Hungarian President János Áder declined to sign two measures on March 9 to limit public information that were passed by Parliament on March 1: One allowing the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) to classify data on how it spends public money for its foundations and another restricting public access to information concerning the national postal service, according to reports. In connection with the MNB legislation, the president asked for a ruling from the Constitutional Court, which has 30 days to decide whether the legislation is against Hungary’s Fundamental Law (Constitution). The president said that the legislation is not in harmony with laws regulating the handling of public money and providing public information, according to reports. The MNB legislation was passed by Parliament at the beginning of March after the Budapest City Court’s ruling that the MNBʼs Pallas Athéné Domus Animae Foundation must publish information on the flow of public money, amounting to approximately HUF 260 billion. Socialist MP Bertalan Tóth had gone to court requesting this information, and won the right to have it published, but the new legislation would have annulled the Budapest Court’s ruling. Áder noted that Hungary’s new constitution “places special importance on constitutional requirements affecting public funding and public information compared to the previous constitution”, according to MTI. Áder cited the retroactive effect of the amendments to the postal act as justification for sending that legislation to the Constitutional Court, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.
Hungary today declared a state of emergency for the entire country due to a “migrant crisis”, Hungary’s Interior Minister Sándor Pintér announced on March 9 between two parliamentary sessions, according to reports. The state of emergency allows tougher measures by police and the army to patrol borders and to search for illegal immigrants throughout the country. The government has decided to declare a “migration state of emergency” after the Balkans route was closed down through special measures taken by Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia at their borders, and human traffickers started recommending refugees divert their path through Hungary, according to reports. Pintér said they did not know what impact these steps would have among refugees and “illegal migrants” already present in those countries, which is why the government has chosen to strengthen the Hungarian border, Hungarian news agency MTI reported. Although a decision has not been made on the possible construction of a fence along the entire Romanian border, such a fence could be completed in just ten days, the interior minister said according to reports.
Both tax income revenues and contributions came in higher than expected in the period of January-February, keeping the general government balance in the black, Hungary’s National Economy Minister Mihály Varga said on March 8, according to reports. Speaking on state-owned all news channel M1 from Brussels in the morning, the minister said that data released showing the general government ran a cash flow-based surplus of HUF 14.8 billion for January-February was unprecedented, Hungarian news agency MTI reported. He noted that higher revenue from personal income tax, corporate tax and VAT was a result of the government crackdown on tax evasion as well as wage rises late last year and early in 2016, according to MTI. The minister added that the Hungarian government is planning a balanced budget for the next year.
Hungary’s credit rating remains in “junk” territory, one step below investment grade, Moody’s Investor Service announced after the close of business on March 4, according to reports. Although the stock market had rallied earlier in anticipation of good news from Moody’s, the decision by the ratings agency to leave Hungary’s sovereign debt rating at “Ba1” had been anticipated by analysts. Most analysts polled last week said they thought Moody’s is likely to improve Hungary’s credit rating, but only some time later this year. In November, Moody’s changed the outlook on Hungary’s rating to “positive” from “stable”, and analysts said that means an upgrade is likely in July or November, when Moody’s next revisits Hungary’s rating.
Under a sanction the Hungarian government is planning to introduce, providers of dispatcher services for taxis without a permit could be fined HUF 300,000, according to the National Development Ministry, Hungarian news agency MTI reported on March 7. The measure was expected to come into effect on March 11, MTI reported. In February, the government amended a decree that would allow officials to immediately remove and confiscate the license plates of taxi drivers who operate without the necessary permits, MTI noted. The ministry said that the government will maintain regular communication with representatives of taxi drivers and taxi companies, and will continue to monitor the effects of measures it introduces as part of its crackdown on illegal taxi service providers. If necessary, the ministry will consider the introduction of further sanctions, it added, according to MTI. The ministry stressed that the Hungarian government supports legally operating, tax-paying taxi drivers. The government’s attention was drawn to the plight of taxi drivers in Hungary after they demonstrated in central Budapest for four days in January, requesting that Uber be shut down. Uber said at a press conference in February that it would stand by its drivers, after the government announced that unlicensed Uber drivers could lose their license plates if caught by officials.
Approximately 16% of Hungarian companies are planning new hires in the second quarter of 2016, two percentage points more than in Q1, according to a survey published by recruiting company Manpower on March 8. While most of the companies surveyed do not expect any headcount changes in their companies, approximately 3% foresee layoffs, according to the survey, Hungarian news agency MTI reported. The ratio of companies planning new hires was highest, around 18%, in the region of Central Transdanubia, home to the cities of Veszprém and Székesfehérvár, MTI noted.
