Allow me to welcome you all, Honourable Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the opportunity of being here with you. I am coming to the end of a difficult week. May I never have a worse week, or a week that ends worse than this one! I thank the Mayor for making it possible for us to sign this agreement. The Honourable Mayor pointed out that every decision has a human or a personal background – and that’s true. I’ve been thinking long and hard about which city among those of county ranking I could afford to visit last, without the risk of any political misunderstanding. And I thought that I could afford myself that luxury here, because in every election since 1990 the representatives of the civic, national and Christian political community have won here; and so if I came here last, no one would think that the Government – or myself personally – had relegated this city to last place in our hearts. So this is why we chose today for this meeting. And indeed, I couldn’t hide the fact that I’m personally drawn to your city, even if I wanted to – but why would I? Perhaps we have a minute for me to recount an old memory. When I first held a political meeting here, it was in a building housing the library; and as I started in this line of business a long time ago, it was a rather small meeting, with maybe a dozen of us present. In this respect the meeting itself is not particularly interesting, but when I arrived, coming out of the library were some men in farm workers’ clothing, carrying books under their arms. And I expressed my surprise that something like that could still happen. They confirmed that they could, because there was still a readers’ club – perhaps that was what it was called – and that their club meeting had just finished. It was then that I realised that what László Németh wrote is not just literature, but reality. The kind of man, the culture, the way of life combining hard physical labour with an interest in higher intellectual pursuits still exists – and indeed it will even survive, with God’s help. So this is the image I have in my mind. I don’t know who they were, but in my head I can still see the faces of those farmers, whom I accidentally bumped into there, and who at the time didn’t yet know that they would eventually become our voters. But that’s a different story, because Hungarian politics has come a long way. And indeed, if I try to raise this little story to the level of politics, the Mayor is, of course, right to contradict the old pearl of wisdom which claims that in politics there is no such thing as friendship. He is right to do so, because personal affinities do matter. Yet with one small addition this sentence is not entirely without merit: there is no friendship in politics that can take priority over the interests of the country. In this way the statement can be said to be valid.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are in a city which we realise continues and preserves for the future an old Hungarian historical tradition, a way of life and culture. We are grateful to you for this, and on behalf of the whole country we wish to thank you for adding this vibrant colour and shading to the culture of the entire Hungarian nation. We are talking about serious things, but in the course of cooperation with you I also learnt that, when talking about serious matters, the most important thing is not to lose our sense of humour and cheer; because if we lose ourselves in problems, in the end we’ll fail to see the good things in life, and only see what is irritating. It was here in Hódmezővásárhely that I first heard the expression “right-thinking person” – and I believe that a cheerful, optimistic person is right-thinking. So here we are in a place where the items of the agreement which I would now like to share with you are judged according to their importance – neither overestimating nor underestimating them.
First of all, to recall old glories, it is indeed true that a sack full of billions in debt weighed down on this city’s back, but with one brave sweep we managed to remove this from your shoulders – as we did in every Hungarian municipality. Thanks to this you did not go bankrupt, along with several other Hungarian cities. In fact the majority of Hungarian cities could have been bankrupted, as in the period before 2010 they were burdened with so much debt that, had we not removed it from their shoulders after 2010, now you would still be in bankruptcy proceedings – or in a sea of debt at the very least. We managed to solve this. It is not the Government that should receive credit for this, but an economic policy in which cities were just as involved as businesses and workers, managing to create an economic situation in which the Government could afford to assume those debts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is an old point in question here. This was not part of our agreement now, but I would like to mention that whenever I have visited you, you have always said that 18,000 vehicles pass through the city, and that this unfortunate situation cannot be changed until a bypass road is built – if I’ve interpreted the figures correctly, a thirteen-kilometre road with a budget of more than twenty billion forints. The Mayor has told me that this road, this bypass road, is currently being built. And if it is being built, it will be completed at some point, and so when we next meet all that traffic will be bypassing the city.
If you will allow me, I think it is important to mention that before my arrival here decisions were adopted that the city should receive ten billion forints for a Hódmezővásárhely economic development programme, and from this budget sixteen development projects will be implemented within the boundaries of the city. I’m not going to list these, as you may perhaps already know about them.
