Gergely Gulyás, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that during times of war, the defense budget has to be increased. Gulyás said the 2024 defense budget would be “significantly more generous” in terms of operations and development than this year. Also, a wage increase in line with inflation is necessary, he said, adding that the government continued to urge an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.
During his weekly press briefing, Gulyás also said the government is renewing frozen interest rates for retail borrowers and small and medium-sized businesses and will keep the policy in place until the base rate drops to below 10%. He noted that the interest rate freeze on retail loans was introduced in January 2022 and expanded to SMEs in November. The rate of inflation and, consequently, the base rate makes it impossible to scrap the measure, he said. As soon as the central bank base rate drops to below 10%, the government will phase out the freeze on interest on loans. The government expects inflation to fall into single digits by the end of the year, he noted. Phasing out the rate freeze now would place too great a burden on many families and SMEs, Gulyás said. The extension of the rate freeze directly helps more than 300,000 families with over 1,360 billion forints (EUR 3.7bn) in credit, he said. The freeze saved them 80 billion forints in 2022 and 60 billion in the first half of 2023, he added. The measure also affects more than 28,000 SMEs, with close to 1,000 billion forints in loans, and has saved them 80-85 billion forints since its introduction in November 2022, he added.
As regards the war in Ukraine, Gulyás said Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to Hungary late last month reaffirmed the government’s position that urges an immediate ceasefire and peace as “the only morally right one”. With the pope being pro-peace, “we can say that Hungary’s stance received the strongest possible moral support,” he said. If the Vatican is preparing a peace plan, as the pope indicated, Hungary will support that peace mission, Gulyás said. The extent of the destruction, he said, was “already unfathomable”. “Hundreds of thousands have died, and only a ceasefire can save lives,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said the amendment of the law on the judiciary ensured that Hungary would comply with all requirements for the disbursement of European Union cohesion funds “within weeks”. He insisted that although the “demands were baseless”, Hungary had complied and often exceeded EU demands. “In about a month’s time, we hope to be able to send invoices to Brussels and get payments in return,” he added. The funding would flow from sections of the EU’s budget for the 2021-2027 financial cycle that does not fall under the rule-of-law conditionality procedure but from its Resilience and Recovery Facility set up against the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Gulyás said. The government aims to ensure access to all resources, he added. “There is serious opposition to that in Brussels and among Hungary’s leftist opposition, but we ask them to stand on the side of Hungarian teachers, health care and the economy,” he said.
Photo credit: MTI