Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Hungary stands by pro-peace stance

The Hungarian government remains pro-peace even though the majority of its NATO allies are not, the head of the Prime Minister's Office told a regular press briefing on Thursday. Gergely Gulyas said that while so far, pro-war statements were limited to certain EU member states, now NATO was also preparing to play an active role in the war.

That approach is concerning to the Hungarian government, having seen the consequences in the case of member states: it started with sending helmets to Ukraine and continued with supplying the strongest lethal weapons, he said. This did not result in victory, only extended the war, he added.

Gulyas said NATO was preparing to become an active player in the war: “it wants to provide financial aid and there are talks of weapon deliveries and trainings for troops. The leaders of EU member states are now talking openly of the need to send troops to Ukraine,” he said.

Gulyas said this was the worst scenario because it could result in world war. The warring parties are nuclear powers, so NATO should avoid direct conflict with Russia by all means, he said. Yet, NATO’s military mission for Ukraine represents a fundamental change, he added.

He said Hungary was in constant cooperation with NATO’s Brussels headquarters but the government’s priority was to stay out of the war. If the country can’t convince its NATO allies to do the same, Hungary will not participate in NATO’s Ukraine mission, he added.

“We will continue to refrain from delivering weapons and sending soldiers, and will not allow weapon deliveries across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border,” he said.

Commenting on a US Congress decision, he said US foreign policy was not expected to change until the presidential election in the autumn, and this would also have a major influence on NATO.

Hungary wants peace, and hopes that the presidential election on November 5 will bring results that give reason for peace, he added.

Regarding fuel prices in Hungary, Gulyas said price changes in recent years have made it clear that Hungarians were also paying the price of war in petrol and diesel. The wars in Ukraine and Israel were both affecting fuel prices, he added.

These prices will fall substantially when the war is over, Gulyas said. Therefore, the realistic goal and also the government’s goal is to prevent profiteering on the war-related prices, he said.

Gulyas noted that petrol and diesel prices in Hungary are higher than the regional average, adding that the government earlier consulted the Hungarian Petroleum Association to change this situation and the association accepted that this claim was justified.

He reiterated that the government called on Hungarian vehicle fuel retailers to lower the price of petrol and diesel to the regional average price.

The Central Statistical Office has data that make it possible to check fuel prices against the regional average, Gulyas said, but if retailers do not voluntarily comply with their commitments, the government will have to enforce them.

Commenting on a constitutional amendment to tighten child protection rules, Gulyas said the prime minister had submitted an amendment proposal to prevent presidential pardons for perpetrators or accessories of sexual crimes against minors.

The Fidesz-backed proposal would also eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against children and prohibit parole of people as well as the expungement of their crimes from the record, he said. The amendments, combined with investigations ordered by the Minister of the Interior in child protection institutions, will establish the effective legal framework and practical directives for the institutions, he added.

In line with another constitutional amendment proposal, taking out a joint European Union loan will require two-thirds majority support by parliament, he said. Changing the EU into a “debt community” has apparently become a goal for those that dream about a United States of Europe, he added. The Hungarian government approved a joint loan as a one-off solution after the coronavirus pandemic but “our experiences have been bad with it”, he said.

To adapt to the war situation, the constitutional amendment also affects the movement of military contingents to enable swift reactions, he said. It includes detailed regulations on the Hungarian army’s military operations, stationing, the cross-border movement of troops, and foreign armed forces’ military actions affecting Hungary’s territory, he added.

Gulyas announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Budapest on May 8-10.

Hungary has a vested interest to “nurture good economic relations with as many countries as possible” and China is one of the leading world powers, so the government believes it is not worth setting up ideological barriers, he added.

He said Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was currently preparing the visit in China.

Answering a question, Gulyas said Hungary had taken the right decision when joining NATO as NATO can guarantee the highest possible level of security today. The problem is, he said, that the organisation is preparing for a mission that goes beyond its traditional task.

