Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

23 people have tested positive with the Delta variant in Hungary and two with the Gamma variant so far

Gulyas: Referendum on child protection to be held late 2021, early 2022

The referendum on child protection will be held at the end of 2021 or early 2022, and is expected to strengthen Hungary's position, the prime minister's chief of staff told a regular press briefing on Thursday.

Gergely Gulyas said the prime minister had announced the five-question referendum on child protection in response to the events of the past weeks, which the government saw as an “attack from Brussels”. If the referendum will be valid, the regulations will have to stay in force for three years, Gulyas said in response to a question. The government will specify the reinforced laws at a later date, and will announce whether further legislation has become necessary, he said.

Gulyas said there were, to his knowledge, no cases where gender reassignment surgery was promoted for minors in Hungary, and said the amendment was designed to prevent such cases. The issue is a “fight the whole of central Europe is engaged in, where we have to show that the region’s culture, values and identity are as much a part of the EU as that of Western Europe,” Gulyas said. A successful EU is “unimaginable” in the long term without their coexistence, he said.

Concerning the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund, Gulyas said an agreement had already been reached, but Brussels “re-opened” the issue after Hungary passed its child protection law, followed by continued “political accusations” and a media campaign launched against the country. Citing Hungary’s constitution, Gulyas said “human dignity is inviolable.” It is the state’s constitutional obligation to perform the tasks of child protection, he said.

A referendum probing Hungarians’ view on migration in 2016 contributed to the government’s success in stopping the EU from forcing mandatory resettlement quotas on Hungary, Gulyas insisted. A clear stance of Hungarians is the only tool in the government’s hands against the current infringement procedure, he said. It will help the government to create child protection measures in line with the citizens’ preferences, he said.

Hungary continues to strive for “loyal cooperation” with the EU, Gulyas said. “Hopefully, the European Commission’s head will be able to keep its institution in order,” he added. “It is particularly conflicting to see the Czech commissioner talk about corruption, as she herself had been in prison for graft,” he said. The government is continuing the talks on the use of the EU’s recovery fund, but will also allocate monies from the budget and announce tenders “to make sure that Hungarian voters feel the EU funding is secondary” to economic recovery, he said. EU funds are regularly pre-financed, and the government will continue that practice, he said.

It is in Hungary’s interest to stay in the EU, but it will maintain its right to influence the “club’s rules” and to decide on issues that lie within member state competencies, he said.

Regarding the spread of the coronavirus, Gulyas noted that tests by the National Public Health Centre (NNK) have shown the presence of the Delta variant in 14 new cases and the Gamma variant in one new case. Altogether 23 people have tested positive with the Delta variant in Hungary and two with the Gamma variant so far, he said.

Most experts agree that the Delta variant is spreading at a much faster pace than any other variants detected earlier, Gulyas said. Gulyas emphasised the importance of vaccination, insisting that it is the sole tool of protection against any variant of the virus. “Only a country where the number of vaccinations is very high will become protected,” he said, asking Hungarians who are yet to receive a vaccine to register for inoculation. Booster shots will be available from August 1, to be administered at least 4 months after the second shot unless the doctor advises otherwise, he said. It is imperative that public trust in the vaccine is maintained, he said.

Gulyas said that if EU funding will be withheld from Hungary at all, it will be because of the EU’s objections to the child protection law rather than risk of corruption as stated in the European Union’s recent report on the rule of law in Hungary.

Linking payments of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to “judiciary reform” in Hungary is “nonsensical”, Gulyas said. The Hungarian judiciary reform was concluded nine years ago in perfect coordination with the European Commission, and so the condition is actually a criticism of the previous Commission rather than the government, he said.

An agreement on the recovery funding is “up to the Commission … but our experiences in the past few days are not good”, he said. Since education is in the hands of the member states, the EC’s argument is “extremely weak”, he said.     Although Hungary’s EU membership “has no alternative”, the government rejects EU institutions’ attempts at “stealthy power grabs” and to claw competencies from member states, he said.

Hungary, among other member states in central European and elsewhere, rejects the EU’s Fit for 55 climate protection plan and stands by the view that the largest polluters, rather than EU citizens, should bear the costs of climate protection, Gulyas said.

Regarding press reports that some 300 Hungarians, opposition politicians and journalists among them, were wiretapped using Pegasus, an Israeli-developed spy software, Gulyas insisted there were no allegations of unlawful actions in the reports. “If everything was done within the bounds of the law, all is well,” he said.

The “artificially stoked hysterics” around Pegasus “fits well into the international environment the Hungarian government has had to face in the past few days”, he said.

No one was wiretapped because of their political views or because they are journalists, he said. “We support the national security council in fulfilling its analytic tasks. We do not support scare-mongering,” Gulyas said. National security procedures are subject to rigorous control mechanisms, and the harvested data can only be used for the purposes defined by law, he noted.

The Hungarian security services collected data only in line with the relevant regulations, he said. The procedures will be reviewed by parliament’s national security committee, he added. Referring to the opposition’s recent attempt to convene an extraordinary session of the committee, he said “the specific technology of data collection” did not warrant such a session.


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