Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: War situation deteriorating

"Common sense" is what must prevail in the June 9 European parliamentary elections, the head of the Prime Minister's Office said on Thursday, adding that one of the most important stakes in the ballot would be how strong the "pro-war forces" would be afterwards. Gergely Gulyas told a regular press briefing that the government had assessed what it saw as a worsening situation in the war in Ukraine at its latest meeting.

He said there were several reasons for the deteriorating situation, including the fact that Ukraine’s forces were having an increasingly hard time holding the positions that have been established in the last 1.5-2 years, and this was also the reason behind the forced conscriptions in the country.

Gulyas said the conscriptions were also happening in western Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region, which was no longer in a privileged position. He said ethnic Hungarians were also being conscripted into the army, but Hungary was not turning over anyone to Kyiv. Those on Hungary’s territory had a right to asylum and did not have to fear being turned over to Ukraine for forced conscription, he said.

Gulyas said the government considered remarks “irresponsible” that suggested a military intervention on Ukraine’s territory was necessary.

He said recent remarks by Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party, proposing the introduction of compulsory military service for both men and women in Europe had created “a new situation”. This proposal, Gulyas noted, came after comments by France’s president and more recently by Estonia’s prime minister, “who’s demanding the deployment of troops to Ukraine’s territory”.

The “biggest, specific institutional danger”, Gulyas said, was posed by NATO’s mission in Ukraine. He said that in the event that NATO forces wanted to enter Ukraine’s territory, Hungary’s interest was in the alliance reaching a decision that Hungary could be left out of. He said this meant that Hungary did not want to contribute soldiers or financially to the mission.

Meanwhile, the head of the PM’s Office said Hungary faced a fine due to not implementing a European court ruling, adding that voters would also be making a decision on the issue of migration in the EP elections.

Hungary faces the threat of needing to pay a daily fine worth around 6 million forints (EUR 15,000) for as long as it upholds its external border protection measures and migration-related laws, Gulyas said.

He said that as far as the government was aware, the ruling had already been reached by the Court of Justice of the European Union, but its announcement had been postponed until June 13, after the EP elections.

Gulyas said the decision was a clear demonstration of Europe’s approach to migration in the sense that while the view that it is necessary to protect the external borders was gaining traction, the European Commission was “attacking and having Hungary fined”, even though it had protected the bloc’s external border in an “exemplary fashion all the way long”.

He said that though the issue of migration had taken a back seat to the war, the EP elections would also be a decision about migration.

Gulyas called for sending MEPs to the EU’s legislative body who supported “the most stringent border protection measures” instead of supporting migration and a Europe with open borders.

Government spokesperson Eszter Vitalyos said that the app and website presenting the new Digital Citizenship Programme, which aims to expand paperless state administration, were up and running. She said the public was able to pre-register for the programme at government public administration offices.

The digital citizenship programme is available to those older than 14 and requires an ID and a smartphone, she said, noting that it will enable personal identification using the app from the autumn.

Meanwhile, she highlighted the developments and investment projects carried out in Hungary over the last two weeks, including the 1.3 billion euro polyol plant inaugurated by oil and gas company MOL in Tiszaujvaros, in the northeast. Further developments had a total value of 28 billion forints, she added.

Government websites are regularly hit by hackers, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said, adding that a 2022 cyberattack “of Russian origin” against the foreign ministry had not led to a leak of any confidential information.

Responding to a question, Gulyas said it was untrue that the Russian intelligence services had “severely compromised” the foreign ministry’s IT systems, noting that this was the reason why the ministry had denied those claims in 2022.

He noted that reports in the press had referred to a “highly unusual” cyberattack that led to a leak of confidential data, adding that a briefing he had requested had indicated that no one had gained access to any confidential information.

Gulyas said he had no knowledge of any diplomatic countermeasures taken after the cyberattack, adding, at the same time, that Hungarian government IT systems were regularly targeted in such a way from “numerous countries”, and he could not recall a case in which an ambassador would have been summoned over the matter.

Answering another question concerning whether the leak of information might have caused damage to Hungary’s allies, Gulyas said ‘no, in my opinion’.

He said he had no knowledge about any attacks that had been carried out by Russian hackers with success or about data leaked from the protected systems of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Hacker attacks happen on a daily basis, however any information on those must be kept classified in every country, Gulyas said.

He called the extraordinary parliamentary session initiated by the leftist opposition “a familiar component” of their election campaign, adding that the government’s response would also be “similar to earlie ones”.

He said Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto need not return an award received from Russia because the two issues were unrelated. If a state grants an award to a minister, it is normal to accept it, he said. Angela Merkel also received a US award after it had been reported that the US had tapped her phone, he added.

Speaking about the assassination attempt against the Slovak prime minister, Gulyas wished Robert Fico a speedy recovery, adding that “there is a level of inciting to hatred in politics that is neither acceptable nor legal”.

In response to a question concerning whether the government should take action in the case of “openly pro-war left wing campaigns,” and how far Hungary was behind Slovakia in terms of what happened to Fico, he said a distinction must be made between debates that were naturally part of public life and incitement to hatred which was unacceptable for everyone.

Even if it is dangerous for the country if some promote pro-war opinions, it still “remains within the limits of democratic political discourse”. This is a dispute, “with us believing that an immediate ceasefire and peace talks are needed and they believing that the war must be continued until Ukraine can recapture the areas that Russia had overtaken by violating international law”, he said.

Commenting on Fico’s attacker, he said the person had been “ideologically lost” for a long time but he has also been associated with several progressive leftist communities and he was certainly pro-war because most recently he had attended a demonstration demanding weapons for Ukraine and made comments to this end, he said.

