Karácsony: Municipalities must be involved in the distribution of EU recovery funds

Karácsony: Municipalities must be involved in the distribution of EU recovery funds

Interview with Gergely Karácsony, Mayor of Budapest

Gergely Karácsony is a green, left-wing politician and Co-Chair of the Dialogue for Hungary (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) party. He was elected as Lord Mayor of Budapest on 13 October 2019 as the joint candidate of five Hungarian opposition parties.

Between 2014 and 2019 he served as Mayor of Budapest’s 14th district (Zugló). Prior to that, he was an MP of the LMP (Politics Can Be Different) party (2010-2013). Mr Karácsony is a sociologist by profession, and a former lecturer at Corvinus University in Budapest.

Mr Karácsony, you assumed office in October 2019, and despite the past turbulent months, the administration claims to have successfully introduced 37 measures in the fields of urban governance and green development. Could you briefly tell us about the most important among them?

Although the pandemic situation has made things significantly harder for us, I am proud of the fact that we have achieved a lot in the first half of the year.

We made public transport free for registered jobseekers and opened an Assistance Office for them in the City Hall building. We have dedicated resources to restart the Budapest Housing Utilities Subsidy, and since then we have introduced it to help those who are most in need. We are helping the poorest households with 24 000 HUF annually.

We have also raised an additional 50 billion HUF for the development of the Budapest primary and specialist healthcare, and for the screening of cancer patients. Approaching our one-year anniversary, an additional 33 000 CT (88% more than in 2019) and 10 000 additional MRI (62% more) examinations will be available to residents of Budapest from October 2020, for which we will spend 2 billion HUF from the additional funding of the Healthy Budapest Program.

The World Travel and Tourism Council placed Budapest in top 10 of the fastest growing cities in their 2019 impact report. The capital is also strongly reliant on international tourist spending. How did Covid-19 change this and what are the perspectives of the city?

According to experts, there won’t be any significant changes until spring. Recently the borders were closed before the tourism sector was able to prepare for it.

The government lost the trust of the exporters with this border closure - they made exceptions for certain countries without thinking it through. If there is no consistent decision making on part of the government, then nothing will happen until spring, or even until autumn of next year.

They do not expect any movement in the sector due to the uncertainty. Budapest is unable to compensate for the lost traffic.

Were you able to put concrete measures or strategies in place to offset the lack of foreign tourists since the coronavirus pandemic began?

It was not possible because domestic travel towards the capital is marginal. Only 3-4% of visitors generate an overnight stay. Thоse 3-4 % are looking for boutique hotels or are coming to Budapest for a business meeting and choosing to spend a night in Budapest. 

How has the Budapest Restart Strategy worked so far?

We are doing what we can. Here, overnight tourism has no tradition so it is a long process. The 2020 KSH data is worrying compared to the 2019 data when the number of incoming tourists was up by 14.7% and spent 1.1 million guest nights in Hungary. 

How did the national recovery plan for the economy affect Budapest and the local businesses?

The failures of recent economic crisis management which have resulted in plummeting GDP, inflation, and the privileging of selected groups over the majority can only be fixed if the restoration funds provided by the European Union are used smartly and efficiently.

To make sure this money gets to people who are facing financial problems and to enterprises which are in trouble, municipalities must be involved in the distribution process. Based on this, the General Assembly of Budapest initiated that 50% of the recovery funds provided to Hungary by the EU should be used through the municipalities.

You were among the mayors who accused the 2021 budget of taking revenge on opposition-led municipalities. You even described it as an attempt to destroy Hungary’s system of local councils. What do you mean and what actions will you be taking up next?

The 2021 draft central budget is against the national interest and affects not only the opposition but also the communities and municipalities led by FIDESZ.

This is a terrible timing to making these kinds of decisions, since municipalities and local communities could be the best and most responsible actors to help people and enterprises that found themselves in trouble because of the crisis. The need to fight for this now is not only essential for the Municipality of Budapest but also for other municipalities in the country in order to protect local governance as such.

A few words about traffic and mobility in Budapest: a railway tunnel under the Danube is in the making, so is the metro line 5. What will you do next to alleviate the traffic and mobility in the city and to adapt them to the new sanitary situation?

One of the priorities of the Municipality of Budapest is to lower the traffic density which we are accomplishing through pilot projects and community planning. This means that the plan for traffic safety released by the BKK Centre for Budapest Transport is based on the opinions of the city residents.

The huge traffic flow in Budapest leads to noise and air pollution, which holds the capital back from being a liveable city. The most important task is to reduce the number of serious and fatal road accidents down to zero.

In addition, Budapest is dedicated to creating a safer environment for cyclists. The traffic and air pollution data have shown the positive effects of these measures.

Finally, if you could share one innovative project or a measure from Budapest with the other mayors in the European Union what would it be?

I am very proud that we are organising the first community meeting named: "There is a climate crisis – what should Budapest do?”. Community meetings are common worldwide – for example in Poland, Ireland, Belgium – to help the work of the governments, parliaments, and municipalities.

During these meetings, people from all kinds of areas of life gain new knowledge about a topic, share their thoughts with each other, and finally, make recommendations on how to create the new climate strategy for Budapest.



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