Felcsút: The forbidden village for EP “bureaucrats”

Let’s return to Viktor Orbán’s choo-choo train, which runs between the two villages where the Hungarian prime minister spent his first 14 years. In his childhood this narrow-gauge railroad was still functioning, but because of insufficient traffic MÁV, the state railway company, scrapped the line sometime in the 1970s. Apparently Viktor Orbán had fond memories of that train, and once he had the opportunity he decided to revive it. His own Puskás Academy Foundation launched the project. It purchased and renovated the old run-down train station and bought newly refurbished cars and an engine. The project was declared to be of premier importance as far as Hungary’s economy was concerned. This designation was necessary in order to skip the otherwise requisite public tender procedures. It was supposed to be a great tourist attraction, with thousands of passengers.

By the time it was finished the train project had cost 3 million euros, 2 million of which was provided by the European Union as part of a 652.5 million euro package given for the development of the counties of Veszprém, Komárom-Esztergom, and Fejér. In June 2016 The Telegraph reported that OLAF, EU’s anti-fraud agency, was investigating the train, but that turned out to be a false alarm. Still, the Felcsút complex with its 3,500-seat soccer stadium only yards from Orbán’s weekend house and now a railroad going from nowhere to nowhere raised eyebrows in Brussels.

All that didn’t deter Viktor Orbán, who reportedly planned to extend the 5.7 km line, perhaps hoping that the number of passengers could be increased this way. The Hungarian government had promised between 2,500 and 7,000 passengers daily to justify the investment, but according to 444.hu, in its first month of operation Orbán’s choo-choo train attracted only 900 passengers–that is, only 30 a day. By October 2016 there were days when the train had no passengers at all. A few days ago atlatszo.hu published figures it acquired from the Puskás Academy. Since its first run on April 30, 2016, the academy reported, 48,533 people used the train. Last year 30,219, and so far this year 18,314. During that period, the railroad accumulated a 4.1 million forint loss. These dismal figures didn’t seem to bother János Lázár. In his opinion, if 20,000 people use the train, it is a profitable undertaking. Strange accounting, I must say.

From the start questions were raised both at home and in Brussels about the efficacy of this project, and therefore it was not entirely unexpected that the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) of the European Parliament, whose fact-finding delegation will be visiting Hungary between September 18 and 20, put the Felcsút train on its agenda, alongside the huge Metro 4 construction project. Once János Lázár learned that the delegation would like to see Felcsút in all its glory, he hit the ceiling. Or, to be more precise, it was most likely Viktor Orbán who hit the ceiling. Lázár was just assigned the dirty work of fighting it out with the chair of the committee, Ingeborg Gräßle.

I have the feeling that Lázár/Orbán made a huge mistake when they decided to take on Grässle. She has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and is considered to be especially influential. She is known as a strong advocate of increased transparency and accountability. And, as we will see, she is no pushover. Occasionally one has the feeling that Fidesz politicians think they can intimidate foreigners as easily as they do their “subjects.” But Grässle is an especially forbidding opponent.

In any case, Lázár wrote a letter to the chair of CONT on August 9. In it, he complained that the committee was not following Hungary’s suggested list of projects and accused the committee of setting up a program of its own, which is “strongly politically motivated.” Politico quoted the following passages from his August 9 letter: “I found it outrageous that a committee of the European parliament systematically ignores and rejects a notable amount of suggestions of the Hungarian government, thus significantly interferes in the Hungarian [election] campaign.” He especially criticized the committee’s decision to include a trip to “the home village of the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.” Grässle wasn’t impressed. She refused to change the fact-finding mission’s travel plans and politely assured Lázár that “there is no bias either behind the choice of the date of our mission or of the projects. The Budgetary Control Committee will conduct its visit in a politically neutral way, as we always do.”

Perhaps if at that point Lázár had just backed off he wouldn’t have gotten himself and the government he represents into hot water, as he ultimately did. On September 4 he wrote another letter, in the same manner as the first. Both letters struck some members of CONT as uncouth. And, further pressing their case, the Hungarian government instructed the Hungarian ambassador to the European Union to plead with Grässle to change the list of projects to be visited, or to postpone the whole visit until after the election in 2018. Grässle apparently told the ambassador that the budgetary control committee “does not accept political interference in the way it organizes its work of controlling the implementation of the budget.”

Ingeborg Grässle subsequently fired off two letters: one to Antonio Tajani, president of the European Union, and another to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. In her letter to Tajani she wrote: “I disapprove of the attitude to exert pressure on an EP parliamentary body with regard to the organization of a mission as well as with regards to its content.” She added that Lázár’s choice not to cooperate means that he does not comply—”in political or in legal terms”—with the requirements of mutual sincere cooperation, which is a basic rule among the institutions and member states. She considered the case so serious that she suggested to Tajani that he raise the issue with Juncker.

There is no question in my mind that it was Viktor Orbán who found the visit to Felcsút a personal attack on him by an EU body and tried to use next spring’s election as an excuse. But it backfired. As Grässle put it: “We are important but not that important.” Surely, it wasn’t the election that bothered the Lord of Felcsút. He simply didn’t want anyone from Brussels to see the place. As we know, anyone who tries to take pictures anywhere near the stadium is usually met with scores of policemen. And this case is more than the usual curious journalists trying to get close to his little empire. It is a group of European politicians who will see that whole grotesque scene Orbán managed to create in that “miserable village,” as Tamás Deutsch called it.

