child protection law was “the most democratic solution possible”, arguing that it gave Hungarians a chance to decide on the law’s most important provisions.

He warned against “giving too much importance to” Wednesday’s ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union which said the regulation accepted by the European Parliament and Council on making EU funding conditional on adhering to principles of the rule of law was built on a sound legal footing. Gulyas added that the ruling would only hurt Hungary if the opposition won the April 3 general election.

Gulyas said he did not expect the EU to sanction Hungary if ruling Fidesz won the election, adding, however, that he believed sanctions could be expected if a new government attempted to amend the constitution with a simple parliamentary majority.

He said that in spite of the disputes with Brussels, Hungary “broke records” over the last 12 years, becoming one of the most effective countries when it came to the drawdown of EU funds both within the Visegrad Group and the bloc as a whole.

On another subject, he said the child protection law was the only reason why Brussels had yet to approve Hungary’s post-pandemic recovery plan.

Asked how much the legal fees in the rule-of-law conditionality lawsuit would cost Hungary if it were forced to pay them, Gulyas said he could not provide an exact figure, but the cost would be “a negligible amount”.

He said the CJEU’s ruling made it clear that the application of the conditionality mechanism was only lawful if the violation of the principle of the rule of law directly impacted the bloc’ financial interests. “And Hungary has been one of the best performing countries in the European Union in this regard, and it has been scrutinised with a magnifying glass for years,” he said.

Hungary will never object to demands for judicial independence by the EU, because that is a part of the rule of law, Gulyas said. “But the question of whether two men should be allowed to get married does not fall under the rule of law, and every member states is free to decide on such an issue,” he argued. “We don’t allow that in Hungary and if someone wants to change that, they have to be Hungarian, they must win the necessary political support for it in Hungary and change the constitution if they have the majority required for it,” he said.

In response to another question, Gulyas said Hungary would not exercise its veto on other issues because of the CJEU’s rejection of its legal challenge, adding that “we believe in loyal cooperation, so we evaluate every issue on its own merit.”

Gulyas said he was not concerned about the EU potential depriving Hungary of funding as a result of the CJEU’s ruling. Such a scenario, he said, could only unfold if Hungary was governed by political players who did not respect the principle of the rule of law, “but this only applies to the left-wing coalition in Hungary today”.

On another subject, Gulyas said the European Commission had rejected Hungary’s reconstruction plan “because of the child protection law”, suggesting that the legislation curbed the rule of law. “The Hungarian government is concerned that the rule of law should be used as punishment for Hungary” over the contested law, he said. “The rule of law is a tool for the Left to sanction different political positions,” he said.

Gulyas noted that the EU Court of Justice’s sentence was not appealable,  but added that “if the ruling is applied by the European Commission in line with the European Council’s and the court’s restrictive conclusions Hungary has nothing to fear”. Answering a question about possible sanctions, he said “unless the Commission and other political forces want ot destroy the EU they will handle those tools with care”.

Concerning teachers’ demands of higher pay, Gulyas said that the government was in talks with their unions. The government “sees the demands and considers them legitimate”, he said, adding that “a rise of at least 30 percent has been announced”. Referring to another strike called by the unions for the second half of March, however, he said “it is like interfering with the (April 3) elections”. “You can do that but it should be considered as a political action,” Gulyas said. He also referred to the unions’ suggestion that a recent government decree concerning school services during strike actions was contrary to the strike law, Gulyas said that “the unions went ahead with a strike action deemed unlawful by a court, while the same ruling stipulates that the government should define mandatory services in a decree”.

Answering a question if the government would assist petrol stations ailing due to a cap on fuel prices, Gulyas said the government was “not ready to use taxpayers’ money” for such purposes. He added that the government was not planning to cap the price of further products.

Responding to another question, if the government’s utility price cut programme costs “between 500 and 2,000 billion forints” this year, Gulyas said “the extra cost will be closer to the lower half of the band”, adding that state energy company MVM’s revenues were sufficient “to manage the situation”.

Concerning a question about recent remarks by Peter Marki-Zay, prime ministerial candidate of the united opposition, that he, if the opposition won the upcoming election, would “represent communists and fascists, too”, Gulyas said “nobody has set that goal since 1944” and insisted that nobody would have represented communists “for over 30 decades”.

Asked about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Hungary’s possible participation, Gulyas said the incumbent government would “not send Hungarian soldiers to fight in Ukraine”. He added that the interior and defence ministries were in the process of making a detailed plan in preparation for a possible wave of refugees. A large part of them could be heading for Poland, while both ethnic Hungarians and Ukrainians in Transcarpathia could choose to come to Hungary, he said, adding that Hungary could accommodate “tens of thousands if necessary”. He noted that under Hungary’s refugee rules “the first safe country” is supposed to provide shelter, and said “in Ukraine’s case this is Hungary”.

Replying to a question concerning a possible visit to Hungary by former US president Donald Trump before April 3, Gulyas said he had no information of that kind, adding that “the government is not organising such a visit”.

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