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Filling Stations May Not Be Shutting Down Next Weekend After Gov’t Promises to Pay Up

After threatening a mass gas station shutdown during the upcoming holiday weekend, the Alliance of Independent Gas Stations (FBSZ) issued another statement on Tuesday with a new position. The interest group writes that in an extraordinary general meeting held on Tuesday, it adopted the position that the companies that make up its membership ranks will decide on a one-by-one basis whether to stay open or closed on August 19 and 20.

FBSZ announced a few days ago that the independent gas stations it represents would close on August 19 and 20 due to supply shortages and uncertainties, as well as not receiving a promised government subsidy in July of 20 Ft. for every liter of fuel sold. At the same time, FBSZ noted that it may reverse its position if its members receive the overdue subsidies at the beginning of the week.

The association also announced on Tuesday that in the morning they had held a meeting with State Secretary for Trade Policy Márton Nobilis, who promised them that the government would begin processing subsidy requests this week, and that payments would take place next week.

Holtankoljak.hu’s Eszter Bujdos puts the number of FBSZ member stations at 500-600, out of a total of around 2,000 gas stations in Hungary. Bujdos also warned that mass closures of filling stations over the weekend could set off a wave of panic buying in the public. [HVG]

Win for Environment as Ministry Bans Clear Cutting in Protected Forests

A ministerial order has clarified the implementation of the August 4 decree relaxing logging regulations that has provoked protests from environmental groups, reports Telex.

Referring to the furor around the decree, Agriculture Minister István Nagy wrote on Facebook that a ministerial order refuted “false rumors appearing in the press,” although the Minister does not explain why “clarifying” rules are necessary if assumptions based on the interpretation of the government decree were false.

The order stipulates that the government decree faciliating the harvesting of timber in state-owned forests does not permit clear-cutting in Natura 2000 or other protected forests where indiginous species live.

In addition, the order states that the increased demand for firewood must be met primarily by harvesting acacia trees, and that relaxed environmental protection regulations will only apply if the demand for firewood cannot be met any other way. [Magyar Narancs]

Heat and Drought Only Set to Get Worse in the Next Few Days

Heat and drought are set to intensify in the coming days, the Hungarian Meteorological Service (OMSZ) announced on Monday. Hungary’s main weather forecasting service posted on Facebook that “the situation is tragic” with regard to the drought currently afflicting the country.

On its website, OMSZ wrote that the precipitation situation in Hungary was only getting worse. Scattered showers have thus far brought little rain and only to a small area, so the drought won’t be letting up anytime soon.

As an example, OMSZ noted that the sunflower and corn crops around Békéscsaba “show a depressing picture,” and there is little expectation of improvement in the near future. This week will also see another heatwave to last until Thursday, with peak temperatures to be around 33-38 degrees Celsius.

A cold front on Friday should moderate the heat somewhat. But the current forecast shows that only a small amount of rain is expected to accompany the front, and there is still no prospect of major precipitation on a nationwide scale, the weather service wrote. [Magyar Hang]

Higher Utility Prices Causing Extreme Financial Hardship for Municipalities

Municipalities are trying to prepare for the increase in energy prices, but they claim that planning is nearly impossible because they do not really know what to plan for, nor how much they will have to pay. Several municipalities may go bankrupt unless they receive additional financial support, reports ATV News.

“Public institutions and public lighting for the city of Szekszárd consume three million kilowatts of electricity. Even an increase of 10 Ft. (US $0.03) would mean tens of millions of forints, and the 50-60 Ft. ($0.13-0.16) increase under discussion would have the effect of turning the budget on its head,” said Zoltán Rácz, deputy chairman of the economic committee and member of the Long Live Szekszárd opposition caucus.

“It really is a big problem. For now, we are only getting a feel of the problem and looking for a solution. Additional resources are needed. This is how we’re thinking, but we don’t know exactly from where. We’re still working on it at the moment,” said Péter Máté, head of the town’s Fidesz caucus.

In smaller towns, the rise in utility costs can be an even bigger problem. The mayor of Surd in Zala County says that the problem doesn’t seem to have any solutions:

Until now, we’ve paid 1-1.2 million Ft. ($2,614-3,137) for gas, and now we have to pay 8 million ($20,914). Then there are the elderly, the doctor’s office, the kindergarten, the mayor’s office. So it’s impossible to manage it with the money we have. We don’t have funds for a third of what we have to pay out. There’s nothing to pay it with.

-said Surd Mayor János Kanász.

