Gulyas: Government to implement ‘anti-war action plan’

The government has decided to implement an anti-war action plan, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said on Monday. Gergely Gulyas told a regular government press briefing that measures would be introduced against “pro-war propaganda”. Parties and media outlets will be obliged “to make their resources transparent,” he said. As Hungarian law forbids political parties from accepting financing from abroad the measure will apply only to media outlets, Gulyas said, adding that those outlets would be required “to make their funding resources public”.

“Hungary reserves the right to send funding arriving from abroad for war propaganda purposes back to the sender,” he said.

He said the task to draft the regulatory framework had been assigned to the justice minister. “The EU has a regulation in place but the government seeks to have a bit more rule-of-law-like solution,” he added.

Regarding the EU regulations, Gulyas said such “a rough, radical regulation violating the freedom of opinion and speech” could not be introduced in Hungary within its constitutional framework.

Under the government’s decision, banks, multinational companies and energy companies that have been generating wartime extra profits will have to pay a “defence contribution” to the National Defence Fund, said Gulyas. He said in 2024 there would be “no substantial change” in the scale of the bank levy for lenders whose holdings of government securities had not increased, adding that “many banks had exploited a loophole on government security purchases.” He added that the transaction duty payable by banks would be raised, and a duty would be levied on forex transactions.

A freeze of retail bank account fees and bank card fees will be introduced this year to prevent lenders from passing on the defence contribution to families, he said, adding that the windfall profit tax payable by multinational companies and the energy sector, and the retail tax would not be lowered in 2024.

On another topic, Gulyas called it “the right move” by Prime Minister Viktor Orban from the point of view of Europe, and Hungary, to embark on a peace mission at the start of Hungary’s rotating EU presidency this month. “Peace cannot be achieved without a direct dialogue with the warring sides.” “Big countries in Europe are now dominated by war-propaganda, but somebody must speak for the victims and families torn apart as well,” Gulyas said. He said achieving peace required primarily the inclusion of leading powers which was why after his talks with the leaders of the warring sides the prime minister had travelled to Beijing to hold consultations with the Chinese president. “Hungary wants to be in touch with every country that could contribute to achieving peace, and wants to talk to every political leader who could take steps to end the war as soon as possible and for achieving a ceasefire and start peace talks,” said Gulyas.

“Hungary knows where its place is as the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, it does not have a concrete peace plan, because it can only be worked out together with the [warring] sides,” he said.

Gulyas said Hungary’s peace mission was seen by many “with suspicion” or was opposed, adding that the country was facing “political, legal and financial blackmail to join the pro-war camp”. “It is hard not to regard the European Court’s recent ruling in connection with migration [against Hungary] as such blackmail,” he added, insisting however that Hungary would not change its position that “every political step must serve the goal of ending the war”.

The government is calling on energy companies to continue to adhere to an agreement reached with the government, under which fuel prices should be kept under the average price in neighbouring countries, Gulyas said.

Fuel prices “have been driven down” compared with those in April and May, he said. Fuel is down by 32 forints and diesel by 30 forints compared with the April peak, he said. At the same time, the price of petrol was 4 forints higher last week than the average in neighbouring countries, according to data from the Central Statistical Office, while diesel was 10 forints dearer, he said.

The government is expecting fuel retailers to take steps to remedy the “unfair situation”, Gulyas said.

Gulyas said the government expected all players in air travel to prepare action plans to tackle delays, including air control company HungaroControl. He called on the sector to ensure that passengers are adequately informed and that ground crews “radically speed up processes”, he said. The consumer protection authority is instructed to impose hefty fines in cases of significant delays, he added. Currently, 12 such procedures are under way, he added.

Gulyas said in 60 percent of the cases the airline companies were to blame for delays, adding that in such cases it was “crucial that the consumer protection authority imposes painful fines that cause serious damage to the company”.

“We cannot see an alternative to making it unprofitable for them to take the risk,” he added. In the summer season there might be delays, but flights should not be delayed for several hours. “There is especially no reason to prevent passengers from receiving all information to enable them to decide what they should do before their flight,” he said.

Passengers waiting at the airport should receive maximum services and should be provided with all their basic needs, he added.

He also pointed to “bad practices” around airlines leaving too little time for passengers to board flights or reclaiming their baggage, which could “result in huge delays by the afternoon”.

Noting that European air traffic was on course to break an earlier record set in 2019, Gulyas said: “If a flight cannot take off in time, the delay may often increase from 10-20 minutes to one or two hours before it is provided another opportunity to depart.”

Meanwhile, government spokeswoman Eszter Vitalyos announced that the period for pre-natal loan-holders will be extended. She said the introduction of the system in 2019 had been followed by several “negative, vis-major type developments”, such as the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine or the energy crisis. All those hardships have made it difficult for families “to implement their plans to have babies”, she added.

Vitalyos noted that currently “a couple hundred” families were at the end of the five year period allowed to have the babies they had made a commitment for, but added that the number could amount to several thousand by the end of the year. “The government thinks it will be great help to those families if the deadline is extended by two years,” she said.

On another subject, Vitalyos said the government has launched an online system for patients to make reservations for health services. Up to now, over 4,000 practices have joined the system and made their available dates accessible online, but “the number will increase by the month” and help to reduce waiting lists. Over 3 million patients have downloaded the application, with 2.5 million visits each month, she said, adding that in the first five days of July alone 504 reservations had been made.

Responding to questions about Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s visits to Ukraine, Russia and China, Gulyas said the trips “were made public [at the location of the meeting]”, a practice that “would be worth continuing”, Gulyas said. Immediately after the talks, Orban “briefed EU officials accurately and thoroughly on the trip, as well as on his views on how the EU could promote peace talks,” Gulyas said.

