During a courtesy meeting with a delegation from Partit Laburista, Malta Chamber...
Next year’s budget will be the budget of people living off work, Minister János Lázár said at the press conference Governmentinfo 85 which he held jointly with Government Spokesperson Zoltán Kovács.
The head of the Prime Minister’s Office stated at his usual Budapest press conference: people who live off work will be the beneficiaries of next year’s budget. Employment, family support, security, in his words, these issues are at the centre of the 2018 budget. He also said that there is no election budget when Fidesz governs.
From among the planned 2018 measures, the Minister mentioned the reduction of VAT on Internet services and fish intended for consumption to 5 per cent. He confirmed that they are planning an economic growth rate in excess of 4 per cent, a 2.4 per cent deficit of the budget, and a sovereign debt rate at around 72-73 per cent for 2018.
Approximately 80 per cent of the budget will be dedicated to the running of the country, and the remaining 20 per cent will serve development purposes, he said, adding: every ministry will have minimum the same funds at their disposal as last time, but their allocations will increase in general.
Mr Lázár said: next year’s tax laws, which will provide for major simplifications and the maintenance of wage increases and tax reductions, the legislative package that constitutes the basis of the budget, and the amendment of this year’s budget will all be presented to Parliament. The latter is required because it is necessary to cater for the wage increases, the contribution reductions, and the excess land sales revenues intended to be used for the reduction of the sovereign debt. In his view, in summary, the 2018 budget will be a cautiously and conservatively planned budget.
Brussels openly applies double standards
In the evaluation of the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, Brussels openly applies double standards in relation to Hungary. Mr Lázár mentioned as an example that the European Union praises Austria on account of the fact that it compels EU citizens to stop at the Austrian-Hungarian border and significantly restricts their rights attached to the freedom of movement, while it punishes Hungary due to the fact that it seeks to control non-EU nationals and illegal immigrants at the border, thereby also reducing the threat of terrorism. This is an unprecedented attack, he pointed out.
The Minister rejected reports in the international press which likened the transit zone created on the Serbian border to Nazi death camps, as he said, they are making every effort to create humane circumstances. He added: it is shocking that the very same international community was in rapture when shipping container towns were installed for immigrants in Calais.
“If there are shipping container homes in Hungary, that is bad, if there are shipping container homes in France, that is good. If there are border controls in Hungary, that is bad, if there are controls on the border of Austria and Hungary, that is excellent and commendable”, he said in summing up the situation.
Mr Lázár, denying the allegations of European socialists, also stressed Hungary’s commitment to the European Union, and described the European People’s Party as the most important political ally of Fidesz, and at the same time he was of the opinion that the expulsion of Fidesz from the party family is not a realistic scenario.
In his evaluation, there are efforts in the background of the political attacks to force Hungary to its knees as it is opposed to the withdrawal of powers by the EU. “We should surrender a considerable portion of our national sovereignty – this is the European socialist position, and as we said no to this (…), they launched an attack”, he said.
The Minister confirmed that Hungary has no intention whatsoever to leave the EU, but would, in actual fact, like to change its life in accordance with the principle of national sovereignty so that every country may find its advancement within the community. He further highlighted that they have to date always managed to close the debates with consensuses. There is a single case on which the positions have not moved any closer since 2015, and this is the case of migration.
The Minister further reported that 204 thousand persons have returned the national consultation questionnaires so far. He highlighted that the Government needs the citizens’ support on the questions raised as part of the consultation because it is unable to curb Brussels, which is preparing to withdraw Member State powers, on its own.
In the context of illegal immigration, he also said that Hungary’s chances are mixed as the situation may arise that the European Commission – “with the participation of the European Court” – will try to force its will upon the country, and Hungary will either be required to take in migrants – without the consent of Hungarian society – or will have to pay a considerable fine.
He also told the press that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will attend the extraordinary meeting of the European Council and the European People’s Party to be held on 29 April on account of Brexit, and there will be consultations on Monday as to whether he will also go to the European Parliament.
In answer to a question concerning the judgement passed in the case of the two Bangladeshi migrants, he said that the Government will appeal against the decision. He also remarked that the awarded funds will go to the Helsinki Committee, an organisation “heavily sponsored” by György Soros, which specifically seeks out clients among migrants at the border in order to institute lawsuits against Hungary on their behalf. This appears to be a working model, the Minister remarked.
We are not dependent on any credit
The Minister also spoke about the enlargement of the Paks atomic power station, informing the press: János Süli, ministerial candidate without portfolio responsible for the planning, construction and commissioning of the two new blocks, to whom the responsibilities of project manager have been entrusted, will take his oath in Parliament on 2 May.
According to his reasoning, it is necessary to appoint a Minister because this is a priority project which will have a major impact on the Hungarian national economy, the GDP and the entire region. He added: Mr Süli will exercise the proprietary rights of the Paks project company, and other than communication with the European Commission which will continue to remain with the Prime Minister’s Office, he will be in charge of all issues related to the maintenance of the capacity of Paks.
