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Europe

Austerity? What austerity?

Text by Gulliver CRAGG

Latest update : 2010-12-29

Not every EU country is pushing through harsh austerity measures. Hungary, which takes over the block's rotating presidency on January 1st 2011, is actually cutting income tax and raising benefits. Our correspondent went to Budapest to find out more.

Hungary takes over the European Union's rotating presidency on January 1st. It does so as a rather controversial player in the 27-member block: while a tough new media law has drawn rebuke lately from Budapest's European partners, the country's economic policies have also met with stern criticism from some quarters, while others are tempted to emulate them.

Hungary has suffered badly from the global economic crisis, and had to take a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2008. It's still grappling to contain its deficit, and with public debt at 79% of GDP, it's the most indebted of all the formerly communist EU states.

Currently the prescribed remedy for Europe's less solvent economies is budgetary austerity. Hungary was playing the game, too. But earlier this year, the incoming Fidesz (centre-right) government decided Hungarians couldn't take any more austerity. Breaking off talks with the IMF, it struck off down a different path: to balance the budget, it imposed "crisis taxes" on the banking, retail and telecommunications sectors, and (particularly controversially) is seeking to bring more than €11bn from private pension funds back into the state coffers. But is this a viable alternative, or just short-term populism?

Date created : 2010-12-29

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