In response to a question concerning whether government members and personally Prime Minister Viktor Orban had lately received any life threats, he said there were threats being made all the time and even if they were not individually reported they were taken seriously. The counter terrorism centre and police evaluate all such threats, he added.

Gulyas called a request by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor for an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “unacceptable”. He said the decision was a political rather than a legal one that discredited the ICC and showed that the United States administrations were “wise, in a way” never to have adopted the treaty on the ICC.

He said Hungary had ratified the treaty but had not incorporated it into Hungarian law, so “no measure in connection with this can be carried out in Hungary today”. He said it was “not good” when a court was being used as a “political tool”, noting that it should not be forgotten that the current developments in the Gaza Strip had been triggered by the terrorist attack suffered by Israel.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said a conference attended by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary that had been disrupted by Palestinian protestors had not been a state event. He added that if the organisers sought the help of the authorities because of the presence of a protected individual, the state did have a responsibility, but no such request had been made in this case.

Asked about the Article 7 procedure against Hungary, Gulyas said the law in Brussels was “meaningless”, and “only political will matters”. “This is something we have to live with,” he said, adding that “whoever thought the law matters more in the European Union than it did in the Soviet Union was wrong.” Still, he said, today’s world was a better one because of the absence of labour camps and physical violence, adding that he still believed that “Brussels is not Moscow.”

Gulyas said Hungary’s upcoming EU presidency and the progress of Ukraine’s EU talks were unrelated.

Asked if Prime Minister Viktor Orban would exercise his veto, Gulyas said that over the course of the talks, Hungary had made it clear what its minimal expectations were “in numerous areas” in order for the talks to advance. These, he noted, included the restoration of the rights the ethnic Hungarian community enjoyed before 2015.

Meanwhile, he said Hungary’s preparations for its EU presidency were “going excellently”, citing Janos Boka, the European affairs minister, as saying that the government intended to fulfil the presidency as a “neutral and fair mediator”. The presidency’s priorities, he noted, included economic competitiveness, security and defence policy, the common agricultural policy and demographic challenges.

Asked to comment on Herald Vilimsky, the top EP candidate of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), recommending Prime Minister Viktor Orban for European Commission president, Gulyas said the Hungarian PM was not interested in the position.

Commenting on Italian antifa activist Ilaria Salis’s nomination as an MEP candidate, Gulyas said it was “outrageous” that the European far left wanted to make an MEP out of someone who had committed “a brutal crime”. “Someone who brutally assaults peaceful pedestrians belongs in prison, not the European Parliament,” he said. Gulyas said they would not work with Salis if she won an EP mandate.

Concerning Democratic Coalition top MEP candidate Klara Dobrev’s accusation that President Tamas Sulyok was a “criminal”, which the Sandor Palace has denied, Gulyas said the left was getting “very crowded”, and Dobrev “doesn’t even shy away from making a false accusation for some publicity”.

He said it was untrue that the president had “helped circumvent the law as a lawyer”, insisting that Sulyok had been involved in the drafting of “completely lawful contracts”. He said there was no evidence to suggest that the German-language pocket contract involved in the case had been drafted in Hungary.

Gulyas said it was important that the Sovereignty Protection Office’s recent report on illegal campaign financing the leftist opposition has received should be “read by as many as possible”. He noted that accepting financing from abroad for political campaigns was illegal in Hungary since 1990, and asked “why does the left still keep receiving large sums from abroad aimed at winning power?” “If somebody comes to the conclusion that new politicians appearing on the left usually receive money from abroad … it does not appear unfounded to say that Peter Magyar, head of the Tisza party, also receives such sums, but statements like that should be supported by evidence,” he said.

Gulyas said Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony’s “silence” about foreign aid “raises the suspicion that the leftist parties did not start receiving financing from abroad in 2022 but earlier, in his his own mayoral campaign in 2019,” adding that “Karacsony should provide an answer and disprove the evidence published in the press.”

Magyar’s claim that “nobody supports war on the left” is “not true”, Gulyas said and referred to “earlier statements about sending weapons and suggesting even participation in the conflict on NATO’s side.”

On another subject, Gulyas said that nominating Gergely Kovacs, of the satyrical Two-tailed Dog party, for mayor of Budapest’s 12th district was “another step in the moral decay of the left” and suggested that “even drug dealers have a good chance to become leftist candidates.”

Referring to a decrease in the country’s investments, Gulyas said it was due to the war, but added that “growth figures are still good and a 9.8 percent increase in real wages is a “multiannual record”. He said higher prices of bread were generated by higher grain shipping and energy costs, and that the results of investment projects soon to be completed in the processing industry could soon be visible. He said the country had a good chance for an annual real wage increase between 8-10 percent, with inflation as low as 4-5 percent.

Concerning central bank governor Gyorgy Matolcsy’s “problems with the government’s competitiveness strategy”, Gulyas said “there may be differences of opinion between the central bank and the government … but it is very important that a dialogue is maintained.” He added that “the government and the national bank work together when it comes to key issues”.

Referring to world politics and the global economy, Gulyas said ties with Russia “are made extremely difficult by the EU sanctions”. Concerning China, he said the country had good chances to become “the strongest economic player” within ten years, but added that “the US also has the vital force to stay in competition”. “The chance, however, for the EU to be the third global economic player is fading in the wake of Brussels’ self destruction in the past decade,” he added. Hungary has a vested interest in building good economic ties with all world powers … the EU should not make the mistake of rejecting the economic opportunities China offers, for reasons of ideology,” the minister said. The EU’s protective import duties on Chinese electric cars could lead to European car makers losing Chinese markets, Gulyas said.

He also said Hungary’s recent nuclear cooperation agreements with China and Japan served security in the first place, adding that “technology cooperation does not mean building nuclear plants.”

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