All Hungarians must work to defeat debt, says PM

 

HUNGARIAN PRIME minister Viktor Orban has made boosting employment and slashing debt his priorities as he seeks to defy critics and use controversial policies to revive his country’s economy.

Mr Orban ended talks with the International Monetary Fund last year in a dispute over Hungary’s deficit, and faced heavy flak over the near-dismantling of the private pension system, the levying of “crisis taxes” on certain business sectors and his use of a two-thirds majority in parliament to concentrate power in government hands and impose a new media law.

He used yesterday’s state-of-the-nation address to focus on domestic economic matters, however, even as reports from Brussels suggested he might be willing to amend new media legislation that has been lambasted by major EU powers and international press watchdogs. “For us to defeat debt, everybody who is able to work must work. Without this, we cannot defeat either the crisis or debt. We must and we will defeat state debt, which is the main source of our troubles today. If we do not wrestle it down, it is going to wrestle us down for good,” Mr Orban said.

The government aims by the end of 2014 to create 300,000 jobs and push national debt below 70 per cent of gross domestic product, from above 80 per cent now.

“It makes no sense to entertain illusions. Everybody knows that things cannot go on like this any longer,” Mr Orban said.

“Public debt needs to be conquered. We will make definite and courageous steps to bring everyone capable of working to the legal sphere of labour and keep them there, regardless of their age and gender.”

Hungary’s government, which took power last spring, has refused to impose austerity measures on its people – although spending cutbacks are expected to be announced in the coming months.

Mr Orban plans instead to use tax cuts and employment-boosting policies to grow the economy out of trouble, while resisting calls to seek further aid from the IMF.

Many analysts are sceptical about the approach, but so far Hungary has been able to raise funds on the international markets without too much difficulty, and the forint currency and Budapest stock exchange have strengthened in recent weeks.

European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said yesterday that Hungary had agreed to send “a first draft of possible amendments to the media law” to Brussels this week.