Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Hungary committed to staying out of war

Hungary remains committed to staying out of the war in Ukraine, calls for a ceasefire and peace talks, and does not participate in weapon deliveries, the Head of the Prime Minister's Office told a press briefing on Thursday.

The past few weeks have seen “an increasing number of worrying statements” rejecting ceasefires and calling for continuing the war, Gergely Gulyas said. Those calls point to escalation rather than the peaceful solution Hungary’s government is promoting, he said.

The government stands by the ceasefire and peace talks as the only way to save lives, he said.

Accordingly, Hungary will stay out of weapon deliveries, but remains an active member of all preparations geared at increasing defence capacity and improving defence equipment within NATO or Hungary, he said.

Citing the NATO treaty, Gulyas noted that the alliance’s members will only enter a conflict if any other member is attacked. According to NATO’s interpretation, such an attack last occurred on September 11, 2001, he added.

Hungary fulfils all its duties concerning the strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank but strictly for defence purposes, in line with the North Atlantic Treaty, Gulyas said. NATO is expected to make a decision on the plan to boost the eastern flank at its summer summit in Lithuania, he said. Hungary, however, was one of the first members to set up a high-readiness force that also includes US, Italian, Croatian and Turkish troops serving under Hungarian command, he added. Because this task force serves defence purposes, it will not get involved in the Russia-Ukraine war, Gulyas said.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said Hungary wished to take part in the European Union’s joint ammunition purchase, but only for domestic use, and would not send lethal equipment abroad. He added that the seven-year scheme would be beneficial for Hungary.

Gulyas welcomed that the EU was becoming more active on defence, noting that Hungary’s prime minister had been the first to propose the establishment of a joint EU military force over a decade ago.

He also called on all political forces to support the “pro-peace resolution” submitted by ruling party lawmakers at the vote in parliament next week. Referring to last year’s general election, Gulyas said the Hungarian electorate had made it clear a year ago that it wanted peace, adding that the resolution could serve to strengthen the will of the voters.

Hungary remains committed to staying out of the war and is certain that the right thing to do is to use every means available to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its Transcarpathia region, help Transcarpathia Hungarians, provide financial support to Ukraine and take in refugees, Gulyas said. At the same time, the will of the Hungarian people has to be enough to prevent the country from being dragged into the war, he added.

Asked about the United Kingdom’s plan to send depleted uranium shells to Ukraine, Gulyas said such a move would not lead to de-escalation. Hungary’s position on weapons deliveries is clear, and it does not recommend that anyone send weapons with depleted uranium, he said.

The head of the Prime Minister’s Office said the heightened dangers of the war in Ukraine waged by a nuclear power and adversarial militaries drifting into it must be brought to an end as quickly as possible. Gulyas said Hungary rejected any decision that would lead to the war’s escalation.

Regarding the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gulyas said the statute of the court was not part of Hungary’s legal order since, not having been legally proclaimed, it contradicted the country’s constitution. Neither Russia nor the US accept the jurisdiction of the ICC, he added.

In response to the suggestion that NATO had bypassed Hungary by convening the Ukraine committee, Gulyas said the meeting was no more than a friendly forum for discussion since certain decisions can only be made unanimously. Hungary cannot prevent the consultation, but Ukraine’s approach towards either the European Union or NATO would not be possible without Hungary’s consent, he added.

Asked whether the government planned to change its strategy on Ukraine — supposing the convening of the NATO Ukraine committee may indicate the failure of the policy followed by Hungary so far — the minister said they had wanted make a change for a long time. The problem, he added, was that Ukraine refused to change its education law.

It had also been made clear, when Hungary supported allowing Ukraine to move towards EU candidate status, that there would be no membership or negotiations until basic human rights norms were complied with when it came to the use of European Union languages, he said, adding that Hungarian diplomacy had no other means at its disposal to address this issue.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said the debate that arose in parliament within the governing party groups regarding the NATO accession of Finland and Sweden has been resolved in the case of Finland, and hopefully this would soon happen in the case of Sweden as well.

Addressing the issue of the grain market, Gulyas said the EU had not provided compensation to Hungary over the market-distorting effect of Ukrainian grain. Whereas six countries had submitted claims for compensation, he said only three had received funding. It was wrong of the EU not to provide compensation, he said, since the effect on prices in Hungary had been obvious. Hungary is prepared to take countermeasures if possible, he added.

Gulyas also indicated that the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYEI) is conducting a probe into the quality of imported Ukrainian agricultural products.

“We are being cheated,” he said. “When the EU talks about joint solidarity with Ukraine, it would be good if this did not mean ruining the wheat market of some countries with cheap Ukrainian products. Countries experiencing real deprivation should benefit, or Europe should shoulder the burden of this together,” he said.

