Gergely Gulyás, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, said the government has speeded up payments of wage subsidies to companies, adding that employers have applied for a total 40 billion forints, of which the government offices so far approved nearly 36 billion forints and paid out 35.5 billion.
Asked about a proposal by the opposition Socialist Party to give 10,000 forint (EUR 28) vouchers to those who get themselves vaccinated, Gulyás noted that the vaccines are purchased using public funds and are administered free of charge. “The demand that people who receive an expensive vaccine for free be given money defies common sense,” he said, adding that the proposal, however, was “only one-tenth as insane” as the opposition Momentum Movement’s suggestion that people be given 100,000 forints.
Concerning a decision by several local councils to ease their rules on mask-wearing, Gulyás said it was their job to determine what kinds of rules were necessary, adding that the government respected these decisions. He said the government is expected to decide on a potential easing of lockdown measures in two weeks’ time based on the results of the National Consultation public survey and case numbers.
Gulyás said the reopening of the borders was expected to be the last step in the process of lifting Hungary’s lockdown measures, even though every country has an interest in restarting the tourism industry.
Asked about government compensation for local councils affected by lower business tax revenues, Gulyás said he was scheduled to soon meet the mayors of county-seat cities. Asked if the government supported the Budapest municipality’s package aimed at rebooting the hospitality industry after restrictions are lifted, Gulyás said the municipal council was “on the right track” but the package “is only a small step”. The government is preparing several measures aimed at helping the sector in addition to waiving the rent payable to the state or local council for premises, he said.
On another subject, Gulyás dismissed as “fake news” media reports that Budapest would only be given a yearly 700 million forints in EU funds in the 2021-27 funding cycle. Budapest will receive up to 1,000 billion forints in development funds, he said, adding that the capital had been allocated more than 20% of the available funds in the previous cycle. Concerning a letter by the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, urging consultations between municipalities and the central government over utilisation of European recovery funds, Gulyás said that the government was “planning the next development cycle in cooperation with local governments”. He added that the mayor has the power “to convene the Municipal Public Developments Council at any time”.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said the government “had nothing to do” with the decision to strip commercial Klubrádió of its broadcast licence, noting that the matter had been decided in court based on violations “that not even Klubrádió contested”. “All such cases offer an opportunity for defamation … against Hungary,” he added.
Also, Gulyás said parliament was expected to reconsider the law on plastic waste earlier criticised by the Constitutional Court.
On the subject of an initiative by the Hungarian Olympic Committee to bid to hold the Summer Olympics in Hungary in 2032, Gulyás denied the government had anything to do with it.
Concerning planned regulations of social media, Gulyás said the aim was to keep Facebook users’ personal data safe and ensure that the right to limit freedom of speech lay exclusively with the state. He also welcomed Facebook’s payment of 3.8 billion forints in advertising tax to the central budget in 2017-18 as “a great achievement”.
On the subject of higher education, he noted that a bill concerning changes to the operational structure of universities will be tabled in parliament in the spring.
On the topic of delinquencies in national insurance contribution payments, Gulyás said people with six months of arrears have been offered the chance to pay them in instalments, but those who don’t take up the opportunity before the Feb. 12 deadline will be stripped of their national insurance numbers that entitle them to free health care. Around 70,000 people have fallen behind with their payments, while “several tens of thousands” have now settled their debt.
Gulyás said that a contract with Budapest’s prestigious Gundel restaurant under which Gundel provided daily meals to the prime minister’s offices had been terminated by the restaurant rather than the government, adding that in future the Hungarian army will provide the relevant catering.