The town’s only source of income is a municipal tax, according to the mayor. They are planning to introduce a local business tax as well, but it may not bring in any extra income until next year. [Magyar Hang]

Up to 600 Filling Stations May Close Next Weekend in Protest of Missing Subsidies

Filling stations associated with the Alliance of Independent Gas Stations will close their doors in protest on August 19 and 20, reports RTL News.

The interest group representing Hungary’s non-chain gas stations said that its members still had not received the 20 Ft. per liter subsidy for July from the government. Moreover, since the start of the month, wholesalers are delivering less fuel to the retail locations than ever before, only half of their requested amount.

As a result, around a third of the country’s independent filling stations will sell at most coffee in their stores on Friday and Saturday, during the upcoming holiday weekend.

Alliance of Independent Gas Stations President Gábor Egri recommends that drivers fill up their tanks before August 20 to avoid the higher traffic and disruptions expected at some larger chain-run gas stations.

Egri estimates that around 500-600 gas stations will be joining the two-day protest next week, but added that the planned shutdown could still be avoided if independent gas stations receive their overdue subsidies in the beginning of next week.

MOL, OMW, and Shell have announced that their stations would remain open next week during their usual hours of operation. [444]

Support for Fidesz Down in Latest IDEA Poll

Compared to the beginning of July, support for the ruling party has decreased by 2 percentage points among all voters, and by 3 points among those committed to a specific party. The latter indicator fell from 54% to 51% in a new poll by the IDEA Institute.

Among all voters, support for Fidesz is now at 35%, a drop of 8 points since May 2022. At that time, support for the governing party in this group was 43%, the highest level ever measured by IDEA.

Support for Fidesz has now returned to the level it was at in December 2021, before the 2022 election campaign, notes IDEA.

IDEA’s analysts also looked at the level of attachment of Fidesz voters to their party, and how this affected their preferences. Voters who were connected to the ruling party in multiple ways stuck with Fidesz and were not dissuaded by the announcement of higher utility costs and tax changes.

However, voters who had expressed their support for the party merely because of its campaign promises have become disappointed in Fidesz, and now associate with the so-called “unknown preference” camp instead.

Hungary’s opposition parties have not been able to directly benefit from the anger of those who have left the ruling party, the poll revealed. DK remains the strongest opposition party, gaining 5 points overall. The left-wing party now stands at 11% among all voters and 17% among those committed to a specific party.

In third place is the far-right Our Homeland Movement, while all other parties are at around 5%, the minimum threshold to gain entry to Parliament. [Magyar Hang]

Péter Jakab Leaves Jobbik, Which He Led Just Two Months Ago

“I hereby leave Jobbik, and as an independent parliamentary representative I will remain in the ‘people’s party’ just as I have always been: blunt, aggressive, but always honest,” posted Péter Jakab on his Facebook page on Thursday afternoon, as a conflict between the opposition party and its former leader appeared to come to a head.

In an open letter addressed to party chair Márton Gyöngyösi, Jakab wrote:

As the new president of Jobbik, you faced an election today: if I remain in the people’s party, if I continue to bluntly, honestly, and aggressively stand up for those who have lost out in this crisis, the victims of the Orbán regime, then I have no place being in Jobbik. Well, Marci, then I have no place being in Jobbik. If I have to choose between the people and Jobbik, there is no question which one I will choose.

On Thursday, Gyöngyösi told Jakab that if he wanted to leave, then he should leave. According to Jakab, the party chair told him that “his politics are not a fit for Jobbik’s politics, and there is no need to be militant now, since we’re at peace, grass isn’t even growing, and anyway nobody is interested in politics at the moment.”

Péter Jakab was overwhelmingly re-elected as Jobbik president just three months ago, winning 71.4% of the vote in May. But he then resigned as party president in June, saying he could not work with Jobbik’s board. [444]

Six Environmental Organizations Launch Petition to Rescind Logging Decree

WWF Hungary, the National Society of Conservationists, BirdLife Hungary, the 10 Million Trees Foundation, Greenpeace Hungary, and the Clean Air Action Group have jointly penned an open letter to Viktor Orbán, asking the Prime Minister to rescind the government decree that eliminates restrictions on logging to generate firewood for heating.

“In addition to the ever-worsening effects of climate change, degrading the natural state of the forests and thus their ability to self-sustain is extremely irresponsible, while it would be possible to ensure the supply of firewood without such excesses,” said WWF Hungary’s program manager about the logging decree, which opens up even the most valuable state-owned forests to possible clear cutting, writes 444.

