Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Hungary calls for Ukraine-Russia ceasefire, peace talks

Hungary wants a ceasefire and peace talks to get under way as quickly as possible, especially in light of the recent missile strike in Poland, Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister's chief of staff, said on Wednesday. Gulyas noted that the prime minister convened Hungary's Defence Council in line with the usual protocol in such situations, and the defence minister contacted his NATO counterparts and the alliance's secretary-general.

Gulyas noted that the prime minister convened Hungary’s Defence Council in line with the usual protocol in such situations, and the defence minister contacted his NATO counterparts and the alliance’s secretary-general.

Also, the foreign and defence ministers spoke with their Polish counterparts, and Hungary assured Poland of its support, he added.

A Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile is thought to have landed in Poland, Gulyas told a government press briefing, adding the outcome of a full investigation is awaited. But for a short period of time it was assumed that Russia had attacked Poland, he said, adding that the events showed just how important an immediate ceasefire and peace talks were.

A long-term solution is required that takes into account the interests of Ukraine and guarantees its territorial sovereignty, Gulyas said.

The Hungarian government, he emphasised, regards the NATO basic agreement and Article 5 to be binding on all the alliance’s member states, including Hungary.

Proof of good relations between NATO allies was no better demonstrated than by the speed with which NATO assured Poland of its solidarity, he added.

Meanwhile, Gulyas noted that at 2am on Wednesday, crude oil deliveries to Hungary through the Druzhba pipeline restarted, albeit at low pressure, after being interrupted on Tuesday due to missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy network. Pressure will be upped to normal within a few hours or days, he said.

Hungary’s crude supply would have been safe even had the pipeline not been restarted, he said, noting that Hungarian oil and gas company MOL has reserves at its refinery in Szazhalombatta in addition to the country’s strategic reserves, guaranteeing supplies for several months for households and businesses alike.

Gulyas said the government has adopted an action plan to support the tourism sector with the aim of ensuring that hotels and restaurants can stay open in the winter season despite high energy prices.

Businesses in the sector will be exempted from paying a tourism development contribution of 4 percent of their net takings between Oct. 1, 2022 and March 31 next year, Gulyas said.

The government has also decided to abolish restrictions within the Szechenyi Card scheme, so that in future employees can use their cards in restaurants, hotels, or pay for recreational activities freely, Gulyas said.

Data reporting requirements for tourism businesses will be relaxed for six months, and the deadline for rating hotels will also be delayed by a year, Gulyas said.

He noted that tourism is an important source of income for the country, adding that after difficult years on the back of the pandemic, the sector is ending a good year this year despite the energy crisis.

In the first ten months, 13 million guests spent 33 million nights in domestic accommodation, 34 percent more than last year and only 8 percent behind the record year of 2019, he noted.

Gulyas said a recent amendment to a decree concerning Hungarian support for the armed forces of other countries consisted of “technical changes” and was not connected to developments in Poland on Tuesday. In light of the events in Poland, cancelling a visit by Defence Minister Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky to Israel had been considered, but on Tuesday night it was clear that no escalation of the situation could be expected, and the government gave him permission to accompany President Katalin Novak as part of her delegation, Gulyas said.

Answering a question, Gulyas said the government had not discussed accelerating Hungary’s military reforms given that its programme to upgrade its armed forces was long-standing, while the outbreak of the war in Ukraine had already prompted an intensification of the process.

Gulyas warned against exploiting the missile incident in Poland for political purposes “in a fragile, difficult, and dangerous global situation … If something is unclear, an investigation must be called for, and the political consequences drawn afterwards.”

Gulyas welcomed the sober-minded reaction to the incident on the part of Hungary’s allies. He added, however, that Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky had not “acted responsibly” by accusing Russia after the incident. “If the missile that hit Polish territory came from Ukraine, the Ukrainians should provide answers, Gulyas said.

On the subject of Finland and Sweden’s NATO accession, Gulyas said: “We will not be the last country to decide”, adding that Hungary planned to ratify the document “before Turkey does”.

Asked about the erratic operations of the Druzhba oil pipeline, Gulyas said “a large part of the technical conditions and all legal conditions” were in place “to use alternative ways” to supply the country if needed. He noted that the EU had exempted Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary from a ban on Russian oil imports. But the small capacity of the pipeline crossing Croatia was a technical bottleneck, he said. The Hungarian government aims to increase that capacity and “trusts that the Croatian government supports those plans”. “It wouldn’t do any harm were they even more supportive,” he added. He also said the country had significant crude oil reserves which could meet the country’s energy demands “for a long-long time”.

On another subject, Gulyas said he saw “no reason why the country should not receive 100 percent of the EU funds” it is entitled to, adding that he did not wish to comment on the political situation within the European Commission or “how much damage it could do to Hungary”. The Hungarian government “has done everything to reach the necessary agreements with the EU,” he said, adding that there was a good chance that the talks would be concluded in the next few weeks.

Gulyas said the EU’s funds should not be considered a donation “because the EU owes those sums to Hungary”. He also warned against overestimating the importance of community funding because “it is far from true that all investments would rest on EU funds”.

Referring to existing exemptions on personal income tax and funding for family support measures, Gulyas said the cost to the budget will be established by early December based on the forecast of next year’s energy prices; decisions will then be made accordingly. He said the government wants to keep spending on family support in 2023 level with this year’s allocation.

Asked about whether a cabinet or Fidesz representative planned to travel to Ukraine, Gulyas said a visit was on the cards, but like “every other state” which communicated only after such an event tooks place, he would not divulge details for security reasons.

Concerning the resignation of Laszlo Palkovics as minister of technology and industry, Gulyas referred to structural changes within the ministry which reflected the importance of energy in the current environment, adding that Palkovics had stepped down because he had refused to accept the ministy’s diminished powers.

A new energy ministry is taking over almost all tasks from the Energy Agency allowed by a 2019 EU directive, but the most important one, price determination, will remain with the agency, he said.

Concerning the resignation of David Vitezy as the state secretary of transport, he said Vitezy had made the decision to step down and this must be respected, but his policies would be pursued by his sucessor.

Gulyas said the government planned to award a big pensions increase in January to protect retirees from high inflation. Referring to pensions, he said: “We’re not in a bad position compared with other European countries.”

Meanwhile, he said inflation was tightly linked to energy prices, which the state absorbs, so higher VAT revenue far from covered the state’s increased spending on energy.

Meanwhile, commenting on the state’s planned purchase of Vodafone, the chief of staff said due diligence of the telecoms company was under way, and finalising the price could take months.

On the topic of the media, Gulyas said journalists in western Europe covering Hungary had to “write bad things” about the government if they wanted to keep their jobs in the long run. The government, he added, had no means to influence media content, and Hungary enjoyed press freedom.

Responding to a question about solidarity with Ukraine, he said Ukraine was under attack, but Ukraine had mistreated its national minorities in recent years, grossly violating human rights and international conventions.

On the topic of Kosher slaughtering, he said the guarantee of religious freedom in Hungary meant that it could not be banned or restricted.

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