Orbán, with the assistance of Lázár, cast his regime in the worst possible light. One’s first response, which Grässle most likely shares, is: “These guys must have something to hide.” By the way, I wonder what the plans are for the day when the mission visits Felcsút. Will the Hungarian government order out thousands of people to ride their choo-choo train? Anything is possible in that Potemkin village called Hungary.

September 9, 2017
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exTor
Guest

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Either Orbán & Company are dumber than a sack of rocks or they’re up to something beyond the obvious. I cant believe that Lázár would ask for the inspection to be delayed until after the election. It’s too obvious, too Br’er Rabbit. ‘Valami nem stimmel.’ Perhaps the Three Stooges have wised up and have come up with something that will make them look good.

MAGYARKOZÓ

wrfree
Guest

Thoreau on locomotives and in essence railroads:

‘ I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils’…

In a historical sense railroads implied speed, power, adventure and dreams of success. The ‘iron horse’ traditionally spurred things on to grow and expand horizons. Not much upside then with VO’s rails. A ‘ball of fire’ going nowhere with a Magyar ‘Casey Jones’ simply belching smoke.

Tough to see Magyarorszag slowly and surely getting to be in the ‘doghouse’ (caboose) with the EU. In an ‘old timey way’ VO looks a bad ‘star gazer’. It’s the kiss of death for a brakeman who can’t seem to pick up ‘signals’.

And a VO horror: migrants traveling ‘by rail’. In the olden days here they called them ‘Zulus’.

dos929
Guest

Just a couple of sentences… Orban ‘handles’ and considers Hungary as his own private property. Whatever pops up in his mind and uttered by him must and will be executed, no matter what… Not even the Queen of the British Commonwealth carries so much power over her subjects as Orban practices over the unfortunate citizens of Hungary.

old1956
Guest

I am sounding alarm.
There is hardly any further need to analyze the biblical mess of Hungary.
The eminent task could be:
1. Name the disease.
2. Suggest therapy.
Let us be creative with some modest vision.

exTor
Guest

BETEGSÉG … FIDESZSÉG
TERÁPIA … KISZAVAZÁS

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MAGYARKOZÓ

Guest

In a way this is good news – because it shows everybody that Fidesz has a lot of things to hide!
But Miss Gräßle (who is of course a Schwab :)) is not so easy to handle/manipulate, she is considered one of the 40 MEPs who really matter:
She’s not afraid to say publicly when the EU is “effectively throwing money down the toilet,” and is a dogged pursuer of what she considers to be serious mismanagement in the EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF.
http://www.politico.eu/list/the-40-meps-who-actually-matter-european-parliament-mep/ingeborg-grassle/

Ferenc
Guest

Watch the inauguration (2016.Apr.30, video by Nepszabadsag OnLine):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWWh2z2rAcU
Hopefully CONT members have already seen this with subtitles…

Ferenc
Guest

“The project was declared to be of premier importance as far as Hungary’s economy was concerned.”
So the PM of Hungary should be demanded/ordered to give a presentation on the project’s location to the members of the CONT committee, and to answer all their questions for this “project of premier importance”.

Ferenc
Guest

tappanch
Guest

After denials, rejections and hesitation, Orban’s small train foundation came out with some official numbers in July 2017.

Between April 30, 2016 and January 20, 2017 (later numbers are not disclosed).

Please notice that the word “jegyfogyás” in Hungarian does NOT mean that they sold as many (113/day) tickets (that would be “jegyeladás”) , but this is the number of tickets that somehow disappeared from their stacks of tickets.

https://kimittud.atlatszo.hu/request/8437/response/13945/attach/3/V%20lv%20lgyi%20Kisvas%20t%20kimutat%20s.pdf

https://blog.atlatszo.hu/2017/07/atlagosan-napi-113-jegyet-adtak-el-a-felcsuti-kisvasutra-het-napon-utasok-nelkul-kozlekedtek-a-vonatok/

Member

I like Orban’s compelling rationale for building a tiny railroad where it is not used or needed. It’s not because of his childhood nostalgia for it (or for a hajtány [<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draisine"draisine/trolley], but because where the communists remove tracks, it’s a good idea to put them back…

exTor
Guest

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ROAD to NOWHERE … In other jurisdictions where there are unused and unneeded railway rights-of-way, the tracks are removed and public paths are created. Orbán rebuilt the Felcsút line because he could. Let us hope that his fave choochoo represents the ENDLINE for FIDESZ.

MAGYARKOZÓ

wrfree
Guest

In our old railroad lore in the ‘age of steam’ there’s no chance in the pix to get a ‘cornfield meet’ that is….a ‘head on collision. But in reality VO the ‘hogger’ (engineer) in his ‘hog'( locomotive) does it more and more. He usually likes to ‘rap the sack’ (give that hog more wide open throttle!) against the EU . And as we we can see ‘railroading’ never comes up short when it comes to its great slang as it was a great romance of an age.

