"Best ever" report
Both Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Foreign Minister János Martonyi have described the European Commission Progress Report on Hungary as the "best ever." Hungarian Ambassador to the European Union Endre Juhász also welcomed the Report,
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Martonyi did, however, acknowledge that there is work to be done regarding corruption, the Roma and combating organised crime. The report criticised Hungary on these points, and pointed to concerns over inflation and the government's interference with the media.
The major criticism points to Hungary's treatment of the Roma and the environment. On Thursday, officials in Brussels commented that the slow pace of implementing environmental laws is one of Hungary's main obstacles to accession.
Commenting on the upcoming EU summit, Martonyi expressed his view that if EU institutional reforms are agreed upon at the Nice summit, Hungary could become an EU member in 2003.
Michael Lake, the EU's ambassador to Budapest, said the report was positive but warned the government against relaxing. Regarding citizenship for Hungarians beyond the borders, Lake said that the EU could not differentiate on grounds of ethnicity, only citizenship. This is bad news for Hungarians in neighbouring countries, as Lake went on to emphasise that Hungary should comply with the Schengen border agreement.
MPs under the microscope
Prime Minister Orbán announced on 8 November that the screening of the assets of MPs and senior public servants would begin the following week, proclaiming that there is an "elementary need" for such inspections. He added that MPs would have to submit new assets statements, which would be compared to old ones.
Earlier, Smallholder (FKGP) President József Torgyán made it known that he had submitted a proposal to Parliament, in which he suggested that a committee should investigate the rise in assets among MPs from 1990 to the present day. Torgyán said he submitted an identical motion in 1996 to examine the assets of Gyula Horn, then prime minister, but it was turned down.
The statement came after claims that Torgyán had lied about his assets. The Smallholder president, however, accused some media of "unfairly misrepresenting" his assets and the much publicised villa in Buda. Following the revelations, Smallholder Imre Bokor said that Torgyán would be "digging the grave of the party" if he did not step down, while a group of farmers protested outside the villa in Buda.
Torgyán, meanwhile, has said that he would agree to his confidential assets declaration being revealed by the Parliamentary immunity committee. Socialist Party (MSZP) President László Kovács made it be known that the party has submitted a proposal which would guarantee the immunity committee would scrutinise Torgyán's assets statement.
In the meantime, Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky has commented on the recent scandals. According to Demszky, Prime Minister Orbán bears "political and moral responsibility" for what is currently taking place in the FKGP, since he elevated the party into a position of power.
He also predicted that the "series of scandals will change public life and fundamentally restructure power relations." SZDSZ chairman candidate Demszky went on to proclaim that his main aim, if elected SZDSZ chairman, would be "moral renewal" in political life.
Resignations and rumours
The Prime Minister on Monday announced Transport and Water Management Minister László Nógrádi's resignation. Nógrádi was last week involved in a car accident in which one person died and another was seriously injured.
In line with the general sentiment, Nógrádi said he felt a "moral duty" to resign. Nógrádi, who, after a meeting with the Prime Minister on 9 November, confirmed he would leave his office in early December, will be replaced by János Fónagy, currently state secretary at the Prime Minister's Office.
Also, Ferenc Ligetvári, the environment minister, has been sacked. RTL Klub reported on Tuesday that the minister would leave, after a corruption scandal had been uncovered at an institute operating under the ministry.
The Smallholder minister did, at first, refuse to accept Torgyán's demand that he resign, but it was decided on Thursday that the Prime Minister would dismiss Ligetvári. It is not yet clear who will take over for Ligetvári, whose discharge will take effect on 1 December, but the Smallholders have nominated parliamentary fraction leader Béla Turi-Kovács for the post.
Socialist Party President László Kovács said before Ligetvári's dismissal that it would be "alarming" if the minister was sacked, especially since he had unearthed corruption at the ministry.
In addition to these two resignations, rumours about other personel changes have been circulating.
Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai has rejected suggestions that he will replace György Surányi as president of the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) when the latter's mandate comes to an end in February. Járai also discarded rumours that State Secretary Mihály Varga would take over as finance minister, should he leave for the MNB.
It is also believed that the head of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities, Donchev Toso, will be replaced. Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid has reportedly begun proceedings for his removal. Toso said he believes he has done a good job, but added that it is up to the Prime Minister to decide if this is the case. He also stated that he had been officially told that confidence in him had been lost.
And in other news...
- A European People's Party session in Brussels on Thursday accepted FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party and the Smallholders as members. FIDESZ Deputy Chairman József Szájer said that the two parties are now part of Europe's strongest party formation, while József Torgyán said that the admission of the two governing parties would improve Hungary's EU membership prospects.
- Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid last week put forward a bill to Parliament, which would nullify and declare void retaliatory sentences handed out following the 1956 Revolution. Dávid said the bill aims to "restore the honour of the participants in the 1956 Revolution and fight for freedom."
- The promotion of Róbert Szalay from major to lieutenant colonel for his role in 1956 will be reconsidered, following complaints from the Federation of Resistance Fighters and Anti-Fascists. There have been objections to the promotion, as Szalay has described the coup which brought Ferenc Szálasi—Arrow Cross leader and, after Germany's occupation of Hungary, Prime Minister—to power as a "legal action" which "spearheaded the fight to save the nation from Bolshevism and defended Europe from Asian barbarism."
- According to a recent Marketing Centrum Internet poll, Parliament speaker János Áder is the most boring politician in Hungary. The same poll named Smallholder President József Torgyán, suspected of fiddling with his assets statement, the country's most colourful politician. The Prime Minister came in second in the race for colourfulness.
Paul Nemes, 10 November 2000
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