The October quota referendum is an event of historic significance, and it is to be hoped that the electors will adopt a clear and unequivocal decision which will reinforce the Government in its political struggle with the European Commission, János Lázár, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said at the 60th Governmentinfo press conference which he held jointly with Government Spokesperson Zoltán Kovács.

Mr Lázár said at his Thursday press conference: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will pay a visit to Warsaw on Friday to attend the meeting of the leaders of the Visegrád Group (V4). By virtue of the V4, Hungary forms part of a political group which is today the most potent alliance; this is “our most successful foreign policy enterprise”, he stated.

He told the press that there was full agreement within the V4 regarding the post-Brexit course of action, and the Visegrád cooperation also played a major role in the fact that we managed to stop the pressure weighing upon Europe from the South at our border.

The Warsaw meeting will also be attended by Angela Merkel, and the V4 heads of government will hear the German Chancellor’s proposals, Mr Lázár added.

He said: the next meeting of the V4 leaders will be held on 6-7 September where they will prepare for the EU summit of 16 September to be held in Bratislava which will be about the future of Europe.

In the context of the referendum, the Minister also said that the bureaucrats of the European Commission have adopted several decisions this year regarding mandatory resettlement with a view to intensifying immigration, and the implementation of these decisions has partly begun. European political leaders and the Hungarian Government are ready to alter Brussels’ decision, but in this fight the Government on its own is not strong enough, and this is why we need the referendum, he explained.

He remarked: the rules related to voting by mail cannot be changed before the referendum, and if the rules are to be changed at all, it will be necessary to consider what this may lead to.

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Mr Lázár said: three thousand new police officers will join the police force. At present, the police force is comprised of 37,000 staff members serving as police personnel. Their number will increase to 40,000 in order to guarantee the protection of the border. The Government will provide the necessary conditions, he added.

We do not just need police personnel, but we need good police personnel, and while the replenishment of the police force personnel is ongoing, and 20 to 30 per cent of the available jobs can be filled immediately, it is imperative to set realistic requirements. It is hard work to find and recruit this many good police personnel as we cannot send just anyone to the border; “we cannot rush things at the expense of quality”, he said.

The Minister takes the view that if there is no fence and live force protection, illegal immigration and people smugglers cannot be stopped. At present, there are a thousand immigrants in the country, and their number is continuously decreasing because the protection of the border is working, he said. He added: around a hundred people are taken back to the border daily, and are requested to enter the territory of Hungary via the official border crossing points.

In answer to a question, Mr Lázár said: Norway is building a fence on the Russian border which is a symbolic act inasmuch as it indicates that this is a legitimate solution, and there are situations when there is no other option: the border must be sealed, and a physical border fence must be erected.

He also said that the border fence has cost HUF 6.5 billion on the Hungarian-Serbian section, and HUF 6.1 billion on the Hungarian-Croatian section to date.

In answer to another question, he said: the Government is prepared for the eventuality that masses may set out for Europe. „We have gained some time with the fence”, he said, adding: we are reckoning with a worse scenario than many European countries.

The Minister also informed the press in response to a journalist’s enquiry: he offered to provide a detailed insight for the National Security Committee of Parliament into how American businessman György Soros intends to influence the decisions of the EU and certain countries. He believes that this is „not healthy” as the businessman has no authorisation from the electorate. He has initiatives which are nothing short of detrimental to Hungary, and his proposals often threaten the country’s interests, he said in stating his opinion on György Soros.

Mr Lázár reiterated: at the Wednesday government meeting, they heard the report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding the earthquake in Italy. The Minister expressed his heartfelt condolences to all Italian citizens and the Italian Government. Hungary is ready to provide any assistance Italy may need within the shortest possible time, he indicated. He added: we have no information on Hungarian victims at this point in time.

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Sport is a national cause

The Government perceives sport as a strategic sector and a national cause. Sport cannot be a party political issue, it must be the cause of the entire nation, the Minister said.

He argued: the performance rendered by Hungarian athletes in Rio and in recent years makes the country suitable for and worthy of organising the Olympic Games, Hungary is among the world’s most successful sports nations, and Hungary is the only one of these countries which has not yet hosted the Olympic Games. „Those who have doubts and have little faith find no answer” as to why Budapest could not host an Olympic Games, given that all the necessary conditions are available, he took the view.

Mr Lázár pointed out: the Government will reinforce its commitment to sports in the future, and it is the duty of the Government to create the infrastructure and financial conditions necessary for everyday sports, physical education and the education of succession athletes.

As he said, the Government will review the performance and operating conditions of the 16 priority sports at its next meeting.

State Treasury may be sole state payment agency next year

The Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office provided a detailed account of the recent meetings of the strategic and economic cabinets at the press conference Governmentinfo. As part of this, he informed the press: the Hungarian State Treasury may be the sole central state payment agency by next summer, i.e. citizens may receive all benefits and allowances from this organisation.

The transformation of support institutions was also on the agenda. In this context, the Minister confirmed that a 20 per cent staff reduction may be expected.

Mr Lázár said: the strategic cabinet further decided that the establishment of new firefighting facilities and penal enforcement institutions will continue. By 2018 there will be five thousand more places in prisons. He specifically highlighted that, in contrast to the Government’s plans, there will be no prison in Bátonyterenye.

Among the decisions adopted, he also mentioned that – in the interest of the protection of natural values and property – the conditions for the construction of wind turbines will be tightened.

They agreed at the meeting with the proposal relating to the establishment of social care centres, and also approved a Digital Child Protection Strategy.

