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Hungarian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-10-21 11:08:07
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Hungary-US friendship could end, says minister

The Hungarian government, as a strategic partner and friend, trusts the United States will discuss the entry ban issued against Hungarian citizens not only in a critical way, but in a constructive manner too, the cabinet chief told a meeting of parliament’s national security committee on Monday. Janos Lazar said currently the only side that can explain who has been blacklisted and why is the one that issued it. “The Hungarian government has no information on the matter,” he said, adding that “not a single government official has been informed about a ban against them entering the United States.” The government gives Hungarian-US relations special treatment and although there have been disputes at various depths in the past, these were resolved with a view to maintaining friendly relations, Lazar said. He said the government was at a loss to understand the background of the US steps, although it does not question their legality. He added, however, that if no further information is provided, this could “poison or destroy the Hungarian-US friendship”.

Lazar said he agreed there was a need for an investigation, but it was not clear who should be targeted. The economy ministry is not aware of any wrongdoing at the tax authority NAV. Although the NAV’s head has been implicated, he said, there is no authentic information about any tax officials being involved, he added. Lazar noted that US law also allows people to be banned from entering their country without any justification. After the committee session, Lazar told journalists that any suspicion that members of the government, state secretaries or deputy state secretaries were affected by the ban could be ruled out. He added that it was inconceivable that someone would be banned with “political reasons mixed in”. Levente Magyar, the foreign ministry state secretary, said Andre Goodfriend, the US embassy’s charge d’affaires, had not informed the ministry about names, titles or official positions of the people banned. He said Goodfriend had conveyed the news of a ban affecting “fewer than 10 Hungarian citizens” on Oct. 6, and he was summoned by Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister, on Oct. 13. But the names were not shared at that meeting. Goodfriend made statements to the public in response to press reports, and he was asked to see Szijjarto again on Oct. 17, when he was asked to provide information. Goodfriend acknowledged the request but no information has yet been handed over, he said.

Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi noted at the meeting of the national security committee that the whole affair was just based on an assumption at this stage and he saw no case to be made under Hungarian law. He said US lawyers had never complained about any of the Hungarian authorities before. Laszlo Tasnadi, the state secretary for law enforcement, said Hungary and the US cooperate on policing and no irregularities have been reported. He noted recent measures affecting US citizens in connection with a Nazi conference held in Budapest, which he said had ended in full agreement. Chairman of the committee, Zsolt Molnar, of the opposition Socialists, suggested the government had ways of examining the involvement of public and state officials. Bernadett Szel, a committee member delegated by the LMP, insisted that this was not the first time NAV “has been mired in a corruption scandal”. She added that if NAV head Ildiko Vida remained silent on this matter this could represent a risk to national security. Adam Mirkoczki, for the radical nationalist Jobbik party, suggested there may be a link between the blacklist and a previous US wiretapping scandal. Zsuzsanna Szelenyi, of the E-PM party, who is not a member of the committee, said she urged the public prosecutor to request information on the case in his own right, which could shed light on the matter. Gabor Fodor, who sits as an independent, suggested that an ad-hoc parliamentary committee should be set up to look into what he called “a scandal”. The committee should establish who is impacted by the US ban, what the suspected corruption activities are and what further investigations may be conducted in the event that the US does provide information.


Hungary joins Olympics for start-ups

‘Get in the Ring’, initiated by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship in 2009, with the aim of getting promising entrepreneurs from around the world in contact with investors, will hold an event in Hungary for the first time on 22nd of October. The organiser of the Hungarian competition, Enterprise Hungary Nonprofit, said a jury, investors and an audience of 200 people will decide which show-style presentations in a number of categories are the most convincing.  On the 22nd of October the most promising start-ups of Hungary will be selected for a spot in the Regional Final of Eastern Europe. 

Since 2009, over 3,000 start-ups have participated in GITR, resulting in over €6 million in investments. GITR has also been a winner, capturing international awards such as the European Enterprise Promotion Awards for supporting the internationalisation of business. GITR has also been chosen as a featured event of Global Entrepreneurship Week. GITR’s first International Final occurred in 2012. 