There are no obstacles of any kind to the preparations for the project, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office stated, and stressed: Hungary is not dependent either on any credit – because it is able to finance the construction works either from its own resources or from a credit facility that is cheaper than the Russian – or on any technology as the fuel necessary for the operation of the power station can be obtained from anywhere. Regarding finances, he said: EUR 100 million is to be disbursed in connection with the preparations so far. This sum can be paid from the central budget where the necessary funds are available, or we may draw on the Russian credit facility and the loan can be repaid within 60 days, or as a third option, this sum can also be covered from the government securities subscription of an international consortium. The government debt management agency and the Ministry for National Economy will have to find the most optimal solution, he indicated.
In the context of the project, the politician urged the acceleration of the construction of the Kalocsa Danube bridge.
Mr Lázár also informed the press about the Government’s objective regarding energy independence, the essence of which lies in the need for Hungary itself to be able to generate the electricity it needs. According to the Cabinet’s plan, the Paks atomic power station will supply 50 per cent of Hungary’s needs, while the other 50 per cent should come from green energy, primarily solar energy, he said. In answer to a question about the fate of conventional – for instance, coal-based – energy generating facilities, he said: these will remain in operation as long as they can.
Tax bureaucracy must be reduced
The Minister also said: in the context of the planned changes concerning trade policy, the Economic Cabinet came to the conclusion that there is a need for further talks between employers, employees and the representatives of consumer protection, and it is a distinct possibility that there will be no decision during this cycle. “We are having a hard time chastening multinational corporations” because “they have a great many friends” at every level, he said. In answer to a question, he remarked: regrettably, the structure of the Hungarian economy has developed in such a way that Tesco is today the largest employer in Hungary “which is a rather important consideration”.
He added that he is in a minority within the Government with his view related to the monthly two free Sundays of workers because the majority believe that those concerned should come to an agreement on this.
The Minister took a stance in favour of the reduction of tax bureaucracy at the press conference. He said: the Government discussed the strategy for the renewal of the National Tax and Customs Administration, and it must be implemented after 2018 in the interest of the improvement of competitiveness. In answer to a question, he said that a Minister of State will head the organisation also in the future, and before 2018 there will be no scope for the tax authority to prepare draft tax returns for businesses as well.
The Government also discussed that in the summer of 2018 60,000 to 90,000 children may take part in summer camps within the framework of an EU programme worth HUF 14 billion, and the available Hungarian kindergarten capacity will be increased by 12 thousand beyond the borders in the Carpathian Basin, in addition to the already existing 48 thousand. This will be a project worth HUF 17.5 billion, he added.
He also said that the Government will propose the re-regulation of the activities of legal counsels as well as the clarification of the activities of lawyers.
Regarding the proposed amendment of the Labour Code in connection with the accounts kept of working hours, the Minister said: the Government has not yet discussed the issue, but will have to explore it. He himself has reservations, and shares some of the concerns of the trade unions.
The Government does not wish to close down any university
Mr Lázár stood up for the law concerning the operation of non-governmental organisations. As he said, if there is no shame in accepting funds, there should be no shame in disclosing them to the public. He indicated that a different mechanism applies to organisations funded by the Government or political parties. These are overseen by the State Audit Office.
As he said, it is a legitimate demand that the people should see who seeks to shape public life and under what financial conditions.
Regarding the idea raised by Attila Péterfalvi, President of the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, to the effect that it is justified to disclose to the public not only the funding received by individual organisations from abroad, but also any business and political funding, Mr Lázár said: the activities of organisations funded by the Government and political parties are monitored by the State Audit Office whose report is in the public domain. He expressly disagrees with Mr Péterfalvi’s proposal that the effect of the transparency legislation should also extend to organisations engaged in religious activities.
In the context of the CEU, he confirmed that the Government does not wish to close down any university, but the conditions under which institutions operate must be clarified, and it would be reasonable to avoid the appearance that the CEU is an “off-shore university” owned by Közép-Európai Egyetem.
In answer to a question, the Minister also spoke about the recent demonstrations, pointing out that everyone has the right to demonstrate, and the police have proceeded in an exemplary manner in every instance so far. He highlighted at the same time that there were problems with the conduct manifested, and there are many who are unable to identify with some elements of the demonstrations, such as the vandalising of the walls of public institutions. There is no need for this, he said stating his view.
He was further asked about reports that the EU would demand the repayment of HUF 18 billion due to irregularities uncovered in relation to the contracts concluded with respect to the IT system used for the distribution of EU funds. According to Mr Lázár, the Commission is right and it is the duty of the Government to file a report with the police. He said: the EU’s objection relates to contracts originating from before 2010. The system was installed and developed between 2004 and 2006, and Klára Dobrev, former official at the National Development Agency and Péter Heim, a staff member of the company Altus were intensively involved in the project. He indicated: the IT system has not been operational since 2014.
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