The fact that practically any forest can be harvested by ministerial permission beyond the scope of the forest plan is an unacceptable and unlimited authorization without precedent in a democratically run country. This possibility also calls into question whether the country’s most valuable forest remnants can survive.

-the WWF added.

Anyone can add their name to the petition on the WWF website. [Magyar Narancs]

Teacher Strikes Look Likely to Resume in September

Schoolteachers were not offered a meaningful salary increase for next year at Wednesday’s strike talks, but only empty promises from State Secretary for Public Education Zoltán Maruzsa, reports tabloid Blikk.

Following the negotiations, Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) representative Erzsébet Nagy said:

The crisis situation of mass [teacher] resignations and labor shortages must be resolved by the start of the academic year. Many schools are unable to begin the school year in accordance with the law, and the right to quality education guaranteed to everyone in the Fundamental Law is not being upheld.

Nagy stated that all they were able to get out of the government was another meeting for August 30. “We’re not going to have a normal start to the school year,” she warned, asking her colleagues not to wait with their strike preparations.

There will definitely be more work stoppages, said Tamás Totyik, Vice President of the Teachers’ Union (PSZ). There is a crisis in public education, claimed Totyik, for which the government is solely responsible for. [Magyar Narancs]

Medián: Majority of Budapest Residents Blame Gov’t for Current Crisis

Twenty-two percent of Fidesz voters living in the capital rate the government’s efforts as either failing or nearly so, according to a Medián poll published in Hvg360.

The telephone-based poll of 1,000 people found that every second resident of Budapest expects life to be less affordable in the near future, and a third are concerned that they won’t be able to pay their utility bills. 69% of the respondents did not agree with the government increasing electricity and gas prices for above-average consumers, with a quarter claiming that the new price structure would cause them “unbearable difficulties.”

A majority blamed Russia and the government for the crisis, including one in four voters for the ruling Fidesz party.

Most Budapest residents also believe that the government is not handling the crisis well: on a five-point scale, 43% gave the government a one, while 11% gave it a two. Even 22% of Fidesz supporters evaluated the government’s crisis management efforts with a grade of one or two. [Telex]

Hungary Not Getting Russian Oil Through Friendship Pipeline

The delivery of Russian crude oil to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia via the “Friendship” crude oil pipeline stopped last Thursday, several domestic and foreign media sources have reported. Quoting Bloomberg sources, Telex writes that as a result of sanctions, Russia is unable to pay the necessary transit fees.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that Ukrainian state oil pipeline operator UkrTransNafta had shut down oil deliveries from Russia to the three EU member states. Russian oil traveling via Belarus continues to reach Poland and Germany.

Russian pipeline transport company Transneft is allegedly unable to pay transit fees to UkrTransNafta, which demands payment in advance, because of EU sanctions. Transfers to the account of the Ukrainian company were reversed by the banking system, the Russian company said.

“Gazprombank, which handles the payments, has informed us that the payment was returned in accordance with EU regulations, namely the seventh sanctions package,” Transneft announced in a statement.

Transneft is currently looking for alternative ways to pay the transit fees so that it can continue to deliver Russian crude oil to Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

The availability of cheap Russian crude is what allows Hungary to maintain its official price cap of 480 Ft./liter for regular gasoline at the pump.

State oil and gas company MOL told HVG that although they had enough crude oil reserves for several weeks, the company was working to find a solution to the problem, and “has initiated negotiations on taking over the fee obligations.” [Magyar Narancs]

Ujhelyi Shelving Referendum on Hungary’s EU Membership as Jobbik Submits Its Own Version

István Ujhelyi won’t be submitting a referendum question on Hungary’s future in the EU after all, the MSZP politician announced on Monday, in a statement titled “Ujhelyi: I am shelving my referendum question because of division in the opposition.”

Despite reports yesterday that Ujhelyi would be launching a referendum initiative to “confirm” Hungary’s membership in the alliance, he changed his mind after fellow opposition party Jobbik also submitted a similar referendum question on Monday. “I will therefore not submit my own proposal, but keep it in the top drawer,” the Socialist MEP wrote.

Ujhelyi wrote in an open letter on Sunday that he was planning to initiate a referendum on the following question: “Do you agree that Parliament should create a law on Hungary’s commitments to membership in the European Union?”

However, it appears that Jobbik beat Ujhelyi to the punch, as Jobbik President Márton Gyöngyösi went to the National Election Commission on Monday morning and submitted his party’s own version of this question, which read, “Do you agree that Parliament should not support any proposal or motion that could result in Hungary leaving the European Union?”

