Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the Szeged stop of the Modern Cities Programme [full text in English]
January 30, 2017, Szeged
A sincere welcome to you all.
Perhaps I could begin by saying that we have just held a long and successful meeting. Indeed, we were able raise some fundamental questions. We were able to ask ourselves the following: how we imagine Szeged in five, ten, or twenty years; what advantages this city has; who it has to compete with; and how it can successfully hold its own in such competition. I would like to thank the Mayor for his invitation, and also for these successful talks. The heightened interest from the press is clearly because this is the city of Szeged. I am glad that in the Hungarian public sphere there is such intense interest in the future of the city, but even if this were not so, let us not omit mention of the situation in which we both stand here today. Because, after all, the City of Szeged is an opposition-led municipality, and so there was the opportunity for an opposition-led municipality and the Government to sit down together to discuss and decide on the future. I would like to make it clear that in our view this is normal. This was not on today’s agenda by the way, but while there are opposition-led municipalities and we may argue about the exact ratios, what we do agree on is that this is the normal order of things. We defined the starting point of today’s talks as being that our lives are measured in years: the lives of governments and local municipalities are measured in four-year cycles; but the life of the city of Szeged is measured in centuries. In other words, while municipalities and central governments belong to the mortal world, the city of Szeged – and our homeland itself – are immortal. And so it is right that we should conclude agreements with each other, and it was this recognition and good will that guided today’s talks. And so I am glad that we have succeeded in coming to an agreement on several important issues.
First of all, we agreed that the right way to imagine the future of Hungary is that, in addition to the capital, Hungary should also have important regional centres that play an outstanding regional role; and Szeged has every reason to aspire to playing a decisive regional role. For this to become a reality, I believe that two things are required: the will and the opportunity. During today’s talks it emerged that in this regard the city’s leadership and the Government have the same goal: to see Szeged become an outstanding regional centre of key importance in the period ahead. Or if this is already the case, then for it to further strengthen this role. With regard to opportunities, I can tell you that Szeged has an outstanding history, which enables the realisation of this future: its fantastic location practically predestines the city for this role, and its intellectual strength is famous throughout the country – and in fact internationally. As for the opportunities, what I can tell you is that the local conditions to enable Szeged to be an outstanding regional centre are all in place; the only question that remains is whether the required national opportunities are also available. A little earlier the Mayor mentioned the unemployment figures, and in fact this morning some new data was published. Nationally unemployment is somewhere around the 4.4 per cent mark. While also taking into account economic growth, this indicates that – last year, this year and in the coming years – the country has the resources that are generated by the Hungarian economy, and which we are able to spend on the establishment of regional centres.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Perhaps the Mayor will allow me to mention that in recent years we have relieved the city of around 25 billion forints of debt. This, by the way, was not taken on by the city to cover operational expenses, but for development, and – as the city’s figures indicate – it invested this wisely and used it well. We succeeded in freeing the city from the burden of this debt as part of our general programme for putting the country’s affairs in order.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With regard to today’s specific agreements, let me first refer to what the Mayor said a little earlier: today I found out that if someone wants to travel from Szeged to Miskolc, then they must first set out for Budapest. And the Mayor is correct in stating that if we look at the map, then this does not seem to be a natural state of affairs, and the time has come for us to change it. Developing a north-south corridor to connect Szeged with Miskolc via Debrecen is a major plan – one of the largest joint plans of the coming years. And so the building of the M47 dual carriageway could be one of the coming period’s largest development projects – and, from a national economy perspective, one of the most important. Those who are around the same age as me will remember that this project’s maiden name was the M9, and now we have added converting the M47 into a dual carriageway to the list of development projects. As part of this project, or in relation to it, we also discussed the development of suburban rail transport between Szeged and Makó. We will also be providing the funding required to ensure the realisation of this project, which is in order to improve the city’s regional transport position. We also spoke about the airport, and I understood what the Mayor told me: that now we must work to ensure that the status of the airport is not downgraded. This is something the city is now threatened with, as a result of changes to international classification regulations. Eliminating this threat requires development projects, and the Government is undertaking to fund these airport development projects.
