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Mar 11, 2016

Funds Should Also be Provided for Defence Efforts of Balkan Countries

Hungary would primarily allocate funds towards the defence efforts of the Balkan countries against illegal migration. At the same time, Hungary is not opposed to Turkey being given a significant financial grant, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said at his press conference held on Thursday in Budapest.

János Lázár rendered an account of the Government’s assessment of the Monday EU-Turkey summit, and of the position which the Cabinet will represent at the European Council meeting to be held next week.

Regarding the visa issue, the Minister pointed out: Hungary stands up for Ukraine, and for the principle that the citizens of Ukraine should be the primary beneficiaries of any visa exemption schemes in the EU. He added: the citizens of Hungary and Turkey may enter one another’s countries without a visa.

He also stated: if the European Commission tables a proposal on the EU quota issue and the reorganisation of asylum affairs at the European Council’s meeting to be held next week, Hungary will present its own proposal. As expected, the Cabinet will decide on this next Wednesday as part of its extraordinary meeting.

The idea of exchanging migrants for Syrian refugees raises a number of issues, and provoked protests from human rights organisations, in addition to several EU Member States, he said.

The Minister took the view that the most important outcome of the summit held on Monday was the closure of the Balkans route, and remarked: Hungary proposed this for a year, while the EU did nothing all this time. It was in consequence of this development that the Government has instated a state of migration crisis which the Minister justified with increased caution, and also remarked that a higher level of protection may be required on the Hungarian-Serbian border.

Mr Lázár further spoke about the details of the Monday EU-Turkey summit, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s role. The heads of state and government were faced with the fact at the beginning of the summit that a proposal had been reached as a result of separate bilateral talks between Germany and Turkey, and the discussion of this proposal led to a five-hour-long “pointless” debate, he said.

It was following this that Mr Orbán and Slovak Prime Minister-designate Robert Fico initiated the suspension of the debate in the interest of the thorough consideration of the Turkish proposal which was deemed important. He remarked: a debate “to less than high standards” evolved about whether the Hungarian Prime Minister exercised his right of veto or not. At any event, Mr Orbán blocked the decision, the Minister said.

At the separate meeting of the Visegrád Four held on Monday, a unanimous decision was reached to jointly request the adjourning of the debate, Mr Lázár stressed. There is no need for a fence on the Hungarian-Romanian border as yet, he said.

The Minister further told the press that almost a thousand illegal migrants had arrived in Hungary in the first week of March.

He repeated: the Government is considering the closure of reception centres, partly at the request of the localities concerned. They have also held talks with the municipalities of Szentgotthárd and Körmend, and in the latter town the Government would even provide temporary guarding if necessary. He remarked at the same time: at present there are only a few hundred illegal migrants in Hungary at any one time.

The Minister of Interior will have to decide whether there is a need for maintaining the Nagyfa reception centre. However, upon the assessment of this question, the country’s security is the primary criterion, he stressed.

Mr Lázár also outlined the Government’s decision to the effect that those residing in the country temporarily under whatever legal protection cannot be given higher benefits than those which Hungarian citizens are eligible for on the grounds of social neediness. The same as everyone else, migrants, too, are required to work, he said.

During the one week which has elapsed since the resumption of the land auctions, 27,000 hectares of state-owned land have been sold to the value of HUF 38 billion, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office stated at his press conference held on Thursday in Budapest. Mr Lázár further told the press that three thousand state proposal assessors may be required.

The land auctions which have resumed under unchanged conditions since the beginning of March are taking place „under completely regular circumstances”, and will last until 31 March. The plots of land were offered for sale at initial asking prices in excess of the relevant market prices, and 140,000 hectares of state-owned land will be sold, he said.

The Minister informed the press that the Government will hear a summary report in April which will consider what the next step should be. Meanwhile, they are continuously looking into ways in which areas not used by the State could be placed at the disposal of farmers.

Mr Lázár indicated that the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre (Klik), which will undergo reforms as of July, will repay all its debts by the end of March. He reiterated that the Ministry of Human Capacities had been awarded an extra grant of HUF 38 billion in order to pay Klik’s 90,000 overdue bills, and debts worth eight billion forints had already been paid off. He further mentioned that they are planning to reduce bureaucracy in the evaluation of teachers.

