Gulyas: Majority in Brussels ‘pro-war’
Hungary has long said that the war in Ukraine is not a solution, and that a ceasefire and peace talks are needed, Gergely Gulyas told a regular government press briefing. But, he insisted, most EU member states were “pro-war”.
Gulyas said fundamental change was needed in Brussels to allow for “a change in tone” within the bloc, adding that the European Parliament elections this summer would give EU citizens a chance to express their opinion.
He said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was busy holding talks on the sidelines of today’s EU summit in Brussels, adding that the prime minister still aimed to reach an agreement while taking national interests into consideration, “but it is not certain that this will happen”.
The interior ministry has arranged for 140,000 teachers to receive the documents needed for the pay rise within less than two weeks, Gulyas said, adding that teachers at public schools would receive their increased wages by Monday at the latest.
Gulyas said the 32.2 percent wage hike would “help everybody to a rise”. The recent pay rise will see teachers’ gross average monthly wage rise to 652,000 forints (EUR 1,700), or 71.8 percent of the average wage of degree holders, Gulyas said. The minister said the pay hike was financed from the central budget, but the European Union had promised to reimburse the government. The cabinet has vowed to increase teachers’ salaries to 80 percent of the average wage of degree holders by 2030, with the EU covering 12 percent of the pay hikes, he added.
Concerning teachers’ unions, Gulyas said they had to be “handled carefully” because “it is not easy to determine if they promote teachers’ interests or work against them . they had done everything at international forums to prevent the pay hike.”
On another subject, Gulyas said Hungary’s health service would continue to offer screening newborn babies for SMA. He said the central budget had allocated a total 450 million forints (EUR 1.17m) for this purpose in 2024.
Gulyas said the screenings would continue to be offered at Szeged University, at Budapest’s Semmelweis University and at the Bethesda Paediatric Hospital “to each baby if requested”.
Gulyas said the government had authorised the minister of transport to elaborate on details of the rules governing transport passes facilitated under an agreement between the government and the city of Budapest. He said the changes, effective from March 1, would “benefit everybody”. Public transport passes for the greater Budapest area and nationwide passes will be valid for services in the capital, while the Budapest pass will be valid for national railway, coach company Volan, and suburban train HEV services within Budapest, he noted.
Concerning press reports suggesting that an Italian defendant in last year’s Antifa attacks in Budapest was being held in demeaning conditions in a Budapest prison, Gulyas said all conditions met European Union and Hungarian requirements. He added that the reports had been aimed at putting Hungary in a poor light. He said inmates were given three meals a day, and he dismissed a claim that cells were rat-infested, adding that Hungarian prisons were hygienic, none had been affected by Covid, and foreign inmates were provided with the prison rules in their mother tongue on admission.
Gulyas also suggested that the Italian defendant was “untrustworthy”, adding that she had lied during the procedures concerning her qualifications, marital status and personal relationships. She complained about not being allowed visits, whereas her family members had visited her seven times since last October, Gulyas said. The defendant, he added, faced a possible sentence of 11 years imprisonment for deliberately causing life-threatening injuries.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had talks by phone with Italian counterpart Georgia Meloni on Wednesday evening, and gave her a full briefing on the proceedings, Gulyas said. He said the two heads of government had always had a good relationship. “It is not a personal conflict,” he added.
Concerning the EU summit now under way, Gulyas asked journalists to “take the prime minister’s upcoming briefing for directions” because “conclusion of the talks and an agreement were not clear this morning”.
Referring to the European parliamentary elections, Gulyas said Hungary would “gain a great deal” if it had “MEPs promoting the Hungarian interest” after the elections, and he slammed Hungary’s leftist parties for “not being a part of that circle, based on their activities.”
The board of ruling Fidesz will finalise the party’s EP list before the end of this week, Gulyas said.
Concerning farmers’ protests in several European countries, Gulyas said: “Europe does not have the wisdom of the Hungarian government,” and he noted that Orbán had met protesting farmers in Brussels “spontaneously” on his way to meet the former Polish prime minister. Orbán was “the only premiere to speak with the protesters,” he added.
Gulyas said the government supported Sweden’s NATO accession and had submitted the issue to parliament. At the same time, he said it was important that “the vote takes place when the necessary majority is at hand, and that requires strengthening trust.”
“Since trust was lost due to the Swedes, this is their job,” Gulyas said. “Hungary has not engaged in blackmail or set conditions,” he added. The Swedish prime minister has been invited to Hungary, he noted.
He said the decision was now in the hands of the ruling parties’ parliamentary groups, noting that they command a two-thirds majority in parliament.
If the government made a mistake, it was making a promise on ratification that it could not fulfil on its own authority, he said.
Sweden’s accession would strengthen NATO but not to a significant degree, he said.
Regarding teachers’ wage hikes, Gulyas said teachers working in disadvantaged regions or with children in difficult circumstances were eligible for additional income and the majority of teachers were happy with the increase.