Similarly, upgrading Route 47 to a dual carriageway is another project which has carried over from the past into the present. We didn’t agree on this here, but it is also important for you. I’m talking about the Békéscsaba agreement: we are going to build an airport in Békéscsaba. And today we discussed a difficult story which, for some mysterious reason, is referred to as the tram-train line – a term that most Hungarians cannot pronounce – and which is planned to operate between Hódmezővásárhely and Szeged. Here there were two things that we had to talk about. The first was that we confirmed that we need it, but it must be implemented at a reasonable price, and we cannot compromise on this – I ask you to bear this in mind. And we also agreed that this line is too short. It would be reasonable, with a view also to our policy objectives for Hungarian communities abroad, for this tram line – allow me to call it a tram line – to extend all the way to Szabadka: on a Szabadka, Szeged, Hódmezővásárhely route. Today we agreed with the Mayor that this makes sense, and we shall therefore engage in talks with our Serbian friends in order to implement this project, which will also connect Szabadka to your bloodstream.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We agreed to support the construction of processing industry facilities in Hódmezővásárhely. This means that we decided on development of the city’s industrial park. We are going to enlarge the city’s industrial park by one hundred hectares: we are going to buy this plot of land, the state will buy this plot of land for you. This will cost you nothing – your task will be to fill it with operational projects. And we’ve also agreed to financially support agricultural processing industry businesses which wish to settle in the city. This means that the Hungarian government will award grants to those who want to come here, businesses which want to enlarge their operations and settle here. For each specific business we will talk about the specific details. As this area has the highest recorded number of hours of sunshine in Hungary – at least according to the maps I’ve seen – the Mayor also presented a proposal which states that it would be worth creating a large state-owned solar park. We are setting up smaller ones elsewhere at present – more than a hundred, in almost every part of Hungary – but the proposal we’re talking about now is on a different scale. And so we should create a large state-owned solar park. We believe that this is possible, consultations on the details of this project will begin, and we will be happy to implement it together with you.
The Mayor also proposed that we should connect Hódmezővásárhely to the bloodstream of higher education in agriculture. I don’t want to open the debate now on whether the structure of higher education in agriculture will be the same after 2018 as it is now. I don’t wish to open this debate for two reasons: first of all, I don’t want to put myself in the hot seat, and secondly we don’t want to count our chickens before they’re hatched. The voters will decide what will happen here after 2018, and if they put their trust in us, then naturally we shall carry out some reasonable reorganisation. Hódmezővásárhely may or will have a role – a major role – in this reorganisation, and may then join in this new structure of Hungarian agricultural higher education with a new institution of its own.
As I spoke about books before, we’ve agreed that a library should be built, as today the library is operating in a building which was designed for another purpose; and in order to raise the stakes, the Mayor proposed that a new library and knowledge centre needs to be built in the city. We agreed on this, this will be a project of some four billion forints, and the city will have a modern purpose-built library building. I only added that, if possible, it should also look good – but that’s not my business, it’s the city’s. But given that your ancestors built such a beautiful city, the new building should continue those traditions, rather than destroy them.
We also agreed on the refurbishment of some schools. This, too, will cost four billion forints. It will include the refurbishment of the Bethlen Gábor Reformed Church Secondary School, and the refurbishment and extension of the Németh László Elementary and Secondary School. We agreed on the development of vocational training institutions, the development of the Kalmár Zsigmond Secondary School, the Eötvös József Vocational Secondary School and the Cseresnyés Student Residence. We assigned specific budgets to these projects. So, as the specific funds are available, these projects can begin immediately after the completion of the public procurement procedures. We need not talk any further about these.
The Mayor also put some items on the agenda concerning improvements in the quality of life. We agreed to try something big – something we’ve not tried before. In Hungary we’ve been struggling for a while with the issue of what should happen to system-built housing. And of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer: in one place it should be like this, somewhere else it should be something different. There are places where blocks should be demolished, and other places where they should be renovated to a greater or lesser degree. Here we had a proposal – and we would be happy to set out on an adventure like this with you – that we should choose a ten-storey residential block, and if we can come to an agreement with the residents – but only if we can come to an arrangement with them – we should launch a demolition programme. Something like this has not yet been done in Hungary. It is worth starting this somewhere, and if there is enough courage and cooperative civic inspiration in those living here, why not start this programme here, in Hódmezővásárhely?
We also agreed on the construction of a 117-kilometre system of cycle paths on the city’s outskirts. I’m not talking about cycle paths which we use to go to work and which run along main roads, but those which are expressly for tourism. I’ve seen the map for this, and I believe that this may also be implemented soon.
