The Clean Air Action Group (CAAG) is one of the best-known environmental NGOs in Hungary. Founded in 1988 by three local green groups, it is now a national federation of 127 NGO’s. Its Experts’ Board consists of more than 100 specialists of various professions. It is open to anyone who wants to help clean up the environment.
The activities of CAAG include public awareness campaigns, consulting, publishing and advocacy at the local and national levels.
The representatives of our member organizations and experts as well as the elected officials of CAAG meet every second week to discuss current issues, to elaborate viewpoints on environmental protection, and to take action.
We are a member organization of the Climate Action Network Europe, European Environmental Bureau, European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation, European Federation for Transport and Environment, Health & Environment Alliance, International POPs Elimination Network, Pesticides Action Network – Europe, World Carfree Network. We cooperate with other international environmental organizations, like World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), A SEED Europe, Greenpeace as well as with a number of national NGO’s in various countries.
The Clean Air Action Group was created in 1988 and since that time it is working for an environmentally sustainable development in Hungary and also internationally. In 1991 we created the Hungarian Traffic Club which specialises in issues of transport and environment. The Hungarian Traffic Club is a member of the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E).
One of our main activities is advocacy. We have been pushing for 2 years for an environmental fuel tax which could be used for investing in environment-friendly transport modes. Finally, in 1992 the concerning law was accepted by the Hungarian Parliament. Now nearly 2% of the motor vehicle fuel price goes to the Central Environment Protection Fund which provides money also for railway investment.
Another example of our acitivities is the discussion over the new Transport Policy of the Hungarian Government. Finally the Government and the Parliament included into the Transport Policy practically all our proposals and the new policy is much more considerate of the environmental implications than it was intended originally. While we could not prevent also some environmentally harmful directives from getting into it, the Transport Policy at least leaves open the choice.
When the government decided to close most of the branch lines of the Hungarian Railways (nearly half of the whole railway network), we proved that closing these lines would not improve the financial situation of the railways but rather worsen it and increase the burdens of the state budget.
Of course, lobbying in the ministries and the Parliament is not enough. The public opinion must also be on our side, if we are to succeed. When we began to lobby to save the railway branch lines, we started at the same time a nation-wide campaign. We widely distributed leaflets with a letter to be signed and sent to the Prime Minister. We prepared posters which we put up — with the help of the railway trade unions — in many railway stations. We also organized forums and press conferences.
We have been fighting for years for the improvement of the suburban railways at major Hungarian cities, and especially Budapest. For example, when the Budapest municipality decided to build a verty costly new underground line, we showed that this line would not really improve transport in the city. We proved that most of the problems are caused by cars coming from the outskirts and suburbs of the capital, and therefore much better results might be achieved much cheaper by modernizing the suburban railway lines and increasing their capacity. In 1996 we organized a campaign during which we collected 20,000 signatures for better public transport, including suburban railways.
As an example of our international work, I would mention that the European Federation for Transport and Environment helped us to contact DG VII (Transport) of the European Commission in Brussels, from where we received a letter confirming that the European Union has never told and would not tell Hungary that the construction of motorways is necessary if it wants to join the EU. This helped us a lot in our fight against motorway construction in Hungary.
Another good example is our cooperation with the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy based in New York. Our common work helped to change the transport policy of the World Bank, where now environmental issues have a much higher priority than earlier.
Together our British colleagues to help revive the branch railway lines in Hungary, too. This will also help to create a useful cooperation between the railways, local authorities, business and NGOs.
President of the Clean Air Action Group
Since 1992, the Clean Air Action Group, a national federation of Hungarian environmental organizations, together with the Trade Union of Culture each year has prepared an alternative to the official state budget bill for the following year. The purpose of these proposals is to help
Bearing in mind the necessity of a long-term approach, the basic criteria for the economic policy and state budget described in the proposals are the following:
Costs of labour need to be reduced not by cutting wages in real terms, but by changing the cost structure and by improved efficiency. This way, the national economy could gain a better competitive position both in the short and the long run. The key element is to reduce the rate of social security taxes and the personal income tax. At the same time, wages should be increased in real terms through – among other measures – the proposals presented in our concrete proposals.
