Hungarian government news briefing about Brussels, NGOs, education and other topics
Budapest, April 27 (MTI) – Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government succeeded in defending Hungary’s interests in Wednesday’s plenary debate in the European Parliament, the government office chief told a weekly news briefing on Thursday. The government will submit its proposals related to the 2018 budget bill to parliament next Tuesday and the assembly’s vote is expected on June 15, he said.
János Lázár said at the same time that Hungary stood ready, “after evaluating the situation”, to make changes to fully align Hungarian laws with European legislation.
Concerning Hungary’s contested higher education law, one of the subjects of the EP plenary, Lázár said that “it is obvious that … it is not higher education [in Hungary] which could be compromised but the interests of the speculator [US financier] George Soros”.
Referring to EU infringement procedures against Hungary, he said Brussels had expressed concerns not about academic freedom but about business related matters regarding the free flow of services.
“It’s a lot easier that the debate does not have to be about academic freedom but about business matters,” Lázár said.
He also said that Kristóf Altusz, the government’s negotiator on the operation of foreign universities in Hungary, had discussed the issue surrounding the Central European University (CEU) with a number of embassies and foreign representatives, and would soon also discuss it with the US charge d’affaires.
Regarding EU matters, Lázár touched on the topic of illegal migration, noting that Hungary and the EU had decided to set up a working group to review Hungary’s tightened asylum laws. Hungary’s stance is to “stop migration rather than organise it”, Lázár said.
On the topic of a bill before parliament on the transparency of civil groups funded by foreign donors, Lázár said that organisations that accept money from abroad should not feel ashamed to declare their sources of financing. There are certain organisations that play major roles in Hungarian public life, representing the interests of illegal migrants against those of Hungary, the government office chief said, naming the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) as examples, referring to them as “Soros’ favourites”.
Answering a question, Lázár also mentioned environmental group Greenpeace, which he said could be expected to challenge all environmental protection-related aspects of the upgrade of the Paks nuclear plant. He said that if Greenpeace Hungary’s sources of financing became public, it could be determined whether the organisation represents its own views or the interests of “the green energy lobby”.
On another subject, Lázár said that over 470,000 respondents in the government’s national survey have returned their questionnaires by post, while another 52,000 answered the questions online.
Lázár also talked about Orbán’s upcoming second visit scheduled for this weekend to Brussels, where the prime minister will meet leaders of the European People’s Party and attend the special EU summit on Brexit. Regarding the EPP, Lázár repeated that ruling Fidesz had no intention of quitting the group, nor does it expect to be expelled from it. Lázár said he believed it was clear to the leaders of the EPP that calls for Fidesz’s expulsion from the group were coming not from the EPP but rather from “the Communists and the Socialists”.
Government to submit budget proposal to MPs on Tuesday
Next year’s budget will be “stable and predictable” and will guarantee that the public debt is reduced sustainably, Lázár said.
Eighty percent of next year’s resources will be used to finance operations, while 20 percent will be spent on developments, Lázár said. Concerning details of the budget proposal, he said the health sector will receive 185 billion forints (EUR 593m) more than this year, while education will benefit from an extra 82 billion and law enforcement and public security an extra 55 billion forints in 2018.
In 2018, the government will continue its career models programme, affecting some 556,000 people, whose wages will increase between 30-45 percent, Lázár said. He added that the scheme would add 906 billion forints to the spending side of the budget. The budget reserves are planned to be around 200 billion forints.
He said several tax cuts will be implemented and craft breweries will get a 50 percent excise tax break on up to 200,000 hectolitres of beer instead of the current 8,000 hectolitres.
Lázár said the secrecy of documents connected to the planned Paks nuclear power station development scheme has been reduced considerably as a result of consultations with the European Commission. Under a reclassification procedure he has initiated, the majority of the contract documents signed with Russia will be made accessible. This will not threaten the project and at the same time, it will be a clear response to accusations of a secret deal between the government and Russia, he said. Explaining the reasons for his decision, he referred to a recommendation by head of the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Attila Péterfalvy and ongoing justice procedures.
Commenting on increased costs related to various construction projects, he said the government was bound to address this issue in general terms. The cabinet is interested in speeding up projects, the economy ministry is interested in boosting economic growth, and transport professionals expect more and more railway and road development projects. In the meantime, some of the plans were issued 2 or 3 years ago but orders have increased in the sector since and therefore prices have also gone up. The question that needs to be asked is: what is realistic and what isn’t, Lázár said.