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News in brief

Hungary consumed 12% less energy in 2015 than in 2005

Energy consumption in Hungary as a whole has dropped almost 12% over ten years, data recently published by the European Union statistics office Eurostat reveals. Eurostat data related to the 2005-2015 period shows that while energy consumption was 27.6 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) in 2005, ten years later only 24.2 mln toe was used in a year, according to reports. In the same period, the share of fossil fuels in Hungary’s energy mix also dropped, from 81% to 70%, while the share of imports within fossil fuels dropped from 76% in 2005 to 74% in 2015.

Anti-Olympic campaign gathers twice as many signatures as needed

András Fekete-Győr, president of youth movement and fledgling political party Momentum Mozgalom, submits 266,151 signatures, almost twice as many as the required minimum valid 138,526+1, to call for a referendum in Budapest on the capital’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The Hungarian government, which previously appeared to be a strong promoter and supporter of the Olympic bid, has since appeared less certain, some voices even raising the possibility of the capital withdrawing from the bid, although no official stance has been taken by the government at the time of going to print. Some reports suggested that governing party Fidesz would rather drop the bid than hold a referendum and risk an embarrassing defeat just a year before the parliamentary elections in 2018.

Farm minister orders NÉBIH to probe identically branded products 

In another turn in the “lower-quality” products scandal, Hungary’s Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazekas has reportedly ordered the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) to conduct an inspection comparing the quality of identically branded products available at domestic and foreign retail stores to reveal if there are any differences. The inspection will involve 100 products from all sectors of the food industry and include a comparison of ingredients and sensory impressions, Róbert Zsigó, state secretary for supermarket oversight at the Ministry of Agriculture, said on February 20, according to Hungarian news agency MTI. The first results of the inspection could be made public by the middle of March, Zsigó added. The development comes shortly after a report by NÉBIH, published in government-friendly daily Magyar Idők, suggesting that multinationals offer “lower-quality” products in Hungary. Following the report, Cabinet Chief János Lázár urged the government to launch a probe of identically branded products in Hungary and Austria, although a trade association rejected the report as “subjective”. Hungary’s National Association of Food Processors (ÉFOSZ) announced it will contact NÉBIH, concerned that it learned about a food quality probe only the media, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal on February 17.

Serialization to entail big spending for Hungary’s pharmas 

Hungary’s pharmaceutical industry, like other European markets, will soon be facing “tremendous investment pressure” due to mandatory controls across all EU countries from 2019, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal by serialization automation supplier Servicepoint Oy. Pharmaceutical serialization is the tracking and tracing of the passage of prescription drugs through the supply chain from manufacture to dispensing. Finlandʼs Servicepoint, the leading serialization automation supplier in the Nordic countries, believes immediate action is required in order to make sure that the production of pharmaceuticals can continue without interruption. The company notes that the spread of fake pharmaceuticals is a globally significant and escalating problem, as the fake drug market cuts into the business of pharmaceutical companies and can cause tragic results for people who use illicit medication.  

Hungary due to get electronic healthcare system this year 

A new electronic healthcare service (EESZT) could be launched by November in Hungary, according to reports. The system has been under development for years, Hungarian online daily index.hu reported. Government-friendly daily newspaper Magyar Idők added that the system is currently being tested in a limited institutional circle. The system could electronically store information about patients, making it easier for doctors working in different institutions to access the same data. Documents related to all the treatments a patient has ever received would be added to the system, building up a complete patient case history. In order to protect such sensitive data, individuals will be able to grant and restrict access by others through their so-called “government gateway”, a Hungarian electronic system for official documentation. The system is reported to have undergone serious security auditing, and any access is registered with date stamps, index.hu added. As EESZT would be integrated into existing systems, hospitals and pharmacies would not need to update their IT capabilities to use the new program, according to reports.

Hungarian kids worried about their future, says poll 

Some 69.5% of Hungarian children are worried about their future, according to a poll conducted by children’s rights civil organization SOS Gyermekfalvak with the involvement of 1,000 secondary school students around the whole country, Hungarian online news portal 444.hu reported. While every third child claiming to be from a “rich family” had concerns about their future, the ratio grew to 81% in the case of children claiming to live in a “poor family”, the study found. In the case of children coming from what were described as average families, 73% said they had concerns about their future. The three most important factors children defined in relation to their future lives were having a good job (74.7%), a healthy relationship/marriage (60.8%), and being happy (40.3%). Every tenth child participating in the poll said they were planning their future abroad. Children who said having a big house or car is important were in the minority, the organization added. Half of the respondents said they were very afraid of failing to gain admission to university, while every third child was very afraid of failing at school. Some 46% were afraid of becoming unemployed, while 40% were afraid of not having a family, the study’s findings revealed.

Hungary’s veggie prices skyrocket with extreme cold 

The prices of vegetables sold in Hungary have risen sharply, in some cases threefold, due to the extreme cold weather, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to reports. The main reason for the price hike is the extreme weather, Hungarian online daily index.hu reported. In the southern parts of Europe, the majority of crops froze and only half the usual amount of vegetables arrived in Hungary. The case is further worsened by the fact that 90-95% of vegetables in Hungary are imported, index.hu adds. In addition to high prices, the vegetable market currently carries products with limited stock. It is expected that the unusually high prices will persist until Easter.

