Parliament will hold a vote to elect a new president on 5 June. If a president has not been elected by a two-thirds majority after the first vote, a second round will be held the following day. It now looks as if Mádl will now be voted for by all major political parties, except the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP).
Presidential candidate Ferenc Mádl has said that an accession date for the first group of EU candidate states is to be set soon. After having held talks with Romano Prodi in Brussels last week, Mádl said that the EU could no longer "really delay choosing the countries most ready for accession, or setting the date for their accession." European Union Ambassador to Budapest Michael Lake said on Tuesday, or "Schumann Day," that accession is going as planned and that the EU does not plan to slow down the process. Lake said he expects the Nice summit in December to set a timetable for enlargement.
Bad news for Hungary, as Günter Verheugen, EU commissioner for Enlargement, said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that he thinks enlargement will begin in 2005. Verheugen, who stated that Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia could join the Union with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, said that he would like to see 2002 set as a deadline for accession talks, with new countries joining in 2005. Responding to the comments, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gábor Horváth said, "As enlargement of the European Union and Hungary's accession to the organisation has advantages for both sides, it is rational if we work with the earliest possible, not the latest possible deadline, for membership." Horváth also pointed out that there is no change in the commitment by the Council of Europe made in December last year to be ready to accept new members on 1 January 2003.
Meanwhile, Dutch Foreign Minister Joziaas van Aartsen said during a visit to Budapest that Hungary has prepared for EU membership in an excellent way. He did, however, point out that the Dutch public thinks it is important that the EU hopefuls are properly prepared in order to "enforce their rights and bear the burdens of membership simultaneously." Aartsen hopes that the first members will join in 2003.
During his visit to Budapest, French Premier Lionel Jospin said that internal reforms would not delay enlargement, and added that, by the time of accession, the EU would be a "renovated and well functioning organisation." In contrast to Verheugen's comments, Jospin said that enlargement will not take place in groups, but each country's accession is an individual process.
After a week of speculation about Transport, Telecommunication and Water Management Minister Kálmán Katona's future, the Prime Minister said on Thursday that it was up to Katona whether he would like to be part of the new structure revealed on Thursday. Orbán unveiled plans to make telecom part of the Prime Minister's office, in order to combine this with IT and the audio-visual industry. Any restructuring will not affect ministries under coalition partner ministers. Katona, who said that he still does not agree with removing telecom and IT from the ministry, would, according to Orbán, be replaced by FIDESZ MP László Nógrádi, should he choose to leave his post.
The ministry reshuffle will, however, not only affect the Transport, Telecommunication and Water Management Ministry, but also economics, social and family affairs and health. The Prime Minister said he would make all changes public on Monday or Tuesday, at which time he would also reveal any changes in personnel.
Agriculture and Regional Development Minister József Torgyán said, after having held talks with István Harna, the Construction and Regional Development Minister of Slovakia, that both countries have an interest in closer cooperation beyond the state borders. Torgyán also stressed that it would be in Hungary's interest if Slovakia was admitted to the European Union in the first wave. Harna said that the economic unity of the state border regions would have to be restored and that it was in the interest of the Hungarians in southern Slovakia to join this regional development.
Meeting in Hungary, the environment ministers of the Visegrád Four - Milos Kuzvart of the Czech Republic, Pál Pepó of Hungary, Antoni Tokarczuk of Poland and László Miklós of Slovakia - concluded that cooperation would help all in the process of EU integration, while rivalry would only make the process more difficult. After the talks, the ministers said the economic burden of integration could be eased by the development of a cooperative environmental protection industry.
FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party President László Kövér has rejected plans put forward by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to resettle Hungarians from beyond the borders, in order to increase Hungary's population. He said that this could not be accepted even as an emergency measure, as "in a cultural sense," the areas where Hungarians live are part of the "living space of the Hungarian nation, regardless of under which state's authority they live." Kövér made it clear that more support for families would be the only way to improve Hungary's demographic situation. Compared to 1998, the government will this year increase family support by 62 per cent.
