Hungarians have had to learn a new meaning of "konvergencia." In English the meaning of "convergence" is quite clear: moving toward union or uniformity. Previously, the Hungarian word "konvergencia" was used only in physics, mathematics, or biology, but now it will be also appear in future dictionaries in the English sense. The European Union gives money to less developed regions in order for these countries to converge toward the economic level of the more developed countries. Hungary in the next seven years will receive enormous amounts of EU money which the country will have to use wisely.
I already talked about some of the "national" projects: the Royal Castle, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Franz Liszt Academy, some projects that will hopefully help to bring more tourists and their money to the country. Tomorrow the final list of road and railroad projects of the next two years will be approved by the cabinet. We already know some figures thanks to Gordon Bajnai’s press conference yesterday and an interview with János Kóka on MTV’s Este (Evening). According to Népszabadság, Hungary can use more than 1,000 billion forints for infrastructure from the EU monies: 440 billion for 56 different highway projects, 376 billion on the modernization of five railroad lines, and 450 billion for five cities’ public transportation systems. All of these projects will begin next year.
Bajnai mentioned several highway projects. The M0 four-lane highway will connect M1 (Vienna-Budapest) with M5 (Budapest-Debrecen). This will help the traffic situation in Budapest immeasurably by rerouting truck traffic coming from the West and going to Romania and beyond. Until this project is finished, all these trucks have to go through Budapest. The plans also include two new four-lane highways that will cross the Danube south the Budapest. This project includes building two new bridges across the Danube, one at Soroksár (0.5 km)and one at Háros (770 m). Moreover, the present number 4 highway will be widened to be a four-lane highway and will begin in Budapest and end at the Romanian border.
In adddition to these very large projects, the government will use some of the money to finish the building of the four-lane highway alongside the south shore of Lake Balaton to Nagykanizsa and from there to the Sloveanian border. But the Great Plains aren’t forgotten either; both M9 and and M43 will be finished between Makó and Szeged. Around Szeged they will build a bypass that should help the city’s traffic problems. In addition, in PPP (public private partnership) construction several other roads will be built: M3 between Nyíregyháza and Vásárosnamény, M6 between Dunaújváros-Szekszárd-Bóly and from there M60 to Pécs.
As for the development of the Hungarian railroads there will be important changes. Let me start by saying that the Hungarian railroads are in terrible shape. The rails themselves are in such bad shape that the trains can only crawl. It takes ages to get from point A to point B. Not long time ago I heard that if someone wants to go from Pécs to Lake Balaton by train, he will lhave to travel over four hours. I don’t think that it is more than 80 kms as the crow flies. I assume that also means of changing trains, just like in my childhood. The first lines which will be modernized are the following: Budapest-Lökösháza, Sopron-Szombathely-Szentgotthárd (on the Austro-Hungarian border) and the Szolnok-Debrecen line. In addition, in November further plans maybe announced concerning the development of the Budapest-Székesfehérvár and the Győr-Pápa-Celldömölk-Boba lines. As for the famous fourth metro line in Budapest, the city will receive 250-260 billion forints from the Union in addition to the above mentioned monies.
More projects will be subsidized after 2009: the rail connection between Budapest and its suburbs, the connection also in Budapest between the northern and the southern rail systems. Outside of Budapest the Union money will be spent on the reconstruction of the Pusztaszabolcs-Dombóvár-Pécs line. The Hungarian government will finance the Cegléd-Szeged and the Hatvan-Somoskőfalúfalu line without the help of the Union.
As one can see from this partial list, these projects will change the whole landscape of the country. The infrastructure was terribly neglected during the socialist period. Perhaps only the telephone service was in worse shape. Today there are as many cell phones in Hungary as people.
During the Orbán government almost no new roads were built. Since the socialists and the liberals took power in 2002 over 500 kilometers of new roads have been built because they consider the development of the infrastructure an absolute necessity. Where there are no good roads, foreign firms are loath to invest. I expect an economic boom will follow the development of the country’s infrastructure. I think Viktor Orbán is afraid of this and therefore wants early elections by hook or by crook. I don’t think he will succeed.