He said NATO usually operates with unanimous decision-making, therefore the solution must be found for Hungary to stay out of any military mission conducted outside of NATO territory. Gulyas said he could see more willingness for sober dialogue on the part of NATO than the EU.

NATO is a defence organisation, the minister noted, adding that it is strange for any operation under NATO’s umbrella to be conducted in a non-member country.

On the war in Ukraine, Gulyas said he hoped that Hungary could stay out of the conflict until the end, adding that “we have to fight for this”.

The new US aid package of 61 billion dollars will prolong the war, he said. On the possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Poland, he noted that back in the 1980’s, everyone agreed that it was a key sign of detente when the deployment of nuclear weapons discontinued. It is extremely negative for the entire world if a process starts in the opposite direction, he said.

On the constitutional amendment, Gulyas said the regulation would be adjusted to reality if the ministerial countersigning of the presidential pardon is eliminated.

During three and a half decades, it only happened once that the minister did not countersign a presidential pardon, and if the institution was only exercised once, then it’s not worth maintaining, he said.

Presidents can make a well-founded decision within the framework of the law, the minister said, adding that the heads of state, especially after what happened, will exercise their right to pardon as carefully as possible.

On the prospective reception of the child protection amendment by the left-wing parties, Gulyas said it would be hard for them to take a stand against sexual crime if they did not support the amendment.

The proposals are well-founded, they assign stricter penalties to offenders of such crimes, closing any possible loopholes, he added.

Gulyas said the measures strengthening child protection have additional costs, which will be discussed at the next strategic cabinet meeting.

Answering a question whether the government expected another infringement procedure because of the child protection amendments, Gulyas said these would be amendments that fall under national jurisdiction and enable more effective action against sexual and pedophile offenders.

Gulyas said he hoped that Brussels would not question these aims of the government or the resources allocated to it.

Concerning Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit next month, he said the talks would primarily focus on economic cooperation, adding that the visit would serve to boost economic ties. The talks, he added, will cover specific affairs and the two countries will also sign agreements.

Asked about the relationship between the government and the Budapest city council, Gulyas said it was good to have “a normal relationship” between the government and the capital and local councils in general, adding, however, that this did not necessarily have to happen at the prime ministerial level.

He said it was important that Budapest’s leadership do not consider the government its enemy and focus on their differences rather than seeking partnership.

Gulyas said it was clear from looking at Budapest that the mayor had considered his position “a springboard to the position of prime minister after getting elected”.

Gulyas said the city’s finances were also marred by corruption cases, adding that “this is exactly why such an investigation is warranted” and the consequences would depend on the irregularities uncovered by the treasury.

As regards the suspicions of graft around the renovation of Budapest’s landmark Chain Bridge, Gulyas said it was clear that the renovation had been carried out at a higher price and with “more meagre technical solutions” than what had been planned under the former administration. He said it was “obvious” that there was a direct connection between the way the renovation had been carried out, the transfer of the monies and their withdrawal in cash.

Asked why the government was not cutting the tax on the price of petrol, Gulyas said Hungary had the fifth-lowest tax on petrol in an EU comparison, and the central budget “can’t afford to sacrifice further revenues”. If fuel companies do not adjust their prices to the regional average, the government will “enforce the agreement” aimed at keeping prices at the regional average, he said.

The government aims to reach an agreement with fuel companies, he said, adding that if they did not keep to the earlier agreement, the government would have to “take alternative measures”.

Concerning an EU procedure in connection with Hungary’s motorway concessions, Gulyas said it was a “typical example of double standards … questioning a term of 35 years, while not criticising other countries where the term is even longer.”

Asked about a Wednesday resolution by the European Parliament, Gulyas said it was aimed to “withhold funds to be paid to kindergarten and school teachers … at the initiative of a (Hungarian opposition) Momentum MEP.” “Such open action against Hungary’s interests is almost unprecedented,” he said, adding that “while they make a net 6 million forints, they will do everything to prevent teachers from earning a gross 800,000.”