In 2014 over 2,000 start-ups will compete in GITR, known by its fans as “the Olympics for start-ups.” This year, all GITR participants will need to survive two selection rounds to reach the International Final in the Netherlands.  Through national selection rounds in over 64 countries, including Hungary, and finals in each region of the world, the 8 most promising start-ups will come together in Rotterdam on November 21st to compete in the International Final. The best of the Hungarian selection can expect a purse of 23,000 euros. This year, more than 2,000 start-ups from 64 countries are taking part in the competition.


Hungary questions EU sanctions on Russia

Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó has criticised the EU’s policy of sanctions against Russia, questioning their effectiveness in influencing Moscow’s behaviour while warning that central European exports were suffering the consequences. Mr Szijjártó’s comments expose uncomfortable gaps between EU member states in their commitment to sanctioning Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis. They also reflect widespread anxiety that tit-for-tat sanctions are smothering the bloc’s already weak growth prospects. Speaking to the Financial Times, the former spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orban stopped short of calling for the immediate suspension of sanctions but said EU member states enduring particular hardship deserved solidarity.

“These sanctions have not given us the result we hoped for in Ukraine – the conflict is clearly not de escalating. Meanwhile, Europe’s economy is suffering and central Europe has suffered the most,” he said. A long-time Orban protégé and former spokesman of his Fidesz party, Mr Szijjártó, 35, was appointed foreign minister in September and is the office’s youngest peacetime occupant. He has taken office at a time when Hungary is facing fragile economic growth and criticism from Washington and fellow EU partners for the Orban government’s seemingly authoritarian tendencies.  Mr Szijjártó is not alone in his concern about sanctions. The release of data for August showing a slump in industrial output in Germany – Hungary’s biggest trading partner – has stoked fears that Europe’s growth is being held back by the measures just when broader economic recovery seemed within reach. His comments, which echo remarks made by Mr Orban, also highlight a split on sanctions in former communist central and Eastern Europe. While the Czech and Slovak prime ministers have also criticised sanctions against Russia, Poland and the Baltic states have urged a hard line against Moscow.

So far, Hungary is losing Ft50m each day due to the sanctions regime, according to Mr Szijjártó. “Russia is our third largest trade partner and unfortunately we have lost 12 per cent of our exports to Russia and CIS so far this year,” he said. The country appears to be weathering the geopolitical storm relatively well – its output in the second quarter was 3.9 per cent higher compared with the same period last year.  Yet Hungary’s economy has seen little investment and is weighed down by high public debt. Privately, some former government officials warn the increased output was driven by one-off factors; particularly the inflow of EU funds in 2013 and 2014.  Lajos Bokros, a former finance minister and candidate for the left in last Sunday’s municipal elections – in which Fidesz strengthened its grip on power – says the recent expansion is a “bounce back” from a double-dip recession and warns that Hungary’s overall performance is weak compared with its neighbours.

It is in this uncertain context that Mr Szijjártó and his colleagues view the seemingly downward spiral of retaliatory sanctions with concern. Officials admit there is little prospect of sanctions being rolled back this month. Mr Szijjártó insists Hungary is pursuing growth by other means – particularly its “Eastern opening” pitch for Asian investment. He also hopes that debt relief for hundreds of thousands of foreign currency borrowers will boost consumption, although this will come at the expense of the country’s struggling banks. The minister’s other main challenge is addressing the chorus of critics who accuse his government of pursuing an authoritarian campaign against independent media, civil society and the opposition. The allegations were given credence by Mr Orban, himself, when he made a speech in September, stating his ambition to create an “illiberal state”.  Hungarian officials say Mr Orban’s use of the word illiberal was misinterpreted. It referred to a particular understanding of “liberalism” in Hungarian politics, and his party’s desire to distance itself from the policies of the socialist-led coalitions that have governed Hungary for much of the period since the early 1990s. Mr Szijjártó will have an opportunity to explain this to senior US officials and address their concerns when he visits Washington later this month. “There is no factual basis for these criticisms, they are based on exaggeration. I will urge [US officials] to look in depth at the issues and base our conversation on the facts,” he says. “These criticisms have ruined part of our image. It’s my job to go out and explain what is happening – to talk to people and repair that.”

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Emanuel Paparella2014-10-21 11:26:50
Given that Vladimir Putin now goes around bragging and threatening the use of his two thousand plus nuclear missiles and demanding respect by sheer intimidation and annexation of sovereign countries, one has to wonder as to what the alternative to sanctions might be by Mr. Szijjarto since he does not like sanctions. A nuclear war. or perhaps surrender to intimidation and bullying?

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