Hungary takes more pot shots at Brussels

By bne IntelliNews June 1, 2012

Tim Gosling in Prague -

Just a day after the European Commission withdrew EU funding sanctions against the country, senior Hungarian officials stepped up to take pot shots at Brussels once more, casting further doubt on the Budapest's claim that it wants to negotiate a loan programme with the IMF and EU.

The Commission recommended on May 30 that the holding back of nearly €500m in cohesion funds to Hungary be reversed due to the government's praiseworthy efforts to reduce the budget deficit. The move came despite the fact that Budapest has done little except extend the controversial crisis taxes it slapped on the banks and other sectors, and appeared another strong signal that the EU is ready to compromise rather than face another fiscal problem in a member state.

The government's response has been to step up the rhetoric. Speaking at a conference, Prime Minister Viktor Orban insisted Hungary will not comply with EU requests. "There is no doubt that EU member states... will remain a determining partner for us, but when we say this we should know that it is worthwhile for Hungary to reject the crisis management proposed by the EU," he said, according to Reuters.

"If we wanted to carry out the steps which the bureaucrats in Brussels recommend to us, then I think we would do harm to our country," he continued. "So in a very complex exercise... we should chart our own path and resist pressures which want to introduce steps in Hungary that would be disadvantageous to us."

Joining the PM in attacking Brussels just as it offers another olive branch was Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy, who criticized the Commission's handling of the crisis in an article in the weekly Heti Valasz. He also insisted Hungary is unhappy with Brussels' attempts to build its own European "empire", reports AFP.

The twin attack - following a move by Brussels to improve relations - is fairly standard form these days. The continued provocation - which is particularly notable every time an obstacle to starting the bailout talks falls - casts further doubt on the credibility of Budapest's claim to be seriously seeking a loan programme from the IMF and EU. Sceptics continue to suspect that Hungary has little appetite to accept the conditions that would come attached to any credit, and is simply dangling the prospect in order to keep the markets off its back. The constant efforts to insult potential rescuers are hard to ignore.

However, the EU has handed the bad cop baton on to the IMF, which has said it will discuss finally opening loan talks once Hungary passes amendments to its central bank (MNB) legislation that guarantees its independence. Budapest has said it will put the new bill in front of parliament on June 4. However, speculation that the bill will struggle to unlock negotiations skyrocketed on May 31 when the ECB - which Budapest asked for its opinion - said the legislation is lacking in several areas.

"The amended draft law still fails to address a number of previously highlighted concerns as regards the MNB's independence," the ECB said in a statement. "Therefore, the ECB maintains its view that the provisions of the current MNB Law do not go far enough to re-establish central bank independence."

The statement quickly had Mihaly Varga - the new lead negotiator for Hungary - backtracking on recent claims that talks on a bailout could finally start after the new act is passed, after six months of delay. Speaking to public radio, Varga said: "It is likely that we will start the talks sometime during the summer, but it is very difficult to say now when this would be."

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