BBJ's stories of the week for July 6-12

Visits

It’s Friday, another ending of a news cycle – and so, before BBJ takes off for what could be a scorcher of a weekend, we take one look back at the bigger stories we followed this week.

• Foreign Trade Secretary Péter Szijjártó was a busy man this week in detailing the administration’s hopes for increasing Hungary’s import/export market outside the European Union. Speaking before a conference of trade diplomats on Monday, Szijjártó explained the current goal to increase export volumes to these regions by at least 50% to reach €110 billion by 2020. By 2018, Szijjártó expects that one-third of all Hungarian exports should go to non-EU nations – though KSH released figures for May which showed that European Union countries account for an estimated 76% of all Hungarian exports and 70% on imports in a typical month.

The trade secretary also spoke at ELTE’s open university course, stating that “the degree and depth of Central Europe’s economic integration could reach that of Western Europe by 2020.”

Finally, Szijjártó traveled to Minsk for meetings with Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Elena Kupchina to formalize the development of a trade arrangement between the two nations, with immediate outcomes including establishment of direct flights between Budapest and Minsk as well as the possibility of Hungarian cattle export to Belarus and participation of Hungarian construction firms in building a new stadium for the capital’s football team, Dinamo Minsk. As a result of the formalized agreement, €250 million credit line was opened by Eximbank for Hungarian companies looking to enter the Belarus market.

• Szijjártó also stated publicly that he reckoned Hungarian SMEs would be crucial in establishing more lucrative trade with the East, but the big news for these smaller entities was delivered by State Secretary of the National Economy Ministry Sándor Czomba.

Czomba announced on Thursday that a further disbursement of HUF 3 billion in support to Hungarian SMEs would be released. A February tender of HUF 10 billion designed to stimulate job creation and retention had received over HUF 22 billion in claims, and the second round of funding will be rewarded to previous applicants. Czomba stated that 6,500 new jobs would be created from the HUF 13 billion.

The move was in line with Minister of Economy Mihály Varga’s Monday statements that a priority for the administration in 2013 would be help boost exports by Hungarian SMEs – particularly eastward. At present, ministry statistics show that SMEs generated just 11% of total exports from Hungary in 2012, while accounting for two-thirds of employment in the country.

• The latest Business Business Journal print edition features a special report on domestic tourism (soon to be seen on BBJ.hu) which presents something of a stagnant industry through first quarter 2013, but May results may show a glimmer of hope for this sector.

According to statistics released by the Central Statistics Office (KSH), tourist accommodation services in Hungary had an outstanding May, with gross revenues of accommodation providers up 18% year-on-year to HUF 29 billion (€98.98 million), number of nights stayed increasing 16% for foreign tourists and 9.7% for in-country tourism and five-star hotels boasting an average 73% occupancy rate for the month.

Following the release of these numbers, the National Economy Ministry attributed the nice showing of in-country tourism to the increasing popularity of the SZÉP Card, a fringe benefit for employees which gets reduced travel costs. Some HUF 3.9 billion worth of SZÉP Card credits were used in the first five months of 2013, a 40% increase year-on-year.

• The lead story in the BBJ print edition features an interview with European Bank of Reconstruction and Development board member András Kármán. Kármán tells us of the current state of lending activity, corporate loans and whether or not local banks are taking enough risks.

• Last week saw the release of the now-infamous (at least among Fidesz circles) Tavares Report on the current state of civil rights and constitutional law in Hungary under the current administration. While Foreign Affairs Ministry's State Secretary Enikő Győri took to the Financial Times to defend the Orbán government against “false claims” which could be “not just damaging politically, [but] also have a potentially serious negative economic impact”, Hungary's far-right party Jobbik went flat-out on the offensive.

Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, legal affairs spokesman of Jobbik, proclaimed mid-week that the five Hungarian MEPs who voted in favor of the report’s recommendations should be submitted to questioning for an “act of treason.”

• And even though Prime Minister Orbán himself popped off on the European Union in France-based L’Express this week, calling the EU a “realm of bureaucrats” and claiming it “serves neither the interests of Hungary or of European civilization as a whole,” the Hungarian leader still found support of a sort in Europe.

German MEP Manfred Weber, vice-president of the center-right European People’s Party group, published an editorial essay on TheParliament.com in which he accused the EU of double standards in backing the Tavares Report, which “violates the cardinal rights of the EU and risks damaging the balance between the European member states” and echoed Orbán’s oft-repeated sentiments in stating that the report “does not mention a single example where the Hungarian government has indeed acted contrary to European values or European law.”

Surprisingly, the author of the report himself, Rui Tavares of Portugal’s Green Party, ended the week with a few positive words for Hungary’s sitting government. After a discussion with National Roma Government (ORÖ) head Flórián Farkas on Wednesday, Tavares publicly labeled the Orbán government’s Roma policies as “exemplary” and stated that the administration was “not racist.” Tavares also promised to consult with ORÖ interests should he report on the situation of Roma in Hungary again.

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