The head of the prime minister’s office, Gergely Gulyás, said the neighbourhood and enlargement portfolio to be overseen by Olivér Várhelyi was “the most important” portfolio assigned to Hungary since the country joined the bloc in 2004. Gulyás said the government was convinced that Várhelyi would serve the interests of both Europe and Hungary in his post. In response to a question, Gulyás said Democratic Coalition MEP Klára Dobrev’s warning that her party would initiate Várhelyi’s removal from office were he found to be following the government’s instructions held no merit, arguing that neither scenario was possible. He said Várhelyi was “far better versed” in the functioning of the EU than Dobrev, adding that Dobrev had only used her position as an MEP to “prevent the approval” of the government’s original commissioner-designate.
Asked about a recent remark by the Romanian ambassador that in the absence of a bilateral agreement, Hungary would have no opportunity to support farmers in Transylvania, Gulyás said the two countries formed parts of the same economic area. “We expect Romania to make clear what objections it has to Hungary contributing to the development of the Romanian economy by supporting the Transylvanian region,” Gulyás said.
Meanwhile, he said the majority of councillors in Budapest’s new municipal assembly had failed to back plans for a superhospital in southern Buda and have refused to approve city financing for further health-care projects. Gulyás called it “bad news” that the assembly on Wednesday rejected two related amendments proposed by the ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance. One concerned the construction of the superhospital and the other a 10 billion forint (EUR 29.7m) contribution by the municipal assembly to funding the upgrade of the city’s health-care institutions, he said.
Gulyás said the government has allocated an extra 34 billion forints (EUR 101m) to the national health insurance fund for this year. The money will be used to fund drug subsidies and ensure better quality care for patients with rare diseases. Asked about hospital debts, Gulyás said the financial situation of the health-care sector could only be fixed once hospitals stopped accumulating debts and had enough money to treat all patients. The government, he added, was constantly monitoring the responsibility of hospital heads in connection with debt accumulation. Gulyás argued that some forms of care were underfunded while others could still be provided with less funding.
Budapest’s public projects council will convene next week at the request of Mayor Gergely Karácsony to discuss with the government the municipality’s conditions, Gulyás said. He added that he would try and convince the mayor that the city should not veto the superhospital project. The city should also “contribute to its health budget if they really consider that a priority,” he added. “It would compromise the city’s creditability if they refused to spend any money on health services out of a budget of 300 billion forints,” Gulyás said. He added that many of the conditions set by the municipal leadership coincided with the government’s plans, and some of them had been written into in next year’s budget.
Gulyás said the government had a clear commitment to developing health services, adding the government’s Healthy Budapest scheme has budgeted 42 billion forints for health improvements next year. “There are more CT scanners in Budapest than there are districts”, he said, adding that the government was open to talks aimed at further increasing that number. Gulyás welcomed the assembly’s unanimous decision to support plans for Budapest to host the 2023 World Athletics Championships, adding that “Budapest’s largest-ever green project” would be implemented alongside the event.
On another subject, Gulyás said the European Union was mulling a penalty of 50-60 billion forints in connection with municipal contracts for Budapest’s 4th metro line. The government has initiated talks aimed at reducing that penalty to a minimum, he added.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said the Hungary Helps scheme had been welcomed in many countries, especially in the US. He added the aid scheme would be “more successful than other programmes because it delivers aid directly to those that need it, such as church communities or hospitals in war zones.” “Hungary cannot stay passive when it comes to the world’s 245 million persecuted Christians,” he added.
Concerning the Budapest-Belgrade rail project, Gulyás said the agreements with contractors have been signed and construction is expected to take about three years to complete.