School’s out for summer: Parliament’s last Spring session

June 14, 2016

parliament

Parliament held its final session before the summer break on Monday in anticipation of the European Championship football tournament taking place in France. The break comes earlier than expected, but there will be so many MPs in France for the games that it would be impossible to hold sessions since the majority of Fidesz-KDNP MPs will be abroad rooting for the Hungarian team. Prime Minister Orbán is already there, attending to matters of dire national importance in Bordeaux, where Hungary faces Austria’s team later today. (Stop Press: result 2-0 to Hungary.)

The next National Assembly meeting won’t take place until September, so Monday was a big day in Parliament. 26 laws were passed, which ought to sustain the country for the next three months.

The session began with Fidesz faction leader Lajos Kósa taking the opportunity to use a mass-shooting tragedy in Florida to advance the rhetorical anti-immigration agenda of his party. According to Index.hu, Kósa reacted to the 49 shooting deaths and injury of 53 more in a gay nightclub in Orlando last weekend, saying that “unchecked immigration threatens Europe and the United States” and referred to the shooting as an act of “Islamic extremist terrorism.” He went on to point out that “integration of immigrants is difficult, almost impossible.” Evidently, Kósa was not aware that the killer in Orlando was not an immigrant but rather a native-born American, who also happened to be a homophobe and wife-beater.

Parliament then voted to replace the embattled Klik (Klebelsberg Institutional Maintenance Center), the organization created in 2013 to administer educational facilities across Hungary, with 59 separate districts to administer the schools within them. Along with the creation of the districts, the law transfers what little power remained with municipalities to administer their schools to the state. The district centers will be coordinated by an “intermediary level” organization overseen by the Ministry of Human Resources in Budapest. The law was passed 120 to 64 with one abstention.

The 2017 budget bill was also approved on Monday. Some of its more interesting elements are:

For the first time, budget revenue and expenditures will be separated into three categories: operations of the state, investments funded by the state and investments funded by the European Union, according to MTI. This is interesting to see, because the projected numbers indicate a continuation of heavy project investment from the EU, even as the ruling party continues to thumb its nose at Brussels. Expenditures on investments funded by the EU are targeted at HUF 2,239.2 billion (USD 8.4 billion), while state-funded investments are targeted at HUF 1,636.6 billion (USD 6.1 billion)

Spending on education will increase by HUF 270 billion (USD 1 billion) compared with 2016. It remains to be seen whether this, coupled with the new school administration scheme, will be enough to prevent teachers from calling a general strike.

The defense budget will increase by HUF 51 billion (USD 182 million). This includes further funding of police, the TEK anti-terrorism center, prisons and the National Directorate General for Disaster Management. These increases have already been attributed to the “ongoing migrant crisis.”

According to state news agency MTI, the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) said the new budget would benefit “Fidesz, friends, mates and families, but the Hungarian people, employees in health, education or welfare, will not gain from it”. MSZP leader József Tóbiás said the budget reflected the government’s “anti-welfare” policy, and insisted that the government would “spend public funds on itself and on the ‘gentle class’ it seeks to build”.

“There will be stadiums, spectacular projects, more money for sports but there will be no new services in education, welfare or health,” said Tóbiás.

The Dialogue for Hungary (PM) party said the new budget will “equal austerity measures worth 1,000 billion forints” aimed at “yielding benefits to Viktor Orbán and his cronies”.

PM co-leader Timea Szabó told a press conference that while the government suggests otherwise, the only areas that would enjoy increased spending next year belong to “Orbán’s private circus” such as moving the government to the Castle District, building sports stadiums or financing the Paks upgrade nuclear project.

Also passed into law was a bill stipulating that any offspring of a Hungarian citizen be responsible for contributing to the costs of care of their parents, should they require specialized care in old age. So if an elderly person must receive care, their child can now be sued to pay.

Finally, Politics Can Be Different (LMP) faction leader András Schiffer bade farewell in his last session in Parliament. He plans to give up his mandate at the start of the Fall session.  In an interview with Index.hu, Schiffer bemoaned the capture of democracy by global corporations, and the value of profit over people and the environment. He said 20th-century prejudices must be put aside, and politics should no longer be a game for the rich elite, or a name-calling battle of “communist” and “fascist”, but should speak to the needs of Hungary in the 21st century. Schiffer’s speech received applause from the ruling party representatives, presumably shortly before they reconvened to hammer through a few last bills before the football match.