Not all opposition parties supported Ujhelyi’s referendum idea. Two leading politicians in Momentum came out against the idea on Sunday, with board member János Kele calling the referendum initiative a “huge mistake” if it were held. [Telex]

Jobbik and MSZP Propose Referendum on EU Membership

Jobbik President and Member of European Parliament Márton Gyöngyösi is holding a press conference on Monday titled “Hungary’s Place in the Union – Jobbik is Initiating a Referendum.” Further details are not yet known, including what their referendum is about exactly, and if it is somehow connected to the announcement of a similar initiative by MSZP on Sunday.

Earlier, MSZP’s István Ujhelyi proposed a referendum on the following question: “Do you agree that Parliament should create a law on Hungary’s commitments to membership in the European Union?” The Socialist MEP argues on social media that Hungary’s EU membership must be “confirmed” in a referendum:

Until now, only EU money has kept Orbán and his regime in the European community, not values, which means that if the ‘money tap’ is closed, there will be nothing left to keep the leaders of the regime in the European Union.

-Ujhelyi writes, claiming that the country has never before been in such grave danger, since the Hungarian government is unable to reach a compromise with the European Commission and may lose some of the EU funds due to it from the recovery fund.

Together with the referendum effort, MSZP will also submit a bill to Parliament. The referendum will force the National Assembly to take up the vote, reasons the Socialist politician.

If the bill passes, there will be no need for the referendum, says Ujhelyi, who believes that “the intent to leave the EU is hardly far from the minds of the current government.”

However, the proposal was received cooly by fellow opposition party Momentum. Board member János Kele thinks that the referendum initiative would be a “huge mistake.”

Kele writes on social media that it’s simply not worth risking an enormous national tragedy just because some “political actors, who are afraid of becoming irrelevant, now see this issue as an opportunity for them to claw their way back.” [HVG, Telex]

Gov’t Policy to Clear Cut Forests for Heating Could Have Terrible Consequences, Says Dialogue

On Thursday evening, the government published a decree suspending environmental regulations in order to increase logging for firewood. Green party Dialogue is now warning about the danger of ending all restrictions on the prohibition of clear cutting forests, including state-owned environmentally-protected forests, Natura 2000 areas, or otherwise-protected forests.

The opposition party writes that the state of Hungary’s forests is deteriorating year by year, the number of native forests is decreasing, and clear-cutting can have unforeseeable consequences, such as higher air pollution, water shortages, drought, and species invasion. Burning freshly-cut wood is not only uneconomical, they say, but also harmful to the environment and worsens air pollution. Even now, burning solid materials makes the air in many Hungarian towns and cities extremely unhealthy in the wintertime.

Dialogue argues that instead of the irresponsible destruction of forests, the government could take a meaningful step towards Hungary’s energy independence with a single stroke of the pen: by ending the ban on wind farms, and repealing the tax on solar panels and heat pumps.

The party pointed out that Fidesz promised in its 2010 election platform to remove administrative obstacles for utilizing green energy. Instead, the party banned wind farms, introduced a tax on solar panels and heat pumps, and made a long-term gas contract with Russia. The gas contract, moreover, is neither cheap nor advantageous, nor does it guarantee the security of supply.

Katalin Rodics from Greenpeace told Magyar Hang that the new decree would wipe out Hungary’s environmental achievements over the past 40-50 years. The most painful thing about this, she claimed, was not that the efforts of environmentalists will have been in vain, but that destroying the natural world endangers the country’s future. And it is being destroyed for a very short-term goal, in the middle of the climate crisis as well, said Rodics. [444, Magyar Hang]

Népszava: Orbán Gov’t Planning to Sell Off National Park Land to Raise Funds

The government is counting on 300 billion Ft. (US $776 million) in revenue in next year’s budget from the sale of state-owned real estate under the Ministry of Agriculture, writes Népszava. Experts claim that the ministry will only be able to raise this amount with forestry farm assets or national park land, or if not only private persons, but agricultural companies are also able to purchase state land, which is currently being leased to them.

An agricultural expert desiring anonymity told the newspaper that the government was planning to launch a new program called “Land for Farmers” with 480,000 hectares of national park land.

