Court says pro-government media merger was unlawfully approved

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The Capital Regional Court ruled on Wednesday that the 2018 formation of a pro-government media conglomerate, the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), was unlawfully approved by Hungary's competition authority, and ordered the authority to conduct a competition review. 

The decision came after the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of independent news portal Szabad Pécs, alleging that KESMA's concentration of media organs undermined free competition, free access to information and freedom of the press.

According to a statement from the HCLU, in November 2018 "476 media outlets were offered simultaneously, without any payment, by their owners - all Fidesz-friendly businessmen - to KESMA". The consolidated outlets included all of Hungary's regional daily newspapers, Hír TV, the publisher of, Magyar Nemzet, Opus Press, Bors, Nemzeti Sport, Lokál, Figyelő, and Ripost. 

According to Mérték Media Monitor, outlets belonging to KESMA account for 40% of all news and public affairs revenues in Hungary's media market.

The competition authority (GVH) initially opened a competition investigation into the merger, but closed it in December 2018 after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared the KESMA merger to be of "national strategic importance", exempting it from the GVH's purview. After closing the investigation, the GVH issued a statutory certificate allowing for KESMA's acquisition of the outlets.

The HCLU argued that the investigation should be reopened and that existing rules on economic competition be applied. It also asked the Capital Court to consult with the Constitutional Court, arguing that the government's order exempting the merger from competition review was in violation of Hungary's constitution.

Following the court's decision, however, the GVH reaffirmed its position that it has no authority to conduct a competition investigation of KESMA, citing the exemption stemming from the merger's "national strategic importance". The government said in a statement that the court did not object to the merger but to a "formal error" in the statutory certificate the GVH issued to the conglomerate. 

According to the government's statement, "the GVH corrected the formal error and created a new resolution. The new resolution has already been the case is legally settled."

The HCLU has promised to challenge KESMA's constitutionality again in the courts.

Péter Jakab elected new Jobbik chairman

At a party congress on Saturday, Jobbik caucus leader Péter Jakab was elected chairman of his party, gaining 87.8% of delegate votes. He ran unopposed.

Jakab, who is the Borsod county president of Jobbik and a former Miskolc council member, has argued that his party must work together with the opposition to defeat the Orbán government, and has expressed his willingness to cooperate with left-of-center parties LMP and Momentum. 

"I call on you to fight!" Jakab said during his victory speech on Saturday. "I will be a nightmare for Viktor Orbán and a comrade to you." 

The election of Jakab represents a new step in Jobbik's strategy of distancing itself from its radical right-wing ideology. Jakab is regarded with suspicion among more radical Jobbik members and by its former leadership. In a party known for anti-Semitism and open racism against Roma, Jakab appears to be an outlier: in his 2014 campaign for mayor of Miskolc, he revealed that one of his grandparents was of Jewish origin. He also taught history in a Roma technical school before being fired for running as a Jobbik candidate for Miskolc city council in 2010.

Jakab announced on Monday that Jobbik had requested the resignation of Hajdú-Bihar county assemblyman Gergely Kulcsár, a Jobbik politician that has become emblematic of the party's radicalism. In 2015, a photo emerged of Kulcsár spitting on a Holocaust memorial on the Danube in Budapest. 

"No expression of extremism is compatible with [Jobbik's] people's party orientation," Jakab said after announcing his party's request that Kulcsár resign his mandate. 

Another report suggests EPP will not expel Fidesz

A report in the German weekly Der Spiegel on Saturday suggested that the European People's Party (EPP) would not expel Fidesz from the conservative party family because the majority required for expulsion does not currently exist. 

EPP president Donald Tusk reportedly held phone calls with the leaders of member parties in which he stressed that the reluctance to expel Fidesz could be mainly attributed to larger parties, like the German governing party CDU and its Bavarian coalition partner CSU. Leaders from both parties warned Tusk against the "hasty removal" of Fidesz.

Tusk has said a decision on Fidesz would be publicized following the EPP's party meeting in Brussels on February 3 and 4.

Fidesz candidate takes Győr mayoral by-election

Fidesz candidate Csaba András Dézsi won a mayoral by-election in the city of Győr on Sunday, defeating socialist candidate Balázs Pollreisz by 17 percentage points. 

Dézsi took the by-election with a far larger margin than Fidesz incumbent Zsolt Borkai had in October. Borkai won by fewer than 700 votes despite being embroiled in a sex and corruption scandal that shook the Fidesz party in the weeks leading up to the elections. He resigned over the scandal in November.

The new mayor is well-known in Győr as a cardiologist and head physician at a local hospital. He sat on the city council for 25 years and served as deputy mayor under socialist mayor József Balogh. Dézsi said during his campaign that the previous city leadership served only a narrow group of interests, and promised to run a more open city hall which regularly consults with residents on the city's future.

Hungary uses the least renewable energy in the European Union

A study released by Eurostat Wednesday shows only 8% of electricity consumed in Hungary is produced using renewable energy sources, the least in the European Union.  

This proportion falls well short of the EU average of 32%. Hungary's neighbor Austria produces 73% of its electricity from renewable sources, primarily from hydro power.

The Hungarian government has long declared that it does not consider wind power a viable energy source for the country: the last wind turbine was installed in 2011. Since then, by contrast, wind energy capacity worldwide has increased threefold. 

Forint reaches record low against the euro

The forint weakened to its lowest-ever level against the euro on Monday, dropping to Ft 338.74. The drop came after the National Bank announced that it would not modify its base interest rate of 0.9%, which is also at a record low. 

The forint was at Ft 337 against the euro before the bank's decision to maintain interest rates. Within minutes of the bank's announcement and explanation of its decision, it dropped to Ft 338.57.

The bank said that its main objective is to control inflation and achieve and maintain price stability. Still, Hungary's inflation rate climbed to 4% in December, a seven year high, and well over the National Bank's target rate of 3%. 

The bank's Monetary Council said it expects the inflation index to return to the tolerance band in the first quarter of this year. 

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