Gulyás: EU's strategy on Ukraine has failed

Support for Ukraine must be found in a way that “does not deprive the next European Parliament and European Commission of the opportunity to take meaningful decisions on these issues without resorting to joint borrowing,” Gergely Gulyás said.

Gergely Gulyás, Head of the Prime Minister's Office, said the European Union should offer Ukraine a privileged partnership for now but accession talks should not be on the table.
Minister Gulyás told a government press conference that Hungary stood in solidarity with Ukraine and the country extended significant financial and humanitarian support. “But this doesn’t change the fact that Ukraine has failed to fulfil the conditions to start EU accession talks,” he added, citing issues concerning national minorities and corruption and referring to decisions that had disadvantaged ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine. “We must state our agreement with former EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker who said that Ukraine’s accession would be a big mistake,” he said, adding that Juncker believed that “Ukraine is totally corrupt and not ready for EU membership,” Gulyás said that Hungary’s position concerning EU enlargement had been clear for a long time: ongoing enlargement procedures should be implemented first. Concerning EU support for Ukraine, Gulyás said taking out a joint loan would be unnecessary. Joint borrowing had been agreed on as a “one-off” when the recovery fund was decided on, he added.

Support for Ukraine must be found in a way that “does not deprive the next European Parliament and European Commission of the opportunity to take meaningful decisions on these issues without resorting to joint borrowing,” Gulyás said, adding that the EU’s strategy on Ukraine had “failed” and a strategic review was needed. A new public survey would be a good way of allowing Hungarian voters to express their views on supporting Ukraine, its EU membership, arms shipments and grain deliveries, he said. Meanwhile, Gulyás said that inflation in Hungary would be pushed into the single digits by the end of November. The Central Statistical Office will have compiled October’s inflation data by Friday afternoon, which is expected to be around 10%, he said. Inflation will fall further in December and is expected to be just over 7% by year-end, he said. He said a significant increase in Hungary’s two standardised minimum wages will be implemented at the start of next year. “Even the most pessimistic calculation indicates an increase above the rate of inflation, and the hikes will cover both the state and the non-state sector,” Gulyás said. “2024 will be the year of wage increases and economic growth,” he said, adding that Hungary’s economy was forecast to grow at the fastest pace in the region.

Regarding migration, he said that according to intelligence reports, migrants were becoming increasingly aggressive at the southern border and border patrol officers often faced life-threatening situations. EU politicians’ statements on the issue “increasingly point in the direction of common sense”, while the EU was “still trying” to render border protection “impossible legally and physically”, he said. “A prime example is ongoing court proceedings against Hungary because of its effective border protection, and Brussels probably wants to make Hungary pay a daily penalty for stopping migrants at the border,” he said. The government found such attacks “unacceptable”, he said, adding there was a need for change in approach at the level of the EU and between member states, Gulyás added. Gulyás said a decision was made at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday to tighten the immigration law according to the guiding principle that “Hungary belongs to Hungarians”. The bill would regulate the legal grounds that can be used to qualify for residence and the specific period of time allowed, with a complete ban on extensions. It also allows for immediate deportation should migrants break “the basic rules of community coexistence or the law”, he said.

These rules would also apply to foreign guest workers, who, otherwise, would only get a job in Hungary if no Hungarian employee was available to take it, he said. Gulyás said the rules would be worked out in such a way as to render it impossible for there to be a greater number of guest workers in Hungary than vacant positions. Meanwhile, he said the government plans to submit a bill to parliament on digital citizenship next week. The scheme is designed to allow citizens to conduct their businesses, show IDs and provide e-signatures using their mobile phones, Gulyás said. Later on, the scheme will cover the payment of public utility bills, he added. Gulyás said it was imperative for Hungary “to take a huge leap forward in digitalisation” in the interest of making its economy competitive in the medium to long term simplifying the conduct of business and streamlining the state bureaucracy. Answering a question, Gulyás said the government had information that a large part of funds from cybercrime, some 20 billion forints, had been channelled to Ukraine. The interior ministry will brief the public on its investigation, he added. Meanwhile, referring to an appeal by civil rights group TASZ concerning the police banning pro-Palestinian demonstrations, Gulyás said: “The government has made it clear that there will be no demonstration in support of terrorists.” “Our view is that there are extremist opinions whose expression can be restricted, but we await the court ruling,” he added.

Concerning the recent sacking of the director of the National Museum over “artwork promoting homosexuality”, Gulyás said leaders “must be able to interpret the law and make decisions accordingly”. He said the government was keeping an eye on the enforcement of the child protection law, adding that sex education was primarily a parental task and “the involvement of civil organisations is not needed”.
Asked about Hungary’s support for Sweden’s NATO accession, Gulyas said parliament would make a decision once a two-thirds majority had emerged backing ratification. “For the time being, we don’t see this would be especially important to the Swedish government, and as long as it is unimportant to the Swedes, it need not be important to us, either,” he added. Asked about reports that the ruling Fidesz party’s popularity had dropped in Debrecen, in eastern Hungary, in connection with a battery plant to be built near the city — and would the government consider changing its position on the planned construction — he said polls should be treated “with restraint”. “If we want green energy, then we must take care of storing it,” he said, adding that today’s batteries were incomparable to the batteries of fifty years ago. “There has been consent in Hungary on taking steps towards green energy, and we expect the authorities to enforce the strictest environmental regulations.”

Asked about Fidesz’s candidate for the mayor of Budapest, he said several possible contenders had proven their skills in recent years, and he mentioned Zsolt Láng, Balázs Fürjes and Zsolt Wintermantel as potential candidates. Meanwhile, Gulyás said that freezing Hungary’s EU funding was “unfair from the point of competitiveness”, adding, however, that economic forecasts for next year indicated that the fastest economic growth in the region would be in Hungary, even without the arrival of EU support. “It would be important for Hungary to receive the resources it is entitled to, but these represent only 1-2% of GDP, and the country can function without them,” he said. Gulyás also said a bill on Hungary’s sovereignty will be submitted to parliament next week, he said. Among its duties, a “sovereignty authority” to be established under the new law will be entitled to investigate political parties that receive foreign support, he added. In line with regulations to be submitted to parliament on Tuesday, the acceptance of foreign support by parties will be a criminal act, he said, Commenting on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s remarks at the Turkic Council concerning the Azerbaijani occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, he said Azeri President Ilham Aliyev played a stabilising role in the region. Western state leaders frequently visit Astana, he said, and Orban’s congratulation was “not connected to an assessment of the Azeri-Armenian conflict”, he added. “Armenia’s territorial integrity is an important value, and we are loyal to Armenians,” he said. “We are also launching aid programmes in Armenia,” Gulyas added.