Hungarian government to extend interest rate freezes

Gergely Gulyás, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said the rate freezes affect 30,000 businesses and 300,000 families.

The Hungarian government will extend interest rate freezes for small and medium-sized businesses, families and student loans.

At a regular press briefing held on Thursday, Gergely Gulyás, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said the rate freezes affect 30,000 businesses and 300,000 families, adding that they needed to be protected from “high-interest rates caused by Brussels’s ill-advised sanctions and the war”. The rate freezes are being extended until April 1 for SMEs and until July 1, 2024, for families and student loan holders, he said. Gulyás said the measures have so far helped businesses save 2.5 million forints each and left 420,000 forints with each family. Meanwhile, Gulyás said that the government would provide companies with a grant for setting up green energy storage. The cabinet launched earlier a scheme with 70 billion forints for households to install solar panel systems and energy storage capacity he said, adding that so far several tens of thousands of families had applied for and received grants under the scheme. The cabinet has now decided to expand the storage scheme for businesses, he said, adding that they could initially apply for central budget support and later for funding under the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. Businesses can submit their bids until February 5 next year and are required to complete their projects by April 30 in 2026, said Gulyás. Answering a question, Gulyás said minimum wages would increase on December 1, but some of the benefits would only increase in January or February. Concerning proposed changes to the election of the Budapest Assembly, Gulyás said both the current and the proposed system were democratic and district mayors would not be excluded from the assembly in the new system. Answering another question, he said the government supported Sweden’s NATO accession, but added that “there have been many reasons for (ruling) Fidesz MP’s to have concerns” and parliament would vote “when (the bill) has sufficient support”. Answering a question about the leftist opposition’s “attacking” the sovereignty protection law, Gulyás said “if somebody serves foreign interests and lets themselves be influenced by foreign interests they will not support an authority promoting the transparency of politics and ensuring its being free of influencing”. “There are international forces rather than (Hungarian) voters behind the Left,” Gulyás said, adding that critics of the new legislation could appeal to the Constitutional Court. Answering questions about cooperative efforts by the opposition ahead of next year’s European Parliamentary elections, Gulyás said “On the left side Ferenc Gyurcsány continues to be the boss, it will happen as he wants.” He slammed the Momentum Movement for MEP Anna Donath’s supporting Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony “also supported by Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition (DK)”, while Momentum had earlier rejected the possibility of cooperation.

“Momentum’s MPs and mayors are now switching over to DK one by one,” Gulyás insisted. In response to a question, Gulyás said the government expected Ukraine to restore pre-2017 national minority rights, especially in the area of education. He said the current Ukrainian bill introduced no further restrictions, but while it restores some of the rights taken away, “we are still not where we used to be”. Commenting on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, he said Hungary’s position was persistently calling for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks. “The war is because Russia has attacked Ukraine, so Russia’s responsibility cannot be questioned,” he said. “It is another matter whether Ukraine acted wisely when it narrowed down the rights of nationalities,” he added. In response to a question concerning recent talks between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President of the European Council Charles Michel, he said the EU budget, financing for Ukraine, and the potential EU accession of the country had been among the topics discussed. He said a German Green MEP’s remarks following a visit in Ukraine stating that Transcarpathia Hungarians were in the best possible situation lacked seriousness. Commenting on hospital waiting lists, he said they were significantly shorter in Hungary than in some developed European countries. The Ministry of the Interior is preparing a programme to further shorten the lists, he added. In response to a question concerning why ruling Fidesz had not yet appointed a candidate for Budapest mayor, he said the party board had not finalised its decision concerning this issue. Commenting on the law on guest workers, he said when anyone wants to fill a job with a foreigner, they must report this to the labour office. If Hungarians are available to fill the job then they must be given preference, he added. Meanwhile, Gulyás announced that the government would buy a stake in Budapest Airport “in a few weeks”, adding that the necessary funds were at the government’s disposal. He said the purchase was aimed at improving Hungary’s economic position and added that the airport was “a hen laying golden eggs”. He also added that more tourists could visit Hungary contributing to higher tax revenues. He also suggested that the facility would require major developments. While the Hungarian state will only partly own BA, collecting “some one half” of its revenues, “indirect revenues once the developments are completed will amount to several times as much,” Gulyás insisted. The new sovereignty protection authority will not have powers over the press and “cannot curb the freedom of editors,” Gulyás said.