Answering another question concerning another EP resolution, Gulyas said “sane people will obviously refuse to participate” in a “mandatory sensitising training” but added that it would be up to the people affected to protest.

Asked about political perspectives in Brussels, Gulyas said better positions for the European Conservatives and Reformers and international sovereigntist group ID will increase “representation of causes the government deems important.” He said it was not realistic to expect those two groups to win a majority in the upcoming EP elections. He added that the EPP “cannot be considered right-wing, only some of its members including (Hungary’s) Christian Democrats”. EPP and the two former groups could win a majority, he said, but added that “the European People’s Party would be ready to collaborate with the left liberals.” “One thing is for certain: the sovereigntist forces should win a majority in the European Parliament to facilitate draining the swamp in Brussels,” Gulyas said.

On his Fidesz party’s EP campaign, Gulyas said “the family has been one of the most important political values for and the government has made decisions accordingly; the importance of the family has been given focus in each campaign.” Among further topics he mentioned issues around the gender ideology and the “Europe of nations versus united states of Europe” dispute. According to the Hungarian government “cooperation in Europe is needed and does not have an alternative, but the boundaries outlined in the treaties should not be crossed; nations must not be eliminated but reinforced,” he said.

Gulyas was asked if the government was planning to turn to the European Court of Justice over the EU migration pact, and he said the government had not made a decision as yet.

Concerning migration, Gulyas said some 250,000 illegal entry attempts had been recorded along Hungary’s southern borders in 2022 and nearly 200,000 last year. “The migratory pressure has not diminished, but it is a well-protected border and there is no point in trying,” he said. He also said “the problem will not be resolved before it becomes common wisdom that asylum procedures must be completed outside the European borders and only those people are allowed to enter that comply with refugee criteria.”

Concerning Peter Magyar’s political activities, Gulyas suggested that “in a few weeks or two years everybody will see that what happens is an internal problem of the left; internal fighting, which does not concern us and if it does, it will probably be favourable,” Gulyas said. “I cannot see a problem on the government side but great havoc on the left,” he added.

In connection with Peter Magyar, who has newly emerged in Hungarian politics, Gulyas said “contrary to Magyar’s statements, the Volner-Schadl issue is excellent evidence that prosecution [in Hungary] is operating independently of politics”.

Answering questions concerning the economy, Gulyas said the government had decided “to open proceedings against [Austrian-owned] supermarket chain Spar in court, presumably for defamation”.

The government aims to bring down this year the budget deficit to 4.5 percent in terms of GDP, Gulyas said, adding that “if the expenses resulting from debt repayment are deducted, the budget is close to breaking even this year as well”.

Asked about the state’s planned purchase of Budapest Airport, Gulyas said that “as there are many players involved, as well as the matter of complicated corporate protocols, bringing the transaction to a close could take some days, weeks or possibly months, but let’s hope it’s rather days or weeks”.

Answering a question about the government’s decision to hold off on submitting the 2025 draft budget until after the US presidential elections on Nov 5, Gulyas said “a completely different budget needs to be drafted if we anticipate that the war drags on throughout the entire year as against a scenario that it would end within a foreseeable future”.

Commenting on the annual country report published by the US State Department criticising Hungary, Gulyas said “even the genre is repulsive,” adding that under Donald Trump’s presidency “American diplomacy had the common sense to discontinue this practice”.

In connection with a proposal submitted to Slovakia’s parliament on organisations financed from abroad and affecting Hungarian organisations in the neighbouring country’s southern region, Gulyas asserted that the Hungarian government would take steps, as it had done so in the past, whenever the interests of Hungarians beyond the borders are violated.

Asked about the issue of the Erasmus student programme, Gulyas expressed hope that an agreement would be reached. “It is unacceptable that students are discriminated against because they are Hungarian or study in Hungary.”


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