The head of the Prime Minister’s Office further told the press that the meeting of the strategic cabinet was attended by Tünde Handó, President of the National Office for the Judiciary as an invited guest, with whom they reviewed the issue of administrative courts. The purpose of the introduction of administrative courts is the swiftest possible closure of administrative cases. They will initiate a five-party consultation on the matter. In answer to a question, he said: it is „complete rubbish” that they should want to delegate „sensitive political affairs” to the administrative courts. The Minister also refuted reports that András Patyi, Rector of the Public Service University would head the organisation of administrative courts. However, he said it was possible for judges to come from public administration if they meet the hiring criteria.

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The Government also dealt with the Choir, Symphonic Orchestra and Children’s Choir of the Hungarian Radio, and decided, as the Minister outlined, that three ministries will have to work out an arrangement which will enable the symphonic orchestra to survive and to consolidate its operation. The Hungarian Radio cannot give up its Symphonic Orchestra, and the conditions for its operation to the highest standards must be ensured, he stressed.

Upon outlining the decisions of the economic cabinet, he said: the Municipality of Óbuda will be given significant funding for creating a market; the rhythmic gymnastics federation will receive priority funding for hosting the European Championships in Hungary in 2017; the Association for the Promotion of the Mother Tongue will be given one hundred million forints; a national labour protection programme has been approved; the Kaposvár Csiky Gergely Theatre may be refurbished from an allocation of nine billion forints; Hungary will be the guest of honour of the Berlin International Green Week. They additionally also decided that the village of Rozsály and other localities which sustained severe storm damage at the beginning of the summer will receive damage alleviation funds.

In answer to a question regarding the case of Flórián Farkas, Commissioner of the Prime Minister, before OLAF, Mr Lázár said that the politician attended the hearing of OLAF, the European Anti-fraud Office, and will answer any questions that he was unable to answer on site in writing. He further remarked that the Government is able to give reassuring answers to the questions of OLAF.

He said in answer to questions concerning the Knight’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit awarded to the journalist Zsolt Bayer: he respects, but regrets the fact that several previous awardees returned their decorations as a result. „This decoration is not given by the Government, (…) but by the State”, and therefore those who returned their awards should consider this, he said.

Regarding Zsolt Bayer, he pointed out: there are achievements that cannot be called into question, such as the series entitled 1,100 years in the Middle of Europe associated with the journalist. „Naturally, in many respects I do not agree with his forthright journalistic activities, but this does not take away from the value of the achievements which Zsolt Bayer can claim, whether with his film series, his books, or his staunch support of the Hungarian community in the Carpathian Basin”, he said, adding: the granting of the award to Zsolt Bayer was not initiated by the Government; the Government accepted the relevant civic recommendation.

In answer to another question, the Minister also informed the press that the negotiations regarding the painting Calvary by Mihály Munkácsy with the owner Imre Pákh have come to a halt.

Mr Lázár was further asked about the refurbishment of metro line 3. He said: it is out of the question that the reconstruction works may begin this year because the public procurement tender which the metropolitan municipality is required to invite has not been published yet. If the invitation to tender were published right now, the refurbishment works could begin next spring, at the earliest, he indicated. Regarding the Budapest congestion charge, he said: the Government’s intentions remain unchanged, and they would not like to introduce a congestion charge.

Beginning of school imposes a lesser burden on families this year

The beginning of the school season imposes a lesser burden on families this year than in the years before, Mr Lázár said.

The Minister stressed: it testifies to the Government’s sense of responsibility that they support families at the beginning of the school season. In the lower grades, all children now receive their textbooks free of charge, 85 per cent of pupils in kindergartens receive their meals free, and 60 to 70 per cent of children in elementary schools, too, have access to free or discount meals, he listed the available benefits. He added: the pay of teachers will increase by 3.5 per cent.

Mr Lázár told the press: the new vocational training system is being launched now, and its goal is to enable students to find employment, and to provide succession labour market work force. It seems that, despite the changes, the school year may begin without major problems also in this area, he said.

The Hungarian economy needs qualified work force within the shortest possible time, and therefore the transformation of the vocational training system cannot wait, he said in answer to a question concerning deficiencies related to the curriculum.

In answer to another question, Mr Lázár said: Hungary was the first among the Member States of the EU to introduce the new public procurement regulations based on the guidelines of the European Commission. According to the law which entered into force this year, a bid is valid and successful if it is, overall, the most favourable one in every respect. In other words, the lowest price on its own cannot lead to the awarding of a contract. Other criteria must also be taken into consideration, he explained.

He said: there is a consultation dispute on the matter between Hungary and the European Commission, but no infringement procedure has been instituted. Compared with other countries, the EU body found far fewer errors in the Hungarian system, he said. He added: based on the new rules, there are up to 10-12 bidders in public procurement procedures, and as a result, a genuine competition may unfold among them.

The Minister pointed out in answer to a question: those applying for residency bonds are investigated by the police, the Counter Terrorism Centre, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and the Office of Immigration and Nationality. The investigation must be conducted within 30 days. Residency bonds have been purchased to the value of HUF 315 billion to date, and no information has emerged to the effect that anyone would pose a national security risk, he said.

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The Minister told the press: with the Balaton season drawing to an end, the Government will request an evaluation from the competent government commissioner, and based on the assessment of his recommendations, a package of measures is expected to come out in the autumn which may be suitable for addressing the chronic shortage of labour. This cannot wait, the pressure on the labour market is enormous, he pointed out.

(Prime Minister's Office/MTI)