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The PM’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás, said the government will announce on Monday support measures for shops in small settlements. Big retailers will not receive government support, however, he added. Various price caps will apply until the end of the year, he said, and any decision to prolong them will be made all in one go.
Gulyás said the rate of inflation was linked to a country’s exposure to the energy market, and Hungary is highly dependent on purchases of gas and oil, which explained why the country’s inflation rate was higher than the European Union average. Hopefully, gas prices will be lower next year, Gulyás said, adding that electricity balancing service providers would still enjoy healthy profits in spite of the new tax on excessive profits targeting them.
The minister said the government shared the view that teachers’ pay should be increased exponentially amid the current period of crises, and much of the European Union monies owed to the country would be channelled towards realising that goal should they be forthcoming. The budget will supplement the rest of the pay increase, while after 2025 it will assume the entire burden of paying teachers’ salaries. Discussions with the European Commission concerning the matter will be limited to the issue of wages, while other aspects such as the so-called career model — a pay scale linked to qualifications and experience — will not be on the table, he said. No plans are afoot to change the status of teachers as state employees, Gulyás said.
Meanwhile, on the subject of financial support for Ukraine, Gulyás said Hungary had agreed to delivering funding but Hungary’s contribution would be handed over bilaterally. Hungary opposed joint borrowing in 2020, and continues to do so, he said. On the subject of the judiciary, he said administration of the courts took place entirely independently from the government, and the government had no interest in the branch beyond ensuring its efficient administration.
Regarding ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, Gulyás said parliament was working to adopt the legislation necessary to conclude an agreement on EU funding with the European Commission. “Once the EC stops voicing new requirements,” parliament will have time to table the ratification, he said. Hungary supports Swedish and Finnish NATO membership, he said. “As we can count on them, so they can count on us,” he added.
Responding to a question on the government’s increased VAT revenues due to inflation, Gulyás said the surplus had been eaten up by increased inflation-related expenditures such as higher pensions. The government is also buying energy at higher prices, and so the excess spending will come to around 1,500-2,000 billion forints, he said. Commenting on German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz’s visit to China, Gulyás said Hungary would benefit from “free markets expanding worldwide”. The US’s objections stem from an ideological disagreement with China, but the EU must look to its own interests, he said. Hungary has a vested interest on the freest possible trade, he said.
Meanwhile, he said inflation in Hungary was expected to recede in the first quarter of 2023, as it is not directly linked to an agreement with the EC, he said. Commenting on the opposition Democratic Coalition’s campaign to collect money for households struggling to pay their energy bills, Gulyás said the price of electricity had doubled and gas tripled during the tenure of DK’s leader Ferenc Gyurcsány during his stint as prime minister between 2004 and 2009, while DK has also lambasted the current government’s efforts to cut household energy bills. “So it seems unclear what they are collecting money for, unless it is for party financing,” Gulyás said. He called the foreign funding of leftist parties “unlawful and a political outrage, which is being investigated by parliament’s national security committee”.
On another topic, Gulyás said that while Ukraine is a country under attack, its “biggest mistake is how it treats ethnic minorities”. That is incompatible with European legislation, and should be changed, “especially after Hungary supported Ukraine’s membership candidate status in the EU, and provided other aid,” he said. Commenting on reports that NATO was mulling the installing nuclear weapons in Europe, Gulyás said the report was a clear sign that the situation was moving towards “a cold war-like situation rather than a thaw”. Since the alliance’s member states were in disagreement on the issue, “Hungary cannot influence the events,” he said.