Hungary to cut down its MPs by half

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Following the landslide victory of centre-right party Fidesz in elections held on 25 April, which gave it a constitutional majority, Hungary will reduce the number of MPs by almost half and will reduce the number of its constituencies by a similar proportion, MEP József Szájer told journalists on 11 May.

The victory of European People's Party-affiliated Fidesz is "extraordinary" and amounts to a most serious change to Hungary's political system, said Szájer, who is vice-chairman of the EPP. He compared the outcome to the political backlash in Italy fifteen years ago, when the corrupt party system of that time had in his words changed completely.

"I heard colleagues joking that a country where two thirds of MPs are from the same party is not a democracy. Some people even compare it with Vladimir Putin's regime. But I tell them Putin never had to fight with the opposition to win an election," Szájer said.

He insisted that Fidesz is a "mainstream" centre-right party "in the vanguard" of European centre-right politics, strongly rejecting suggestions made by some foreign media that Fidesz is linked to far-right force Jobbik, which obtained 47 seats in parliament.

Szájer said that following hearings in parliament, Prime Minister Viktor Orban was determined to put in place a small government of eight ministers, which he said was "maybe the smallest in Europe".

Then, he said, the next step would be the "considerable reduction of local government," roughly halving the system and "hopefully" halving the costs.

"Hungary has 3,000 independent constituencies, which means many mayors, many deputies and so on. We want to use it as a demonstration to the general public that after the disastrous years of spending, politicians are starting hard measures against themselves," the MEP said.

Parliament will face a similar scenario, he said, with a law or a resolution to be adopted "very soon" on "cutting the parliament by half". He added said the size of a parliament in a country of 10 million like Hungary should be around 200, roughly about half the size of the present 386-seat parliament.

The next thing, he said, was to launch a tax-reduction programme, as his country in his terms was at a disadvantage compared to other countries in the region such as Slovakia or Romania, which have introduced low corporate taxes.

Then, the government must address what he described as "an emotional issue": Hungarian minorities living in neighbouring countries. On the model of similar legislation in Romania vis-à-vis Moldova, he said ethnic Hungarians who could prove their "attachment" to Hungary would have easier access to citizenship.

Regarding the Hungarian EU Presidency, he said that water, water management, Danube cooperation, regional cooperation and boosting the Europe 2020 strategy would be its highlights.

Askled by EURACTIV if Hungary would ban foreigners from buying arable land indefinitely, as Fidesz said during the campaign (EURACTIV 01/04/10), Szájer said that this was indeed a sensitive question, and negotiations would be held with the European Commission to prolong the ban.

Hungary's 2004 accession treaty barred land purchases by foreigners until 2011 in an effort to prevent wealthy European investors from buying up large chunks of arable land in the poor new member state. Similar transition clauses were negotiated by other ex-communist newcomers, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.

Szájer said that what should be expected is a "package deal" with gives and takes, adding that whoever is in power would press for a similar deal, as the price of land had not changed.

"We want to avoid speculation," he insisted.

Parliamentary elections in Hungary were held on 11 April (EURACTIV 12/04/10), with a second round on 25 April (EURACTIV 26/04/10). In the second round, candidates from the centre-right Fidesz party won 262 seats, achieving a majority of over two-thirds in the 386-member parliament,. This majority is enough to modify the country's constitution.

Hungary, which has a track record of deficit overshoots, stabilised its finances with painful spending cuts last year. With its public debt still at around 80% of GDP, the new government will not have much room for fiscal manoeuvring and will have to put debt on a declining path.

During the campaign, Fidesz pledged to create jobs, lower taxes and cut bureaucracy to revive the economy.

It also said it wants a new deal with international lenders - the IMF and the EU - who saved Hungary from financial collapse in October 2008.

The deal will expire by October and Fidesz will likely want to negotiate a higher budget deficit for this year, which analysts said the IMF would probably only accept if it were to see a clear plan for structural reform.

Hungarians, weary of a deep recession and unemployment running at a 16-year high, will want to see their lives improve quickly, and with municipal elections due in October, Fidesz will need to make symbolic changes.

Hungary will take up the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2011.

  • 1 Jan. 2011: Hungary assumes EU presidency.

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