On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court ruled the ban on symbols of tyranny is not in contradiction of the constitution. A law for fines for distributing, displaying in public, portraying or making public use of swastikas, SS or Arrow Cross logos, the hammer and sickle and red stars came into force in 1993. Workers Party Gyula Thürmer immediately challenged the law, saying that the ban on red stars and the hammer and sickle went against "the right to found parties, freedom of opinion, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion." He said the recent ruling was futile and close-minded and would not help Hungary's re-integration into Europe.
Hungarian environmental groups have accused Dresdner Bank of being partly responsible for the catastrophic cyanide leak earlier this year. Environmental groups point to the USD 28.3 million invested by the bank in the Aurul plant, which was responsible for the cyanide poisoning. The environmental groups say that the bank is financially liable for its investments and should, therefore, close the Baia Mare (Nagybánya) plant.
After meeting his Macedonian counterpart, Ljubco Georgievski, Viktor Orbán said that Hungary and Macedonia would begin talks on a bilateral free trade agreement, in order to boost trade between the two countries. Georgievski, who called his visit to Hungary a historical event, said he supported the Hungarian government's regional and Southeast European policies. Macedonian Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitov, who was also in Hungary, said he expects Macedonia to open an embassy in Budapest this summer.
According to Economics Minister György Matolcsy, a ten-year period of "dynamic integration" in the Hungarian economy has started. He expects the positive trends seen in the first quarter of this year to continue until the end of the year. Foreign Minister János Martonyi said that the minimal increase in the trade deficit could be put down to the USD 200 million increase in energy imports this year, but added that the economy had grown exceptionally because of increased exports by small- and medium-sized companies.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai told Népszabadság that Hungary would not meet the six to seven per cent inflation target if oil prices remain high. He pointed out that, "The most important thing is, however, that the decline in inflation is continuing and has not stopped." He also added that it would not be unrealistic to set even lower inflation targets of four to six per cent for next year. With consumer prices increasing by 0.8 per cent in April, the year-on-year inflation rate was 9.2 per cent. Pál Belyó, an analyst with Ecostat, believes inflation this year could drop below eight per cent, while others are more pessimistic. Zoltán Török, from Raiffeisen Befektetési Rt, singled out the strengthening dollar and oil prices as the major dangers.
In contradiction to recent rumours, National Radio and Television Board (ORTT) President Judit Körmendy Ékes will not resign. ORTT spokeswoman Éva Vékony said on Monday that the rumours were unfounded, while Szilárd Sasvári of FIDESZ said, "The new ORTT president will put the works of the media body in order," and that everyone who has an interest in maintaining the current chaotic state of affairs in the ORTT want to discredit Körmendy Ékes with rumours.
After Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, government spokesman Gábor Borókai said that the flood alert would be lifted, after what he described as one of the biggest floods in Hungary's history having been averted. Borókai said national assets worth a total of HUF (Hungarian Forints) 2900 billion (USD 10.2 billion), 402 settlements and 1,454,000 people were threatened by the floods. Anti-flood measures cost almost HUF 18 billion. The remainder of the HUF 38 billion set aside for the floods will be spent on dams.
The Prince of Wales will begin a visit to Hungary, on Tuesday. According to the British Embassy in Budapest, Prince Charles was expected to hold talks with President Árpád Göncz and Prime Minister Orbán. The Prince will also inaugurate the new power plant of the Csepel Electricity company, one of the largest British investments in Hungary, and meet with Hungarian Business Leaders Forum representatives.
The Széchenyi Society, having already spent HUF 22 million (USD 77,000) on building a replica of the nineteenth century Hableány paddle steamer at Hajógyári Sziget in Budapest, would need another HUF 100 million to complete the project. Society President Aladár Kard said he remained hopeful the boat could be completed this year, as the National Image Centre seems interested in the project.
Paul Nemes, 12 May 2000