As expected, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán dismissed Kálmán Katona, on Wednesday, after the Transport, Telecommunications and Water Management Ministry was split up. After the dismissal, Orbán said, "In a modern government, one ministry cannot be placed above others, cannot have power and control over others." The Prime Minister announced on Thursday that he would decide on Saturday who he would nominate for the post of Information Technology Commissioner for his Office. Political Analyst Tamás Fritz said, "The reorganisation is a logical step in the centralisation project of the cabinet, making the Hungarian political system similar to the German model." Katona, meanwhile, is to become president and CEO of MVM Rt (State Electricity Company) as Chairman Miklós Virág and CEO István Bakács are expected to leave their posts soon. Orbán, who offered the MVM post to Katona, said he understood that both accepting the post of IT commissioner at the Prime Minister's Office and remaining minister at a reduced ministry would have been a step backwards for Katona.
On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Economics Committee backed László Nógrádi of FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party to head what remains of the Transport, Telecommunications and Water Management Ministry. Nógrádi, who noted that the removal of telecommunications from the Ministry was timely as well as inevitable, said he is planning to change things quickly.
On Thursday, Orbán also held talks with Health Minister Árpád Gógl on changes at the Health Ministry. Functions currently performed by the Health Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the National Health Insurance Fund would be put to an end, but Gógl said he could not tell exactly what the changes to his ministry would be, until he had met with Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai on Friday. Meanwhile, the government is planning a health programme resembling the Széchenyi Plan, named after Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi.
The Presidents of FIDESZ and the Smallholders, László Kövér and József Torgyán, on Wednesday began talks on their parties' cooperation in the long-term. The two did not come to an agreement on fielding joint candidates, and there are no plans to field joint lists in 2002, but Torgyán said that these meetings would take place regularly from now on. Both party presidents said they had no plans to talk to Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) President Ibolya Dávid, although Kövér said he would be happy to meet her if she so wishes. MDF Vice-President Miklós Csapody has said that both Kövér and Parliamentary Speaker János Áder are invited to the MDF parliamentary caucus and steering committee meetings.
Speaking at the Magyarország 2000 conference in Budapest last week, a parliamentary meeting for Hungarians beyond the borders, Viktor Orbán said that the greatest task of the coming century would be to come to an agreement without changing the country's borders. Transylvanian Bishop László Tőkés said, now that Hungary has embarked on the road to EU integration, it would be a hard blow to Hungarians beyond the borders if they could not be integrated into the EU. Meanwhile, a new law currently being drafted on the status of Hungarians beyond the borders will allow Hungarians to work in Hungary for three months and give them the right to health care for the same period of time. Parliamentary State Secretary Zsolt Németh said last week that debates on the bill would be concluded soon. While the legal status of Hungarians will be defined, the law is believed to do little, or nothing, to solve visa issues. Consequently, the bill is no solution to the problems faced by Hungarians who will be affected by Schengen borders.
At another conference, Economy, Growth and Opportunity, the Prime Minister said that, due to economic policies started two years ago, a "new economic model" is emerging. On the two-year budget plan, Orbán said that the Hungarian economy is now at a level at which a longer-term budget plan can be presented. Orbán said he envisages strong economic growth for at least ten years, full employment, rising wages and sustained foreign investment. He also promised to raise wages, as the economy approaches EU standards. The Premier said, "The government is targeting full employment, in which anyone who wants a job could find one within a short time [...] the idea of a radical increase in the minimum wage will not be an obstacle to homing in on that target."
Pál Pepó, the environment minister, has promised to accelerate the ministry's work that is related to adoption of the acquis communitaire. Pepó said that the Ministry had applied for HUF (Hungarian Forints) 32 billion (USD 110 million) worth of ISAP funds. The Minister did, however, point out that it would cost at least HUF 800 billion (USD 2.7 billion) to upgrade sewerage to EU standards. Meanwhile, it is thought that Pepó will be forced to leave his position during the summer, as József Torgyán no longer is against this.
Prime Minister Orbán said on a radio programme that the country's agriculture would boom when Hungary joins the EU. Otto Habsburg, also speaking on the programme, said Hungary would have "huge possibilities" after becoming an EU member.