Szijjártó opens Hungarian embassy in New Zealand 

Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó officially opened the Hungarian Embassy in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, on February 17, the minister told Hungarian news agency MTI over the phone. The embassy will help enhance Hungary’s presence in the Pacific region, promote trade relations and effectively enforce economic policy objectives, Szijjártó said. Hungary is the eighth European Union country to open an embassy in New Zealand, and the second Central European country after Poland, he added. Szijjártó noted the potential for cooperation with New Zealand in car and machinery manufacturing, water management and water technology, and thermal water-related infrastructure developments. He added that Eximbank has opened a USD 720 million credit line to help Hungarian companies enter the New Zealand market. Hungary’s exports to that country increased by 12% last year compared to 2015, exceeding USD 50 mln, Szijjártó said. He added that he also held talks with his New Zealand counterpart Murray McCully and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, and spoke about several potential bilateral agreements, including one on avoiding double taxation. Szijjártó also opened a Hungary-New Zealand business forum in Auckland.

ECHR rules journalists cannot be barred from parliaments 

In connection to a case involving Macedonian journalists, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that journalists cannot be barred from parliaments, according to reports. The decision is likely to have implications for Hungary, as many Hungarian journalists have been banned from entering its National Assembly. “The European Court has handed down a significant judgment condemning the forcible removal of journalists from the Parliament of Macedonia in a case brought with the support of MLDI [Media Legal Defense Initiative] and its partner the Media Development Center,” an MLDI statement said. “This is a significant decision from the European Court recognizing that it is unacceptable for authorities to remove journalists from areas where public interest events are unfolding, unless there is some real threat to their or the public’s safety,” it added. The MLDI is an NGO established in 2008 to provide legal assistance to journalists. It has been an almost regular occurrence in recent years that Hungarian journalists, in the majority of cases from media outlets critical of the present government, have been barred from entry to the Hungarian Parliament, online news portal index.hu notes. While for many journalists the ban has been temporary — including staff of news portal 24.hu, the now defunct daily Népszabadság, HVG, index.hu and RTL Klub — the entire staff of 444.hu is still banned from entering the assembly. House Speaker László Kövér, well-known for his strict and traditionalist attitude, generally banned journalists, claiming they asked questions in parts of the building where they are not entitled to do so, which he said is against the rules. However, Hungarian journalists have often argued that it is almost impossible to talk to politicians as the corridor where they are entitled to ask questions is so short that politicians can rush through it in seconds, ignoring questions if they do not feel inclined to answer them.

Trump-Orbán meeting being planned, ambassador says 

U.S. President Donald J. Trump has a “very positive” opinion of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and negotiations about a possible meeting of the two leaders are already under way, Réka Szemerkényi, Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States, told weekly business and political title Figyelő, according to online daily index.hu. Szemerkényi, who says she has met three times with Trump and his staff, noted that personal relationships in American politics have always been important, and this is even stronger with the Trump administration. The ambassador added that she has already met with almost half of the U.S. government, and the relationship has been so good that other embassies in the United States have asked her for advice and contacts. Szemerkényi was appointed Hungary’s ambassador to the United States in the summer of 2014, with President Barack Obama finally accepting her credentials on February 23, 2015.

Growing traffic triggers development at Budapest airport 

As passenger numbers and cargo traffic trends both appear to be growing this year at Ferenc Liszt International Airport, operator Budapest Airport has made “growth” a keyword and is eyeing further developments, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal. “Budapest Airport continues to attract new airlines, and existing partners are adding new destinations, increasing their frequencies or capacity, and expanding their networks in 2017. After the launch of easyJet’s new Budapest-Amsterdam service, we expect further airline announcements in the coming weeks,” said Jost Lammers, CEO of Budapest Airport. “We must answer this demand both in terms of capacity and service level; this is why we launched our EUR 160 million BUD 2020 airport development program a year ago. This year there are construction cranes all over the airport,” he added. The building of a 10,000 sqm passenger pier has just started on the apron in front of Terminal 2B. The construction of a new hotel begun last year is in “full swing”, just a two-minute walk from Terminal 2B, Budapest Airport says. The hotel will have 145 rooms and ample conference facilities, and will be operated under the brand name of ibis Styles Budapest Airport Hotel. This year alone Budapest Airport will add approximately 1,000 new spaces to existing car parks, bringing the total number of available parking spaces to more than 4,600. The construction of ten additional check-in desks for the convenience of passengers is already underway at 2B.

CEPOL holds conference in Budapest on EU security 

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) hosted a conference in Hungary on February 14, involving officials from 33 countries, in order to look at the achievements of the agency in 2016, whilst also looking ahead to challenges for EU security. Prof. Ferenc Bánfi explained how CEPOL contributed to a safer Europe through training, with a special emphasis on tackling pressing security issues such as terrorism, illegal migration, cyber crime and drug trafficking. CEPOL has worked closely with EU member states (mainly via dedicated CEPOL national units), countries in Eastern and South-East Europe, Middle East and North Africa, justice and home affairs agencies and international organizations such as Interpol, OSCE and UNODC to create a portfolio of activities that support EU political priorities in terms of security, according to the press statement. This demonstrated the growing importance of external relations within CEPOL’s new legal mandate, and the high level of CEPOL’s appreciation at a global level, the organization says. In 2016, CEPOL reached new records in terms of participation: more than 18,000 officials from 39 countries were trained during 87 residential activities, 492 exchanges, 87 webinars and other e-learning tools.