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Hungarian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-05-25 07:22:55
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Hungary hopes for IMF deal in the summer

Hungary could see its currency stabilize and its assets strengthen even before autumn starts, a senior economy ministry official said in an interview, adding the government hopes to secure a credit agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in the summer. Hungary wants a €15 billion precautionary credit line from international lenders but official talks haven’t started because the country’s parliament has yet to amend the central bank law. The amendment is a condition set by the European Commission which wants the Hungarian legislation to comply with EU laws and the European Central Bank’s standards. Hungary is not in a desperate need of an IMF deal at this stage of the global financial crisis, but an agreement would help stabilize the forint against core currencies and boost other assets. Hungary’s currency fell to a four-month low, trading at 303 forints to the euro just before noon local time Wednesday, amid concerns of Greece’s possible disorderly default and exit from the euro zone.

Hungary has said an IMF deal would create a more credible environment and help retain investors’ confidence in the country, jagged by the government’s at times heavy-handed economic and tax policy choices. After changes to the central bank law, mostly securing independence of the bank from political influence, talks could start in early June, said Gyula Pleschinger, state secretary responsible for taxation and finances. A very quick conclusion of the talks is likely, he said, because the parties are extremely familiar with each other’s views after months of working closely together. “In the evenings, I have to check that there’s no European Commission official under my bed, so to say,” Mr. Pleschinger said of the informal talks held since January.

Hungary is forecast to be one of the very few EU members to suffer a recession year in 2012. It nevertheless has to stick to strict budget deficit targets this year and the next, as required by EU treaties, to get out of the Excessive Deficit Procedure—a corrective process applied to countries that fail to comply with the annual deficit limit of 3% of economic output. Hungary has been under scrutiny for its excessive public gap since it joined the EU in 2004. A policy U-turn that would trim the traditionally high budget deficits to levels acceptable by the EU could now indeed bring a favourable decision for Hungary at the meeting of EU finance ministers set for June 22. In it, the ministers will decide whether to lift the suspension of part of EU funds earmarked for Hungary for next year, and could also free Hungary from the deficit procedure.


Amnesty International slams Hungary for restricting free speech

A curtailment of free speech and religion and serious discrimination against the Roma population were among criticisms raised by human rights watchdog Amnesty International in its country report 2011 for Hungary released on Wednesday. Orsolya Jeney, the director of the organisation’s Hungarian unit, said the disapproval of society had increased with several big demonstrations triggered by changes in legislation and institutions which devalued human rights. She added that last year, system-level problems were found rather than big law violations, which makes it difficult to predict what kind of abuses to expect in the future.

She mentioned the new media laws, which, according to the report, could cause a disproportionate and unjustified curtailment in the right to free speech and opinion. “The new legislation was criticized by local NGOs, media and the international community over its possible implications, including restrictions on media content, the lack of clear guidelines for journalists and editors and the strong powers of the new regulatory body, which all risk unfairly restricting freedom of expression,” the report said. Jeney said the legislation had increased an atmosphere of self-censorship in Hungary. She added that religious freedoms were restricted last year with the church laws, which gave lawmakers the right to decide which organisation had church status.

Jeney said discrimination against the Roma population was one of the biggest problems in Hungary and cited the events in Gyongyospata, a village in northern Hungary where racially-motivated tension was sparked last spring. Jeney said AI criticised police for failing to protect the local Roma who lived in fear. She mentioned that trials of suspects of the 2008-2009 Roma murders had started last year. AI criticised Hungary’s new basic law which came into effect in January this year. It said protection of the right of the fetus from conception was a step back in terms of human rights as it could trigger unpredictable legislation. It also found problematic the removal of a passage protecting the choice of sexual orientation and noted that police had once again banned a gay pride march planned for July, but a court reversed the ruling.


Hungary reopens abortion controversy with pill debate

Hungary won’t allow abortion pills because they pose health risks, the country’s senior official responsible for healthcare issues said this week, sparking a new debate among the public, politicians and NGOs, some of who voiced concerns that the Hungarian government could go further and restrict or ban abortion. “There are great risks that we must protect girls and women from,” the official, Miklos Szocska said. In a response to Mr. Szocska’s comments on local television, the association of NGOs for women’s rights said they were flabbergasted by such remarks and said they weren’t aware of any such debate going on.

“The United Nation’s World Health Organization, and Hungary’s Professional College of Birth and Gynecology–the official advisory to the ministry of human resources–support the introduction of the abortion pill as they consider it safe,” said Julia Spronz, lawyer and member of the non-governmental umbrella organization Hungarian Women’s Lobby. The pill works similarly to spontaneous miscarriage, said Christian Fiala, Ph.D., medical director of Gynmed Clinic, a private gynaecology clinic in Austria. It blocks the progesterone hormone, an essential ingredient to pregnancy, from reaching the designated areas and therefore results in the loss of the fetus.

The pill, which has been in use in the western part of Europe for about 20 years and is considered safe by the WHO, is viewed negatively by Hungary’s conservatives who have called it “another tool for abortion in a country where the population equal to a small town disappears each year.” Hungary in recent years saw its population decline below 10 million, a psychological level.

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