Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Hungary does not support EU budget amendment, Ukraine accession

Hungary does not support the amendment of the European Union's budget, nor the start of accession talks with Ukraine, Gergely Gulyas, the head of the Prime Minister's Office, said at a regular press briefing on Thursday.

The government believes that the EU wants to amend the budget while it has not even implemented the current one, Gulyas said, adding that no impact study had been prepared on what effect the accession of Ukraine would have on the bloc as a whole.

Concerning problems in implementing the community budget, Gulyas mentioned the EU’s “failure to pay out to Hungary and Poland their due funding”, delays in payments from the recovery fund and a generally low level of payments. He added that the European Commission’s denying the funds from Hungary and Poland was unlawful.

Concerning Ukraine’s accession, Gulyas said no assessment of Ukraine’s complying with the EU’s entry criteria had ever been made. Furthermore, it is not clear what impact that country’s integration would have on the community’s cohesion funds, the common agricultural policy, and member states’ contributions to the common budget, he added. Meanwhile, the integration of the “much better prepared” Western Balkans is being delayed, he added.

On another subject, the minister said the government would extend interest rate freezes for small and medium-sized businesses, families and student loans. The rate freezes affect 30,000 businesses and 300,000 families, he said, adding that they needed to be protected from “high interest rates caused by Brussels’s ill-advised sanctions and the war”. The rate freezes are being extended until April 1 for SMEs and until July 1, 2024 for families and student loan holders, he said. Gulyas said the measures have so far helped businesses save 2.5 million forints each, and left 420,000 forints with each family.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said that the government would provide companies a grant for setting up green energy storages.

The cabinet launched earlier a scheme with 70 billion forints for households to install solar panel systems and energy storage capacity he said, adding that so far several tens of thousands of families had applied for and received grants under the scheme.

The cabinet has now decided to expand the storage scheme for businesses, he said, adding that they could initially apply for central budget support and later for funding under the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Businesses can submit their bids until February 5 next year and are required to complete their projects by April 30 in 2026, said Gulyas.

Answering a question, Gulyas said minimum wages would increase on December 1, but some of the benefits would only increase in January or February.

Concerning proposed changes to the election of the Budapest Assembly, Gulyas said both the current and the proposed system were democratic and district mayors would not be excluded from the assembly in the new system.

Answering another question, he said the government supported Sweden’s NATO accession, but added that “there have been many reasons for (ruling) Fidesz MP’s to have concerns” and parliament would vote “when (the bill) has sufficient support”.

Answering a question about the leftist opposition’s “attacking” the sovereignty protection law, Gulyas said “if somebody serves foreign interests and lets themselves be influenced by foreign interests they will not support an authority promoting the transparency of politics and ensuring its being free of influencing”. “There are international forces rather than (Hungarian) voters behind the Left,” Gulyas said, adding that critics of the new legislation could appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Answering questions about cooperative efforts by the opposition ahead of next year’s European Parliamentary elections, Gulyas said “on the left side Ferenc Gyurcsany continues to be the boss, it will happen as he wants.” He slammed the Momentum Movement for MEP Anna Donath’s supporting Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony “also supported by Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition (DK)”, while Momentum had earlier rejected the possibility of cooperation.

“Momentum’s MPs and mayors are now switching over to DK one by one,” Gulyas insisted.

In response to a question, Gulyas said the government expected Ukraine to restore pre-2017 national minority rights, especially in the area of education.
He said the current Ukrainian bill introduced no further restrictions, but while it restores some of the rights taken away, “we are still not where we used to be”.

Commenting on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, he said Hungary’s position was persistently calling for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.

“The war is because Russia has attacked Ukraine, so Russia’s responsibility cannot be questioned,” he said. “It is another matter whether Ukraine acted wisely when it narrowed down the rights of nationalities,” he added.

In response to a question concerning recent talks between Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President of the European Council Charles Michel, he said the EU budget, financing for Ukraine, and the potential EU accession of the country had been among the topics discussed.

He said a German Green MEP’s remarks following a visit in Ukraine stating that Transcarpathia Hungarians were in the best possible situation lacked seriousness.

Commenting on hospital waiting lists, he said they were significantly shorter in Hungary than in some developed European countries. The ministry of the interior is preparing a programme to further shorten the lists, he added.

In response to a question concerning why ruling Fidesz had not yet appointed a candidate for Budapest mayor, he said the party board had not finalised its decision concerning this issue.

Commenting on the law on guest workers, he said when anyone wants to fill a job with a foreigner, they must report this to the labour office. If Hungarians are available to fill the job then they must be given preference, he added.

Meanwhile, Gulyas announced that the government would buy a stake in Budapest Airport “in a few weeks”, adding that the necessary funds were at the government’s disposal. He said the purchase was aimed at improving Hungary’s economic position and added that the airport was “a hen laying golden eggs”. He also added that more tourists could visit Hungary contributing to higher tax revenues. He also suggested that the facility would require major developments. While the Hungarian state will only partly own BA, collecting “some one half” of its revenues, “indirect revenues once the developments are completed will amount to several times as much,” Gulyas insisted.

The new sovereignty protection authority will not have powers over the press and “cannot curb the freedom of editors,” Gulyas said.

On the subject of euthanasia, Gulyas said the option of “passive euthanasia” was “available, since anybody can reject health services”. “The correct position is not to force somebody to take away the life of another person,” he said. Euthanasia is “a dangerous door which should not be opened because many elderly people could feel that they are no longer needed,” he added.

Answering a question concerning remarks by Janos Lazar, the construction minister, suggesting that foreign companies could be “forced out” from the Hungarian market, Gulyas said the government had no such goal; it was “working to offer Hungarian companies the opportunity to become general contractors”.

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