Whereas Orban travelled to Moscow in his capacity as the Hungarian prime minister and the holder of the rotating presidency of the council of the EU, “he did not conduct talks in the name of the EU”, he said. Reviewing ties of the bloc and a third country during the visit of a member state leader was common practice, he added.

Gulyas said Orban had told Xi during his Beijing visit that the timing of peace depended on the “big players in world politics”, and this would be greatly aided by China “joining the cause”. Should the United States also join, “we’ll have peace very soon indeed,” he added.

Regarding Orban’s upcoming visit to Washington, DC, Gulyas said: “During a peace mission, meetings with people who can promote and help peace are advisable.” Asked whether Orban was scheduled to meet former US president Donald Trump, Gulyas said: “Trump is more of a member of that circle than the current administration.”

Meanwhile, Gulyas called the first week of the Hungarian EU presidency “successful”, adding that Orban would “continue his peace mission”.

“Attacks in Brussels on the peace mission” may ease up, he said, adding that this would largely depend on the outcome of the US election. “Should the current situation remain and the Republicans prevail, many European leaders will declare themselves pro-peace,” he added.

Commenting on Robert Fico, Gulyas praised the Slovak prime minister’s “courage”, and he quoted Fico as saying that had his health allowed, he would have joined Orban on his visit to Moscow.

Regarding Orban’s talks in Kyiv, Gulyas said “promises” were made on improving the situation of Transcarpathia Hungarians “from a higher level than before”. If the rights they have secured by 2005 may be guaranteed, that would greatly improve ties between the two countries, he said. Should that not happen, that would hinder Ukraine’s EU accession “and even the accession negotiations after a certain point”.

Regarding the new EP party family, Patriots for Europe, Gulyas said there was a “good chance” that the French National Rally (RN) and the Italian Lega parties would join the group, “a community of parties with similar stances on sovereignty” with more than 10 founding members and the potential to become the third largest force in the EP. Alternativ fur Deutschland (ADF) would not be joining the group, he added.

While Patriots for Europe “will not change majority relations within the EP”, he said it would nonetheless create a forum that provided visibility for “European forces that remain truly conservative, stand against the war and want peace, but also reject all right-wing extremism while also being aware that Europe is currently threatened by liberal and left-wing extremism.”

Patriots for Europe, he added, would start out with 80-90 MEPs, and the founding meeting will be held on later on Monday.

Commenting on the outcome of the general election in France, Gulyas said the will of French voters must be respected, and “the winner must be congratulated, even if there is no clear winner”. The result “is a three-party government where a governing majority will not be easy to bring about”, he added.

Asked about the so-called defence contribution, he said revenues from the measure were expected to be close to 400 billion forints (EUR 1bn). The relevant regulations will be published this week, to come into force from Aug 1, he said.

On the matter of changes to bank transaction fees, Gulyas said the fee would be increased from 0.3 percent to 0,45 percent, with the ceiling raised from 10,000 forints to 20,000 forints. Fees on cash withdrawals will be raised to 0.95 percent from 0,6 percent, but withdrawals up to 150,000 forints will remain free, he added. Conversions would carry a 0.45 percent fee with a 20,000 forint ceiling, he said.

The national economy ministry and others have coordinated with all involved parties, and “the decision did not come as a surprise”, he said.

Utility price caps will not be phased out, Gulyas said in response to a question on the possible effects of extra taxes on the energy sector being channelled into the defence fund.

The justice minister will draft the regulations on “parties and media engaging in war propaganda” by September, Gulyas said.

Concerning fuel prices, Gulyas said the national economy ministry was in talks with distributors on pushing them down. He added that regulatory tools were available but “the government will only use them as a last resort”.

Market restrictions could be used “very cautiously” in the case of products that affect the everyday life of families, he said.

Commenting on a recent ruling by the Kuria, Hungary’s supreme court, to recount all votes cast in the Budapest mayoral election, Gulyas said: “Everything is in place to do that in transparently to retain and reinforce public trust.”

With over 800,000 votes cast, and with a difference of just 41 votes between the two candidates, “it’s likely there’d be a recount anywhere in the democratic world…” A lesson from the recent election, he added, was that there should be a uniform protocol for erasing from the voting sheets candidates who withdraw. Also, the difference in the number of votes between two candidates automatically requiring a recount should be defined, he said.

Asked about a “clubbing scandal” involving Peter Magyar of the opposition Respect and Freedom (TISZA) party, Gulyas said Magyar’s behaviour been “unworthy of a public figure”. Put to him that Magyar had been “hiding behind his MEP’s immunity”, Gulyas said that had Magyar committed a crime “he could not waive his immunity; it is the European Parliament that would lift it”. He also noted that Magyar had “pledged in the election campaign not to take up his mandate and go to Brussels if he won.”

“He is going to Brussels to become an MEP… We cannot exclude that his main motivation is to obtain immunity.”

Answering a question about whether Hungary was considering quitting the International Criminal Court, Gulyas said Hungary should have “followed the wisdom of the US” and not joined the court in the first place. “[But] there’s little point in quitting; Hungary has never ratified the treaty so it has no legal effect,” he said. “The international community does not need a court that makes its decisions based on political considerations,” he added.

Concerning a new coronavirus variant Gulyas said it was not comparable to the original strain and was causing much milder symptoms, therefore special measures were not justified.

Asked about Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Hungary, who was fast-tracked Hungarian citizenship had was now charged with sexual assault, Gulyas said citizenship was granted to people “subjected to the strictest national security screening” but the Hungarian state “has not disclosed and will not disclose information on its citizenship registry.”

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