I feel it important to also mention some news that is significant from the point of view of the Hungarian food production industry. The Hungarian food industry has always been one of the national economy’s driving sectors; if we think back on the past one hundred to one hundred and fifty years, we can see that once this made us great. It is also part of our future, and it will be responsible for some of our future successes. This is why it is important that our flagships are effective engines of the economy. We have agreed on a major new factory development project. This relates to the industrial park development programme, and I will be revealing a large number; but take it from me that we will be establishing a new industrial park area of around 200 hectares – partly linked to the Laser Research Centre and partly independent of it – to enable new investment projects and new jobs to be created in the city. We also succeeded in coming to an agreement on the details of this project.
I would like to note that we have accepted the Mayor’s proposal for the construction of a business incubator next to the ELI (Extreme Light Impulse) Laser Research Centre, and the development of a form of intelligent city. In addition to its beauty, Szeged’s true attractiveness lies in its intellectual strength. We have accepted the Mayor’s proposal that this should also manifest itself in the organisation of the city’s life. Here too, we are providing the required funding.
We also spoke about the River Tisza, because – in addition to our forefathers – it is the river itself which makes the city great. And we agreed on the reconstruction of the city centre bridge, we agreed on the Tisza Szeged Main Street project, and on the development of the city centre’s quays. To the list of non-direct plans – meaning plans not for tomorrow, but for the day after tomorrow – we also added the construction of a bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, at the location proposed by the Mayor.
We have also set out on another major plan. We asked ourselves whether in the period ahead the city and the Government have enough strength, and whether together the two of us have the imagination to enable Szeged to become a city in which public transport runs exclusively on electricity. We are setting up a working group and are drawing up major plans on how Szeged could become the first city in Hungary in which public transport runs exclusively on electricity. Whether or not we can succeed in realising these plans will depend on further negotiations, but now we will be cooperating to draw up the required plans. Here we also agreed about Mars Square, which currently serves as a bus station where buses are parked. The Mayor proposed that we should put an end to this, and that the bus company should vacate the site and find themselves another. We – or rather the Mayor – have designated a new site where these vehicles should be moved to, from its current central location. As the square is now owned by the state, the Mayor has come forward with a request that the city should be able to use it. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be able to – provided we can agree that the site will not be built on, but will become an attractive space that satisfies community requirements. In this event I think an attractive square will be added to the city of Szeged’s assets. The Government is also providing the funding required to relocate the bus station. And there is one other thing that the Mayor proposed, and which we are glad to be partners in. This is the redesign or redevelopment of Széchenyi Square, to restore it to its pre-war condition. On this the mayor told us that the plans are already available and the designers can hardly wait for the plans to be realised. The project would help the city of Szeged return to its former glory, and the Government has undertaken – at no small cost – to fund the redesign of this public space. We have experience in this – including the scale of the costs involved – as this is also how “the nation’s car park” on Kossuth Square in Budapest was transformed into the nation’s main square. We are glad that the people of Szeged will now also have the opportunity to be part of a similarly great experience.
And, finally, we have also come to an agreement on sport-related projects. We feel this is very important – and not primarily from the perspective of professional sports, but because of our children’s health. We can all see the civilisational challenges that the young generation has to face. We are trying to face up to this challenge – through everything from gym classes in school every day to the construction of sports facilities, so that our children can enjoy full and healthy lives as adults. In relation to the life of the people of Szeged, what we have been able to add to this today is that we have come to an agreement on the construction of an indoor swimming pool. This figure is also a big round number: we’re talking about 7 billion forints, just to give you an idea of the scale of the project. We also discussed construction of a new handball arena; and, since athletics is also important, and elsewhere swimming pool and sports hall projects are being realised alongside athletics facilities, we concluded and signed an agreement on the Government funding the establishment of a new athletics centre here in the city of Szeged – at a location designated by the Mayor. We will certainly be building an outdoor athletics centre, and are also prepared to enter into talks on the construction of an indoor one. This is the second part of what I have to say: this requires further negotiation, but the outdoor athletics centre will definitely be realised. So none of the sport-related development projects in Szeged will be at the expense of any other sport: they will be good for those who like aquatic sports and those who like indoor sports, and athletes will also get what is their due.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is all the specific information I would like to tell you for the moment. My wish for Mayor Botka, for the city’s leadership and for every citizen of Szeged, is that you make use of these opportunities and gain strength, and that Szeged becomes a city that is as successful as its history entitles it to be.
Thank you for your kind attention.