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BBJ’s stories of the week, August 24-30

It’s Friday, another ending of a news cycle – and so, before BBJ gets away from the last weekend of the summer, we take one look back at the bigger stories we followed this week.

• The forex-based mortgage loans issue naturally dominated Hungary’s news this week as government and banking interests seek to nip a potential crisis in the bud. Tuesday saw the Hungarian Banking Association (MBSz) presenting two proposals on a relief plan for borrowers of forex-based mortgage loans, with MBSz spokesperson Ágnes Sütő explaining that “the proposals involve a combination of converting the forex-based loans into forints, interest subsidies and an exchange rate limit,” while MBSz Chairman Mihály Patai told media that banks may be expected to pay out “several hundred billion forints over a period of several years” to cover a shortfall based on unfavorable exchange rates.

National Economy Minister Mihály Varga took to the local airwaves to characterize the proposals as a “good starting point,” and after putting off a possible Thursday meeting, Varga et al simply released a statement on that day affirming that proposals put forth by the MBSz and the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) were under consideration.  

• More than likely, Varga’s top prioritization of the forex mortgage issue precipitated his shifting of responsibility for negotiating a possible government buyout of the Dunaújváros-based ISD Dunaferr steelworks to Sándor Czomba, Economy Ministry State Secretary for Employment. In one of his first acts as chief negotiator, Czomba formally requested a delay of the 1,500 planned layoffs.

Talks will continue on a prospective “de-privatization” of the plant to protect some 1,500 employees from planned layoffs, despite last week’s comments from Dunaferr CEO Evegeny Tankhilevich told the news service that he’d “heard nothing about any intention to nationalise the company” and added that “management would certainly turn down such a chance.” 

• Though no official decision has been handed down with regard to frozen European Union funding to 13 operative progams in Hungary, Nándor Csepreghy got some play in local media after confidently asserting on Kossuth Rádió on Tuesday that there was a “99.9% chance” that the funds would be restored after the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff János Lázár meets with EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn on September 9.  

In August, the EU ceased funding to the operative programs due to irregularities in reportage funding would be restored to 13 EU-funded operative programs after the meeting. Csepreghy figures a penalty of anywhere between HUF 25 billion and HUF 125 billion will be assessed.

• Updating a story from mid-week: Differences between opposition parties MSzP and Together 2014-Dialogue for Hungary (E14-PM) over a selection process for joint candidacies in the upcoming parliamentary election that reportedly reached a point of “bickering” on Wednesday were solved the following day.

The parties have now agreed to divide Hungary’s 106 constituencies among their candidates into 75 for MSzP and 31 for E14-PM, with no joint candidate for prime minister to be put forth. Aside from bringing harmony to an alliance increasingly suffering in reputation for in-fighting, the agreement will allow both Gordon Bajnai, who served as prime minister for 13½ months after the 2009 resignation of Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Attila Mesterházy, who represented MSzP in the 2010 parliamentary elections, to wage candidacies.  

A survey undertaken by Nézőpont Institute for news outlet Heti Valasz showed that some 19% of likely voters were decided for or leaning toward Bajnai, while just 7% opted for Mesterházy; Prime Minister Viktor Orbán drew 39% support in the survey. 

• Finally, any news featuring would-be national airline Sólyom Hungarian Airways, its management and various business connections is worth a look, if only to enjoy a little audaciousness. So what was weirder this week? Sólyom Kft. management’s Monday announcement that their Turul-inspired logo would grace products in a premium grocery line or the lineup of leaders (literally in some cases) that the now-affiliated Sales One has trotted out since its foundation?