The Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office described the 2019 budget to be presented to Parliament next week as a budget of safe growth at his Tuesday press conference.

According to Gergely Gulyás, Hungary’s economic prospects are good, the foundations of growth are stable, but the signs of a crisis are emerging in the European economy, in particular in the Eurozone.

He said the sovereign debt is high in several Member States of the Eurozone, a number of countries fail to observe the Maastricht criteria, while the trade war with the United States which is currently unfolding will affect Germany most directly, but it may also have an indirect impact on Hungary.

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Additionally, in several countries of the zone there is political instability which also poses an economic threat, while in the southern states unemployment is high too, he listed.

The Minister said that as Hungary may also be affected by these threats, the government has increased the general reserves of next year’s budget by 50 per cent. They attribute great significance to the fact, he continued, that they will deploy measures to boost the Hungarian economy in the interest of promoting economic growth, and therefore next year’s budget will feature investments worth HUF 4,000 billion.

He pointed out that the Hungarian economy had grown by 4.7 per cent in the first quarter, and with this result it is ranked fourth among the EU’s 28 Member States.

According to Mr Gulyás, the 2019 budget is a conservative budget reckoning with a deficit of 1.8 per cent which will primarily stem from the promotion of investments and the supply of own resources for investments implemented with EU co-funding.

He also indicated that at the Tuesday cabinet meeting all the ministries had identified their priorities in connection with next year’s budget.

He mentioned among the 2019 budget’s goals that the higher reserves serve to guarantee the country’s security, while investments seek to maintain growth. He added that next year the tax benefits of families with two children will rise to HUF 40,000 monthly, while they will also take measures towards reaching full employment.

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He highlighted that, in accordance with the agreement regarding the reduction of contributions, they will further reduce taxes, meaning that the social contribution tax will decrease from 21.5 per cent to 19.5 per cent.

He mentioned as a goal, in particular due to the shortage of work force, the elimination of the restrictions on the employment of the elderly.

He said, according to plans, the 2019 budget will be presented to Parliament on 13 June, and as expected Members of Parliament will adopt the bill on 20 July.

In answer to a question he said that in next year’s budget, too, they are calculating with an economic growth rate above four per cent. In answer to another question he told the press that the government is in the process of negotiating a pay rise for civil servants whose salaries have been unchanged since 2008, but no definitive decision has been reached yet.

He also said that the cabinet had already discussed several versions of the new National Curriculum, and if they wish to enact it as of September 2019, a decision will have to be adopted this year.

Regarding news reports that József Pálinkás will be removed from the office of President of the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said that the leader of the new innovation ministry, László Palkovics, will have talks with Mr Pálinkás.

In answer to the question as to whether they will restrict the influence of non-governmental organisations over the judiciary by means of a law, Mr Gulyás said judicial independence must be protected against everyone. “We look upon judicial independence as a constitutional value (…) which serves, beyond dispute, as a guarantee for the operation of the rule of law”, he said, stressing at the same time that this should be construed not only in the context of political parties, but in relation to all attempts to influence the judiciary.

The Minister said in answer to another question that the Carmelite cloister in the Castle of Buda may be in a state fit for the Prime Minister’s office to move in by the end of the year. He added that he had appointed a ministerial commissioner in the person of Gergely Fodor who will coordinate the operation of the companies involved in this project in the coming months.

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Regarding press reports that due to public procurements conducted between 2015 and 2017 the EU may demand the repayment of grants worth HUF 100 billion, Mr Gulyás said that they will consider all criticisms, and according to plans the Hungarian reply to the secret draft report will be prepared by 20 August. He also highlighted that most of the criticisms were related to construction projects on the grounds that there was a 10 to 15 per cent difference between the planned and the actual implementation prices. In the past few years there has been a significantly higher price increase in the construction industry in Hungary.

The Minister said in answer to a question related to the painting Calvary by Mihály Munkácsy that the Hungarian State would buy the painting for three billion forints, but according to his information the owner is asking for nine billion forints.