Olivér Várhelyi is the right man for the job of Hungary’s European commissioner, Gergely Gulyás, the chief of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a government briefing on Thursday.
Várhelyi is one of the best-known Hungarian officials in the EU and his professional skills are beyond doubt, he said. Further, as a diplomat, he has been pushing to prevent immigration being forced onto member states.
Várhelyi also had a role in ensuring that the decision on a mandatory resettlement quota applied temporarily and that Brussels understood Hungary’s standpoint, even if it did not ultimately accept it.
Gulyás said that former justice minister Lászlo Trócsányi had enjoyed political legitimacy, having topped the ruling Fidesz party’s European Parliament election list backed by 53 percent of voters in the EP election. But Brussels considered his involvement in Hungary’s anti-migration campaign as a “red flag”.
The government confirmed Várhelyi’s nomination at a government meeting on Wednesday, he said, adding that neither the candidate nor the Hungarian government had been informed about a possible portfolio change.
Meanwhile, commenting on reports about Zsolt Borkai, the (Fidesz) mayor of Győr who has appeared in video footage in connection with acts of sexual impropriety in the context of a party aboard a yacht, Gulyás said the matter was private, though at the same time “morally wrong”. He said other issues concerning the business role of the people present at the party would have to be clarified. This would mean establishing their business interests and what had been entrusted to them, and to what extent they had delivered. The private matter, he added, should be treated as a separate matter.
Gulyás admonished the press for “crossing a line that has never happened before in Hungarian politics”. He later said the press was “completely unscrupulous when it comes to non-public figures”.
Referring to possible purchases of land in connection with the reports surrounding Borkai, Gulyás said the government this year planned legislation to tax speculative real estate sales by up to 80-95 percent.
Meanwhile, regarding the local governments receiving direct EU funding, which Gulyás said had been demanded by opposition Democratic Coalition, he noted EU funding was generally handed over to states. He added that there was a danger that direct funding would be linked to migration, and local authorities willing to admit migrants would receive EU money while those that refused would be denied funding.
On the topic of the next EU budget cycle, Gulyás said the timeframe for adoption was less important than the content. In its current form, the government considers the budget an unsuitable basis for negotiation but it hopes improvements can be made, he said. If the budget is smaller due to Brexit, Hungary should only receive a proportionately smaller amount.
Gulyás said sufficient guarantees were needed before the issue of rule of law could be tied to funding. “It’s not on that one country is qualified as observing the rule of law while others receive criticism because of the country’s attitude to migration”.
Replying to a question, Gulyás said no request in any form had been received from the British government in relation for Hungary’s standpoint on Brexit.
Hungary alone, he added, would not veto any request for an extension.
Gulyás, in the meantime, said the government continued to reject all EU migrant quota relocation proposals. The issue of quotas, which he said had emerged repeatedly in recent weeks, was the “last desperate attempt” by outgoing European Commission to paper over its failures. Hungary, he added, could only accept quotas for expelling migrants.
On domestic matters, he said the government would provide a further 2 billion forints of subsidies to large families for purchasing seven-seat cars. Also, he noted that more than 40,000 applications have been submitted for baby subsidies and around 30,000 had signed the relevant contracts worth a total of 285.5 billion forints, with each subsidy averaging 9.6 million.
The budget, he said, was stable and the money family support measures taken during the year was available thanks to better-than-expected economic growth.
Regarding the municipal elections, Gulyás said incumbent mayor of Budapest István Tarlós was confident of victory. He accused the opposition candidate Gergely Karácsony, who is the current mayor of the Zugló district of the capital, of “inadequacy” based on his record running the district.
Gulyás said the recent report that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had said cities would only receive central government funding if Fidesz mayors were in charge after the local elections was a “misreading” of Orbán’s statement.
He accused political forces of seeking to seize “bridgeheads” in the elections as a way of mounting an offensive ahead of the 2022 general election instead of treating local authorities as partners, as the government did. “It is not on the part of the government that partnership is lacking. Rather, it is political forces rising up against us, those who clearly want to fight the government,” he said.