Kenny may have a friend in Hungarian prime minister
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has robustly defended his controversial rule and sharply criticised the European Union, ahead of talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Budapest tomorrow.
Mr Orban’s depiction of his government as a defender of ordinary Hungarians against the rapacious extremes of capitalism may strike a chord with Mr Kenny, as he seeks to persuade the EU to ease the burden of Ireland’s €64 billion bank bailout.
Mr Orban’s denunciation of Brussels for treating Hungary unfairly and for succumbing to “technocracy, elitism and bureaucracy” will give the Taoiseach a taste of the kind of rhetoric he can expect to hear from Budapest during Ireland’s presidency of the EU next year.
Mr Orban’s centre-right Fidesz party trounced the ruling Socialists in a 2010 election, and used a two-thirds majority in parliament to introduce sweeping reforms that critics – including senior EU officials – have said undermine Hungary’s democracy.
Mr Orban denies those charges and described his landslide victory as “the first great step of moral renewal”.
“This was a clear message: we have been charged with reorganising the country,” he said.
Mr Orban came to power promising to end austerity and to revive the economy with “unorthodox” policies.
Only a few months later, talks with the International Monetary Fund over the possible extension of a €20 billion 2008 bailout collapsed, and Mr Orban said Hungary would go its own way in an “economic freedom fight”.
The government imposed high taxes on banks and utilities, many of them foreign-owned, and forced lenders to absorb losses suffered by Hungarian homeowners on foreign-currency mortgages.
It also nationalised Hungary’s private pension system, as part of what the IMF and EU derided as unsustainable measures to paper over holes in Hungary’s budget and reduce its deficit. Since Mr Orban took office, Hungary’s debt has been downgraded to junk status, the forint currency has been extremely volatile, the economy has slipped back into recession and he has been forced to return to the IMF to request a standby deal that he describes as mere “insurance”.
But he insists he is being unfairly criticised by the EU and given no credit for lowering the country’s budget deficit and national debt and maintaining its access to debt markets.
“We feel the behaviour of certain EU institutions is unfair with respect to Hungary,” Mr Orban said in written response to questions. “The primary reason that Hungary is receiving criticism is that in a country where for the past 20 years market players have abused their dominant position and taken a disproportionately high amount of money from the pockets of average citizens, the Hungarian government has now stood up firmly in the interests of the people of Hungary. And this is not to everyone’s liking.”
Defending his denunciation of foreign interference in Hungary’s affairs, Mr Orban said he and his allies were “strong believers in a more determined form of government that asserts national interests.
“In the case of the EU or the IMF, all we ask is to receive the same fair and equal treatment that other countries enjoy.”
Mr Orban described his conservative values as those of “old Europe” and urged the EU to “accept the fact that Hungarians wish to live in this way and according to these values”.