Gulyás: Hungary won't lose right to EU presidency

Gergely Gulyás said the prospect of Hungary losing the right to take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2024 “is not realistic”.

Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, told a government press briefing that the prospect of Hungary losing the right to take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2024 “is not realistic”. “Nowadays the most corrupt European institution, the European Parliament, is one to talk about corruption prevention and it judges member states, while the gravest corruption cases of the most repulsive and most spectacular kind are connected to MEPs,” he said.
Regarding Hungary’s support of Sweden joining NATO, Gulyás said parliament would approve its accession this year should two-thirds of Hungarian lawmakers support the proposal. Asked whether the Hungarian or Turkish parliament would be the first to adopt it, Gulyás said: “We have said we wouldn’t be the ones to hinder Sweden’s accession to NATO.” Gulyás said Hungary continued to expect answers from Sweden on “why they would want to become our allies in another alliance if they continue to be hostile to us in the EU”. On the topic of the extraordinary session initiated by the opposition for Monday, he said the parliamentary group of ruling Fidesz would stay away from the session. “There is currently no reason to hold an extraordinary session,” he added. Gulyás rejected press reports that Sándor Pintér would be replaced as interior minister in September as “untrue and utterly unfounded”. The government was set up for a four-year term, and changes are always connected to developments such as the resignation of Justice Minister Judit Varga from Aug. 1, who is slated to head Fidesz’s list for the European parliamentary elections next year.
Gulyás also told the government press briefing that Hungary has fulfilled the so-called enabling condition, the “milestone” related to the judiciary defined by the EC, adding that there could be no more obstacles to Hungary receiving funding from the EU’s seven-year budget. Hungary has sent invoices for 238 million euros in European Union funding for the 2021-2027 financial cycle to Brussels, of which the EU must pay 85%, or 202 million euros, Gulyás said. The EC has 90 days to confirm Hungary’s implementation of the enabling condition and 60 days to process the invoices and transfer the funds, he said. Most of the invoices are for advance payments from the Economic Development and Innovation Operative Programme Plus (GINOP) to fund small and medium-sized businesses, Gulyás said. Once Hungary receives the necessary funding from Brussels, teachers will be given a pay rise, he said, adding that the EC “owed” Hungarian teachers 800 billion forints.
Commenting on the state of the economy, Gulyás said the extremely difficult situation resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war, further worsened by European sanctions, appeared to be somewhat improving. The economic outlook is improving and economic growth will accelerate in the second half of the year, he added. Gulyás called “realistic” the growth target of 1.5% GDP contained in the 2023 budget — “or at least 1% ” — while 4% growth next year was “viable”. He said inflation was expected to decrease rapidly, and “if everything goes well, inflation will be in the single digits by as early as October, while every month from now on there will be 2, 3 or 4 percentage point drops.” Gulyás said the government had done much to shield households from the harmful effects of inflation, including the price caps on certain food products and the mandatory discounts supermarkets must offer regularly on a number of food products, which will be increased from 10 percent to 15% from August 1. He added that SZÉP voucher card balances could be used for purchases in supermarkets from next month, and the balances could be topped up by 200,000 forints. Gulyás said the government’s top priority was to tackle inflation, “but not everyone is involved in this struggle”. The authorities have imposed fines totalling 3.1 billion forints on entities trying to profit off inflation, he said. He said an inflation rate of 6% or possibly as low as 5% was realistic for next year. As regards the war in Ukraine, Gulyás said Hungary continued to urge a ceasefire and peace talks, arguing that this was the only way to “end the killing”. The most conservative estimates indicate that more than 310,000 people have died in the war, he said, adding that some estimates even put this figure at 700,000-800,000. Close to 10,000 of those were, he said, civilian casualties and at least 16,500 civilians had been wounded in the conflict, he said. Gulyás said all this demonstrated that the Hungarian government had been justified in calling for an urgent ceasefire and peace talks.
The head of the Prime Minister's Office also said the European Union's current migration-related proposals run counter to the interests of Europe. Such policies would boost immigration and result in the emergence of “migrant ghettos”, Gergely Gulyás told a regular press briefing. At the same time, he said it was welcome that the EP had listened to the objections of the Visegrad Group countries, Germany and the Netherlands to ramming through the proposals. He underlined Hungary’s objection to any kind of migrant redistribution mechanism and quotas, saying current proposals would undermine Europe’s interests while carrying the risk of asylum procedures being executed within the bloc’s borders. Migration pressure in Europe would mount significantly if the proposals were approved, he said, noting that the number of people seeking to enter Europe would already reach a record high this year. Hungary has spent 650 billion forints (EUR 1.7bn) on border protection so far, with the EU covering less than 1% of those costs. If the EU wants effective border protection and a well-functioning Schengen area, then the EC should compensate member states for their border protection costs or make significant contributions to them, he said.

What's more, Gulyás said the teaching profession was viewed by many as a source of secure income for the future, as demonstrated by the 10,514 applicants accepted to teacher training in Hungarian universities this year, the highest figure in the past six years. “There is a secure supply of new teachers in Hungary,” he added. Gulyás noted that university admission thresholds were announced on Wednesday, and he welcomed the fact that some 95,000 people were accepted out of more than 126,000 applicants. There was a 43% increase in the number of students admitted to universities outside Budapest and a 34% increase in the number of those admitted for technical, science, engineering and IT studies, he said. Eight out of every ten students will be able to start their studies with a state grant, he added. The government has decided to support the construction of the new campus for Károli University, providing 15 billion forints each in 2024, 2025 and 2026, and 45 billion forints in 2027. Construction is scheduled to be completed by 2027-2028 and Károli University will have a highly developed campus that meets all European demands and modern higher education requirements, he said.