Activities harmful to health and the environment hit the entire society and the next generations, although consumers and producers of those harmful activities should pay for these costs. The part of the costs not borne by the consumers or the producers is called external costs. It is vital to incorporate external costs into the prices, preferably where they occur. Once these costs are included in prices, economic performance and life conditions may be improved.
Subsidies are inevitable to keep a society functioning. However, all public subsidies should be abolished that finance activities damaging people’s health and the environment.
The black economy can only be controlled by specific measures that, on the one hand, take away black revenues, and on the other, prevent revenues from being generated there.
Protection needs to be achieved in compliance with WTO guidelines; and based on that, through an export-oriented economic policy.
The quality of service in education, culture, healthcare and scientific research should be improved and supported by relevant budget items.
To eliminate social tensions and invest in Hungary’s future development, social welfare services are essential. The state budget should give more support to social welfare.
Preparations for Hungary’s EU membership need to begin with activities where adaptation is time-consuming, such as education, culture, healthcare, scientific research, environment, etc. Negotiations with the EU must prioritise Hungary’s economic interests.
Environmental protection offers opportunities to be fully exploited also by the help of appropriate economic instruments.
As an example here we give the concrete figures from our proposals for the budget of the year 1999 in which we propose to regroup about 18% of the Hungarian state budget.
|Description|| Additional Revenues
|Increased Excise Duties of Fuels||100.0|
|Consumer Tax and VAT on Fuels Entering Hungary in Fuel Tanks||10.0|
|Increase and Stricter Enforcement of Motor Vehicle Taxes||30.0|
|Uniform Rates of Travel Allowances||3.0|
|Stricter Rules of Expensing Motorcar Use||20.0|
|Increased Consumer Tax on New Cars||15.0|
|Consumer Tax on Liquefied Petroleum Gas||20.0|
|Additional Revenues from Air Transport||10.0|
|Net Revenues from Increased VAT on Electricity and Natural Gas||60.0|
|Taxes and Duties from the Nuclear Energy Sector||9.7|
|Net Revenues from Increased VAT on Chemicals Used in Agriculture||3.0|
|Environmental Load Fee||12.5|
|Increased and Wider Range of Environmental Fees||5.0|
|Increased Mining Tax||1.0|
|Increased Hazardous Waste Penalties||2.0|
|Increased Soil Protection Taxes||1.0|
|Implementing “Radó” Methodology||2.0|
|Higher Tax Rates on Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco||30.0|
|Consumer Tax on Luxury Goods||10.0|
|Increased Taxes on Advertisements||17.0|
|Charging Costs on Imports through Intermediaries||10.0|
|Efficient Collection of Customs Duties and Taxes on Illegal Trade||15.0|
|Restriction of Customs Duties Allowances||10.0|
|Reimbursement to Hungary on the Yugoslav Embargo||100.0|
|Cancelling Subsidies for Further Motorway Construction||3.8|
|Curbing Black Economy||40.0|
|Reduced Allowances and Preferential Treatment of Foreign Companies||10.0|
|Reduced Interest Payments on State Debts||100.0|
|Increased Revenues from Social Security Tax and Personal Income Tax from Higher Wages in the Public Sector||119.0|
|Other Measures and Impact of the Above on the Economy||100.0|
|Reduced Social Security Tax||457.5|
|Increased Real Wages in the Public Sector||247.0|
|Compensation on Higher Taxes on Liquefied Petroleum Gas||4.0|
|Energy Efficiency Compensation||30.0|
|Environmental Protection Activities||23.0|
|Crisis Management through Energy Efficiency||2.0|
|Improvements in Railway Services||8.0|
|Crisis Management in North-eastern Hungary through Railway Transport||1.5|
|Increased Support to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises||10.0|
|Hazardous Waste Removal||2.0|
|Subsidies to Pharmaceutical Research and Development||2.0|
|Costs of Improving Medical Tourism||2.0|
|Financial Assistance to Authorities to Curb Black Economy||10.0|
|Research Subsidies (National Academy of Sciences)||5.0|
|Rehabilitation of Mines||10.0|
|Use of Stockpiling Fee Revenues on Environmental Protection||4.5|
|Subsidies to Voluntary, Non-Profit Oriented Organisations||20.0|
|Credit Line for Embargo Compensation||10.0|