Peace, Bread and Utility-Fee Cuts!

DSC_0400The caretaker at the residential building in Budapest where Orange Files is edited recently erected the mandatory lockable enclosure containing monthly itemized bills showing the precise amount that each resident has saved as a result of the Orbán government’s twenty-percent cuts in household fees for gas, electricity and district heating (see Minus 20 Everywhere). Residents had to pay the cost of the enclosure that must be placed in a “conspicuous (figyelemfelkeltő) and clearly visible” place in all residential buildings in Hungary pursuant to Law CCXXXI which the Fidesz-controlled National Assembly passed on December 17, 2013 (text of law in Hungarian). Residential-building caretakers are subject to fines of between 15,000 forints (50 euros) and 500,000 forints (1,600 euros) for non-compliance with the law (source in Hungarian). 


Minus 20 Everywhere

Fidesz National Assembly representative responsible for utility-fee cuts Szilárd Németh.

Fidesz National Assembly representative responsible for utility-fee cuts Szilárd Németh.

On November 22, Fidesz representative Szilárd Németh submitted a bill to the National Assembly that would require an official notice informing residents of the money they have saved as a result of the government’s twenty-percent cuts in utility fees to be displayed in a visible place in every residential building containing privately owned apartments in Hungary. This bill, as all others that the Orbán government or FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party National Assembly representatives submit, will certainly become law. Below is an Orange Files translation of the notice (see original notice in Hungarian): 

Utility Fee Cuts Send HOme

The Orbán government’s National Development Ministry issued a decree that went into effect earlier this year stipulating that all utility bills had to display the amount of money saved as a result of the utility-fee cuts in a field of orange, the party color of Fidesz. Below is an Orange Files translation of the relevant parts of the officially decreed format for utility bills (see original bill format in Hungarian):   

Good Utility Bill POst

IMG_2775The National Consumer Protection Authority subsequently fined six energy companies the albeit nominal total sum of 37.5 million forints (around 125,00 euros) for failing to follow the new bill format (source in Hungarian). 

In order to even better publicize the utility-fee cuts, the government has put up signs and posters all over Budapest (and presumably the rest of Hungary) reading either  “-20% Utility-Fee Cuts” or simply “Utility-Fee Cuts.” 

National Economy Minister Mihály Varga has said that the government may cut the centrally regulated fees for electricity, gas and district heating by a further 10 percent next year.  

The utility-fee cuts have become the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s attempt to mobilize popular support ahead of the 2014 National Assembly election. The primary purpose of the cuts is to portray the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a benevolent, though strong-handed leader who is willing to take on multinational energy companies in order to defend the interests of the Magyar nation.   


Swallowing the Frog

Orbán the Bullshitter

Prime Minister Orbán speaking to the National Assembly on July 4, 2013.

The Orbán government reacted in predictable fashion to the European Union’s July 3 approval of the Tavares Report criticizing it for undermining fundamental democratic rights in Hungary: the EU doesn’t really object in principle to what we are doing, but is engaging in petty party politics at the bidding of corporate lobbyists who want to get back at us for reducing exorbitant company profits to the benefit of the people.

Speaking at a session of the National Assembly on July 4, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the Tavares report is “unjust” and “hostile toward Hungarians” and that it “gravely insults Hungary” and “violates Hungary’s sovereignty.” Orbán also called the European Union “unjust” and accused the EU of “applying a double standard” toward Hungary and “abusing its power.” He claimed that corporate interests had instigated the report as a means of countering the government’s utility-fee cuts, which harmed the interests of European corporations that “for years collected as much money as they could from Hungarian families.”

Speaking during one of his regular Friday-morning interviews on state-run Kossuth Radio on July 5, Orbán asserted that the Tavares Report was a “left-wing action” taken against the government because it had written a constitution that “is not liberal” and because European left-wing parties “cannot swallow the frog” (literal translation of a Hungarian idiom meaning “to swallow the bitter pill”) of Fidesz’s landslide election victory over the Hungarian Socialist Party in 2010. The prime minister said that these left-wing parties are intertwined with “capital interests” that are attempting to reverse the government’s bank tax and utility-fee cuts. Orbán claimed that “Not since the Soviet Union existed has any outside force had the audacity to openly, choosing a legal form, limit the independence of Hungarians.”

Later on July 5, FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) National Assembly representatives approved a resolution submitted by Fidesz caucus leader Antal Rogán and two others entitled “On the Equal Treatment due to Hungary.” Representatives from the Hungarian Socialist Party and Politics Can Be Different boycotted the vote on the resolution, while the six representatives present from the Democratic Coalition and Dialogue for Hungary voted against it. Only Fidesz-KDNP representatives voted to approve document, which speaks in the name of the entire nation. The following is an Orange Files translation of the resolution (source in Hungarian):

We Hungarians joined the family of European nations more than one-thousand years ago with the foundation of the state and the adoption of Christianity.

We Hungarians have stood up for European values on many occasions.

There were times when we defended these values with our blood in the face of external attacks. In 1956 we took up arms against the communist dictatorship. In 1989 we contributed to the reunification of Europe through the dismantling of the Iron Curtain.

We Hungarians joined the European Union of our own free will.

We did this in the hope that we had joined a community standing on the foundation of law,  justice and freedom.

We Hungarians do not want a Europe in which freedom is limited and is not permitted to develop to its fullest. We do not want a Europe in which the stronger abuses its power, in which the sovereignty of nations is violated and in which the smaller must honor the bigger.

We had enough of dictates in the forty years spent behind the Iron Curtain.

We Hungarians have always honored the initiative of competent European Union institutions to engage in dialogue and have always been prepared to come to agreements conceived in the spirit of reason.

It is for this reason that we rightfully desire the respect and equal treatment due to Hungary from the institutions of the European Union.

We expect the European Union to honor the rights accorded to us following our accession just as it does with regard to every member state.

The Hungarian National Assembly voices its astonishment that the European Parliament adopted a resolution that it had no right to adopt and with which the European Parliament overstepped the boundaries of its authority. It arbitrarily establishes demands, arbitrarily introduces new procedures and creates new institutions that violate Hungary’s sovereignty as stipulated in the fundamental treaty of the European Union.

In this way the European Parliament is going against European values and placing the European Union on a dangerous path.

The fact that business interests are behind this abuse of power afflicting Hungary gives cause for further worry.

Hungary is decreasing the price of energy used by Hungarian families. This may harm the interest of several major European corporations, which used their monopolies to generate extra profit in Hungary for many years on end. It is unacceptable that the European Parliament is attempting to place pressure on our homeland in the interest of these major corporations.

The Hungarian National Assembly considers it dangerous for all of Europe if business interests are able to assert themselves without impediment within the European Union and are able to supersede the provisions of the fundamental treaty.

Today we approve a resolution aimed at defending Hungary’s sovereignty and the equality of Hungarian people within Europe.

We ask the government of Hungary not to yield to the pressure of the European Union, not to permit the rights guaranteed to the country in the fundamental treaty to be impaired and to continue the policies that serve to make the lives of Hungarian families easier.

The Orbán government’s claim that the European Parliament approved the Tavares Report at the behest of large energy companies seeking to reverse the government-imposed utility-fee cuts is especially absurd in light of the fact that the EP commissioned the report on February 16, 2012, more than nine months before Fidesz announced the mandatory ten-percent reduction in the price of household gas and electricity.