Economic Minister György Matolcsy has said that an annual growth of 5.5 per cent would be enough, in order for Hungary to reach EU levels within 25 years. According to earlier estimates, seven per cent would be needed, and Matolcsy admitted that the new forecast was ambitious but said it would become a possibility with coordination and confidence building.
Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai has said that he would like to see a two-year budget introduced, as is the case in, for example, the UK. If the government introduces the new legislation on the budget, budgetary targets for 2002 would be included in the budget for 2001, although an amendment could be made at the end of 2001 in case of major or unforeseen changes. There is little chance that Járai's proposal will be accepted.
During Thursday's National Bank of Hungary (MNB) AGM, Járai accused leading MNB executives of unprofessional conduct regarding CW Bank of Vienna, a loss-making MNB subsidiary, and criticised the MNB for not closing down CW Bank. MNB President György Surányi, who requested that Járai name the executives, said that the charges were unfounded. He added that he would not resign, despite the heavy criticism, which was backed up by government spokesman Gábor Borókai. A later statement by the MNB also said that the accusations were unfounded.
Private citizens, small businesses and local authorities have filed a USD 3.6 million claim for damages for lost revenue after the environmental disaster in the Tisza and Szamos rivers. According to lawyer Erika Mayer, most damages are demanded from the Aurul mining company, but lawyers are currently investigating whether to press charges against Esmeralda Explorations of Australia, financing banks or the institute that was responsible for planning the burst dykes. The Hungarian state has not yet filed any lawsuits, but it will do so against Aurul and Esmeralda, and perhaps the Romanian state. On 15 May, Foreign Minister Martonyi told the Parliamentary Environmental Committee that Hungary would want "to make sure that some three dozen Romanian mines are closed or equipped with safety technology."
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gábor Horváth on Wednesday condemned the actions the Belgrade regime has taken against the Yugoslav opposition and the independent media. He said the "Ministry is alarmed over the police crackdown on the headquarters of independent and opposition radio and television stations." Foreign Minister János Martonyi was, as the only regional foreign minister, expected to attend a meeting in Yugoslavia in support of the independent media. Prior to the meeting in Yugoslavia, Martonyi held talks on the matter with Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten in Brussels.
The Danube Committee has passed a resolution which will allow for preparations to remove debris of bombed out bridges at Novi Sad (Újvidék). The Commission agreed that a financial fund that complies with EU requirements and a project management organization would have to be set up.
Ford Motor Hungária will relocate its centre for regional sales from the UK to Budapest. Company Communications and PR Manager György Madarász said, "Hungary is no longer considered an emerging market and that is why we want to bring our regional centre here." Ford, which last year sold 10,000 cars in Hungary and another 10,000 in Europe's emerging markets, expects a ten per cent increase in sales this year. Rolls Royce is also considering increasing its presence in Hungary, as the company believes that Hungary is important for technical development and advanced production technology. Rolls Royce aspires to make as many Hungarian companies as possible strategic suppliers.
According to a recent Marketing Centrum poll published in Világgazdaság on Thursday, the Socialist Party (MSZP) would win the elections, if they were held now, although their lead over FIDESZ has decreased. The MSZP lead is now down to ten per cent, from 17 per cent. The number of undecided voters has also decreased from 56 to 51 per cent.
More Budapest districts are planning to set up surveillance cameras, after the success of cameras in Districts V and VIII. Since the introduction of cameras, the crime rate in the district with cameras has increased, while it has gone up in districts not fitted with cameras. Districts, VI and VII, where crime has increased, have agreed to build a 40-camera surveillance system jointly. Péter Melczer, a District VI representative, said, "Liszt Ferenc tér, the Oktogon, Nyugati tér and dark streets, such as Szinyei Merse Pál utca and Weiner Leó utca, are among the first places where the cameras should be installed."
Prince Charles visited Hungary on Tuesday. Besides meeting with President Árpád Göncz and the Prime Minister, the Prince of Wales opened a new PowerGen power station. Prince Charles also laid a wreath on the grave of conductor Sir George Solti, who is buried next to Béla Bartók in his native Budapest.
On Wednesday, the trial of Attila Ambrus, the Transylvanian Hungarian better known as the "Whiskey Robber," began in Budapest. Ambrus, who is thought to have collected around HUF 200 million (USD 700,000) during his bank raids, could face life imprisonment, if found guilty of the charges of repeated attempted homicide.
Paul Nemes, 19 May 2000