30th May 2023

Hungarians rally against Orbán's moves to shore up finances

  • PM Viktor Orban. On Monday morning, a few hundred protestors, led mostly by food-delivery bikers, blocked one of the key bridges in Budapest to disrupt morning traffic in the capital (Photo: European Parliament)
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Protests continued in Hungary on Monday (18 July) for the sixth day, after prime minister Viktor Orbán's rightwing Fidesz party passed legislation last week sharply raising taxes on small firms and entrepreneurs.

On Monday morning, a few hundred protestors, led mostly by food-delivery bikers, blocked one of the key bridges in Budapest to disrupt morning traffic in the capital.

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The series of small protests over the last week in Budapest were prompted by the Fidesz-dominated parliament's lightning speed decision to increase the tax rate for hundreds of thousands of small firms, starting from September.

The tax increase comes when inflation is at a two-decade high at 11.7 percent and the forint is at record lows.

Making matters worse for households, there is a spike in energy prices and the government decided to roll back the subsidies on utility bills for higher-usage households, scrapping Orbán's flagship policy.

Orbán's government has already capped the prices of some basic food stuffs and introduced a ceiling for petrol prices for cars with Hungarian license plates — sparking a legal probe from the EU Commission over breaking the bloc's single-market rules.

Deepening the economic troubles, and adding to the weakening of the forint and rising debt, EU funds have been in limbo because of concerns over democratic standards and rule of law in Hungary.

The Orbán government and the EU Commission have been locked in talks, as the commission made the approval of Hungary's EU recovery funds conditional on legal changes that reinforce anti-corruption measures.

Justice minister Judit Varga told the Financial Times that Budapest had sent texts of planned legislation to the commission after receiving signals its broad plans were acceptable.

Varga said that talks with the commission have become less politicised after Orbán's fourth consecutive election win in April.

But the delay costs Hungary money, as the commission adjusted the possible obtainable grants, based on Hungary's latest GDP performance last year, to €5.8bn from more than €7bn.

Despite public discontent with Orban's latest austerity measures to shore up Hungary's finances, the anti-government movement is struggling to get a momentum as opposition parties are still in tatters after Orbán's knock-out victory in April.

Addressing a rally on Saturday, Péter Márki-Zay, who headed the united opposition coalition but lost against Orbán, said the nationalist premier's campaign promises had been "proven to be lies".

In his regular radio address last Friday, Orbán defended the tax law change as "good and necessary".

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Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán is facing one of his biggest challenges of his more than a decade-long rule, as the economic pressures keep mounting, and EU funds remain suspended due to rule-of-law concerns.

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