Editorial: A False Spring or a New Start?
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We had snow last week, which has proved a rarity this season. Enough fell for us to take the kids for a walk and for them to build a Snow Thing in the back garden. (It would have been stretching credulity to call it a Snow Man, and their description of Snow Demon seemed a little morbid.) But despite that brief Winter Wonderland, it feels like there is a sense of change in the air.
Perhaps it has been the unusually mild winter and the palpable lifting of the gloom and doom about sourcing gas and oil. Then again, maybe it is just that Michael O’Leary, of Ryanair fame, has been in town. He is a man blessed with the gift of the gab, though, as he revealed to our reporter after his press conference, in what may be a Budapest Business Journal exclusive, he has never kissed the Blarney Stone.
Be that as it may, O’Leary has never knowingly missed an opportunity to talk up his airline, talk down his rivals, and talk about whatever message he feels needs pushing. This latter point seemed to be why he was in town, for he had precious little tangible news to reveal in his conference beyond the launch of a new flight connecting Budapest and Belfast. No, this was more about what might be.
Say what you like about O’Leary, and there are plenty who do; he is not afraid of a fight. So it was last fall when we had him squaring off with various Hungarian ministers in a bout of name-calling. He was irked by what was then called an excess-profits tax and is now known as an eco-tax. They were angered by the language he used to express his displeasure. (Even now, he could not resist a sideways swipe at a “ludicrous” levy.)
To be honest, the interface between politics and business hadn’t been so much fun since Sándor Csányi, of OTP fame. The then Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, János Lázár, had a public falling out around the time the government was restricting nicotine product sales to a new system of national tobacco shops, the so-called trafiks. It is a crude paraphrase, but the core of the argument seemed to involve calling into question the ability to organize a party in a brewery.
But I digress. Ryanair is challenging the rebranded eco-tax in the Hungarian Supreme Court and seems confident this “manifestly unfair” ruling will be overturned. That said, companies are always seemingly confident, right up to the point they don’t win. The real issue, though, is that a noticeably more conciliatory (or, at least, less aggressive) O’Leary was holding out the prospect of much more than a twice-a-week flight to Belfast.
“It all depends on the eco-taxes. If the eco-taxes get scrapped, there would be a significant announcement of new routes, and we would base more aircraft here. This is a market that we do want to grow, and we’d like to grow rapidly,” he said.
We will have to wait and see. Equally, this may be a false spring. We have not yet reached February, and even by the Hungarian meteorological system, winter isn’t over until March 1 (in “old money,” the spring equinox is not until March 20). There’s plenty of time for winter to blast back with a bite. And quite possibly the Hungarian courts.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 27, 2023.
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