Observer
Guest

The number of tickets sold was almost double the passengers registered by the railway until October last year, it was reported somewhere.

Do they still register the passengers?
I suppose Mészaros buys a couple of thousand tickets from time to time to keep the numbers above zero. He’s of course reimbursed times over with the next over, over, over priced contract. Hajra magyarok! …fizetni.

Istvan
Guest
We have our narrow gage railroads subsidized by governments in the USA too. For example the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad that runs from Chama New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado is jointly owned by jointly by the State of Colorado and the State of New Mexico. It loses significant money every year, yet its ticket sales are still $3.2 million a year is far in excess of the Orban train. None the less the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad loses about a half million a dollars a year. There is a strong cult of railways in the USA and significant money is spent on restoration of old trains and obscure rail lines in the USA. It also includes an obsession with model railroads, on which millions of dollars are spent each and every year, sales are around 900 million per year in the USA on these toys. It is however, an industry that is aging and makes no sense at all to younger Americans who have no nostalgia for railroads because most Americans have never traveled across country on a railroad due to the inefficient nature of that form of travel compared to airplanes. So Orban reveals his own antique… Read more »
Guest

Just two remarks:
At least in Europe with its shorter distances rail travel is an alternative to flying or using cars!

Re railway fans:
The grandson of my wife’s sister who’s a real American teenager is also a big railway fan. I had to visit several out of use train stations and old tracks with him …
But maybe that’s because his parents came from Hungary to the USA …

And his older brother traveled through Europe for a month with EURAIL together with his US girlfriend – couldn’t have done thiy economically by plane or car …

Istvan
Guest

Yes it was economical because of subsidies, as the EU study points out. The defenders of these subsidies world wide also argue that the increased tourism the trains bring make them worth the subsidies overall. It appears the EU is having second thoughts about that part of the formula. But I suspect the railroading passenger lobby will keep them in place for rest of my life time.

Super high speed bullet trains are another question all together, especially automated ones. They will be the future for sure.

tappanch
Guest

Standard gauge: 1.435 m
Russian gauge: 1.520 m
Orban’s gauge: 0.760 m

tappanch
Guest

Can it have military significance ?

2 Orban = 1 Russian, exactly

Guest

That’s gauge-wise, mass-wise it’s different:
1 O equals 2 Putin 🙂
Sorry, but this had to be!

Observer
Guest

A Project of National Importance enjoys a priority in financing, supply and is exempt from tender, feasibility, environmental, etc studies, gets fast track approvals, etc.

Any links to where are these listed?

In Orbanistan it means that such projects are above the law, the contractors are untouchable. E.g. a report mentioned violations of the labor conditions, and we all know how trees are felled by the hundreds even before formal permissions is issued.

tappanch
Guest

Rather ignorant journalists are cracking jokes on radio. They laugh at the Iranian women – there are no women in the Iranian Parliament, they say.

Not true !

Women in Parliament

Iran: 6.2% (18/290 in 2016)
Hungary: 9.5% (dead last in the EU)

Ireland: 15.7% (second worst in the EU)
Greece: 21.0%
[…]
Finland: 42.5%
Sweden: 45.0%

http://www.ksh.hu/statszemle_archive/2014/2014_06/2014_06_513.pdf

Guest

And the percentage of women in the Fidesz ranks in parliament is much lower – I remember we had the numbers here once.
9.5% would mean around 19 women out of 200 (199?) members, most of them in the opposition …

tappanch
Guest

2014-05
Fidesz-KDNP: 9/133 = 6.8% – Iranian level
United Left: 6/38 = 15.8% – Irish level
Jobbik: 2/23 = 8.7%
LMP: 2/5 = 40.0% – Scandinavian level

Ferenc
Guest

And how is it for Fidesz & KDNP separate??
Don’t know but suspect those ‘christians’ are close to 0%…

tappanch
Guest

No.

{Rozsa Hofmann}/15 = 6.7%

Ferenc
Guest

OK, thanks, so the bogus party also Iranian (=FID) level…

Guest

Of course!
A real “Christian” knows it’s KKK for women:
Kinder, Küche, Kirche (I’m sure I don’t have to translate that …:))

tappanch
Guest

Paks mayoral election.

did not vote : 68.4%

Fidesz candidate: 21.6% of the eligible voters
Socialist candidate: 9.0%
other candidates: 1.0%

http://index.hu/belfold/2017/09/10/a_paksi_idokozi_polgarmester-valasztas_eredmenye/

Ferenc
Guest

What to think from this?
In the index report they stated that they don’t have a picture of the new mayor (MTI didn’t provide and reporters weren’t able to make a picture). Note there is a picture from the runner-up (better word would be ‘runner-down’) in the index report.
A simple ‘google image search’ – Szabó Péter Paks – has many results showing the face of the new mayor of Paks… (one even with the former US ambassador, made in 2015).

PS: why the elections: the former mayor (independent, and won in 2014 against FID), is recently made minister of ‘Paks affairs’. So one gets the impression that there are currently 2 FID mayors for Paks, both nuclear powered…

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