Kövér on the offensive
László Kövér, FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party Chairman, has accused the opposition Socialists (MSZP) of doing everything in their power to undermine the recent European Commission Country Report on Hungary. He further said that this suspicion was confirmed by Günter Verheugen, the commissioner for enlargement, who gave an account of lobbying to influence the content of the report.
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MSZP Chairman László Kovács rejected the charges outright, saying that the party had always argued in favour of accession in small groups and the stepping up of the pace of the enlargement process, stating, "We would gain nothing from presenting the Hungarian conditions in a more unfavourable manner than reality."
Meanwhile, the FIDESZ Chairman last week told Wolfgang Schüssel that the Hungarian press is run by "old Bolshevik editors," saying that Western owners of Hungarian newspapers had done nothing to change the papers' policies. He said, "While, thanks to FIDESZ, the country is improving, this is not reflected in opinion polls, as the Socialists rule the media."
Also on the attack, or defensive rather, Smallholder Chairman József Torgyán has put the blame for his party's recent dip in the polls on the MSZP and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ), accusing the two opposition parties of manipulation.
According to a recent Szonda Ipsos/Népszabadság poll, Socialist Party Chairman László Kovács is the country's most popular politician, closely followed by Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) Chairwoman Ibolya Dávid. President Ferenc Mádl took third spot, while Prime Minister Viktor Orbán only came in 13th place. Of the 23 politicians in the poll, Torgyán was voted the least popular.
CEI comes to Budapest
The two-day summit of the Central European Initiative (CEI), the presidency of which currently is held by Hungary, began in Budapest on Friday 24 November. The prime ministers of the 16 member states were expected to attend the prime ministerial plenary session on Saturday.
Also invited as special guests were Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica and Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović. According to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Yugoslavia, the reconstruction of Kosovo, European integration and CEI economic co-operation would be high on the agenda.
Vojislav Koštunica was expected to ask that Yugoslavia be admitted to the organisation. A decision on this was likely after the prime ministerial meeting on Saturday.
CEI economic ministers held talks on Friday, as did the member countries' foreign ministers, accompanied by EU Secretary General of Council of Ministers Javier Solana.
RMDSZ on the campaign trail
During the last week of campaigning before the Romanian elections on Sunday, Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) Chairman Béla Markó stressed the need for strong representation in Parliament, even if the party ends up in opposition. He emphasised the need for strong representation in Romanian politics in order to make progress, and also noted that the same was needed in order to be taken notice of in Europe.
Urging Hungarians to vote for RMDSZ candidates for both Parliament and Senate and presidential candidate György Frunda, Markó said, "If we continue to be strong in politics, we will have a future in our country of birth, and young people will not have to find their prosperity elsewhere in the world. It is up to us to ensure that the wheels of history not turn back."
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, after talks with FIDESZ Chairman László Kövér and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh—who is also FIDESZ vice-president—said that Austria counts on Hungary in particular to help create a strategic partnership of Central European states that would be able to represent the region in a more powerful manner in the EU.
Németh stated that Austria plans to hold talks with four of its neighbours early next year in order to establish the nature of the partnership, and stressed the importance of maintaining Hungary's close co-operation with Austria after accession to the EU. Just for the record, before anyone starts thinking any wild thought, the Trianon treaty stipulates that Hungary cannot enter a union with Austria.
During the talks, Schüssel also confirmed that Austria favours enlargement in small groups, a view shared by Hungary.
Ministers come, go and—sometimes—stay
Smallholder Béla Turi-Kovács last week confirmed that he expected to be sworn in as environment minister on 1 December. Turi-Kovács will replace Ferenc Ligetvári, who in turn said he did not know how long he would remain at the post, but added that he had agreed to the change.
Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán said on Wednesday that Health Minister Árpád Gógl would not be replaced before reforms to the health care funding had been put into practice. The Prime Minister said that the current system had to be changed, so that funding is handled by the Health Ministry itself, in order to give the health sector "priority consideration." Orbán did, however, add that the Finance Ministry, which is currently in charge of the supervision of funds, would have to be given certain guarantees that spending remains within the budget.
And in other news...
- The European Union has labelled the Hungarian export ban on feed maize a "serious trade conflict," which could harm relations between Hungary and the EU. According to Franz Fischler, the European commissioner for agriculture and rural development, the ban imposed in early November has "seriously affected" the EU's processing industry which heavily relies on Hungarian maize, and warned Agriculture Minister József Torgyán that the ban could put at risk bilateral trade relation.
- The Socialist Party was last week preparing for the weekend's party conference, drafting a resolution that promises to increase wages by four to five per cent and reducing the tax burden on low income earners. At the congress, which German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was expected to address, the MSZP will elect party officials and pass a new party platform.
- FIFA President Joseph Blatter, during a visit to Budapest last week, held talks with Prime Minister Orbán on the future of Hungarian football and a possible bid for the 2008 European Championships. He also visited former "Golden Team" members Ferenc Puskás (73) and Nándor Hidegkuti (78) in hospital, which he described as a most touching experience.
- A mummified woman was found in a Budapest apartment last week. The body of the deceased, who is thought to have been dead for around three years, was only found after the City Council asked police for help in looking into why the woman had not paid her bills during the last three years.
Paul Nemes, 24 November 2000
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Today's updated headlines from Hungary