Editorial: In Praise of Rest, Relaxation, Peace and Prosperity
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And so our little rock completes another circuit of the Sun, the days fall from the calendar faster than the last leaves of autumn from now skeletal trees, and the year gets closer to turning once more.
Were I back in England, my Mum would be getting ready to open the front door to the New Year while beating the old one out through the back door using a wooden spoon and a saucepan, some Cockney tradition she supposedly inherited from her parents. Christmas, however you celebrate it, whether secular or religious, will doubtless be a noisy affair, but what my American family calls the Holidays also provides a time for reflection, as well as dusting off family traditions.
It has long been our tradition in the last issue of the year to look back at the year just gone. (We save the crystal ball stuff for the year to come for our first issue, which will be published on Jan. 12, 2024, if you want to mark your schedules.) What strikes me as remarkable is just how busy the state has been and how much more so it could be next year. The idea that Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport is such a strategic “crown jewel” is not new. Viktor Orbán’s government first tried to do so by making a non-binding offer in 2021; the process was shelved amid high inflation and volatility in global financial markets. This time around, the state is seeking to build a consortium that includes the French infrastructure giant Vinci SA, which has suitable experience through Vinci Airports, which owns 50% of Gatwick in the United Kingdom and has other interests across the globe, including Portugal, Brazil and Japan. This week, Bloomberg reported that Hungary is also attempting to involve the Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, in the consortium. That is interesting because, according to no less a source than Wikipedia, the QIA owns a 5% stake in Vinci.
But having the time to reflect also gives you time to recall. The current government often lambasts the Socialist-led administration of Ferenc Gyurcsány for giving up the “crown jewel” of the airport back in 2005, when it was still known as Ferihegy Airport (Fidesz renamed it in 2011), when it was privatized, initially to British airport holding company BAA plc. That much is true, but what the government doesn’t talk about so much is that it would be much cheaper (well, less expensive) to buy Budapest Airport today, but for a tiny detail. The initial privatization by the Socialists was for 74% of the airport. The state’s remaining 25% plus one share wasn’t sold until 2011 by, you guessed it, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government. I guess it had different priorities back then.
However you get to spend the Holiday period, I wish you whatever you would wish yourself (I’ll go for happiness, peace and prosperity, but I’m old fashioned like that).
This editorial was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 15, 2023.
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