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BBJ’s stories of the week, July 27-August 2

Parliament

It’s Friday, another ending of a news cycle – and so, before BBJ gets out of here for a proper August weekend, we take one look back at the bigger stories we followed this week.

Two big companies announced significant expansions to their Hungarian operations, though perhaps not *quite* the entities Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Éva Varga had teased earlier in the week. On Monday, Varga stated that “two major US[-based] companies” would be announcing such plans within the coming days – the prediction ended up more than half correct.

On Wednesday, General Electric announced its plans for a spiffy new 6,000 square meter production space and office building, together with an increase in staff of over 100 new employees including some 40 engineers, for its Fót facility. Budapest saw the grand opening of a new workplace for 350 employees of Bosch GmbH’s Hungarian division; at the ceremony, Bosch also became the 30th company to enter into a strategic partnership agreement with the national government.

But … but … Bosch is based in Germany. Should we expect more expansion news next week…?

• A hot topic on BBJ’s radar this week was voter fraud. Both major opposition parties, MSzP and the Együtt 2014-Dialogue for Hungary (PM) coalition, publicly displayed little confidence in the system designed to collect potentially hundreds of thousands of ballots from dual-citizenship voters abroad. 

The problems began on the weekend, after Együtt-PM had registered a complaint with the National Election Office (NVI). NVI President Ilona Pálffy set off much speculation on Saturday, when she essentially admitted that the procedure for collecting ballots was certainly open to machination, only to attempt to weakly backtrack afterward. MSzP Party Chairman Zsolt Molnár piled on the criticism on Thursday, calling the system “scandalous.”

In response, Fidesz Party Lawmaker Gergély Gulyás attempted to reassure at a press conference marking the opening of voter registration abroad on Thursday, claiming that “the guarantees built into the law on electoral procedures rule out the chance of any fraud with an impact on the outcome of the vote.”

• The story of forex-based mortgage loans in Hungary naturally continued this week. Erste Bank’s release of its first-half 2013 results – a disappointing six months in which a significant amount of blame was placed on these loans and resulting investor underconfidence – captured lots of business headlines internationally. Erste CEO Andreas Treichl hoped publicly that his bank’s “Hungarian ordeal” would soon be over...

Though the “soon” bit of that might be wishful thinking, at least some progress was seen in addressing the forex loans issue. The negotiations to find a solution officially began on Wednesday, with National Economy Minister Mihály Varga and Mihály Patai presenting their plans. The end result? Varga and Patai agreed that “in order to work out the details of their proposals, they will hold regular consultations over the coming weeks.” (Well, it’s a start.)

• If you fear for the future of democracy in Hungary, you’re not alone. Analysis from the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute reckons that the Orbán administration’s actions could bring down the European Union’s very credibility and stability. The report’s authors eventually suggested that the country is a “test case” for the EU and that perhaps US action might be warranted.

• Finally, Transparency International Hungary is ready for the Sziget Festival opening on Monday; are you?

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