Exports generated by the Hungarian automotive sector reached a record €19.6 billion in 2015, increasing by 14%, or €2.4 bln, as compared to the preceding year, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said on March 7. Speaking at an automotive conference organized by the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), Szijjártó said that production volume of the Hungarian automotive sector reached HUF 7.8 trillion in 2015, 17.6% more than in 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported in a statement. Employment in the sector increased by 13% as compared to the preceding year, exceeding 149,000 jobs, the ministry added. HIPA is currently negotiating 169 possible investment projects, with approximately 40 of them being tied to the automotive industry, HIPA president Róbert Ésik said at the conference. According to the president, these 40 investment projects could create 8,000 new jobs. Of the successful investment projects HIPA has been involved in recently, half were connected to the automotive industry, and had brought €1.6 bln in investments to the sector in the last two years, and also created 8,000 jobs, according to Ésik.
Europe at the moment is characterized by hypocrisy as solidarity is synonymous with disregarding Schengen regulations and European security, and allowing thousands of “migrants” to enter the continent or transporting them to neighboring countries, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said on March 7, according to a press statement by his ministry. The minister said it is absurd that even a tube of toothpaste needs to be placed into a transparent bag during an airport security check, yet thousands of people are allowed to enter Europe through its outer borders, without adequate information on who they are, why they are coming and what they are bringing with themselves, the ministry reported. Szijjártó said that solidarity means applying to joint regulations to prevent increasing pressure on neighboring countries, as such Hungary is one of the countries that has shown the most solidarity, given that no “immigrant” can transit through Hungary on route to Germany or Austria. He said that if Europe does not “return” to Schengen regulations in the near future, Europe’s economy “will be essentially decapitated”, the press statement quoted Szijjártó as saying. He noted that the Schengen zone is key to European economic competitiveness.
Hungary’s Supreme Court ruled that a group of heavy-set bald men obstructed Socialist MP István Nyakó on February 23 when he attempted to submit a proposal for a referendum to kill the Sunday closing law, Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet reported on March 5. The Curia ruled that the men were assisting one “Mrs. Erdősi”, who is said to be the wife of a former Fidesz mayor, in her submission of a referendum in support of the law, moments before Nyakóʼs submission, however, it was never proven whether Erdősi and the men were cooperating with each other, the daily reported. The daily added that the Hungarian Police launched an investigation in connection with the events and that Nyakó attended a hearing on March 7. Since Erdősi was able to submit her question four seconds before Nyakó, and the two referenda address the same law requiring most stores to close on Sundays in Hungary, the referendum handed in first would be considered by the National Election Committee (NVB), and the second referendum immediately rejected, according to reports. The events, which took place at the National Election Office (NVI) on February 23, spurred a demonstration later that night, and although reports initially suggested Nyakó’s referendum would be accepted, it was later reported that it was in fact rejected and only Erdősi’s was put forward by the NVB.
The inflated costs of Hungarian projects funded by the European Union and the centralization of organizations receiving these funds give rise to increased corruption, said József Péter Martin, the executive director of Transparency International (TI) Magyarország during a press conference on March 4. The head of TI’s local unit, Gabriella Nagy, added that with the vast sums of money flowing into Hungary from EU coffers, corrupt practices are more prevalent largely because of the speed with which funds tend to be absorbed and the challenges in accurately tracking such spending. Public procurement and its lack of transparency in Hungary is also a key issue on TIʼs agenda. In a report published by the European Union last week, there appears to be an unfair advantage provided to Hungarian firms with close alliances to the government to the extent that competing bids for a given project seldom exist.
Vowing that “gangs will not be hunting for our wives and daughters”, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on March 4 that Hungary would increase its vigilance against asylum seekers, possibly by building a fence on the Romanian border in the next two-to-three weeks. We are not “turning Hungary into Europe” when it comes to allowing migrants into the country, the prime minister said in his regular fortnightly interview on Kossuth Radio. He also reiterated his stance that the European Union is not taking steps to solve the issue, even though Hungary protects the country and the EU. He said a decision on a fence along Hungary’s Romanian border would be made soon if Macedonia cannot prevent migrants from entering Europe. Commenting on the EU summit scheduled for mid-March, when EU leaders are expected to discuss the quota-based distribution of refugees, Orbán said, “we are facing nerve-wracking weeks”. The prime minister also mentioned the Oscar awarded to the Hungarian film “Son of Saul” and praised government film commissioner Andrew G. Vajna for choosing to support the film. Orbán called Vajna “one of the bravest Hungarians”, for straightening out the chaotic Hungarian film subsidies the government inherited in 2010.
Thinking about innovation
Participants check out one of the exhibitions at the March 8-10 think.BDPST conference in Budapest’s Várkert Bazár. The first gathering of what is meant to be an annual event, the conference brought together the worlds of business, government and science in a forum meant to encourage innovation and boost development in the CEE region. Organizers said they would like to establish a platform for Hungary, the region and the European Union to rethink the potential of innovation and to strengthen ties between various stakeholders in the innovation process. The conference was organized by the Antall József Knowledge Center with Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the International Visegrad Fund. (Photo: MTI/Szilárd Koszticsák)