In an interview published on Monday with hirado.hu, Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that the aim of their policy is to form an alliance, not to stand apart. Moreover, he also talked about the opposition’s politics in Brussels.
EU, Hungary, and Budapest
Paradoxically, the main task is to show that we are keen to join the queue. So we do not enjoy isolation per se, even if we have gained experience and there is some beauty in it – there are so many examples of heroic isolation in Hungarian history and literature – but our policy is to form alliances- at home and abroad. We want a strong European Union of strong nations and a strong Central Europe. We are never proud to stand alone in EU debates, and we regret it when we have to stand alone, but this is essential if we are to prevent decisions that ignore Hungary’s interests, the Minister said in an interview with hirado.hu.
Gergely Gulyás said, among other things, that Russian oil is impossible to be replaced by any other, despite the fact that the government had done everything in its power over the last several years to secure alternative energy sources. Diversifying energy sources has been a constant goal for Hungary since the regime change over three decades ago, he said.
“While Hungarian post-Communist governments all paid lip service to diversification, we were the ones to do the most… while the country could import gas only from Austria and Ukraine when we came to power in 2010, we now have interconnectors with six of our seven neighbors,” he said.
“The problem is that over the last thirty years, Europe has failed to satisfy the demand for alternative sources of raw materials and energy,” Gulyás said. “Until alternative sources are in place, we’ll be heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas. Once the Greek-Bulgarian interconnector is finally completed. we’ll also have the option of importing gas from Azerbaijan.”
He said the government understood that the EU could not turn a blind eye to Russia’s aggression. Because the government did not want to break the bloc’s unity on its response, Hungary backed the first five sanctions packages against Russia, he noted. But when the sixth package was put forward after Member States had reached a consensus on rejecting the possibility of an energy embargo at the summit in Versailles, Hungary had no choice but to make it clear that it relies on Russian oil for the security of its energy supply, Gulyas added.
He also said that the government wants Hungary to catch up with the standard of living in Western Europe. “This has been the goal of Hungarian policies since the change of regime, and we’ve taken big steps towards reaching it in the past decades. We are still doing everything we can to ensure this continues.” Gulyás said the average wage under the previous Socialist governments had been lower than the minimum wage is now, and the standard of living had risen over the past decade.
Central Europe must keep the competitive advantage it has over western Europe in areas like public security, social peace, its opposition to immigration, and the view that parents are right to think that their children could have a better life than they had, Gulyás said.
He noted that Hungary’s GDP is 74 percent of the EU average, with the country having overtaken Portugal. “But we have to keep moving forward, and the goal is to reach the EU average in the foreseeable future,” he said. “And if we keep going at the rate we were over the previous government cycle, then — in spite of all the difficulties, the war, and the recovery from the pandemic — we’ll have reason to be satisfied with this cycle as well.”
Regarding the Budapest municipality and Mayor Gergely Karácsony, Gulyás said the government respected the rights and autonomy of local governments, as enshrined in the Fundamental Law. The government does not intend to force the municipality’s hand on contentious issues, “even though we might get further if the relationship between the government and the municipality wasn’t determined by party lines,” he said.
Opposition’s EU politics
Gulyás called on the opposition to stop “trying to block agreements between Hungary and the EU at every turn, such as the agreement on the [pandemic] recovery fund and of the 2021-2027 financial framework.” Those actions “do not harm the government but rather teachers and doctors, whose wage raises would be financed from the funds.” He continued: “Whether it’s a matter of the heart or of color, we would welcome the opportunity to present a common political position on these issues. The first sign of this would be if left-wing MEPs and their colleagues in the groups they are lobbying would stop digging their heels in to stop Brussels from giving us the money we are entitled to from the European Union under EU law, including the money for the teachers’ pay raise and the doctors’ pay raise.”
He said the government would welcome a cross-party stance on the issue, as a “first sign that leftist MEPs and members of their party groups, whom they have fired up, will stop undermining our opportunities to receive the EU monies we are entitled to.”
Asked about the recently introduced windfall tax on large companies, Gulyás said the current economic climate was determined by recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which brought about inflation, and the war in Ukraine, which exacerbated it. War-time inflation has a visible impact on the economy, and “it is as yet impossible to know how far it will go as no one can foretell when the war is going to end,” he said.
“The conservative, balanced economic policy exercised by the Hungarian government is the most effective answer to this,” he said. “We are asking sectors with large profits, where profits often grew during the crisis, to increase their share of the tax burden,” he stressed, adding that this is the reason for this, that they have a good chance of keeping the budget deficit at 4.9 percent this year, and that although the risks for the global economy next year are more numerous than at any time in recent decades, it is still entirely realistic that they can reduce the budget deficit to 3.5 percent.
Thanks to these steps, Hungary will probably not exceed a 4.9 percent budget deficit in 2022, and hopefully slash it to 3.5 percent next year, despite the risks in the world economy, he said.
Meanwhile, the government will increase funding for family allowances and protect its utility fee cut scheme, he said.
Featured image via Noémi Bruzák/MTI