Referring to western Ukraine, Gulyas noted the government continuously adopted support packages for Transcarpathian Hungarians, and its latest decision involved aid of 500 million forints to support the operation of the Transcarpathian Reformed Church Diocese, the local organisation of large families, and the energy supply of schools.

Gulyas said that since Hungary was unwilling to follow the pro-war stance of the majority, negotiations with the EU on unblocking funding were progressing far more slowly. If the Hungarian political parties could represent a uniform position, “we would be better off”. The opposition, he added, was actively aiding efforts to withhold Hungary’s EU funding.

He said that since Hungary had fulfilled its commitments, the EU monies should arrive as early as April. But Brussels may opt for a political path that ignores legal requirements, he said, adding that the EU was failing to meet deadlines and acting unlawfully towards Hungary.

On the issue of the EU’s action regarding Hungary’s child protection law, Gulyas said Hungary would wait for the decision of the European court and comply accordingly. “But that does not change our goal of protecting young people, especially children, with the strongest and most effective means possible”.

“We will always have sufficient means to adopt, create and strengthen the strictest child protection system in Europe,” he said, adding that there was a good chance that the governing party group would ready a proposal to tighten the law in the first half of this year, or during the summer at the latest.

Concerning the suggestion that the European Parliament has also joined the lawsuit, he said the government trusted that, regardless of who intervened on the side of the commission, the court would act solely on the basis of the law, though there were no guarantees this would be the case.

Gulyas said education, including sex education, was clearly a national competence. In connection with paedophile crimes, the minister said that the main issue was not the severity of the punishments but rather the fact that there was no current legal recourse for protecting people above the age of fourteen.

Gulyas said there was one condition that blocked EU funds in general, and this is related to the judiciary. On this issue, Judit Varga, the justice minister, has come to agreements on all issues with the European Commission. The codified text has been sent to Brussels, and now the government is waiting for a response. He confirmed a mutually accepted draft is ready for the government to submit if approved by the commission.

Measures aimed at curbing inflation will remain in place until there is a noticeable improvement, Gulyas said, adding that inflation had slowly started to decline and was expected to fall into single digits by the end of the year. Meanwhile, he said the government will decide on every price cap scheme two weeks before they are set to expire.

Gulyas said the extension of the cap on interest rates on deposits of financial companies and private individuals with 20 million forints or more on their account served price stability.

Asked about Hungary’s dependence on Russian energy, Gulyas said that by building the necessary interconnectors, Hungary had created the conditions to diversify its natural gas supplies, adding, however, that there was not enough gas available on the European market.

Asked if Hungary would keep its share in the Budapest-based International Investment Bank (IIB), Gulyas said the bank’s future still depended on whether Serbia would become a stakeholder in the institution.

Concerning the foreign campaign donations received by the left-wing opposition ahead of last year’s general election, Gulyas said the matter had been investigated by the State Audit Office (ASZ), but its findings could not be made public until the parties in question comment on them.

The aim is for every political party to accept the clause in the law on political parties that bans foreign funding, he added. Hungary has around two months to amend its election law, he said, arguing that it should not be amended a year before the 2024 European parliamentary and local elections.

Asked to comment on Wednesday’s meetings between members of the opposition Democratic Coalition’s (DK) shadow cabinet and their British counterparts, Gulyas said that although the shadow cabinet’s meetings were not considered major European diplomatic events, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer had a good chance of becoming prime minister in a few years’ time. Gulyas said he was not surprised that DK was trying to “make this seem like a serious meeting, given the kind of foreign relations the Hungarian opposition has”. Gulyas said his “problem” was that, as an MEP, Dobrev was “doing everything in her power to block EU funds for Hungary”.

Asked about potential “penalties” for general practitioners who refuse to sign new contracts concerning on-call services, Gulyas said “no one is being threatened with anything”. Citing the relevant legislation, Gulyas said doctors can be mandated to work on-call shifts twice a month, adding that “it’s not about night shifts”. The law scrapping doctors’ mandatory membership in the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) passed late last month still allows for doctors to join the chamber, he said.

Asked about the recent country report on Hungary released by the United States, Gulyas said the report had “no relevance from a legal standpoint” and had been “written out of frustration” because Hungary’s ruling parties retained power in the last election.

Asked if the government will examine potential national security risks posed by Chinese video app TikTok, Gulyas said the government would look into the matter if the national security authorities signalled a risk. No such concern has been raised yet, he added.

Asked when the prime minister may visit Ukraine, Gulyas said the meeting would happen when it made sense to have one and when the two countries could achieve meaningful results in the settlement of their disagreements regarding the situation of Transcarpathian Hungarians.

Concerning the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Paris Olympics, Gulyas said he agreed with the White House’s stance that athletes from those countries should be allowed to compete without their national colours if they do not support the war.

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