The Minister told the press that State Secretary for Public Education László Palkovics will render an account of the work done by the public education round table and will make recommendations to the Government in April. The Minister repeatedly asked the protestors to take part in the round table discussions.

Mr Lázár said that, according to the responsible minister, the pay of teachers about to retire may be placed on the agenda as of the beginning of next year. It is necessary to investigate how the divided operation of schools – between the State and local governments – „could fail so badly”. There is a need for clearly defined areas of responsibility, he stated.

He further told the press: the debate on the 2017 budget within the Government will begin within a few weeks. This debate may start on the foundations of the most stable state of finances of the past thirty years.

Mr Lázár said that some three thousand state workers will be required for the assessment of EU calls for proposals. With this statement, the Minister confirmed that they are developing a new mechanism for the evaluation of EU calls for proposals with a view to enhanced transparency.

He indicated that these state administration workers would take on the assessment of proposals in addition to their current jobs. They will be selected on the basis of objective criteria, will also undergo screening for national security, and will be registered on a public list of assessors. He added: with this extra work, a state official may earn as much as their current annual salary. Mr Lázár estimated the costs to be around a billion forints.

The Government has published EU calls for proposals worth HUF 4,500 billion to date, which is one half of the entire allocation. At present, calls worth three thousand billion forints are under assessment, and decisions have already been made on the awarding of HUF 500 billion, he told the press.

He added: this is the last great opportunity to spend EU funds in such concentrated magnitude on the development of the country because the EU call system will undergo changes beyond 2020.

Mr Lázár also spoke about the fact that the head of state did not sign the amendments to the laws on the postal service and the central bank, and referred them to the Constitutional Court. The Member of Parliament who presented the amendment to the law on the postal service integrated the comments of the President of the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority into the proposed bill, and as a result, public interests and business interests were duly separated, he highlighted. The President of the Republic only had objections to the entry into force of the legislation, he added.

Regarding the amendment of the central bank law, he said: there is a debate in a number of countries around Europe as to whether publicity or financial security is the greater interest. The Minister regards this as a good debate, the outcome of which may resolve the situation for a long time to come. In answer to a question, the Minister denied anyone having lobbied the Prime Minister for the amendment of the law.

Members of the press indicated that there will be opposition demonstrations during the state celebration at the National Museum on 15 March. Mr Lázár said in response that it is the duty of the law enforcement agencies to enable everyone to remember and to exercise their freedom of expression. He requested the organisers of parallel events to make it possible for those who would like to hear Mr Orbán’s speech to do so, while those who would like to demonstrate should likewise be allowed to express their views.

The Minister was asked about the statement made by Fidesz Vice-President Gábor Kubatov regarding the incident which occurred at the National Election Office. In Mr Lázár’s view, there is no reason for calling into question what his fellow-party member said.

Regarding the reform of support institutions, Mr Lázár told the press that the House of Traditions – similar to the National Theatre and the Opera – will become a national institution, and the Hungarian State Treasury will undergo developments to become the payment agency of the State. He added: the payment of child support, pensions and social benefits, too, will be transferred to the State Treasury.

He also spoke about the new hospital planned to be built in Budapest from local funds. He estimated the total cost of the project as HUF 30 to 40 billion.

Mr Lázár saw no conflict of interest in the engagement of László Trócsányi’s law firm by the central bank as the Minister suspended his activities as an attorney.

It is an old plan of the Government to convert cafeteria benefits into cash, Mr Lázár said in reference to the announcement made by the Prime Minister in the morning. Regarding the European Commission’s negative decisions, he said: they do not concern the holiday programme organised for children, and the government holiday homes will continue to serve this purpose. He took the view that the question related to the SZÉP card was a more difficult one as it will be necessary to explore what effect it will have on tourism if people are given the funds, which they have spent on tourism services to date, in cash, free from contributions, rather than in the form of funds deposited onto their benefit cards.