Hungary has utilised 86 per cent of the available European Union funds at its disposal, placing it at the forefront of the EU, Minister for Regional Development Tibor Navracsics highlighted on Thursday, June 1 in Szekszárd, Tolna County.
Speaking at a special town hall meeting, Tibor Navracsics stated that the European Commission’s claim that EU funds are not being utilised efficiently in Hungary is untrue. He reminded announced that the country is to receive a total 14 trillion Hungarian forints in cohesion funds for the 2021-2027 EU budget cycle. Of this amount, 4 trillion forints have already been received and are being continuously allocated for rural development. There is an agreement on 10 trillion forints, and the European Commission has accepted the programmes proposed, ‘but the funds are not yet being disbursed due to various issues related to the rule of law and other problems.’
‘These negotiations are ongoing, and if we manage to resolve them, the financing will arrive,’ he added. Regarding the unlocking of the frozen EU funds, he stated: ‘So far, things have been progressing according to schedule, and we have achieved all the goals we set.’
He recalled that in December 2022, the European Commission approved the operational programmes, the partnership agreement was signed, and the Hungarian national recovery plan was accepted by the European Council. ‘According to the current financial schedule, we will receive 1.5 billion euros in 2023, 2 billion euros in 2024, and 2.8 billion euros in 2025, and we hope to receive these amounts as soon as possible,’ he stated.
Territorial Policies Required to Balance Out Uneven Development
Speaking about the development of Hungarian regions since the country’s EU accession, the minister emphasised that between 2004 and 2021, Budapest’s per capita GDP increased from 129 per cent to 156 per cent of the EU regional average, while in Northern Hungary, it rose from 40 per cent to 52 per cent, and in the Southern Transdanubia, it increased from 44 per cent to 51 per cent.
He noted that a ‘catching-up process’ took place in the Hungarian regions from 2010 to 2020, but it was not a dynamic progress. He opined that the EU’s cohesion policy has not found an answer for seventy years to the question of how to uplift regions that cannot help themselves. In the EU, the success stories are linked to regional and national capitals, as those are the engines of the economy.
While it is clearly in the best interest of the entire Hungarian national economy for Budapest to develop, the fact that the capital accounts for 156 per cent of the per capita GDP EU average while the Northern Great Plain region is at 49 per cent of the average indicates a territorial development gap, which suggests that territorial policy needs to accompany sectoral development.
Migration Trends: The Population of the Balaton Region is Rapidly Aging
Tibor Navracsics also remarked on the migration trends in Hungary in recent decades, which indicate a migration from the northeast to the northwest and a decline in the population of the South Transdanubian regions. Simultaneously, there is also a continuous outflow from Budapest, mainly towards the surrounding areas and Northwest Hungary. The population of the Balaton region has been gradually growing, with a particular boost having occurred during the coronavirus pandemic as many people moved there from Budapest. At the same time, unfortunately, many young people cannot afford to buy property in the Balaton region and are forced to move away. Thus, along with Békés County, the Balaton region has become the fastest aging region in the country.
Suburbanisation to Be Reckoned With
The minister underscored that it is no longer possible to pursue development policies based solely on administrative categories, because the suburbanisation process has also appeared in Hungary, resulting in the emergence of functional urban areas. A functional urban area is a region that has a city core with a population of at least 50,000, and at least 15 per cent of the population of associated settlements commutes to the urban centre. There is an emerging functional urban area from Győr to Szolnok, for instance. As a result, major cities should be encouraged to draw up development plans together with the settlements that surround them, Tibor Navracsics concluded.