And finally military policy also formed part of our discussions, as I believe that Hódmezővásárhely is – and I think this is no exaggeration – the country’s safest city. This is reflected in the public security indicators, but there are soldiers as well – indeed we even have a major garrison here. We are near the border here, too. So there is a reason for our uniformed people to also be given development opportunities, and we agreed on this. Yesterday the Chief of Staff and I attended the NATO summit together, and so as sergeant I managed to obtain the General’s permission to talk about this issue here. Anyway, he also agreed to the development of the infrastructure of the Zrínyi Miklós barracks: we’re going to refurbish the barracks and build a new military secondary school and student accommodation. In other words, we are going to extend and diversify the choice of training options available in the city. And we would also like to initiate talks with the hospital, so that the city institution can obtain official military hospital status. We also discussed other military policy issues – brigades here, there and everywhere – but these went beyond the scope of today’s talks, given that the National Security Cabinet must state its position on any kind of organisational issues concerning the army. So we postponed discussion of these issues to a later date.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If you have a few more minutes’ patience, allow me to also summarise in a few words the Modern Cities Programme after Hódmezővásárhely, where I’ve had the privilege of signing the programme’s twenty-third agreement with your mayor. I would like to reiterate that the consolidation of local government debt created the foundations for the subsequent agreements – agreements similar to the one we concluded here. For Hódmezővásárhely, a figure has already been stated: debt consolidation meant removal of a burden of more than twenty billion forints. If I add up the figures for all settlements, I can say that we removed debts of 1,369 billion forints from the shoulders of local governments. In other words, the Government assumed their previously accumulated operating and development expenditure. This is perhaps the most important thing. The second thing is that these agreements had a basis. The other important thing is that if I add up the budgets of the twenty-three city development programmes, we can see that we agreements concluded on economic development programmes amount to 3,400 billion forints in total. Recently perhaps we’ve overused some words, because a government with national and Christian sentiments such as ours is often inclined to use words that are perhaps loftier than justified. But aside from this, it has to be said that these are agreements on a historic scale; because if we survey Hungary’s public administration and economic history, we won’t find any other programme in which economic developments of 3,400 billion forints were implemented. In order to satisfy our sense of justice, I would like to inform you that although this programme, the Modern Cities Programme, relates to county-ranked cities, in parallel we’ve also conducted talks with the counties’ general assemblies. Hungarian small and medium-sized settlements are well represented in county general assemblies. I therefore believe that while big cities have received most attention, in the background a great many agreements have been concluded which also open up development and growth opportunities for small and medium-sized Hungarian settlements. Though the county general assemblies also represent the interests of villages, medium-sized settlements tend to dominate, and so in the future what we clearly need most is a village programme, or a programme that seeks to reinforce the village way of life – from job creation, through infrastructure developments, to services. And we must also launch a special housing programme for people living in villages. This has yet to be done, but as I said, we shall perhaps be able to implement such a programme after the next election, God willing.
As regards the Modern Cities Programme, it is perhaps also worth briefly mentioning that our belief that the Hungarian people have more potential than was thought in the past guides our concept that the developments taking place in one region or another should not be dictated from Budapest. There are always arguments against an approach such as ours, because we have to see the bigger picture. These are understandable and rational arguments, but they have not proven to be correct; in fact, it has been seen that local people can put together development programmes – as many as twenty-three “jigsaw puzzles” – which together constitute a great national urban development programme. So we made the right decision in not distributing this huge sum, these development funds, in Budapest, instead going to see every city and individually agreeing with each and every one of them in turn. I think that so far this has been a successful model. Our goal was to turn county-ranked cities into centres which are both engines for the development of the local economy and are also able to offer a good standard of living not only to those who live in them, but also to those who are connected to them one way or another. This is because your city is not only used by those who live in it, but, I believe, by the thousands of other people who come here every day to use its education, health care or sports facilities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I therefore believe that although it is also true in politics that one must not abandon the well-trodden path, if we always remain on that path we shall end up going round in circles; and so we must set out on new paths. And I believe that the agreements concluded with the twenty-three cities are an innovation in Hungarian politics, and an innovation in public life which I think serves the interests of people and families living in cities. So in summary I can say that the hard work of the past year and a half or so has been worth it, in order to reach twenty-three separate agreements, instead of one central directive. I am certain that spending this amount of money will enable people to be more satisfied in their cities and in their immediate environment than if someone from Budapest had told them what their cities should look like and what direction their development should take. So congratulations are in order: with this series of agreements we’ve also managed to strengthen the spirit of local governance in Hungary.
I would also like to congratulate the Mayor on the best agreement of his life.