Responding to a question on the National Consultation public survey, Gulyas said the survey was a means to boost the government’s position in the EU, where it was in opposition “on countless issues”. He said a large majority of Hungarian citizens had responded, thereby underpinning the government’s negotiating position.
Asked about a town hall meeting in Soskut, near Budapest, regarding a planned metal recycling plant using cutting-edge technology which would create 160 jobs, Gulyas said it was “unacceptable” that the mayor and the head of the company looking to build the plant nearby had had to be rescued from the room. Issues such as worries over excessive water demand, a usual objection in the case of battery plants, “does not arise in this case”, he said. The town hall meeting would have been a way for residents to be fully consulted on the project, he added.
Meanwhile, Gulyas said Fidesz’s candidate for Budapest mayor in the local elections this year would be named by March. Fidesz will field its own candidate, but not necessarily a party member, he said.
On another topic, Gulyas said the government hoped the revamped Belgrade-Budapest railway line would be up and running in this government cycle.
Also, the government “is hoping to announce” the purchase of Liszt Ferenc International Airport “within weeks”, Gulyas said.
Regarding a possible tightening of Hungary’s child protection law, Gulyas said that enforcing current legislation “would put Hungary in a very good position in European comparison”. At the same time, he said all amendment proposals would be considered.
Gulyas said a new system of on-call medical services had proven a success, with faster and better services available where it had been introduced. The switch to this new system in Budapest is planned to take place in the second half of this year or in next year, he added.
In response to a question concerning whether local governments could keep operating such services if they finance them, he said health services were not a state monopoly and if any local government wanted to set up a doctor’s surgery, it was free to do so, and it would not be part of the state service.
Commenting on temporary suspension of certain hospital services, he said there were 38 such instances in the whole of Hungary in January, of which 8 only applied for a few hours and 5 for one day. Only three services had been suspended for more than 2 months, he added.
Commenting on Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto’s talks in Qatar, he said that until the final agreement was signed on LNG imports to Hungary he was unable to provide information on the possible routes or volumes. Hungary, he added, was ready to receive LNG but this is more expensive than piped gas.
He said the government was dedicated to diversification, but as long as several routes were available, Hungary must purchase the cheapest gas.
Gulyas welcomed Szijjarto’s recent talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, noting that the foreign minister had focused on demanding the restoration of the rights of ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia.
He said opposition Mi Hazank leader Laszlo Toroczkai’s comments on the annexation of Transcarpathia were “expressly irresponsible”, adding that Hungary would fulfil its international legal obligations.
Commenting on the participation of Gaspar Orbán, the son of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in a military mission in Chad, he said it was the role of the defence minister to appoint people for certain tasks. In response to a question, he said the fact that a soldier who spoke a foreign language was a member of a negotiating delegation was unproblematic.
Commenting on preparations for the day, February 11, when far-right activists mark the failed attempt by Nazi and allied Hungarian soldiers to break out of Budapest in 1945, he said the responsible authorities were working on it. At the same time, he added that the requirement to guarantee the freedom of movement made it difficult to prevent “far-right imports” from western Europe.
Regulations have already been amended to better restrict extremist gatherings, he said, adding that Budapest was “an island of peace in Europe” and the government was making every effort for this to remain the case. He said Hungary was cooperating with European Union allies concerning action taken against extremists.
In response to a question concerning potential plans to introduce caps on the price of fuel, he said the last time this had been done, the price of petrol would have been around 900 forints (EUR 2.4) per litre without the caps, which he said was currently far from being the case.
Commenting on a proposal by the Integrity Authority to amend the system of asset declarations, he said the proposal was worth considering. At the same time, he said Hungary’s asset declaration system was one of the most comprehensive in Europe.
In response to a question on solar panel tenders, he said no EU funding had been received so far except one advance payment. The left wing in Hungary, he said, was working to hinder EU payments for this project, adding that certain tenders had slowed down in order to see “if the monies can be acquired despite the efforts of the left wing”, he said.
Commenting on a question concerning the grandfather of pro-government publicist Zsolt Bayer, he said it was a reasonable expectation from anyone that if their parents or grandparents had committed crimes, they should make this clear. At the same time, “we must not punish the sons for the crimes of the fathers”, he added.
He also said that the grandfather of Klara Dobrev, the potential prime ministerial candidate of the Left, had been a “communist mass murderer”. Whereas Bayer has written a sincere article facing up to his grandfather’s actions, “no such thing could be seen from Dobrev”, he added.
In response to a question about “secret agent files”, he said there were no secret agent files, only state security documents, and “the government has done more than anyone else to make them public”. Some of these documents were stolen, he said, and others were counterfeit. Whereas some of the people called secret agents indeed deserved contempt, he said, others had been actually forced by blackmail to submit reports, and they would still not report anything, he added.