Zoltán Gőgös, a former state secretary in this area between 2006-2010 in the MSZP government, pointed out that the government previously tried to sell off property in Hungary’s national parks, but the Constitutional Court intervened and blocked the deal. However, he told Népszava he was no longer certain that the current Constitutional Court would make the same ruling today. [Magyar Narancs]

Orbán Speech Opens CPAC in Dallas

Viktor Orbán opened the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with a speech in Dallas, Texas on Thursday. CPAC has been a major gathering for U.S. right-wing conservatives since 1974.

The main purpose of the Prime Minister’s half-hour-long English-language speech was to introduce himself and his policies to the American conservative audience, which may sympathize with him but does not know much about Hungary and its government.

Orbán touched on his well-worn themes: Christian values, migration, gender, and the importance of the fight against liberalism, but also didn’t leave out Barack Obama or George Soros.

He compared Hungary to Texas, the Lone Star State, where independence, freedom, and sovereignty are the three most important values in both places.

The Hungarian government made great efforts to get the Prime Minister a speaking slot at the conservative convention. The taxpayer-funded Center for Fundamental Rights, which also organized CPAC Hungary earlier this year, is one of the event’s sponsors.

As for how he felt about speaking at CPAC, Viktor Orbán said it was a dream come true. [444]

DK: European Commission Investigating Whether Highway Concession Violates EU Law

The European Commission is investigating whether the Orbán regime’s highway concession violates EU law, announced Sándor Rónai, DK’s representative in the European Parliament, on social media on Thursday. As he wrote:

We learned in May that groups associated with Orbán’s oligarchs, [Lőrinc] Mészáros and László Szíjj, were awarded the right to operate Hungarian highways for 35 years. However, we have not been able to find out since then what calculations the government used to justify the several trillion-forint business, whether it was a good deal for Hungarians, or if it was just another theft. It stinks from afar, which is why I have brought the issue to the attention of the European Commission. And Ursula von der Leyen has just informed me that the Commission is investigating the deal, specifically, whether the 35-year motorway concession violates EU law.

[Magyar Hang]

Ungár’s News Site Azonnali Shutting Down

News site Azonnali.hu, started in 2017 by LMP politician Péter Ungár and Gábor Gerényi, will be shutting down, Media1 announced.

Ungár did not comment to Media1, but Gerényi told them that the matter had essentially been decided. The site had been losing money for years, said Gerényi, and its prospects had become bleak. He added that good people had worked there, and he hoped they would be able to find employment elsewhere.

Media1 also reported that another site owned by Péter Ungár, Úgytudjuk, was likewise facing an uncertain future.

Veteran journalist András Kósa became editor-in-chief of Azonnali last fall, having previously worked at Magyar Nemzet, HVG, VS, and Népszava. Kósa simply told Media1 that he was currently on vacation. [Magyar Hang]

Fidesz to Boycott Extraordinary Parliamentary Session Called by Opposition

Ruling party Fidesz has told atv.hu that its parliamentary representatives would not be attending the extraordinary session in Parliament being convening by the political opposition.

The opposition parties announced on Monday afternoon that they would initiate convening an extraordinary parliamentary session, and would also submit proposals to Parliament intended to alleviate the crisis affecting the livelihood of Hungarians.

Issues they expect to address are the modification of the KATA tax law, the development of new regulations following stakeholder consultations, withdrawing the increase in utility costs, and lowering VAT on staple grocery items.

Fidesz did not immediately announce whether it would take part in the extraordinary meeting or not, but their reaction to the initiative gave an indication. The party referred to the fact that DK President Ferenc Gyurcsány claimed that he was “getting ready,” a phrase the former prime minister has begun using recently to end his Facebook posts, and which Fidesz interpreted as Gyurcsány’s intention to “bring together all of his smaller members” and return to power.

Parliamentary Speaker László Kövér must still call Parliament to order, but the National Assembly will not have quorum without the representatives from the governing party. This means that speeches on the agenda will be delivered, but the opposition won’t have enough MPs to vote on the agenda and the session will then be adjourned. [Magyar Hang]

Right to Abortion Supported by 70% of Hungarians

The Hungarian population continues to support the right to have an abortion, provided that the age of the fetus has not reached the 20th week, according to an Ipsos poll. The polling company included 27 countries in its latest survey.

In Hungary, 70% believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 14% think that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Internationally, the survey found an average of 59% for the former and 26% for the latter.

81% of the adults polled in Hungary said that abortion should be permitted if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or health, a result nearly identical with the international average of 80%.

The poll also found that 82% of Hungarians felt that abortion should be legal even in the case of rape, and 81% supported it if the fetus has a serious disability or health issues. These were noticeably higher than the international averages of 70% and 67%, respectively. [444]