At his regular Thursday press conference entitled Government Info 10, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár confirmed that the Government categorically rejects the EU’s proposed system of mandatory immigrant quotas.

The Minister said that the planned quota system is unacceptable for Hungary, and the Cabinet is of the opinion that the European Commission’s actions in this field lack predictability, planning and transparency. Three weeks ago there was news that Hungary would have to take in 300 immigrants; a couple of days ago, however, the Commission suggested that the country should receive 1100 immigrants, he explained.

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Hungary supports a policy whereby immigrants coming to Europe would first be stopped outside the borders of the EU, where reception centres should be established, and where a decision could be made on whether to allow them to enter the EU. In other words, the flood of immigrants should be received outside the EU, and not inside it, he stressed.

Mr. Lázár noted that the Government will discuss the issue of immigration at its next Cabinet meeting.

Minister Lázár also announced that next Tuesday he will travel to Brussels to provide the European Commission with information on the issue of the mandate of Altus Ltd, the company of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, president of the opposition Democratic Coalition party; this company was given the task of supervising EU development programmes in Hungary between 2014 and 2020. According to the Minister, it will be beneficial for the relationship of the EU and Hungary, if this “misunderstanding” can be resolved. He also said that he has received a letter from the European Commission’s Director General Walter Deffaa, who “admits that they have not proceeded with due diligence, and that they have neglected to carry out a background check on Altus Ltd.”.

Another issue discussed at the press conference was the institution of whole-life prison sentences in Hungary, which – as Mr. Lázár said – the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights regards as incompatible with EU law.  Reacting to this, Hungary has suggested offering the possibility for people serving such sentences to apply for parole after a certain period of time. It seems, however, that the EU will not accept this and will launch a procedure against Hungary’s whole-life sentencing policy; this poses a threat to the safety of Hungarians.

The Government will discuss the issue next week, the Minister said, adding that the Cabinet will insist on upholding the institution of whole-life prison sentences – which are currently being served by 53 people – and it does not want to make any concessions on this issue to the EU or the Court in Strasbourg.

The Minister also announced that on 22 May Hungary officially informed the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition Law that the Hungarian government does not regard the Paks 2 project as involving prohibited state funding. Throughout the nine-month negotiations, all competition law issues have been resolved. Should there be any new ones, the Government will answer those as well; if there are none, it will welcome the Commission’s consent, Mr. Lázár said.

He added that they will never be able to convince those who oppose not only the project, but nuclear energy itself. Their beliefs are respected, but the Paks project ensures jobs for people in three countries and cheap energy, he explained.

The Minister was also asked about the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker’s conduct last week. Mr. Lázár said that the Hungarian government had not commented on the President’s behaviour, because their stance is that “as we have elected him, we must accept the consequences. […] As you reap, so shall you sow”.

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Public workers can take seasonal jobs

People employed in the public works scheme may take seasonal jobs, and therefore may suspend their contractual obligations for 120 days, the Minister announced. The aim of this decision is to channel more and more public workers towards the open labour market, he explained.

Those concerned will not lose their status as public workers during the period of seasonal work, in effect taking unpaid leave of 120 days.

The Government requests that district authorities get in touch with employers offering seasonal jobs – for example construction or agricultural companies – and offer such jobs to public workers. Mr. Lázár said that the fact that district authorities analyse needs and allot jobs is a significant change. He also explained that those public workers who are physically able and competent for jobs but refuse them when offered will lose their status as public workers.
In the coming days the Ministry of Interior will submit to the National Assembly its draft legislation aimed at restructuring the system.

Mr. Lázár also announced that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will meet Mayor of Szolnok Ferenc Szalay and the parliamentary representatives of the region next Wednesday to discuss a four-lane road link between Budapest and Szolnok; the Government will make its decision following these talks. He said that they are committed to resolving this issue, which is crucial for the region’s development, and added that the Ministry of National Development also attaches great importance to the Szolnok-Fegyvernek four-lane link in simplified form. Concerning the M4 motorway, the construction of which has been suspended, he said that the state is due to receive pre-payments of HUF 22 billion from the three main contractors.

In response to a question, the Minister stated that there will not be another debate on tax: the proposal on the agenda applies to 2016. In order to reduce bureaucracy, however, this year the Committee on State Reform will make a proposal on the new taxation procedures. This may also affect the organisational structure of the National Tax and Customs Authority, he added.
Another topic of the press conference was statistical data on rising birth rates and falling mortality rates. The Minister emphasised that with the help of certain healthcare programmes – for example better organised service provision and mandatory health screenings – the number of deaths could be further reduced by 5000–10000.

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In answer to a question, Mr. Lázár said that a working group at the Prime Minister’s Office is working on the issue of how commuting by bicycle could be promoted, or commuting by car could be made cheaper in areas where public transport cannot be provided, or where it would require unrealistically high levels of investment. The Minister was of the opinion that the initial and running costs of cars should be reviewed.

The Head of the Prime Minister’s Office was also asked about news concerning the Hungarian Paralympic Committee (MPB). He said that in his opinion, the behaviour of the committee’s president tends to damage the cause of the Paralympics rather than improve it. It would serve the cause if he left his position and new officials were chosen, he said, noting that he is not the only one representing this stance. The scandal surrounding the MPB erupted at the beginning of May, when it turned out that President of the Committee Zsolt Gömöri had received a non-repayable sum of HUF 3 million from the MPB in 2012 for the early repayment of his loans. Even though Mr. Gömöri claims that he lawfully received the money, he has since repaid it.

The Minister was also asked about changes concerning holders of the highest public offices in Hungary. Answering a question on his prime ministerial ambitions, he stated that the Prime Minister must be elected by the citizens. “The closer I am to seeing what is involved in the job, the further I am from wanting to do it”, he said. He also pointed out that Fidesz is not considering a new candidate for the Hungarian presidency: János Áder does his work excellently, and we are a long way from this question arising.

Mr. Lázár also said that he has ordered ministries to make a one-year assessment of their performance. Concerning questions on this issue, and related issues of government structure, he said that he has a number of plans and ambitions, but it is not for him to set the conditions; therefore, even if he had to leave his position for whatever reason, he would be satisfied

(MTI/Prime Minister's Office)